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The Wars of Bulgaria (1878-1945)

A thematic website developed by the Bulgarian Archives State Agency (Държавна агенция „Архиви“)

by Doctor Anna Batzeli post-doctoral researcher.

Anna Batzeli PhD at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), currently she is working as a postdoctoral researcher on different case-studies in the modern history of Greece and the Balkans. Anna has published two books and several papers. Her publications can be found at:

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our friend Anna Batzeli for her commitment and her participation to this project for the second time. Thanks a lot!

Figure 1: The “The Wars of Bulgaria (1878-1945)” frontpage.


In 2015, on the occasion of 70 years since the end of World War II, 100 years since Bulgaria entered World War I, and 130 years since the Serbo-Bulgarian War, the Archives State Agency of Bulgaria developed a thematic website to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians who died during these wars.

Almost 10 years since the launch of “The Wars of Bulgaria (1878-1945)”, the website continues to contribute to the preservation of historical memory in the country and remains a key tool for researchers, who can explore its collections from anywhere.

This is particularly important for foreign researchers who are willing to study Bulgaria’s role during these wars and compare Bulgarian perceptions and experiences with those of other countries.

The aim of this short piece is to briefly present “The Wars of Bulgaria (1878-1945)” thematic website (here the link).

The Wars of Bulgaria (1878-1945)

The “Wars of Bulgaria (1878-1945)” was launched in 2015 and consists of four collections: 1. The Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885-1886), 2. The Balkan Wars (1912-1913), 3. World War I (1914-1918), and 4. World War II (1939-1945).

Each collection provides visitors to the website with a concise presentation of the war, emphasizing Bulgaria’s role and a chronology of the main events. Each collection consists of archival items divided into three categories: 1. Lists of the Bulgarian soldiers who died during the war, 2. Historical documents, and 3. Photographs.

In particular:

1. The Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885-1886):

The collection on the “Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885-1886)” in the first category, “Lists of the Bulgarian soldiers who died during the war,” provides access to over 600 documents, while the second category “Historical documents,” is divided into five sub-sections which cover different aspects of the war.

The first sub-section of the “Historical documents” includes historical documents that detail the impact of the Bulgarian Unification and the events that led to the war.

The second sub-section contains documents related to the battlefields and covers aspects related to the concentration and mobilization of the Bulgarian troops, documents related to the Western and Northern Fronts, as well as soldiers’ personal documents, such as letters.

The third sub-section includes archival items related to the societal impact of the war and the voluntary support movement.

The fourth sub-section contains historical documents developed at the end of the war and covers the following topics: Europe’s reaction to the war, peace talks, consequences of the war, post-war commemoration initiatives, and awards to the soldiers. Finally, the fifth sub-section contains private documents.

The collection on the “Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885-1886)” also provides access to approximately 60 photographs (such as individual and group portraits) and a few maps. 

Figure 2: Portrait of Lieutenant Panayot Dvoryanov ‒ commander of the Sandrov and Ruse volunteer detachments, head of the Chupren section, who organized the defense of Belogradchik during the war (Ruse, 1887), source:

2. The Balkan Wars (1912-1913):

The collection of the “The Balkan Wars (1912-1913)” has 1,906 subpages with “Lists of the Bulgarian soldiers who died during the war,” while its “Historical documents,” category is divided into six sub-sections, similar to those of the “Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885-1886)”:

  • Documents related to the beginning of the war;
  • Documents covering the front (which is divided into the following sub-collections: i. Military actions until the Chataldzhan armistice (October – November 1912), ii. Hostilities (December 1912 – March 1913), iii. Bulgarian Navy and Air Force and iv. Documents developed by Soldiers);
  • Documents related to other aspects of the wars;
  • Documents related to the Second Balkan War (June–July 1913);
  • Documents related to the end of the Balkan Wars (which consists of the following sub-sections: London Conference and Peace Treaty, Bucharest Peace Treaty and Constantinople Treaty, Losses, Consequences, Memory of the war, Care for the injured and refugees);
  • Private documents (letters, archives, etc.).

The collection of the “The Balkan Wars (1912-1913)” also has a gallery with over 300 photographs, maps, postcards, etc.

3. The World War I (1914-1918):

Equally rich as the  “The Balkan Wars (1912-1913)” collection is the collection on “The World War I (1914-1918)”.

Starting with its “Lists” section, it should be noted that “The World War I (1914-1918)” lists are divided into lists on Bulgarian soldiers who died during the war and to those who were awarded for their services to the motherland.

The “Historical documents,” category is divided as it follows:

  • The beginning of the First World War and Bulgaria (1914–1915);
  • At the front (mobilization, military actions, support, documents developed by soldiers, soldier mutinies, demobilization);
  • Documents related to other aspects of the war (such as military life, the administration of newly acquired lands, requisitions, prisoners of war (foreign, Bulgarian), support to soldiers and their families);
  • End of the war (Peace talks, Losses, Consequences of the war, Awarded soldiers, Memory of the war, Care for the injured and refugees);
  • Private documents.

Finally, the collection’s gallery provides access to over a thousand photographs, maps, postcards, paintings, etc.

4. The World War II (1919-1945): The collection on ‘World War II (1919-1945)’ has 511 subpages with ‘Lists of the Bulgarian soldiers who died during the war.’

Its ‘Historical documents’ category contains documents related to the beginning and the end of the war, the front, as well as documents related to other aspects of the war, parallel developments, and private documents.

The ‘World War II (1919-1945)’ gallery has 12 subpages with photographs.

Figure 3: Image of the mobile Austro-Hungarian field printing office during World War I (source:

Closing remarks

It should be added that the archival items contained in the collections on the World War I (1914-1918) and the World War II (1919-1945) were utilised in the framework of public initiatives to mark the anniversaries of these wars.

Lastly, the Bulgarian Archives State Agency in addition to “The Wars of Bulgaria (1878-1945)”, has developed the following thematic websites that are useful to researchers:

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Istanbul congress, new engagements

The Committee of Military Archives provided an overview of the meeting held on 2nd September 2023 in Istanbul through a short post published just after the Congress.

