This research guide is concerned with the operational records of the Navy from 1914 to 1919 held at The National Archives. It does not cover records of administration, supply, research or personnel. The operational records of the Royal Navy for this period are mostly to be found in three main series which are not easy to use, so be prepared for potentially long searches for particular files and papers.
2. The Official History of the Great War
This multi-volume work is the first place to look for First World War naval operations. It is available in The National Archives Library (and may be available elsewhere as well). The Official History was the work of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and is based on the official records.
3. Papers used for the Official History
The papers used to prepare the Official History of the Great War are in ADM 137. The papers are bound into subject files (known as 'cases') in three series.
|Catalogue reference||Description||Extracted from|
|HS||telegrams, signals and operational reports from ships, squadrons and stations, covering both individual actions and complete operations and campaigns||Secretariat of the Admiralty: remainder in ADM 1|
|HSA||telegrams, signals and operational reports from ships, squadrons and stations, covering both individual actions and complete operations and campaigns. Not all overseas commands are represented||papers of the Grand Fleet and other naval commands|
|HSB||records of convoys, minesweeping and the blockade||Naval War Staff, principally the Trade Division|
The list of ADM 137 includes rough subject indexes to the HS series, and to large parts of both the HSA and HSB series.
4. Papers not used in the Official History
ADM 1: Papers of the Admiralty Secretariat. This includes reports of actions, courts of enquiry, casualty lists and recommendations for honours and awards, chiefly from individual ships.
ADM 116: The Admiralty's own 'case' files, papers concerning larger operations and campaigns, operational reports of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Anti Aircraft Corps, and a set of the Grand Fleet Orders.
5. Accessing ADM 1, ADM 116, and ADM 137
In practice ADM 1, ADM 116 and the HS series of ADM 137 form a single body of records. ADM 137 is increasingly being catalogued making it easier to search.The best way to access the various series is by using the Admiralty Index and Digest volumes, held in ADM 12. These volumes give references to Admiralty paper numbers in one of three formats:
|Reference||Example||Look in Catalogue reference|
|letters followed by numbers||X11134||ADM 137|
|date with no year given, and a heading||5 Feb, Admiralty||ADM 137|
|date including the year||31/5/16
|includes the word 'case'||Case 576||ADM 116|
A more detailed guide on how to use ADM 12 is available at the National Archives.
Some references to files of the Royal Naval Air Service, found in the ADM 12 index volumes, are in fact in AIR 1, but a separate search among the Air Historical Branch indexes is necessary to find them.
6. Other records
6.1 Ships' logs
6.2 Station records
Papers from the Nore (ADM 151), Portsmouth (ADM 179), Plymouth (ADM 131) and the African Station (ADM 123) cover the war years, but only the last two contain any substantial material on warlike operations.
6.3 Admiralty Board
The Private Office papers of Sir Eric Geddes as First Lord are in ADM 116/1804-1810.
6.4 Royal Naval Division
ADM 242 consists of two card indexes available on open access in The National Archives. The first lists naval officers, including some of the Royal Marines and Naval Reserve, and of the Canadian and Australian navies. The second card index lists ships lost 1914-1919. A war graves roll arranged alphabetically and statistical casualty books are also included in the class.
Photographs do occur throughout the records in ADM 1, ADM 116 and ADM 137, but there is no index to them and no easy way of tracing them. ADM 176 is a collection of photographs of HM Ships, but much larger collections are held by the National Maritime Museum and the Imperial War Museum.
ADM 186 includes many printed intelligence reports of the same series as those in ADM 137. There are also Naval Staff Monographs on particular actions and campaigns, and the Monthly Returns of the distribution of HM ships. The confidential edition of the Navy List, in ADM 177, is available on open access at The National Archives.