Long ago, when ships were made of wood and were sailed or rowed, the start of branch rivalry occurred, though it's fair to say the Vikings and Romans were all one branch, murderous heathens, armed only with sword and spike.
So when did real branch rivalries begin then? Well to be honest, it's not entirely clear. Sailing ships superseded rowed Galleons and sailing ships had their "divisions" or trades. But on sailing ships, almost everyone was a sailor and fighter, even the cooks. And everyone was a bunting tosser. And you can bet most folks took a turn on the helm.
So with that in mind when did those damned branch divisions start? As I'm not well versed on the matter and how other nations Navies operated I'll look more closely to home, and The Mother Country, as our Navy as it is now was born from that Navy and it's structure. And the best way to do that is by using branch structures.
I'll ignore the Officers here and concentrate just purely on Matelots, the lower deckers. Officers however do get a mention as they already had defined tasks throughout history.
Seamen - originally everyone on a Man'o'war was a seaman, even the officers if needed. The whole point of
a fighting ship was to get from A to B, do it's fighting, and get home again. In that course, everyone knew that the ship had to be sailed and took turns in sailing her. And when getting to the fighting, everyone knew how to use a sword or fire a cannon. So everyone was a "Jack of All Trades." But after years of trial and error it was soon discovered that to get efficiency out of a fighting ship, one had to diversify and by giving certain crewman tasks at which they excelled, a better job was done and the outcome was far better for that ship or navy. So Seamen diversified into branches, the Bunting Tosser, The Gunner, The Sail Handler, The Bosun and his mate, the Yard Hands, and others.
The seaman branch diversified through history on the style of ships they sailed on, but largely the same corp d'esprit permeated that history. Gunners are still Gunners, but now they drive directors and suchlike. They are a breed apart. How many folks have you heard say "never go on a Gunners Run - they beat themselves up"? And with the advent of sonar and radar another breed came to fore. And not to mention Spooks!! Those trades are now sadly gone, lost when Boiler driven ships departed for parts eternal. I think now we have gone back a step to the sailing days where Combat System ratings now do all combat operations, a sort of Jack of All Trades. Of course I might be wrong, been away from Gray Ships and Navy for over 14 years now.
Now the butt of everyone's jokes in the mess. The Sail Handlers and Yard Hands. They provided the best out of the sails, and when sailing ships died, they morphed from being on high, to shoveling dirty coal. From the bright sunshine of the Yards, to the Hard yards in keeping boilers pumping. The saddest tale of all.
But let's move on! The Bunting Tossers. These folks also morphed through time. Agreed flags are still used, and signal lamps still feature, but what of this breed. Well having served a lot with these guys and gals
wasn't much call for this breed. Cannons were simple beasts, rounds didn't need to be greased, maybe theysharpened boarding parties swords then (on a greased whetstone)? It's fair to say however that with the advent of breach loaded weapons, there was a need for this animal. Like stokers, their appearance and slovenly habits made them a butt of dits around ships and bases. But they are needed in the modern navy, despite their origins and make a worthwhile contribution (as they have done for a century).
Ok we touched lightly on the electrical side of things with the Comms folk. Now the guys and gals that provide the Spark! Yes Sparkies (or electricians for you
The second oldest branches are the Cooks and Stores. Since ships went to sea with the intent of fighting and conquering, there has always been a chef, and he also largely did the stores. Both branches morphed with technology and separated (but remain linked) due to the demands of those jobs. It's kind ofstrange, when you watch any movie or programme with a sailing ship in it, you never see the cook house or cook working??
OK so I forgot the medic!! Anyone can amputate a leg (and they used to a lot) Jack of all trades morphing into another trade. See Steward above!
Of course the oldest and longest serving branch is the Droggies. No good having a ship if you don't know where you are going and don't know how to get back!!