According to the agenda of the Committee of Military Archives meeting in Istanbul one of the topic was CAM activities and specifically the blog results.

We presented the results of the working year 2022/2023 and our considerations in front of all the National Commissions during the General Assembly of the International Commission of Military History on 8th September according to the general program.

Now, we are happy to share more information on the CAM topics touched during our presentation.

The first slide of our presentation in front of the General Assembly

With the agenda the CAM presented:

  • the results of the Committee meeting;
  • the visit to the Istanbul national archives;
  • some updates on our committee;
  • the CAM blog and future activities;
  • the military archives online guide;
  • the CAM on X.

Regarding the meeting information, please see the dedicated post. Moving to the surprise we received at the end of the Congress, we were very happy to be invited for a visit to the Istanbul National Archives (we will dedicate a specific post on it).

Regarding the CAM blog, the steering committee decided to offer an overview of the facts and figures on the working year 2022-2023. On this point, we presented some suggestions to include more contributors.

Giving an overview of the results of the Military Archives Online Guide we can affirm that they are not so enthusiastic but we are still committed to continue our effort in this project.

At the end of the short speech we presented the decision of the CAM steering committee to open an X (former twitter) account in order to increase our visibility on the internet. Ideally, we would like to repost the tweet of national archives on the social network and to revive our job online.

Please feel free to follow us on X!

The conclusions presented by the CAM to the General Assembly

At the end, the CAM steering committee stated the conclusions as follows.

We will:

  • continue to promote our projects;
  • enlarge our actions to the National Commissions within the ICMH;
  • publish other posts on the blog;
  • engage more directly the Military National Archives.

To conclude, the Committee of Military Archives invites all the members of the National Commissions, all the delegates and attendees of the CAM meetings and all the volunteers to engage directly in this blog proposing themes and topics.

We will be more than happy to enjoy together.

8th September 2023, the visit to the National Archives in Istanbul. the CAM representative during the meeting with the Deputy Director, Dr. Sebahattin BAYRAM.

See you soon!

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A new era for Spanish archives approaches

by Colonel Manuel García Cabezas, member of the Spanish Commission of Military History

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our colleague Manuel García Cabezas for his committment and his participation to this project

The Spanish government presented in August 2022 a draft law on classified information that aims to replace the current law on official secrets that regulates the management of national classified information.

The new draft has been long and widely expected if we take into account that the current law dates from 1968, slightly modified after the approval of the Spanish Constitution in 1978.

This law has been repeatedly challenged by various sectors of activity, including journalists who saw it as contrary to the rights to information and transparency, and by researchers who considered it an almost insurmountable obstacle to access to historical documentation in the national archives.

The final report of the Spanish Civil War signed by general Francisco Franco

The Spanish Government itself remarks the need for the new law in the explanatory memorandum to the preliminary draft.

In this text the Madrid executive recognizes the constitutional right of access to public information, as well as the capacity of the State to preserve classified information, but “the sacrifice of citizenship rights that is made in favour of the State as a whole must have limits” which, the text adds, “must be weighed on a case-by-case basis […], making this process the exception, not the rule.

The future law establishes, for the first time in Spain’s history, a system of temporal limits on the confidentiality of information, giving the certainty that there will no longer be stolen information from the public to the public indefinitely”.

The need to adapt the Spanish legal regime to the international situation is also recognized in the new draft when it is stated that “there is no homogeneity or regulatory systematization in this area. Most of the rules governing classified information are instructions issued by the internal bodies of the administration, which also does not have a system of administrative penalties for non-compliance.”

In particular, the Spanish Government refers to the need to adapt Spanish rules to Council Decision 2013/488/EU of 23 September on security standards for the protection of EU classified information, which establishes a set of basic principles and minimum-security standards to be respected by members States for the protection of EU classified information. NATO and European Space Agency regulations also require a standardization effort on the part of Spain.

Once approved the future law, there will be four categories of the information to be preserved: “ALTO SECRETO”, “SECRETO”, “CONFIDENCIAL” and “RESTRINGIDO “.

The 1968 law envisages so far only “SECRETO” and “RESERVADO”, although in the military fields they were others called “CONFIDENCIAL” and “DIFUSIÓN LIMITADA”.

The competence for the classification, reclassification and declassification of information classified in the categories ALTO SECRETO and SECRETO will correspond exclusively to the Council of Ministers, without this competence being delegated in any way. The competence for the classification, reclassification and declassification of information corresponding to the categories CONFIDENCIAL and RESTRINGIDO will be assigned, within the framework of its competences, to various authorities, not all military and not all at national level, opening the possibility for regional authorities to classify information.

A NationalSecurityAuthority will be set up, which has hitherto existed only for the protection of internationally classified information. This authority will not be under the aegis of the Ministry of Defense, a novelty, and it will be responsible for the protection of information classified in the categories “ALTO SECRETO”, “SECRETO” and “CONFIDENCIAL”, as well as all classified information received by the Kingdom of Spain from other States or international organizations, irrespective of the classification category.

It will also become the competent authority for the exchange and mutual protection of classified information under the terms provided for in international treaties signed with other States or international organizations.

Another major novelty will be the introduction of regulated procedures for the classification and, above all, for the declassification and reclassification of sensitive materials, which has hitherto been very ambiguous or non-existent. 

In this regard, automatic declassification will be established after a few years, variable according to the type of classified information, and the decisions to classify will also be reviewed periodically which may agree to its declassification without having exhausted the statutory time limits when the circumstances that justified the original classification are changed.

In short, the most important changes introduced by the future law are a clearer specification of what information could be classified, a more flexible classification regulations, a greater flexibility to declassify and reclassify, and an automatic declassification system after a certain period of time.

With the establishment of a newNationalAuthority the responsibility forthesecurityofclassifiedinformation passes from the Ministry of Defense to the MinistryofthePresidency.

Although the draft is an imperative necessity recognized by almost everyone, and it still has a long process before being finally approved, the government’s text has attracted some criticism.

