Finding US Navy Records at NARA


When looking at US Navy records, they are normally sorted by the Navy Filing Manual. Although the manual evolved over time, a typical filing manual (1941) that covers the immediate pre-WW II, WW II and postwar is available online on this web site, Navy File Manual (fast loading) (or single page easy to search in browser version). A more detailed list of ordnance filing codes is available ordfile.pdf (4.2 MB PDF). A 1950 version of the filing manual is available navyfile1950.pdf (11.5 MB PDF). Standard Subject Identifcation Codes is a 1987 version of the filing manual, ssic.pdf (5.9 MB PDF), a 2005 version of SSIC is at m5210-2.pdf (1 MB PDF). For ordnance publications, OP0.pdf (18 MB PDF) will help in searching for Ordnance Publications. For other periods there are copies of the manuals in the finding aids in the reference rooms at NARA.

Below are some of my suggestions on how to get started on searching for US Navy records at the US National Archives and Records Administration. Since for most of us a trip to the Archives includes expensive long distance travel I hope these suggestions help you to me more productive once you arrive. Archives research is a "hands-on" activity, for the most part you should not expect to be able to access the records via the web. There are not enough archivists to search for you, however, they are incredibly helpful in training researchers on how to access the records, building finding aids, doing conservation on the records, etc:

To get started on research at NARA:

Be sure to note that there are very valuable records at the record centers outside of NARA in College Park, MD (Archives II). This is the largest location, but it does not duplicate the collections at the regional centers.

The usefulness of NARA's online catalog varies depending on the age and quality of the finding aids, but it is usually the place to start:
Click on the yellow button to get to the search page.

Do not be surprised that you may additional finding aids printed out at NARA that are not available online. On a first visit you may wish to speak with an archivist that specializes in your research topic area.

Archives research is a hands on experience, it cannot be done from a distance. For those that are not fortunate enough to be able to visit the archives themselves, NARA maintains a list of independent researchers that are available for hire. This list can be found at:

These finding aids for ship plans and drawings are available online on this web site. All of this material is in Archives II, College Park, MD:

Master Ship Plans List, This list has entries for almost all of the ships for which the archivist know they have drawings, plans, microfiche or microfilm available (over 17,000 records).Master Ship Plans List
• Plans for Concrete ShipsPlans for Concrete Ships
• Contract Portfolios.Contract Portfolios
• Hull SeriesHull Series
• Ordnance DrawingsOrdnance
• USS OlympiaUSS Olympia
• Submarine Patrol ChartsSubmarine Patrol Charts
Search MARITIME.ORG (except the Master Ship Plans List.)

My personal research interest has included US WW II submarines and cryptology. Below are some of my favorite finding aids:

These finding aids for Cryptologic history are available online on this web site. These may be available somewhere on the NARA site, but I could not find them. Note that the NARA site is updated regularly and should be more accurate than these finding aids. These were provided by NARA in 2005 and reformatted for this web site. All of this material is in Archives II, College Park, MD:

• A large amount of material was declassified from the National Security Agency and its predecessors (i.e. ASA) in 1996. This was called project OPENDOOR.NSA Opendoor
• The Commander Naval Security Group Library from the Crane Indiana storage was transferred and declassified in 2001.Crane CNSG Library
• The Crane Library.Crane Library
• Active StationsActive Stations
• Inactive StationsInactive Stations
• Radio Intelligence Publications (RIPs)RIPs
Search MARITIME.ORG (except the Master Ship Plans List.)

These finding aids for technical manuals are available online on this web site. All of this material is in Archives II, College Park, MD:

• Navy Ordnance Pamphlets (OP) are in RG 74Ordnance Pamphlets
• Navy Ordnance Data (OD) are in RG 74Ordnance Data
• Technical Manuals in RG 344Technical Manuals
• Office of Naval Intelligence Reg. Publications and Monograph Files in RG 38 (a lot more than technical manuals)Registered Publications

Below are some useful search terms you might consider when using
Click on the yellow button to get to the search page (we tried to make these links, but ARC changes too often to keep them working):

  • RG 19: Records of the Bureau of Ships
  • RG 24: Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel
  • RG 26: Records of the U.S. Coast Guard
  • RG 32: Records of the U.S. Shipping Board
  • RG-38: The Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
  • RG-71: Records of the Bureau of Yards and Docks
  • RG-74: Records of the Bureau of Ordnance
  • RG 78: Records of the U.S. Naval Observatory
  • RG 80: General Records of the Department of the Navy
  • RG 143: Records of the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts (Navy)
  • RG 178: Records of the U.S. Maritime Commission
  • RG-181: Naval Districts and Shore Establishments
  • RG-127: Records of the U.S. Marine Corps
  • RG 298: Records of the Office of Naval Research
  • RG 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces
  • RG 343: Records of the Naval Air Systems Command
  • RG 344: Records of the Naval Ship Systems Command
  • RG 345: Records of the Naval Electronic Systems Command
  • RG 357: Records of the Maritime Administration
  • RG 358: Records of the Federal Maritime Commission
  • RG 385: Records of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command
  • RG-428: General Records of the Department of the Navy
  • RG 402: Records of the Bureau of Naval Weapons
  • RG 405: Records of the U.S. Naval Academy
  • RG-457: The NSA (National Security Agency), CSS, and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency also RG-263) and its predecessors's records (Army Security Agency, OSS also RG 226), Naval Security Group is in RG-38, (DIA is in RG-373)
  • RG 526: Records of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service

As an example, in the finding aid for Commander Naval Security Group Library above, I found the following line: "5750/303 - CNSG - COMINT Contributions to Success of Sub Ops Against the Japanese in WWII, 17 Jun 1947." When I arrived at Archives II in College Park, MD, I filled out a call slip requesting Box 137 from Record Group 38, CNSG Library. All together I requested about a dozen boxes. Two hours later the archivist brought out a cart with the boxes and there was the Lockwood piece. Of course during the wait I looked through additional finding aids and filled out more slips. In this way I was able to search through many boxes during a three day visit. When I found interesting documents, I was able to photocopy them on the machines provided. On other trips I have brought my own scanner and was thereby able to avoid the photocopier entirely.

Here is the report on "Statement as to value" of "Communication Intelligence against the Japanese in World War II" report dated 17 June 1947 by Vice Admiral C. A. Lockwood, USN. The Lockwood note is often quoted, but I have never had copy of it before.
lockwoodonintell.pdf (1.5 megabytes)

Below is a short list for USN ship museums searching at NARA in College Park. This is not a complete list, these are just a few places to start. There are also records for Maritime Administration ships, a few merchant ships and a few non-USA ships in these same areas:

Start with the Master Ship Plans List. This has entries for almost all of the ships that have drawings or microfilm available. It tells you only if something is available, but not how much and not what quality. It has enough information that the archivist can help you find those items.
• RG 19, USN Ship Roll Drawings sorted by Ship Name and Hull Number.
The same drawers sometimes have War Patrol Charts and Books of General Plans.
• There are also some Bureau of Ordnance drawings that are catalogued.

Microfilm and Microfiche:
• There are war patrol reports on micro-fiche for most submarines and some other ships. (M1752)
• There are crew muster rolls on microfilm (RG24 Room 2520). These are pretty complete. More recent lists may require intervention of the archivist as they contain confidential social security numbers that must be blanked out.
• There are also rolls of ships plans on microfilm. (RG 19)
• There are some technical manuals for radar, sonar, radio and engines in uncataloged drawers of microfilm. It is very hit or miss what you will find. (RG-19)

Textual records in the General Correspondence files:
• The end of the Navy Filing System includes a file for every ship. (RG 19, 470) Note that the finding aids are broken into groups of years. You need to look through all the likely groups of years.
• There are also some deck logs in the Records of Bureau of Naval Personnel, RG 24.

• There are photos of many of the ships. In addition to the sorted, catalogued photos there are also many unsorted photos.

Film and Sound:
• There are a few films and very little sound available. The film is well indexed and the web site is useful in finding what does exist. Be sure to search on both name, hull number and hull type.

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