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5 Posts authored by: Nathaniel Patch Expert

In the aftermath of World War I with the rise of American global status, a colonial power in the Carribean and Pacific and a component of a European alliance with Great Britain and France, the United States Navy began to take their theories of fleet actions and developed them in practical real world exercises.  These practical exercises were known as the Fleet Problems conducted between 1923 and 1941.  The Fleet Problems were number I to XXI and there was a XXII Problem planned for January 1941, but it was cancelled.  These records were microfilmed into National Archives Publication M964: Records Relating to United States Navy Fleet Problems I to XXII, 1923-1941.


The records contained in this series come from three different record groups: Record Group 38: Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 80: Records of the Department of the Navy, and Record Group 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces. In Record Group 38, these series are from Division Fleet Training, Confidential Correspondence, 1927-1941 and Confidential Reports, 1917-1941. In Record Group 80, there are documents from the Secretary of the Navy’s Secret and Confidential Correspondence, 1919-1926 and the Secretary of the Navy’s Confidential Correspondence, 1927-1939. And in Record Group 313, there is the Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet Confidential Correspondence, 1939-1940.


The Fleet components involved in the exercises were the Battle Force and Scouting Force. The Battle Force and Scouting Force were sub-divisions of the US Fleet that was reorganized in 1922. The Battle Force later was reorganized into the Pacific Fleet and the Scouting Force was reorganized into the Atlantic Fleet in 1941.


Each of the exercises were designed to address a specific component or scenario within the context of a “colored” war plan.  The opponents in the exercises were described as “Blue” forces, the United States, and aggressor forces “Black”, Germany, and “Orange”, Japan. The locations of the exercises do not necessarily reflect the hostile forces being tested in that there are a few Fleet Problems staged in the Caribbean simulating fleet actions around Hawaii. In some of the Fleet Problems, the Battle Force and the Scouting Force were pitted against one another, and in other cases a single force was divided into both opponents.


One of the more interesting aspects of the Fleet Problems is how the US Navy was preparing for the next war and how new equipment would be used like aircraft and submarines as well as new tactics like amphibious landings. Another factor that the US Navy was contending with is the possibility of a two-ocean war with a limited fleet that was constricted by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1920-1921.


Many naval historians look to the Fleet Problems as evidence to the axiom of “Generals are always prepared to fight the last war” or in this case “Admirals.”  The general consensus is that the Fleet Problems reinforced the notion that the next naval war would have the battleship as the centerpiece of a fleet at the exclusion of other vessels.  Other vessels like aircraft carriers and submarines were auxiliary to the fleet and would be only used in reconnaissance roles rather than a major projection of naval power.  Although, carrier-based aircraft proved to be very useful in turning the tide in a battle during the Fleet Problems. In the 1930s as a result of the Fleet Problems, the Navy elected to construct more aircraft carriers and expand naval aviation. But the true potential of aircraft carriers within a battle group had yet to be proven and would not until the Second World War.


On aircraft carriers, there were several tests of carrier based aircraft against naval bases such as the Panama Canal and more famously, Fleet Problem XIII in 1932 where the USS Saratoga (CV 3) successfully attacked the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, HI in a test of the base’s defenses. 


For submarines, their potential as a weapon continued to be misunderstood and mired in world opinion, being compared to German U-boats. and being anchored to fleet reconnaissance. The term “Fleet Submarine” comes from this period when the Navy was trying to have submarines operate with the surface fleet and not be perceived as the lone wolves of the First World War preying on commercial shipping.  But because of the dramatic shift in speed on the surface compared to a submarine’s speed underwater, it was hard for the surface fleet to interact with submarines without planning submarine positions far in advance of the fleet. Another aspect of the Fleet Problems that showed bias against submarines was the criteria during exercises where submarines attacked escorted convoys.  Detection amounted to being successfully attacked and this bred a cautious submariner in the early days of World War II.


There are many related records to this series at the National Archives in Washington, DC and at the National Archives in College Park. 


The National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1), which you can email at, has custody of series in Record Group 38: Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, Record Group 80: Records of the Department of the Navy and Record Group 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces.


Specifically in RG 38, there are the correspondence series of the Chief of Naval Operations, arranged by the Navy Filing Manual, that include discussions of fleet development and training as well as war planning prior to 1941.