The Spanish branch of Amnesty International welcomes the government’s initiative, although the association’s director, Esteban Beltrán, considers it essential that the law should include “independent control mechanisms over government decisions” and persists on the need to ensure judicial review of those decisions.

The Federation of Journalists’ Associations of Spain (FAPE) also sees a “step forward” in the project, but it thinks that new regulation may conflict with the right to information and that “by qualifying as restricted or confidential a journalistic work that affects, for example, cases of corruption could be prevented or punished”, explains Aurelio Martín, vice-president of FAPE.

The Spanish Army archives will be impacted by the new regulations

For their part, the Spanish Civil Service Archivists (AEFP) are against the “aberration of multiplying ad infinitum” the authorities competent to classify and affirms that the concept of “documentary series” is not developed and that the use of the concept of “information” rather than “documentation” allows for their “destruction, albeit in a subsidiary manner” and conflicts with other existing rules. “These are not equivalent concepts,” says Henar Alonso of the AEFP, who adds that the new law “is less disastrous than before, but just as dangerous for the right of access to public information.” (see the ABC link above).

The plenary of the Consejo General del Poder Judicial (CGPJ)[1] unanimously also approved on 30 March 2023 a report on the draft law presented by the Spanish Government.

The report warns that the right to information is a fundamental right of citizens and that the fact of its classification must specify the major and certain risk to the core of the protected legal right (the “security and defense of the State”); therefore, the Consejo opposes the classification of information of economic or industrial nature because ‘it does not in itself imply a danger to the organization of the State and its democratic form of government’. 

The paper approved by the plenary of the CGPJ explains that, in a democracy, the decision to decree secrecy is extremely serious and must therefore be adopted at the highest level of the executive power.

This requirement is fulfilled in the preliminary draft with regard to the competence to ‘classify, reclassify and declassify’ information belonging to the categories ‘ALTO SECRETO’ and ‘SECRETO’, which it lies exclusively with the Council of Ministers, but criticizes the fact that below these categories that competence is in the hands of a broad and heterogeneous list of civil and military authorities, who could also delegate their competences.

The competence of these authorities should be limited, where appropriate, to raising the proposed classification, limiting the power to classify public information to members of the national government (president, vice-presidents and ministers with competences in the fields of security and national defense).

The report notes a marked indeterminacy in justifying classification, as well as in the motivation for it.  In this regard, the CGPJ stresses that the preliminary draft must expressly regulate the need to give reasons for the decisions of each classification, to specify the constitutional basis that exists in each decision, as well as the relevance and proportionality of the decision.

With regard to declassification, the CGPJ warns that these are excessive delays and suggests reviewing them by applying a restrictive and proportional criterion that allows the safeguarding of the security and defense of the State without diminishing, beyond what is necessary, the right of citizens to access information. The CGPJ is also opposed to regional polices being competent to control confidential information.  

Whatever it is said, the author of this work believes that the final text will lead to a fundamental improvement in the management of classified information in Spain, open up hitherto unknown possibilities for the public in terms of transparency of government information, and, above all, the new law will represent a new hidden world for researchers and users of Spanish archives.

[1] General Council of the Judiciary. A constitutional, collegiate and autonomous body, composed of judges and other jurists, which exercises functions of government of the judiciary.

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Non-written sources in military archives


The Committee of Military Archives thanks Kathleen Van Acker, our Secretary General, for her great commitment and active participation to this blog


The traditional idea we have of archives are piles and piles of old paper, boxes stacked in long racks. Archives, in the public opinion are text-based.

However this idea has changed, the mantra “no documents no history” is surpassed. Within the archival terminology the term “document” has evolved too, following the different evolutions in types of information flow.

In the 19th century, Jules Milechet: the famous historian and curator of “les Archives Nationales” in France, already stated that documents are only one sort of source among other sources.

We also see this evolution in the archival definition:
information or data stored on a medium and used as an extension of human memory or to support accountability. We don’t speak about “a document” any longer, but we use the word “a medium”. This medium can have different formats, in general we speak of:

  • written
  • visual
  • oral
  • 3 dimensional

To illustrate these different mediums we will show some of the different sources kept by the section Classified Archives (Belgian Ministry of Defence) and explain their importance in historical research.

Written sources

We are all familiar with the “traditional” archives, i.e. the written documents.

In the section Classified Archives the written archives are the biggest part of our collection. We have the military archives since the mobilisation in Belgium in 1939, so it is logical most of them are still written. Some examples are field journals, official documents, listings of prisoners, etc….

Royal decree concerning the Belgian Sûreté militaire, established 1st April 1915

Visual sources

Next to the written sources we have the visual sources. We are all familiar with photos and the sentence “a photo says more than a thousand words”. Next to written documents we have a lot of photos in our archives. We have the official documents, an example are the Personalkarte WWII, where you will find a photo of the prisoner with his personal data. For researchers in family history it is always an emotional moment to see their grandfather, great-grandfather as a prisoner.

Personalkarte (WWII)

Gail OKAWA did a study on Japanese prisoners during WWII describing her feelings when she came across a photo of her grandfather: “the first time I came across his mug shot in the INS file was especially chilling for me as I imagined his humiliation
(Gesa E. KIRCH and Liz ROHAN, Beyond the Archives, Research as a Lived process, 2008)

History becomes very real in this case.
We have more examples like this, next to the listings of prisoners of the STALAF and OFLAG prisoners camps, we have a collection of photos from those camps, mostly found in personal archives. They give an unique view of the life in those camps

Stalag baracks (WWII)
Stalag: prisoners cooking their meal (WWII)

Another example is the diary we found in the archives of the Tandel sisters.
The Tandel sisters were volunteers in the resistance during WWI and WWII. Two unmarried sisters, Laure and Louise, joined the Red Cross at the outbreak of WWI. Very soon they joined the resistance. When they got arrested by the Germans, Laure was sent to the Siegburg prison where she stayed 6 months. She wrote in her diary, wrote poetry, and made drawings. After her release she and her sister joined “La Dame Blanche” a resistance group in Belgium. During WWII Laure and Louise joined the resistance group “Clarence”. Two remarkable ladies, who left us a great amount of information about women in the intelligence world.

