During the Second World War, the integration of the three armed services with one another, and with civil government and allied forces, was carried far further than ever before. Consequently there is a large amount of material on naval operations in records not relating specifically to the Royal Navy, and therefore not mentioned here. For a detailed overview, see J Cantwell, The Second World War; a guide to documents in the Public Record Office (PRO Handbook no. 15, 1998).
This research guide concerns itself solely with records in The National Archives relating to naval operations. It does not deal with records of administration, supply, research, or the higher direction of the war. Only some personnel records have been transferred to The National Archives, and some further records of naval operations are still to be transferred from the Ministry of Defence.
Similarly if you have a name of an operation try searching for it within ADM. You may need to try variations on the name, for example, 'Operation Neptune' and 'Neptune.'
There are card indexes within our catalogue to ships, convoys and operations, but be prepared to spend much time searching.
2. Official histories and monographs
The War at Sea (part of the Official History of the Second World War) was produced in two versions: the published one, available in The National Archives' Library, and a confidential set, now in CAB 101/36, CAB 101/37, CAB 101/38 and CAB 101/39, which was annotated with file references. These references are to the original Admiralty system of registering papers, now so much disrupted by subsequent rearrangement as to be, in many cases, almost impossible to use. The Cabinet Office Historical Section made a large collation of despatches, reports and narratives, both published and unpublished, and covering all three Services: this is now CAB 106.
For monographs on the development and operation of mines, minesweepers, net defences, anti-submarine weapons, demolitions, torpedo aircraft and submarine attacks, see the papers of HMS Vernon (the Torpedo and Mine School), in ADM 189. A set of the Admiralty O.U. and B.R. series of publications, which include Naval Staff monographs and Battle Summaries, is in ADM 234. A set of Admiralty Confidential Books (CB), including monthly reports of anti-submarine warfare from the East Indies Station, is in ADM 239.
3. The Navy Lists
The confidential edition of the Navy List, containing the complete information on officers and ships which was omitted from the published edition in wartime, is in ADM 177. The other lists are:
|Pink list||Location in port, though not position at sea, of all HM Ships and Naval Air Squadrons in commission. Issued twice weekly.||ADM 187|
|Red list||Location in port, though not position at sea, of minor war vessels in home waters.||ADM 208|
|Green list||Landing Ships, Landing Craft and the like in home waters.||ADM 210|
|Blue list||Shipbuilding. Issued monthly.||ADM 209|
4. Main operational records and reports
The most important operational records are to be found in three series The original records of the Secretariat of the Admiralty are in ADM 1 and ADM 116. They are arranged by subject according to a system which is fully explained in the lists. The third series is a collection made by the official historians, from ADM 1 and ADM 116, and from the Naval Staff and from naval commands at home and overseas. This is ADM 199. It is listed in very general terms, and in an almost completely random order. It contains a large number of reports of varying types, including:
- Analyses of U-Boat Attacks
- Convoy commodores' reports
- Daily Operations Reports for the First Lord
- Daily Summary of Naval Events
- First Lord's Records
- Fleet Air Arm Squadrons: reports of actions
- Monthly Anti-Submarine Reports
- Operation Neptune (the invasion of Normandy, 1944)
- South Atlantic Command.
- Submarine patrol reports from Flag Officer Submarines
- Trade Division of the Naval Staff
- U-Boat Incidents
- United States' Navy in the Pacific
- War Diaries (commands and squadrons)
- War Diary Summaries
- Wartime Damage to Ships
- X Cases (Naval Staff records)
- Y Cases (various flag officers)
5. Other operational records and reports
The Portsmouth Station Records (ADM 179) contain numerous reports of actions and other papers concerning operations in the Channel. The records of the South Atlantic Station are in ADM 199, which also contains some material extracted from other station records.
ADM 217, Western Approaches Command, consists of an incomplete series of Reports of Proceedings from Senior Officers of Escorts and others, and is indexed by convoy and by Senior Officers' ships. No other station records of this period have been transferred.
There is an incomplete collection of submarine Patrol Reports from the Mediterranean in ADM 236, supplementing those in ADM 199. 'Convoy Packs', in ADM 237, are convoy records maintained in the Operations Division of the Naval Staff. They include Reports of Proceedings, Commodores' Reports and other papers. About half this series was destroyed. References are included in the convoy card indexes at The National Archives.
6. Ships' logs
Logs of battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and armed merchant cruisers are in ADM 53, with some gaps caused by enemy action. Submarine logs are in ADM 173. The logs of all other HM ships including destroyers are in ADM 53 for 1939 and the early months of 1940, but only a very few after then are in The National Archives. The remainder are believed not to have survived. A ship's log is primarily a navigational record, concerned only incidentally with operations. HM ships do not keep War Diaries.
The Minutes of the Board of Admiralty are in ADM 167, and a set of Admiralty Fleet Orders and Confidential Admiralty Fleet Orders in ADM 182. The First Sea Lord's papers are ADM 205. The minutes and papers of the War Cabinet Committees on the Battle of the Atlantic and on Anti-U-Boat Warfare are in CAB 86.
8. Combined Operations
Many Combined Operations are dealt with in the main series ADM 1, ADM 116 and ADM 199, referred to above. Papers of the Combined Operations Headquarters, covering the planning and execution of all sorts of seaborne military operations, are in DEFE 2. Similar papers of Royal Marine Headquarters (including Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisations, and War Diaries of Royal Marine units) are in ADM 202. References are included in the card indexes at The National Archives.
9. Naval Intelligence records
A collection of reports and papers of the Naval Intelligence Division (N.I.D.) is in ADM 223. In addition to texts of early decrypts of German naval wireless traffic encyphered on the ENIGMA machine, there are reports and summaries, both from N.I.D. and the Operational Intelligence Centre (O.I.C.), based on this 'Special Intelligence'. These reports include: O.I.C. Daily Reports up to September 1940 (ADM 223/79-83) and O.I.C. Special Intelligence Summaries from 1940 onwards (ADM 223/8-24, 43-50, 92-101, 170-175, 310-314, 321-329). It should be noted that selected documents relating to ENIGMA and the Battle of the Atlantic from this series have been transcribed and published in two volumes for the Navy Records Society (The Battle of the Atlantic and Signals Intelligence, ed D Syrett, Navy Records Society, 139 and 144, 1998, 2002).
Other records in ADM 223 include more general daily and weekly intelligence summaries (ADM 223/146-169, 830-834 , 852-863), 'operational packs' regarding particular engagements and operations (ADM 223/332-342, 507-619, 676-686, 697), and photocopies of documents not yet transferred, but cited in the footnotes of Volume 1 of The Official History of British Intelligence in the War (ADM 223/84-86, 107-108 , 209 , 212-214). DEFE 3 contains the texts of enemy signals, both naval and other, decrypted by the Government Code and Cypher School. HW 1 contains summaries of selected signals intelligence reports sent to the Prime Minister.
10. Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command
The surviving Operations Record Books of Fleet Air Arm Squadrons are in ADM 207 and AIR 27. Reports of Proceedings are with those of ships and squadrons in ADM 199 and elsewhere. The Headquarters Papers of Coastal Command are in AIR 15, with its Operations Record Books in AIR 24 and those of its squadrons and constituent formations in AIR 25, AIR 26 and AIR 27.
No Aircraft Carrier Flying Log Books are know to have survived. Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command combat reports are in AIR 50. A few flying log books of RAF personnel serving with the Fleet Air Arm are in ADM 900. Operational and technological histories relating to the Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War can be found in ADM 335 (pieces 1 to 4 and 63 to 65).
Photographs of HM Ships are in ADM 176, but very much better collections of such photographs are held by the National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, SE10 9NF and the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ. Views of the "Mulberry" artificial harbours are in WO 240. Many other photographs occur in the series mentioned in this research guide, but there is no single index to them, and no easy means of tracing them. The general Photographs Index at The National Archives is worth consulting. Some photographs have been extracted from Admiralty files and placed in CN 1. However, the majority of photographs have remained in the Admiralty files.
12. Research and design records
Many research and design papers drew directly on operational experience. The Admiralty Research Laboratory's papers, including papers on camouflage, are in ADM 212. For the design of warships, see the Director of Naval Construction's papers in ADM 229. The Directorate of Naval Operational Studies applied statistical and other methods to the analyses of naval operations with a view to improving their effectiveness: its papers are in ADM 219.
13. Losses of merchant vessels
The loss of merchant vessels is recorded in Board of Trade: Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen: Daily Casualty Registers, War of 1939-1945 (BT 347) to which there is an microfiched card index (BT 347/8). This index also provides useful references to Lloyds List; this publication is not available in The National Archives, but copies are to be found at the Guildhall Library and the National Maritime Museum amongst other places.