In RG 80, there are three series of interest: the 1930-42 General Correspondence of the Secretary of the Navy, (the index is on the Catalog), the Records of the General Board, and the Records of the Joint Army-Navy Board. The General Board was an advisory board of retired Fleet Admirals, and the series pertained to innovations in new ships, new tactics, and new strategies. These series have their own filing scheme based on a topic that is different from the Navy Filing Manual. The Joint Board records reviewed war planning and the development of base defense for Army and Navy installations, both domestic and abroad.


In RG 313, there are series of records relating to the individual forces: Battle Force and Scouting Force, and some of their subordinate commands such as commander, submarines and commander, aircraft.


The National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) has custody of only a few series in Record Group 38: Records of the Chief of Naval Operations and Record Group 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces that would relate to the Fleet Problems because the majority of the pre-World War II Navy Records are in the custody of the National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference.


In RG 38, there is a collection of records relating to the Fleet Problems in the records of the Strategic War Plans Division in Entry A1 355. The date range of these records is from 1912 to 1946 and divided up into 12 sub-series.  In particular, Series II: Naval War College Instructional Materials, 1914-1941 and Series IX: Plans, Strategic Studies and Related Correspondence, 1939-1945 have materials related to the Fleet Problems.  In Series II, there are continuations on the fleet exercises and analysis of each of the opponents’ situations. In Series IX is a set of copies of the historical development of the war plans arranged chronologically.  


In RG 313, there is a series of files covering 1940 to 1942 and the transition of Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet (1940), combined with Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet (February 1941), and the two commands being separated in December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The series is the General Files and Serials of Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, 1940-1942. This series fills the gap between the CINCUS files located at the National Archives in Washington, DC and the Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet (renamed COMINCH) Formerly Security-Classified Correspondence, 1942-1945 at the National Archives in College Park, MD. 


To inquire about the availability of related records that were suggested, please contact the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) via email, If you are interested in ordering a copy, please provide your mailing address and phone number in your request since both are required for the reproduction order form.


To highlight another series that is available on the National Archives Catalog, we are featuring the new scanned series of index cards to the Anti-Submarine Incident Reports from the Anti-Submarine War (ASW) Section of the Records of the 10th Fleet in the Records of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38). 


Like many records at the National Archives, accessing the ASW Incident Reports has been a two-step process by reviewing the index and then ordering the reports.  The Incident Reports are arranged by report number, which is numeric and does not indicate the target, attacker, or date.  Because of this, the index is the only way to access them.  The index is arranged by the designation of the attacker of the enemy submarines.  On each card for an attacker, the incidents are arranged by date with a report number listed. 


To further explain the arrangement of the index cards, the four small boxes are divided into Ships (A-Z), US Naval Aviation, Non-Navy Aviation (Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard), Foriegn Aviation, and a few cards on Surrendered Vessels.


The reports themselves are a record of an attack on an enemy submarine usually German U-boats and some Japanese submarines. These reports detail how contact was made, how the attacking unit proceeded to pursue the enemy, the attack itself, and the assumed result of the attack. The purpose of the reports and the collection as a whole was to learn how to improve anti-submarine strategies and tactics by seeing what worked and what did not.


Due to the lack of organization and a central channel for reporting incidents at the beginning of the war, anti-submarine incident reports were not consistent until mid-1942. As the United States entered World War II, America was confronted by a clear and present threat of German and Japanese submarines attacking our supply lines with Great Britain and Australia as well as moving our own troops and equipment to the battle fronts across the sea. Despite this threat, the US  was slow to adopt anti-submarine methods like convoying, securing information on departing ships at ports, and even blacking out coastal cities so as not to silhouette incoming and outgoing ships.  


The first move to addressing the submarine threat was the formation of the Convoy and Routing Division under the Chief of Naval Operations in May 1942.  The Convoy and Routing Division was responsible for routing and protecting merchant shipping in U. S. waters and troopships going abroad. C and R was the forerunner to the 10th Fleet, which was established in May 1943. In the year between the establishment of the two commands, the science of anti-submarine warfare had blossomed with refinements to SONAR, improved depth charges, and forward throwing subsurface weapons called Hedgehogs. Also, there was improvement to aviation with multi-engine aircraft that could take air patrols out further into the U-boat infested waters of the Atlantic and with new Arc lights to illuminate them in the night as they recharged their batteries on the surface following a day’s hunting.


