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Dear Mr. Phillips,
Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!
For studying the actions of individual ships, we usually suggest that you begin with the ship deck logs rather than records of higher level organizations. We searched the National Archives Catalog and located Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships and Stations, 1941 - 1983 in the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24) that includes the deck logs of most of the commissioned Navy ships that served during World War II. A small number have been digitized and are listed on the webpage Navy Deck Logs Available in the National Archives Catalog. Please contact the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) at Archives2reference@nara.gov to inquire about the availability of logs for specific ships which are not listed on the linked webpage.
We also located the series World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 - ca. 6/1/1946 in the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38) that contains war diaries and other records for individual ships as well as various task units, task groups, task forces, and fleets. These records have been digitized and are available online. We searched the series for "Third fleet" OR "3rd Fleet" and located 284 results. Searching for the designations of specific task groups, task forces, or ships may produce additional results that are relevant to your research. Please note that the file titles sometimes contain headings formatted according to Navy abbreviation conventions, such as COMTASK-UNIT 30.8.12, therefore, it may be necessary to search by the abbreviations to locate all the relevant files.
In addition, we located 5 record series created by Third Fleet, 1 record series created by the First Carrier Task Force, 4 record series created by the Second Fast Carrier Task Force, and 25 record series created by Commander, South Pacific Area and Force in the Records of Naval Operating Forces (Record Group 313). These records are not available online. Please email RDT2 for more information.
Next, we located the World War II Command Files in the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38) that includes files relating to various organizations and sometimes individual ships. Using the blue “Search within this series” button we located 14 results for "Third fleet" OR "3rd Fleet" and one result for "Fast Carrier Task Force". Searching for the designations of specific task groups, ships, or squadrons may produce additional results that are relevant to your research. These records are not available online. Please email RDT2 for more information.
Another series located is the World War II Action and Operational Reports, 12/7/1941 - 1946 in Record Group 38 which contains reports from fleets, task forces, task groups, and individual ships. The Catalog description does not list individual files, however there is an index to the series in the custody of the reference unit. These records are not available online. Please email RDT2 for more information.
Further, we located the Operational Plans and Orders and Related Documents, 1941 - 1945 that includes plans for Third Fleet in boxes 57 and 58 as well as various other organizations. These records are not available online. Please email RDT2 for more information.
Besides the textual records, we also located the U.S. Navy Ship Navigation Plots, 1942 - 1944 in Record Group 313 that were created by Third Fleet. For more information about these records, please email National Archives at College Park - Cartographic (RDSC) at email@example.com.
Photographs of various Navy activities dating from 1940 to 2007 are in the custody of the National Archives at College Park - Still Picture (RDSS). Some photographs have been digitized and are available online through searching the National Archives Catalog. Please review National Archives Catalog Search Tips for advice on searching the Catalog. Others have not yet been digitized. Please contact RDSS via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance with locating photographs of specific ships.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDT2, RDSC, and RDSS. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.
Finally, we suggest that you consult the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships that includes articles about most of the Navy ships of World War II. Plus, the NHHC has a number of other resources on their website relating to World War II. A search for “Third Fleet” turns off a number of results on their websites, and searches for specific ships often turn up additional resources.
There are many unofficial websites with useful information about World War II ships. One which we frequently suggest is NavSource.
We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your research!
[Some information provided by Nate Patch, Subject Matter Expert]
Thank you for this thorough and helpful series of references!