U. S. Navy Auxiliary Vessels, 1920-1945
formerly the Naval Historical Center (NHC) and the Naval History Division
Ships' Data, U.S. Naval Vessels, published by the Bureau of Ships, 1945 edition (3 volumes). This was the default source for many ship characteristics, specifically the limiting (maximum safe) displacement, overall length, waterline length (which usually was actually between perpendiculars), beam (indicated as extreme), limiting (maximum safe) draft, speed, horsepower, and propulsion machinery. The name of the shipbuilder and dates of acquisition, keel laying, launching, and commissioning were also obtained here, although most were also found in other sources. Light displacements mostly came from the 1949 edition of this reference, while data on ships no longer in the Navy in 1945 were found in earlier editions, including an unpublished 1942 edition in either the Navy Department Library or the Ships Histories files described below.
Navy Department Bulletin (Restricted series), 1945-1952. Reclassification, renaming, and strike notices. Later actions of these types were found in the Ships Histories files.
Merchant Vessels of the United States, published by the U.S. Treasury Department, provided information on obscure vessels obtained from the U.S. merchant marine and was an essential source for subsequent mercantile names of vessels sold by the Navy.
Ships Histories Files
These files, along with ship logs and action reports, were the primary sources for the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, which was produced in the Ships Histories Branch of the Naval History Division and Naval Historical Center. They consist of "Source Folders," one for each ship, and a large collection of publications and other materials. The following specific items were particularly important for this work.
Cards in the Source Folders. Several series of ship data cards were integrated into the Source Folders, notably a set of 8.5" x 9.25" Ship's Information Cards (often accompanied by multiple Characteristics Cards) maintained by the Statistics Division of the Bureau of Construction and Repair since around 1900, a set of successor 8" x 10" Ships Information Cards maintained in the Bureau of Ships during World War II, and a set of 5" x 8" status cards maintained (possibly in OPNAV) from around 1942 to at least late March 1959, when the Naval History Division received its last delivery of cards for ships that had left the service. These and other cards in these folders provided many kinds of information and were a particularly convenient source for decommissioning dates, conversion yards, and ship sales by the Navy up to 1959.
Ship Movement Microfiche, 1941-ca. 1958. Microfiche file of cards maintained by the Movements Reports Center of the Fleet Operations Division of OPNAV on which data on the status and movement of ships received by radio messages was recorded. For each ship there are introductory cards concerning the vessel's readiness and repair status followed by multiple cards on which the ship's movements were recorded. Used as a substitute for the cards in the Source Folders, which were missing for ships still on the Navy List in March 1959. This microfiche file was transferred from the NHC Operational Archives to the Ships Histories files in around 2008.
SECNAV/OPNAV Notices 5441, 1952-1965. The primary source for ship strikes. These were scattered throughout the Ships Histories files, and only a few eluded eventual discovery. Later ship strike correspondence through the early 1980s along with correspondence on ship reclassifications and renamings was found in the Source Folders.
Data on ship sales by the Navy is scattered throughout the Ships Histories files, notably in the Source Folders, in a computer printout of data maintained in Ships Histories on punch cards during the 1970s (prepared primarily by then-staff member Samuel L. Morison), and in printouts up to 1996 from a database maintained by the Naval Sea Systems Command. Most large auxiliaries however were sold by the Maritime Administration, not the Navy, and their disposal data came from the MA records described below.
Permanent Report of Completed Ship Construction Contracts issued by the Construction Division of the United States Maritime Commission ca. 1948. This was the primary source for contract and construction dates for all ships built by the MC.
Armament Summary, issued by the Bureau of Ordnance and successor organizations from 1941 into at least the 1980s, declassified. This long series of volumes was the primary source for post-World War II armaments. These volumes were transferred from the NHC Operational Archives to the Ships Histories files in around 2008.
Naval Vessel Register, issued by BuShips beginning on 25 March 1946 replacing the Vessel Register issued by the Bureau of Ordnance during the war and the List of U. S. Naval Vessels (NAVSHIPS 250-005) issued by BuShips. It was merged in 1959 with the Ships Data Book, which was last published in 1956. Paper copies were issued through at least 1 April 1995 and the NVR continues to exist as a web site online here. This long series was a primary source for, among other things, ship status (in commission, in reserve), reclassifications, and disposals.