Drawing by Laure Tandel of her cell in the Siegburg prison (WWI)
Drawing by Laure Tandel of her cell in the Siegburg prison (WWII)

Oral sources

We don’t have a lot of oral sources in our archives, as said above, we mainly keep the more “traditional” archives. But we do have a piece of archive which is quite interesting: a tape of a encoded message from the GRU to a Belgian officer who was recruited as a spy.

During the Cold War, Colonel BINET was recruited by the GRU. During a meeting with one of his contacts in Vienna, he was spotted by the CIA who contacted the Belgian military intelligence service. After a surveillance operation, BINET was arrested.

The methods used by BINET and the GRU are very well documented by the records we received, but also by the objects we have. Not only are they an example of an oral source, but also of the three dimensional sources

Three-dimensional sources

In the BINET archives we have a lot of objects used by Colonel BINET and the GRU.

We are not exaggerating when we say they could be used in a James Bond film.
BINET used the obligatory briefcase with a secret compartiment to take classified documents home. They used hidden slips of paper with codes, secret ink etc… All of these object were transferred to the archives and give an unique view of the espionage methods used during the 80’s.

Binet’s suitcase with secret compartiment
Binet’s pen with hidden code
Binet’s wallets with codes written in invisible ink


In my experience as an archivist I can say that the written sources, certainly in the past, mostly give information about the political affairs and administration. They didn’t give a lot of information about people who didn’t held positions of power.

Luckily the scope of history has widened, and we find that information in the other sources, which I illustrated in my examples above.

I can state that the quote “no documents, no history” is not correct. I would like to believe that nowadays we can say “no trace, no history”. The written sources are still very important history, but they aren’t the only one. Archival sources can take all forms.

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Military archives in Poland

An introduction

By Jacek Jędrysiak, Assistant Professor in the University of Wrocław and Head of Section in Military Historical Bureau of Lieutenant General Kazimierz Sosnkowski in Warsaw-Rembertów

The Committee of Military Archives thanks Jacek Jędrysiak for his commitment and the active participation to this blog

1. The structure of the contemporary military archives network

According to the Act of 14 July 1983, the military archival fonds in Poland is a separate part of the national archival fonds, subordinated to and managed by the Minister of National Defence (pol. Ministerstwo Obrony Narodowej, MON).

In overall, it includes all documentation produced by military units and institutions, as well as files related to state defense, produced by defense units operating in other ministries as well as central and local state offices.

Since 2016, the archives managed by MON can be divided into two categories. The first consists of archives subordinate to the Military Historical Bureau of Lieutenant General Kazimierz Sosnkowski (Wojskowe Biuro Historyczne im. gen. broni Kazimierza Sosnkowskiego, WBH).

These are currently:

  • Central Military Archives of the Military Historical Bureau (Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe Wojskowgo Biura Historycznego, CAW-WBH, Rembertów)
  • Military Archives in Oleśnica;
  • Military Archives in Toruń
  • Branch office of the Military Archives in Toruń  in Gdynia.
Picture 3:  Banner on the Building of the CAW-WBH: Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces General Kazimierz Sosnkowski with his staff officers in 1943. Source: CAW-WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

The second group consists of the so-called archives of organizational units, for example:  

Archives of the Military Counterintelligence Service; Military Intelligence Service Archive; Military Police Archive; archives of military universities; archives of research institutes etc.

2. Contemporary military archival fonds

The fonds of the military archival network includes materials on the Polish Army, conventionally from 1908 (considered the beginning of the rebirth of the Polish armed forces) to the present day. Materials concerning the earlier history of the Polish military are stored in other archives, including in particular the Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw. In addition, some of the documents from the period 1908-1939 were evacuated during World War II and are still in the institutions founded in exile during World War II: Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum  and the Józef Piłsudski Institute (both London) and the Józef Piłsudski Institute of America (New York).

Picture 4: Exposition in the main hall of the CAW-WBH building 100 anniversary of  the creation the WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

These institutions also store materials on the Polish Armed Forces in the West from 1939-1947, the Polish Underground State and post-war Polish military emigration.

The establishment of the Institute of National Remembrance in 1999 is also significant. The Act of 18 October 2006 on the disclosure of information on documents of state security organs from 1944-1990 and the content of these documents obliges to submit documentation to the Institute of National Remembrance concerning, among others, military security organs, which include: Military Information (Główny Zarząd Informacji, GZI); Military Internal Service; Second Directorate General Staff of the Polish Army; other services of the Armed Forces conducting operational and reconnaissance or investigative activities, including in the types of armed forces and in military districts. The Institute of National Remembrance also collects all documents regarding communist crimes and other crimes constituting crimes against peace, humanity or war crimes committed against persons of Polish nationality or Polish citizens of other nationalities in the period from September 1, 1939 to July 31, 1990, so documents regarding the participation of units of the Polish People’s Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie, LWP) involved in the above-mentioned activities.

A number of documents concerning the Polish Army history are also found in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian archives.

Picture 4a: Plaque in honor of officers served in the  WBH who were killed during World War II. 100 anniversary of  the creation the WBH. Source: Jacek Jędrysiak

3. History of military archives in Poland until 1945.

The fall of the November Uprising in 1831 meant the end of the regular Polish army in the 19th century. In this way, it was also impossible to develop the foundations of military archives. The conditions for work in this field arose with the establishment at the end of 1916 in the areas occupied by the Central Powers of the Congress Kingdom of the Military Commission of the Provisional Council of State. At that time, the Scientific Section subordinated to it undertook preparatory work in order to establish the Military Archives in the future.

