Minister of Defence (United Kingdom)

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Minister of Defence
Longest serving
Winston Churchill

10 May 1940 – 27 July 1945
Ministry of Defence (1947–1964)
Member ofCabinet
Reports toPrime Minister
PrecursorMinister for Co-ordination of Defence
Formation10 May 1940
First holderWinston Churchill
Final holderPeter Thorneycroft
Abolished1 April 1964
SuccessionSecretary of State for Defence

The post of Minister of Defence was responsible for co-ordination of defence and security from its creation in 1940 until its abolition in 1964. The post was a Cabinet-level post and generally ranked above the three service ministers, some of whom, however, continued to also serve in Cabinet.

The Ministry of Defence was created in 1947.[1]


Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, concerns about British forces being understrength led in 1936 to the creation of the post of Minister for Coordination of Defence by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The post was abolished by Baldwin's successor Neville Chamberlain in April 1940.

On his appointment as Prime Minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill created for himself the new post of Minister of Defence. The post was created in response to previous criticism that there had been no clear single minister in charge of the prosecution of the war. In 1946, the post became the only cabinet-level post representing the military, with the three service ministers—the Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for Air—now formally subordinated to the Minister of Defence.

In 1964, the creation of a single, merged Ministry of Defence and the abolition of the separate service ministries in the UK led to the creation of the new post of Secretary of State for Defence, more popularly known as Defence Secretary.

Ministers of Defence, 1940–1964[edit]

Minister Term of office Political party Prime Minister
Took office Left office Time in office
Winston Churchill
MP for Epping
10 May 1940 27 July 1945 5 years, 78 days Conservative Winston Churchill
(War Coalition)
Clement Attlee
MP for Limehouse
27 July 1945 20 December 1946 1 year, 146 days Labour Clement Attlee
A. V. Alexander
MP for Sheffield Hillsborough
20 December 1946 28 February 1950 3 years, 70 days Labour Co-op
Emanuel Shinwell
MP for Easington
28 February 1950 26 October 1951 1 year, 240 days Labour
Winston Churchill
MP for Woodford
28 October 1951 1 March 1952 127 days Conservative Winston Churchill
Harold Alexander
1st Earl Alexander of Tunis
1 March 1952 18 October 1954 2 years, 231 days none
Harold Macmillan
MP for Bromley
18 October 1954 7 April 1955 171 days Conservative
Selwyn Lloyd
MP for The Wirral
7 April 1955 20 December 1955 257 days Conservative Anthony Eden
Walter Monckton
MP for Bristol West
20 December 1955 18 October 1956 303 days Conservative
Antony Head
MP for Carshalton
18 October 1956 9 January 1957 83 days Conservative
Duncan Sandys
MP for Streatham
13 January 1957 14 October 1959 2 years, 274 days Conservative Harold Macmillan
Harold Watkinson
MP for Woking
14 October 1959 13 July 1962 2 years, 272 days Conservative
Peter Thorneycroft
MP for Monmouth
13 July 1962 1 April 1964 1 year, 263 days Conservative
Alec Douglas-Home

The post of Minister of Defence was abolished in 1964 and replaced by the new post of Secretary of State for Defence.

See also[edit]

Principal political leaders of the English/British Armed Forces:
Royal Navy British Army Royal Air Force Co-ordination
1628 First Lord of the Admiralty
1794 Secretary of State for War
1801 Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
1854 Secretary of State for War
1919 Secretary of State for Air
1936 Minister for Co-ordination of Defence
1940 Minister of Defence (1940–1964)
1964 Secretary of State for Defence (1964–present)


  1. ^ Records of the Ministry of Defence. Ministry of Defence. 1808–2022.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)