Around April-May 1942, the reporting on anti-submarine activity became more regular and consistent.


The index cards and the ASW Incident Reports also relate to other series in the Records of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38). The Incident Reports, in some cases, may duplicate what are in the Action Reports and in other cases, they are purely unique. The detail also varies widely from a single page or less description to a multi-page report complete with sketches of the attack. Therefore, if you are researching anti-submarine operations during the war, it is important to review both the Action Reports and the ASW Incident Reports.


These series also relate to other records within the Records of the 10th Fleet such as Convoy Reports and US and Allied Shipping Losses as well as the separate series of Armed Guard Files, which are reports from the US Naval Armed Guard units that served aboard merchant ships to defend them.


Another series of records that have records relating to Anti-Submarine Warfare during World War II are the World War II Command Files.  This series is arranged hierarchically by command and office.  For example, there are ASW bulletins among the files of the Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet (COMINCH/CINCUS); ASW Information (weekly notices) filed with the records of the Atlantic Fleet; and separate sections of records for the offices of the Anti-Submarine Section and the 10th Fleet that were directly related to ASW efforts during the war. There may be other ASW-related materials incorporated into a larger report sent to a higher fleet or regional command such as an island command, sea frontier or naval district.


To inquire about the availability of an Anti-Submarine Incident Report or any of the records suggested, please contact the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) via email, If you are interested in ordering a copy, please provide your mailing address and phone number in your request, which is required for the reproduction order form.


There are few events in U. S. history that spark the imagination to “what happened” than the disappearance of Flight 19 on December 5, 1945. In brief, for those unfamiliar with the story, Flight 19 was a training flight of five Grumman TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers that took off from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, FL on the afternoon of December 5, 1945.  The training flight was to take them east and fly near the Bahama Islands and then return to Fort Lauderdale. The purpose of the training was to teach dead reckoning skills and using speed, heading, and elapsed time to navigate. The first part of the flight in getting to the Bahamas was successful. It was on the return when things took a different turn. One of the compelling aspects of this story compared to others of ships or aircraft lost in the Bermuda Triangle is that the air stations along eastern Florida were either listening to or in communication with the flight commander Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor as the flight was getting lost.  Starting around 3 PM, transmissions from the lost planes began to be received. For the next three hours, naval air stations listened to the growing confusion and frustration of the commanding pilot as he tried to figure out how to either get back or land somewhere safe. Then the radio transmissions ended about 6:30 PM that evening with LT Talyor saying that they might have to ditch at sea unless they found land and that when the first plane goes below 10 gallons of fuel, then all will ditch together.


Sadly, this was only the first part of this tragedy.  The Navy sent out units to search for the lost planes as early as 6 PM that evening.  Among the search and rescue units were two PBM-5 Martin Mariners, large seaplanes, from Naval Air Station Banana River, FL that took off at 7:27 PM.  One the PBM-5’s made a routine call at 7:30 PM and then was never heard from again. There is some evidence that the Mariner may have exploded in mid-air because there were reports from vessels at sea near the Mariner’s patrol area saying they saw a “fireball” approximately around the time another ship lost RADAR contact with the plane.


The U. S. Navy was baffled by the loss of both the Avengers and the Mariner, and so they investigated.


Among the newly added series of digitized records to the National Archives Catalog is National Archives Publication M1657: Folder A17: Fort Lauderdale-5 TBM Crash-December 5, 1945 THRU PBM-1946, a single reel of microfilm that is part of the series Subject Files, 1945-1958 in the Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments (Record Group 181) that are in the custody of the National Archives at Fort Worth, TX. The microfilmed series is a collection of materials that was eventually used in the Navy’s Board of Investigation including weather observations, the history of the aircraft and engine logs, a rough crash log, radio station logs, preflight forms, communication logs, incident reports, air/sea rescue plans, maps of the search area.


In addition to these records, there are related records in other series that have not been digitized in the custody of the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference. In the World War II Command Files that are part of the Records of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38), there is a file unit titled Shore Establishments, Jacksonville Naval Air Station Board of Investigation 5 TBM Avengers 7 December 1945 that includes a copy of the findings of the Board of Investigation (Box 419). There is another copy of the Board of Investigation in file units Type of Command, Training, Naval Air Advanced Training Command, Jacksonville, FL Board of Investigation into Missing TBMs and PBM Airplanes December 7, 1945 Part I and Part II (Box 373). 