Contracts Awarded Private Shipyards for Construction of Naval Vessels since 1 January 1934, NAVSHIPS (1851) Report No. 92, 15 January 1946, is an essential reference for ship construction contract dates and contract cancellations and reassignments. A 1 July 1955 edition that adds information on orders from Navy Yards also exists.
Changes to the Armament Summary (changes No. 1 to No. 131, 19 Dec 41 to 26 Dec 44). These documents consist of change pages and lists of pen-and-ink corrections to existing pages of the Armament Summary, issued to holders of the basic publication soon after BuOrd became aware of the changes. These sheets, along with the basic publications, were the primary source for World War II armaments. Changes 8, 48, 49, 59, and 80 were missing from the Operational Archives files but reproductions from National Archives Record Groups 74, 80, and 38 were provided to complete the series.
Record Group 19 (Bureau of Construction & Repair, Bureau of Ships from 1940)
Unclassified correspondence, 1925-1940 (Entry 115), and Confidential correspondence 1925-40 (UD-1). At NA I (downtown Washington, DC). Within the hull type and hull number files the most useful subject numbers were S1-1 (design, for Navy-built ships) and L9 (conversion). Examples: AD14-15/S1-1, AO22-24/L9, AV/S1-1.
General Correspondence, 1940-1945 (Entry 1266). At NA II (College Park, MD). This massive file contains unclassified and confidential items filed together, the latter with file symbols prefixed with "C-". The hull number files in this entry were perhaps the most important single source for the Class Notes, although others like the General Board and Auxiliary Vessels Board files were also essential. The most useful subject numbers were A1-3 (building programs), L4-3 (contracts and orders), L6-3 (progress reports), L9-3 (alterations, repairs, overhauls), QS1 (merchant vessels, particularly QS1/L4), S1 (design, particularly S1-1 (preparation of design) and S1-4 (general specifications)), S28 (designation, mainly for hull number assignments), and S74 (AA guns, which included all guns for auxiliaries).
Principal Characteristics of Vessels Acquired for Conversion. NA II. NAVSHIPS (731) Report 57, 66 pages, issued by BuShips 1 May 1944, and Principal Characteristics of New Construction, NAVSHIPS (731) Report 56, 37 pages, 15 June 1944 (a 1 July 1943 edition is also in the file). Filed in RG19, Entry 1266, file C-S1-1-(1), Box 2. This was the default source for ship complement (crew size) figures and a useful backup for other characteristics.
Record Group 74 (Bureau of Ordnance)
Records of guns and mounts afloat, 1860-1942 (Entry 118). NA I. Gun cards in various formats, some for individual guns (having data up through about 1925) and some listing guns carried on individual ships (having data from roughly 1917 up through about mid-1942, but with some ships missing). These card files were the primary source for armaments prior to the first Armament Summary (January 1941).
Armament Summaries, 1941-1957 (Entry 1026). NA II. Boxes 1-6 contain basic publications and printed change pages between March 1941 and September 1946. Many pages also have later pen and ink changes.
Record Group 80 (Department of the Navy)
Formerly Security-Classified CNO/SECNAV General Correspondence, 1940-47 (UD-16). NA II. Arranged chronologically in seven principal subseries (1940-1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946 and 1947), each of which is in two main segments, one confidential, the other secret. The QS1/L4 files cover acquisition of merchant ships and the AA/QB files contained most of the Auxiliary Vessels Board reports as indicated below (two being in the Secret series and the rest in the Confidential series).
General Board, 1900-1950. NA I. The main records used were the studies in the Board's subject file 420-5 (auxiliary vessels), which contained the General Board's own reports and recommendations plus relevant correspondence and documents from other commands.
Reports of the Auxiliary Vessels Board (No. 1 to No. 104, 11 Feb 41 to 10 Jul 45, plus two postwar reports). NA II. These, which summarize much other correspondence not otherwise located, are filed in the General Correspondence files (above) as follows:
Nos. 1-6, 11-15: RG80 (1941), Box 459-460, FS/A9-10
Nos. 7-10, 16-26: RG80 (1941), Box 162, AA/QB
Nos. 27-61 less 50: RG80 (1942), Box 524, AA/QB
No. 50: RG80 (1942), SC Corresp., Box 344, S-AA/QB
Nos. 62-83 less 68: RG80 (1943), Box 1021-22, AA/QB
No. 68: RG80 (1943), SC Corresp., Box 715, S-AA/QB
Nos. 84-98: RG80 (1944), Box 1466, AA/QB
Nos. 99-104: RG80 (1945), Box 2419, AA/QB
-- Two later reports, Nos. 105-106, exist in Record Group 19 (1946), General Correspondence, Box 1221, QB/Aux. Vess. Bd.
-- Many of the 1942-45 reports of the District Craft Development Board are also filed under AA/QB in the RG80 boxes listed above, while some 1941 reports may be filed under YY/L8-3.
-- National Defense Reserve Inventory monthly reports, which are online here. These are currently available in PDF format back to 2002 and were once available back to 1984.
-- A large file of "Vessel Status Cards," which was consulted at MARAD headquarters for this study and which was once online at https://www.marad.dot.gov/marad_statistics/vsc/vscmain.html.
-- A similar card file contained in MARAD's PMARS (Property Management and Archive Record System), which disappeared from the MARAD web site in early 2012.
Office of Ship Disposal Programs. As of around 2000, this office had extensive files on ship disposals by the Maritime Commission and Maritime Administration beginning circa 1945. Copies of several key records were supplied to the Naval History Division's Ships Histories Branch in the 1970s, one of these being a listing of all sales, most numbered in the PD-X series, from which MA sale information including dates of delivery to scrappers and completion of scrapping was taken. Data on MC and MA sales of small vessels (tugs, etc.) that were not handled in the PD-X series was taken from a card file in this office.
United States Shipping Board: Contract and Requisitioned Steamships Taken Over on August 3, 1917, a PDF of which is available in the Reference portion of this web site, was the primary source for construction dates of ships built by the Shipping Board.
Miramar Ship Index, online here, began as an online version of the Schell-Starke list of merchant ships (based on Lloyd's Register and similar sources) implemented by World Ship Society volunteers in New Zealand who have subsequently expanded it and kept it up to date. This subscription service ($20 per year after a 7-day trial period) is the most comprehensive source for merchant ship data on the web.
The five volumes of the American Merchant Marine History Series, by Mark H. Goldberg, published by the American Merchant Marine Museum. These are The "Hog Islanders" (1991), Caviar & Cargo: The C3 Passenger Ships (1992), Going Bananas: 100 Years of American Fruit Ships in the Caribbean (1993), The Shipping Board's "Agency Ships": Part I, the "Sub Boats" (1994), and The Stately President Liners: Part I, the "502"s (1996). Mr. Goldberg has also generously provided material from the manuscripts of two additional volumes as yet unpublished, Prizes of War (on the German ships taken over by the U.S. in 1917), and The Stately President Liners: Part II, the "535"s.
U. S. Naval Ships Data arranged by Hull Classification, Volumes I through VI, by H. E. Musgrove, a loose-leaf publication available as of 2009 from MBCC, P.O. Box I, Hazelwood, MO 63042. This meticulous work covering all Navy ships since 1920 and apparently compiled mainly from published secondary sources was used here primarily for decommissioning dates missing in official sources but contains a huge amount of valuable information.
The five-volume U.S. Navy Warship Series by Paul H. Silverstone, extending from 1775 to 2007 and providing extensive information on all U.S. Navy ships during those years, is a monumental accomplishment by an expert who has been active in the field since around the 1960s. In line with the current author's policy of using primary official sources to the greatest extent possible, very little information from Silverstone's work was used in the present work, but his is an essential source for anyone interested in U.S. Navy ships.
U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft by Norman Friedman (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002). This is the only volume in Dr. Friedman's exhaustive U.S. warship design history series that covers some of the ship types that are in this web site, specifically the AGC, AKA, APA, APH, and LSV types plus some transports (AP) that were used as attack transports without being reclassified APAs. The reader is referred to this volume for far more detailed treatments of these types than can be provided here as well as for numerous illustrations and an excellent bibliography.
Troopships of World War II by Roland W. Charles, published in 1947 by the Army Transportation Association, Washington, D.C., contains specifications, histories, and photographs for all of the major troopships operated by the Army, Navy, and War Shipping Administration during World War II. Much of this information was probably drawn from the files of the Army Transportation Corps, whose staff assisted in the book's preparation.