Picture 5: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

After Poland regained independence in 1918, the Central Military Archives (CAW) was established from the former Archive Department of the Scientific Section. Its first director was Lieutenant (finally Lieutenant Colonel) Dr. Bronisław Pawłowski (until 1933) and the headquarters of the CAW was so called the Copper-Roof Palace in Warsaw. Then, until 1931, its collections were in Legions’ Fort in the Warsaw Citadel. The initial CAW resource consisted of the files of the General Gouvernement Warschau, the 1st Polish Corps in Russia, the Polnische Wehrmacht and (obtained at the beginning of 1919) the documentation of the Polish Legions and the Polish Auxiliary Corps. Gradually, it included orders and operational and organizational files of the Polish military authorities, documentation of Polish formations and military associations from the period before World War I and the war years, files of the military authorities of the former partitioning countries and clippings from periodicals devoted to military matters were also collected.

Picture 6: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

Until 1927, CAW was subordinated to the Military Institute of Science and Education (Wojskowy Instytut Naukowo-Oświatowy, WINO). Then it was included in the structure of the newly established Military Historical Bureau as the Military Archive (Archiwum Wojskowe, AW). The change was intended to better coordinate the scientific and research activities of military institutions run since 1922 by the existing Historical Office of the General Staff. From 1933 to the outbreak of war, Major Bolesław Waligóra was the director of the Military Archives. At that time, the institution took over the files from the disbanded archival boards at the Commands of the Corps Districts and the archives of the Military Historical Bureau. From 1929, documentation of central military institutions, created in the years 1918-1928, was systematically collected.

The AW structure in 1928 included:

  • Department I – old files until 1863 and the library;
  • Department II – files of military formations and unions during the World War (until 1918);
  • Department  III – Independent Archival Section – operational files from the period of Independent Poland (from 1918);
  • Department IV – military administrative files (from 1918);
  • Department V – military files of central authorities and institutions (since 1918);
  • Department VI – foreign military files.

The change in the structure took place in 1935. From November of that year, the AW consisted of:

  • Archive Management,
  • General Department with old department I and a library,
  • Scientific and Archival Department with old departments II, III, IV, V, VI
  • Records and Administration Department.
Picture 7: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

The AW collected, inventoried and stored files of importance to the history of the Polish military, registered military files in other archives, libraries and private persons, supervised the substantive over military registers and developed regulations and instructions for them, conducted queries for authorities, offices and private persons and issued copies and excerpts from files. The Military Archives also coordinated and supervised the activities of the entire military archival service, including clerks at the headquarters of the general districts and the headquarters of the corps districts.

According to estimates from 1933, the resources of the AW in 1939 numbered about 7,000 meters of documents. From 1931, the Archive had its seat in a building at Pokorna Street in Warsaw.

During the Polish campaign in 1939, only part of the most valuable collections was evacuated to Romania and through Paris to Great Britain. The vast majority, including intelligence files, were taken over by the German and Soviet occupiers. Already in the autumn of 1939, the Third Reich joined the organization of the Heeresarchiv branch in Gdańsk-Oliwa. There were 15,000 meters of files in total, including documents of central institutions of the Polish Ministry of Military Affairs, types of armed forces and services, military units. These materials were used for repressive purposes, therefore they were divided and inventoried contrary to the principles of archiving. Germany and the Soviet Union also exchanged files important from the point of view of their goals, adding to the losses and mess in the collections.

Picture 8: Documents in the warehouse. Source: CAW-WBH

4. History of military archives in Poland after 1945

The reconstruction of the Military Archives was entrusted by the order of the High Command of the Polish Army (under Soviet auspices) of September 16, 1944 to the “reactivated” Military Research and Publishing Institute (Wojskowy Instytut Naukowo-Wydawniczy, WINW). WINW initially resided in Lublin, and then in Łódź. The activity of the AW until the founding of the Gdańsk-Oliwa Branch in April 1945 is poorly known. Materials from Oliwa were evacuated by the Germans at the turn of 1944/1945 to Potsdam and Berlin. About 5,000 meters from about 10,000 meters documents from Oliwa have survived in general. The evacuated materials were looted by the USSR in 1945 and included in the resources of the local archives. In 1964, the Soviet side returned approx. 400 meters of documents, which was a smaller part of the acquired materials. It was not until the 1990s that another part of the military archives from Russia was reclaimed to Poland.

However, invaluable collections concerning, for example, the Polish Military Organization or the Second Department of the General (Main) Staff are still in Russian hands.

Securing the recovered pre-war CAW materials became a priority of the organized institution. This was confirmed by the order of August 5, 1945, which ordered the re-formation of the Central Military Archives, subordinated to the Main Political and Educational Directorate. Unfortunately, during the Stalinist period, pre-war files were to be used by the communist authorities for the purposes of political repression, remaining at the disposal of the military and civilian secret police. In particular, the GZI  was actually aiming at limiting the role of the new CAW to the role of current LWP files created after 1943. As a result, in 1947 GZI took over the actual authority over the archive. The process of gradual removal of pre-war files to the warehouse in Wesoła near Warsaw began. As a result, the CAW was actually deprived of its historical fonds and the secret police created an alternative, so called Archive of the Polish Army. However, the CAW was not liquidated, and the network of field archives, including 6 archives of military districts, was even subordinated in terms of content. As they remained in the structure of subordination to the commands of military districts, supervision over the formation of the archival fonds was illusory.

Picture 9: Reading room in the CAW-WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

The next reorganization of the CAW was made by order of the Ministry of National Defense No. 01/Org. in January 1951. The CAW was (initially informally) subordinated to the IX Department of the General Staff. Its headquarters became Fort of Sokolnicki in Warsaw. Forming the resources of the CAW consisted in the first place in merging the archival materials of the pre-war AW dispersed in the country and abroad. The files seized by the GZI slowly began to be taken over, but some of them were still at the disposal of the secret police, and the process of their full transfer to the CAW was completed only in the 1990s. In addition to the files of the pre-war CAW, the Germans also collected in Oliwa files of a number of key military institutions of the Polish Army from before 1939, e.g. the Main Inspectorate of the Armed Forces, the General Staff of the Polish Army, etc. It is worth mentioning that in 1950, the destruction of those materials of the Polish Army from before World War II, which were useless from the point of view of the secret police, was considered. This could concern e.g. an act from the period of the Polish-Soviet War or the Silesian Uprisings! The destruction action was stopped, but the pre-war files were taken over by the CAW in a disordered form. It was not until 1956 that the action to develop the files taken over from GZI began.