In the Casualty Assistance Branch Ships, Stations, Units, And Incidents Casualty Information Records in the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24), there are casualty reports filed under NAS Fort Lauderdale (Box 109) and under NAS Banana River (Box 108). These files include correspondence from the Casualty Assistance Branch regarding the circumstances of the losses and any legal changes to their status.  Part of the file addresses the aircrews’ status as missing versus being declared dead.


On the other side of the story, not only were trained personnel lost, but so were several planes. The accident reports for the aircraft can be located in the series titled General Correspondence, 1943-45 in the Records of the Bureau of Aeronautics (Record Group 72). The five Avengers are filed under “VTBM1/L11-1 1945” in Box 5181 and the Mariner is filed under “VPBM5/L11-1 1945” in Box 4766. These accident reports include a form report describing the circumstances of the loss of the aircraft, who was aboard at the time, additional information related to the search efforts, and the general decision on who or what was to blame for the loss. In this particular case, a decision was made, based on the evidence on hand, but deferred the final decision to the Board of Investigation to be held later.


In addition to the records at the National Archives in College Park, there may be other relevant records relating to Flight 19 that were created by local naval air stations and the regional naval district. The records of the 7th Naval District (Florida) and the naval air stations that were involved in the incident are in the custody of the National Archives at Atlanta. An example of these records are the Central Subject Files, 1942-1945 of the 7th Naval District. Because these are administrative files, they are arranged using the Navy Filing Manual 4th Edition, 1941.  A short of list of select filing designations are A17-9 (Naval Courts and Boards), A17-24 (Court of Inquiry), A17-25 (Board of Investigations), L11-1 (Material Loss), the different aircraft types, VTBM1 and VPBM5, and the different naval air stations NA29 - Jacksonville NAS, NA59 - Cocoa and Banana River NAS, and NA106 - Fort Lauderdale NAS.


Besides these records that directly relate the topic of Flight 19, there may be other series in  record groups that are overlooked because they are not as well known and somewhat difficult to use. An example of this are the records in Record Group 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces.  Located at the National Archives in College Park and in the regional branches like the National Archives in Atlanta, this record group is divided into naval commands, and there may be several entries per command that cover World War II through the late 1950’s.  These records are difficult to use because most, not all, have not been processed and described, and therefore do not have easy to use finding aids. As an example of this method, using the information from the Board of Investigation, it references the Gulf Sea Frontier and Commander, Training Command, Atlantic Fleet as being contributors of reports in the investigation and recipients of copies of the investigation.  The training flight and the aircraft were organized under Naval Air Training Command, Atlantic Fleet, which is a subordinate command to Commander, Training Command, Atlantic Fleet, and the search and rescue effort were conducted by units from the Gulf Sea Frontier. So any records from these commands could potentially have relevant records.


Located at the National Archives in College Park, there are two series of correspondence both the Commander, Gulf Sea Frontier and the Commander, Training Command, Atlantic Fleet. The majority of the series in RG 313 still are unprocessed and undescribed. In many cases, the agency paperwork that came with the records are used as ad hoc finding aids.  This is in part why these series in RG 313 are often overlooked.


For the Gulf Sea Frontier, there are the Unclassified Correspondence, 1940-1946 and Formerly Security Classified Correspondence, 1940-1946, which are arranged using the Navy Filing Manual, so the suggested filing designations are a good place to start. As it is these series have been processed with container lists, so they are more accessible.


For Training Command, Atlantic Fleet are the Confidential, Restricted and Secret General Administrative Files, 1944-1945 and the Confidential and Unclassified General Administrative Files, 1941-46.  Both series are arranged by the Navy Filing Manual. These two series have not been processed or described, so the record dossiers would be the finding aids.


The loss of the planes in Flight 19 and the search plane PBM5 in 1945 with all the new innovations of RADAR, IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) Transponders, and the myriad of equipment that was available to pilots and crew to help them survive a crash, stay afloat and help searchers find them goes to show how big the ocean still is.  Six, relatively small, planes proved to be impossible to locate in churning waters of the Atlantic and in among the miles of shore lines of Florida, Grand Bahamas, and elsewhere. The loss of the planes and crew of Flight 19 remains a mystery to this day.


