Operational Archives Branch
The staff of the Archives can provide finding aids and indices for the collections as well as advice on your research. The Branch's Guide to Unclassified and Declassified Collections lists the Archives' holdings of Personal Papers, Records, and All Unclassified Collections, and is available online. Selected documents are also available online.
Origin and Scope of Collection
The origin of the Operational Archives Branch dates to 1884 when the war records section of the Office of Library and Naval War Records was funded by Congress to collect, compile, and arrange the naval records of the Civil War. During the First World War, the Navy set up an historical office on the staff of U.S. Naval Forces operating in European Waters to collect documents of historic value on the Navy's role in World War I. On 1 July 1919, the Secretary of the Navy combined the historical office with the Office of Naval Records and Library to provide information to the Navy Department and the general public. Between the wars under the direction of Commodore Dudley Knox, USNR (Retired), the records sections of the Office of Naval Records and Library developed into a nationally known naval archives.
During World War II, the demands to collect and arrange the large number of documents caused other activities, such as aiding the public to cease. The Navy commissioned a large number of skilled personnel to arrange and classify documents received so pertinent operational data could be accessible to the people in the Navy who needed the information. The staff of military personnel of the Classified Operational Archives created an arrangement system based on the Navy's command structure going from the President, fleets, forces, type commands, shore establishments, individual ships, non-Navy commands, non-US commands, to individual personnel. Within each section, the records are arranged alphbetically by the name of the originating command. All of the documents from one command are arranged chronologically by the date of the document. This system of arrangement was used for the war diaries, action reports, and operation plans received by the Chief of Naval Operations during World War II. From the beginning these records were intended for eventual transfer to the National Archives. During 1996, the Operational Archives Branch transferred these collections to the National Archives and Records Administration new facility at College Park, Maryland.
Instead of disbanding the historical activities which collected documentation on World War II at the end of war, as happened after World War I, these activities were consolidated under the Director of Naval History. The military staff of the Classified Operational Archives Branch, which was civilianized with permanent civil service personnel, continued to collect, process and arrange the operational records of the U.S. Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations, as well as the personal papers of officers and some enlisted men who served in the Navy in the Twentieth Century.
After World War II, the Archives received several collection of foreign naval records. The German records include the BdU diaries and essays from the German Naval Archives. The main collection of German Navy records is held on microfilm by the Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740. The Operational Archives also holds a collection of translated captured Japanese records, microfilms of untranslated Japanese reports and diaries, and allied originated analysis of Japanese subjects. The Archives holds the reports from the Naval Technical Missions to Japan and to Europe, which studied the weapons, ships, and factories that aided the war, among other subjects, as well as the reports of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey which studied the effects of the bombing in Europe and Japan.
The operational records of the Archives are similar to the World War II documents. The Post 1 Jan 1946 war diaries contain diaries from commands participating in the Korean Conflict, while the Post 1 Jan 1946 action reports and operation plans contain training exercises, as well as the reports and plans from the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts.
After the Chief of Naval Operations instructed that naval commands should prepare an annual command history, the Archives established command files for series documents, annual reports, and command histories. The World War II and Post 1 Jan 1946 Command Files also contain donations from veterans and researchers who used the Operational Archives to write histories and memoirs.