In the course of the assessment, it was found that out of the pre-war CAW resources, the archive had only 30% of files. Another 30% was taken over by the Archives of the Ministry of Public Security, 10% were dispersed in other military institutions, the rest were destroyed. The commenced consolidation action, lasting until 1964, resulted in an increase in the number of files held by 3,000 to 4371 meters of documents. In the same year, the action to scientific description this fonds began.

An inventory and consolidation of the LWP files from the years 1943-1945 was also constantly undertaken. They were put in order in the course of the action lasting until 1960. The main resource of the CAW, however, consisted of successively taken over documents of military institutions and units created after 1945 and of disbanded military formations (e.g. in the 1970s of the Internal Security Corps). Until 1968, however, no initiative regarding post-war materials was taken, which became an urgent problem due to the dismantling of some units. For this purpose, a number of files of military units established after World War II were taken over from the subordinate archives. As a result, fonds were created and developed for the most important institutions (e.g. the General Staff or the Main Political Directorate) and military units until 1956.

CAW was constantly struggling with space and quality issues in the warehouses. Since May 1972, the permanent seat of the CAW has been the building acquired from the then Academy of the General Staff in Rembertów.

The structure existing until 1990 and subsequent transformations did not have a positive impact on the development of the growing resource. In principle, until 1954, the formal status of the CAW as a central archival institution in relation to other military archives was not sufficiently regulated. It was only in the years 1959-1965 that the supervision of the CAW over the remaining 13 military archives and 127 file repositories was agreed with the Main Directorate of State Archives. In general, until the years 1987-1990, the archives of military districts and types of the armed forces remained outside the CAW structure.

Picture 10: Conference room in the CAW-WBH. Source: CAW-WBH

In 1990, the military archival network was given the following structure:

  • Branch No. 1 of CAW: Archives of Central Institutions of the Ministry of National Defense (Modlin)
  • Branch No. 2 of CAW: Archives of the Warsaw Military District (Warsaw)
  • Branch No. 3 of CAW: Archives of the Pomeranian Military District (Toruń)
  • Branch No. 4 of CAW: Archives of the Silesian Military District (Wrocław)
  • Branch No. 5 of CAW: Naval Archives (Gdynia)
  • Branch No. 6 of CAW: Archives of Air Forces and Air Defense (Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki)
  • Branch No. 7 of CAW: Archives of the Cracow Military District (Cracow, since 1992)

The key in this context was Branch No. 1, which took over the files of such dismantled LWP institutions as the Military Internal Service, Main Political Directorate, Main Directorate of Combat Training, Military Chamber of the Supreme Court, etc. At that time, CAW became a typical historical archive, other branches took over the role of archives of current institutions and types of armed forces.

This structure survived until 2000, when only Branch No. 1 remained under the CAW’s subordination. The other archives were subordinated to the Land Forces Archive (branches in Toruń, Wrocław and Kraków), the Navy Archive in Gdynia and the Air Force and Air Defense Archive in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki.

Another change took place already in 2009, when to the CAW was subordinated the Archives of the Ministry of National Defense in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki (former Archives of the Institutions of the Ministry of National Defence), the Military Archives in Toruń, the Military Archives in Oleśnica (relocated between 2005 and 2007 from Wrocław), the Archives of the Air Force in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and the Naval Archives in Gdynia. The Land Forces Archive and its branch in Kraków were liquidated, and their resources were transferred to other units. In 2010, work began on the reconstruction and expansion of the building of the Central Military Archives.

Picture 11: UNESCO certificate for the Documents of the Polish radio intelligence  from  the period pf the Battle of Warsaw in 1920. Source: CAW-WBH

5. Present day

The main institution of the military archival network is currently the Military Historical Bureau, whose director since its establishment in 2016 is Professor  Sławomir Cenckiewicz. The actions of the WBH management led to the completion of the delayed renovation of the CAW building in Rembertów. In 2018, the fact of illegal destruction of files from the communist period in 1990-2009 in Rembertów, Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and Gdynia was also revealed.

When CAW-WBH was established, the following were subordinated to:

  • Military Archives in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki (former Central Institutions of  MON and Air Force Archives)
  • Military Archives in Gdynia;
  • Military Archives in Toruń;
  • Military Archives in Oleśnica.

The archive in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki was dissolved in 2018 and its resources transferred to other institutions. The Archive in Gdynia was subordinated to the Archive in Toruń.

CAW-WBH is today the most important military historical archive. The entire CAW materials are divided into 11 parts. The first four are the historical departments of the institution, the next are artificially created collections:

  • Archive materials from 1908-1939
  • Archive materials from the period of World War II
  • Archives of the Polish Army from 1943-1945
  • Archives of the Polish Army after 1945
  • Collection of the Military Archival Commission
  • Personal and Award Files
  • Photo collections
  • Cartographic collections
  • A collection of regulations, instructions and legal acts
  • Archives of the Polish Army from the years 1943-2012 – unedited
  • Collection of files of the Military Historical Research Office
  • Part of the files from section I, e.g. “Polish Legions and the Polish Auxiliary Corps” ( are available online.

There is also an electronic resource database for files from the sections I-IV:

The Military Archives in Toruń mainly stores materials from the former Pomeranian Military District and the units that were part of its structure after 1956. The records of the disbanded archives in Nowy Dwór and Modlin from the area being the scope of the archive’s supervision are also successively included in the resource. The branch in Gdynia mainly stores the old files of the Navy.

The Military Archive in Oleśnica mainly stores materials from the former Military Districts: Silesian, Warsaw and Cracow since 1956. The archives have also successively included files of dissolved archives in Nowy Dwór and Modlin from the area under the supervision of the archive.

In the three above-mentioned archives, materials are recorded only on the basis of files lists, combined into provisional collections. The list of collections is available online on the sites of the archives.