To continue to highlight new digital series available on the National Archives Catalog, World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, 1942-1946 is another series that has come from NARA’s digital partners. This series includes some war diaries, some action reports, some submarine patrol reports and some battle histories of various naval, Marine, and other Allied commands during World War II. These records were scanned from a microfilm series that the Navy created from select war diaries and other reports.


This series is the first step in researching a Naval and some Marine operations during World War II, but remember this is not a comprehensive series of war diaries and so its title is a little misleading.  If you cannot find a war diary or an operational report for the Naval command you are interested in the digitized war diary series, then please be aware that there are larger textual series of War Diaries, Action and Other Operational Reports, World War II Command Files in the Records of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38) and the U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II (a. k. a. Geographic Files) in the Records of the US Marine Corps (Record Group 127) where you might find what you are looking for. 


One of the interesting tricks to the textual series of war diaries is that there are some command war diaries that have been stamped saying that a certain portion of the war diary has been microfilmed. Those microfilmed portions can be found in this series.  As a follow-up to this statement, please do not assume that in all cases where one series ends the other begins. There are several cases where there is duplication and in others there are exclusively solitary copies of reports - meaning they exist solely in one series and not in the other. 


The duplication of reports in multiple series or the isolation of unique reports in individual series can be said for action and other operational reports.  Again If you cannot find a particular action report or Marine operational report, then you might try to look at the associated textual record series.

If you need to check for the availability of a war diary, action report, or another type of operational report, then please contact the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) via email, and RDT2 can check their holdings.  If you are interested in getting a copy, then please provide your mailing address and phone number in your request in case RDT2 needs to draft a reproduction order form for you.

In the last few years, the National Archives has been partnering with online services like and to digitize microfilm and microfiche series of records. The intent was that after a span of time on these sites, these materials eventually will be made available on our Catalog. One of these series is the World War II Submarine War Patrol Reports, NARA Publication M1752, NAID 305243, and Entry A1 307 in Record Group 38: Records of the Chief of Naval Operations.


This series is arranged by the name of the submarine and then by war patrol number, but through the Catalog, you can “Search Within This Series” and search for any specific submarine.


Please remember, this series only includes reports of assigned war patrols and war patrols that were completed. The majority of the war patrol reports are from submarines assigned to Commander, Submarine Forces, Pacific; Commander, Submarine Forces, Southwest Pacific; and Commander, Submarine Forces, 7th Fleet. If you are looking for periods of training, extra duties outside of a patrol, or when a submarine was lost, then you will need to look in other records in Record Group 38: Records of the Chief of Naval Operations or in Record Group 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces.


At the beginning of World War II, Chief of Naval Operations and Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet decided that submarines operating in the Pacific were not to maintain war diaries like other vessels, but to file report on their assigned war patrols as an equivalent record of activity.


The war patrol reports consist of several sections including a brief summary of events between patrols, which covers training and overhauls, a chronology of patrol, a record of sightings (ships and aircraft), data on torpedo firing, and evaluations of different departments and sections aboard the boat on how equipment and crew performed during the patrol.


These records and this digital collection is helpful to begin any research on World War II Submarine Operations in the Pacific. During the war, submarines were asked to do more than sinking ships.  They were asked to drop off or pick up troops like in the Makin Island Raid and the invasion of Adak, rescue downed pilots in lifeguarding missions, photo-reconnaissance missions, evacuating people and material, and to lay mines.  Sometimes there were additional reports that were filed, but not included in the war patrol reports.  These additional reports can sometimes be found in the World War II Action and Operational Reports, Entry A1 351 in Record Group 38: Records of the Chief of Naval Operations, NAID 305236.  The action reports can also include reports on the loss of a submarine, collecting all the available information on when they were last hear from or seen.


There are other series within Record Group 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces under Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, Commander, Submarine Forces, Pacific and Commander, Submarine Forces, Southwest Pacific. There are several entries for these commands within this record group.  These series are the administrative files of these commands and are arranged by or use the Navy Filing Manual (4th Edition, 1941). You can use these files to further develop the background to a mission or what information was gained from a mission.