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:
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:
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:
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:
These finding aids for technical manuals are available online on this web site. All of this material is in Archives II, College Park, MD:
Below are some useful search terms you might consider when using
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.
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: