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HH104 American Naval History

A Library Research Guide intended for USNA Midshipmen enrolled in HH104

Ship Histories

Initial places to check for information about a ship or boat are:

  • Jane's Fighting Ships -- Use the yearly print volumes back to 1898 for older ships no longer in service (i.e., decommissioned).  The print volumes are at call number VA40.F52 on the third floor of Nimitz Library.

  • The Library Catalog -- there may be a book on your ship or boat or look for books on the class of ship. You'll also find a collection of "cruise books" on the third floor at call number VA65.

Searching the library catalog for your ship can sometimes be tricky, see a librarian for assistance.  For example, the USS New Jersey is officially listed under the subject heading:

New Jersey (Battleship : BB-62)
  • Shipindex is an online database which provides references to articles or chapters of books on specific ships.  Use the "Find a ship by name" search to check for any references in numerous published sources.  Free access is limited to references in a limited number of sources.

  • E. Andrew Wilde, Jr., Commander, USNR (Ret.) edited a series of illustrated ships’ histories primarily of destroyers sunk in World War II. In them, he included primary source documents such as action reports, ships’ war diaries, medal citations and muster rolls as well as many firsthand accounts. Nimitz Library has 50 of these published histories and more than 30 of the Illustrated Ships Histories are available in pdf format at the Destroyer History Foundation's website.   

  • For books that will discuss ship design, start with the appropriate one in this series of illustrated design histories by Norman Friedman.

Other Primary Sources:

Check for journal or newspaper articles from when your ship or boat was commissioned or in the news for some reason.  A librarian can help you find these, no matter how old your ship is. The U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, which began in 1874, may be another good source for articles.  Check the index to the Proceedings - the index is a print volume that tells you what articles were published when.  Ask the librarians for help at any time!

There are also some Congressional or Navy Dept. Hearings on shipbuilding programs which are another possible primary source, but they are not online.  For example, Hearings Before the General Board of the Navy, 1917-1950 is a useful collection on 15 reels of microfilm under VA52.A834H43.  Or older Naval Affairs Committee Hearings are in the general collection book stacks under VA53.A2.

Other kinds of primary sources might include:

  • war patrol reports,
  • papers of the officer who commanded the ship,
  • records of an inquiry into an accident or disaster involving the ship,
  • debates on funding or requirements,
  • papers of ship designers like John Ericsson,
  • ships logs or cruise books,
  • first hand accounts of battles involving the ship.

There may be some original primary source material in Nimitz Library's Special Collections and Archives Division, so you might want to check with them as well.

For more on logbooks available outside of USNA you may want to take a look at "Logbooks of the U.S. Navy at the National Archives"

Ask a librarian for additional assistance or contact the History Librarian, Michael Macan

Oral Histories

There are many sources for oral histories of those who served aboard ship, mainly since World War II.  One source for oral histories is the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project