6. Databases and using of the archival materials rules

Archival materials are available to anyone who requests it, unless there are grounds for refusal of access specified in legal provisions. Only in exceptional cases may the director of the archives refuse access to archive materials if:

  • their disclosure could violate the legally protected interests of the state, organizational units and citizens (e.g. they contain protected personal data or information that violates personal rights),
  • their disclosure could violate secrets protected by law (state, official, professional),
  • their physical condition does not allow for sharing.

Materials up to 1990 were declassified, unless the confidentiality clause has been extended after this period.

Data from personal files of professional soldiers are made available in the scope of the service history, decorations and official opinions created until 1990. Making personal files available to a wider extent requires the user to provide justification for the purpose of sharing and obtain the consent of the Director of the Military Historical Bureau.

Archival materials are available free of charge in the reading room. Original files are available only on site, they cannot be borrowed or taken outside the reading room. Using the reading room in each of the archives requires prior registration of the place.

User application forms are available on the website:

Materials from which usable copies (microfilm or scans) were made are made available in the form of these copies, not originals.

When using the archives in the reading room, you can make free copies of them with your own camera, as long as they are intended for personal non-commercial use. Due to the safety of the materials, it is unacceptable to use a flash lamp and manipulate the archives other than as a result of normal use. Copying should also be done in such a way as not to disturb the work of other users (e.g. without using a tripod).

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The Historical Archive of the Italian Istituto storico e di cultura dell’Arma del Genio

By Paolo FORMICONI, historian and military archivist

The Committee of Military Archives thanks Paolo Formiconi, as both historian and archivist, for the active participation to this blog


This Archive constitutes an anomaly within the Italian Army as it preserves and collects documents which, given their technical-operational character, would be destined for the Historical Archive of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito (Army General Staff).

This exception is the result of a long historical journey, a cultural vision that saw, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Italian engineering and architecture as one of the greatest values ​​of the newborn nation, therefore deserving of a particular status also in the military field.

In 1886 the director of the Military Engineers Corps of Rome, Luigi Durand de la Penne, decided to set up a Museum of weapons in Castel Sant’Angelo or Mole Adriana.

Picture 1. The Castel Sant’Angelo or Mole Adriana view.

Finally, he obtained the permission in 1901, but unfortunately the Museum had been established in Turin, in the Maschio della Cittadella.

It was decided to allocate the Mole Adriana to house the Museum of Italian military architecture, later opened in 1906. From all over Italy, plastics, drawings had been collected in Rome together with documents taken from the State Archives of the pre-unification States.

From the archival point of view the project was very questionable but conceived in the positivist climate of the time, with the idea to collect a summa of the centuries-old Italian engineering culture.

Moved in 1911 to the barracks of Urban VIII, the Institute was renameds Historical Museum of Military Engineers. The royal decree dated 2 May 1911 provided the legal framework to host the “collection” of documents and relics.

With the demolition of the barracks, the museum was moved in 1933 to the Piave barracks.

In 1927 the new-born Institute of Military Architecture was placed in the Museum, to which the work of bibliographic and iconographic collection of “what referred to that architecture […] was transferred in order to constitute a worthy cultural monument to this branch of science and activities of our fathers”.

Picture 2. The view of the Institute as it was conceived.

With the merge of the Museum and the Institute in 1934, the new Statute (royal decree 4 July 1934) provided the mission to collect and store all the documents related to the history of the Engineers corps, the military architecture and military architects. In 1937 it was decided to establish a new worthy site on the Lungotevere whose completion, expected in 1940, will be postponed and then finished with haste and economy of materials during the war.

Did the function assumed by the museum conflict with the role of the Historical Archive of the Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito? It depends by the point of view.

No, if we consider the Museum as a document collector, or rather as a conservation of documents, comparable to the finds of a museum or the volumes of a library.

Yes, if you consider it as the Institute to which the Engineer Corps and Engineer departments of the Army must transfer their archivesThis ambiguity is still half defined.

Closed from 1943 to 1953, the Museum currently is open to the public upon reservation and the archive as well. Since the post-war period it has experienced moments of activity as bookbinding, plastic preparation and disinfection laboratories.

Currently there is no reordering and inventory work. Based on a summary census of 2005 it can be said that most of the documentation, in addition to that produced by the Museum itself, was transferredby the Director General of the Engineers and by the Inspector of the Engineers Corps.

Documentation continues to be transferred by the Military Engineers Corps and units.

Picture 3. An internal view of the main area of the Institute.

The Historical Diaries of the departments of the Engineer Corps are at the Archivio dellUfficio Storico dello Stato Maggiore dell’Esercito (Historical Branch Archive of the Army General Staff) – Black Series: First World War 954 packs of General inspection of the Engineers corps, General Command of the Engineers, Engineers Command of the armies (1908-26); – Red Series: World War II 415 registers of the Inspection of Engineers Corps and SME Offices I, Operations and Transmissions (1917 -48); – Ethiopian War – 8 Inspections envelopes of the Engineers Corps (1934-1938); – Iconographic Archive: computerized, it includes the Archive of fortification drawings (1918-38). – Istituto Storico e di Cultura dell’Arma del Genio; – Museo del Genio; – Consiglio Superiore del Genio Militare; – Comitato del Genio Militare; – Comitato d’Artiglieria; – Comitato di Artiglieria e Genio; – Ispettorato generale del Genio.

Really interesting are the documents related to the studies and researches submitted to the evaluation of the Engineers corps command, like the radar prototype; documents signed by Paolo Caccia Dominioni (architect, engineer, spy, writer, artist); iconographic items (plans, drawings, photographs) from the Renaissance to the Cold War.

Picture 4. the view of some documents stored in the Institute.


The most remarkable element for the ISCAG structure is the peculiar nature of his archive. It grew up as a part of a cultural institute instead of being preserved as an Archive.

The Archival richness of the institute provides a clear understanding of the idea to create an archive specialised in military technology, differing from the Army General Staff archives focused on the technical-operative perspective of documents stored.

It represents exception in the Italian law. Despite this, the archival science remains an empiric discipline and exception must be considered

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The Portuguese Army Archives System

By Colonel Carlos Alberto Borges Fonseca, Secretário-Geral da Comissão Portuguesa de História Militar and Assessor no Instituto da Defesa Nacional

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our colleague Carlos Alberto Borges Fonseca for his committment and his participation to this project after the 2021 CAM meeting.

1. Introduction

The need to control the growth of documentation produced by the Army services determined the need to define and standardise the documental series and assign them their final destination.

The Law 121/92 established the principles for managing documents produced and received by the public administration. The General Archives System and Archive Heritage sought to rationalise the life cycle of documents, controlling their growth in numbers and minimising the costs of their conservation.

New legislation within the framework of the Basic Law of National Archives was needed, which would define the life cycle of Army documents through a Selection Table and an Archival Conservation Regulation to control documents from their production to its final destination.

The elaboration of this draft regulation necessary for the archival conservation of the Army and the respective selection table was the main task of the Army Archives Working Group (GTAE).

The GTAE was appointed with the objective of studying the application of adequate norms for the management of archival documents and proposing guidelines for the elaboration of the Army Archival Conservation Regulation (RCAE) in order to regulate document management operations in their evaluation, selection, transfers and disposal phases.

Picture 1. Law n. 121/91

A diagnosis of the Army archives enabled the knowledge and assessment of the archival reality. On the other hand the consequent characterisation of the situations experienced allowed the definition of objectives and the design of strategies for the level of the archive system and the presentation of proposals in order to preserve the Army’s documentary heritage. These strategies included:

– The development of an urgent action in order to prevent the dispersion and destruction of files and documents, namely those of the former overseas provinces, those related to the 25th of April/Movement of the Armed Forces, with those of Military Units that were extinguished or transferred, through the survey and identification of documentation;

– The standardisation of archival procedures;

– The definition of forms of accessibility to documents, with special interest for documents with security classification, taking into account the procedures in force, as well as the application of security standards;

– The awareness of the various Army services about the importance and the need to preserve documents of a historical nature in order to preserve the historical-cultural memory of the institution;

– The intensification of cooperation between the primary archives, the General Archive of the Army (ArqGEx) and the Military Historical Archive (AHM);

– The publication of the RCAE, through a proposal from the GTAE, in order to regulate document management operations in their aspects of evaluation, selection, transfer and elimination;

– The correct and timely working of the documentary circuits, transferring the documentation to ArqGEx and from there to the AHM, according to the administrative and historical value of the documents;

– The study of the problem of documentary reproduction (microfilming, digitisation, etc.), especially historical documentation, in order not only to avoid the handling of the originals and their consequent deterioration, but also to allow the decentralisation of their storage;

– The elaboration of permanent execution rules for the working of the document management system, with regard to the evaluation, selection, classification, transfer and incorporation of archival fonds.

2. Elements of the Army file system

The AHM was created in 1911 following the reform of the Army but it was not until 1964 that the Army’s archive system was established with the approval of the provisional regulation of ArqGEx. The Army started to have its own organ with archival competence and three types of archive to which the different phases of the so-called life cycle of documents correspond.

Currently, the Army Archives System consists of three levels, classified according to the value of the documents and their frequency of use:

– Current Files of Units/Establishments/Organs (U/E/O);

– General Archive of the Army;

– Military Historical Archive

a. Current Files of Units/Establisments

The Current Army Archives of the U/E/O hold the documentation that is in current use or available for consultation as they are of major importance for current administrative practice.

They comprise the set of archives in use in the different areas (sections, divisions, etc.) and the primary archive of the respective unit.

They depend on the command of the unit to which they belong in accordance with the provisions of the  General Regulation of Service in Army Units (RGSUE).

b. Army General Archives

The Current Army Archives of the U/E/O hold the documentation that is in current use or available for consultation as they are of major importance for current administrative practice.

They comprise the set of archives in use in the different areas (sections, divisions, etc.) and the primary archive of the respective unit.

They depend on the command of the unit to which they belong in accordance with the provisions of the  General Regulation of Service in Army Units (RGSUE).

Picture 2. Army General Archive
c. Military Historical Archive

The AHM working as definitive archive holds the documentation that has lost its administrative character and has gained informative and historical value therefore receiving a permanent conservation status (inactive phase).

In this context, it should be understood as the archival entity with competence to carry out the custody, treatment and preservation of all Army related historical valued documents.

Picture 3. Military Historical Archive – old building

3. Documental circuit

The documental circuit is ensured by sending documents from the primary archives to the intermediate archive and from there to the definitive archive, as established by the general rules of public administration and by the specific rules of the Army.

The remittances of documents from the primary archives of the U/E/O to ArqGEx and from there to the AHM make it possible to rationalise the spaces and use of the Army archives and keep the documentary circuits in operation with a view to preserving documentation of historical and informative value.

This circuit was interrupted until 1995 due to the lack of effectiveness of the regulatory norms. Back then the option was to expand the ArqGEx facilities, both due to pressure from the U/E/O that intended to deliver their files, and as a result of of general restructurings that implied the extinction or alterations of the U/E/O. The lack of space and the impossibility of ArqGEx receiving documentation caused the destruction of many document fonds at the military units level, without any intervention at a higher level, thus losing essential testimonies of the historical memory of the Army.

In order to overcome this situation, the final decision in terms of the destination to be given to the documentation, from 1995 onwards, came under the competence of the Document Classification Commission (CCD), which ensures the Army’s document management.

Based on this principle, remittances can only be made by decision of the CCD according to priorities previously determined or according to a plan prepared by the CCD itself and provided that they respect the Army’s document circuit.

Document fonds, although subject to screening at the three levels of archival, maintain, whenever they are transferred, their original organisation, normally based on the producer U/E/O classifier.

Picture 4. Law 107/2001
a. Remittances to the General Archive of the Army

It is up to each U/E/O to prepare an annual plan for sending documents to ArqGEx that after the administrative retention period are no longer in everyday use, but which may be considered occasionally due to their administrative interest.

Each U/E/O must send to ArqGEx, for approval by the CCD, a list of documents by installation units (packs, boxes, books, etc.) that they propose for disposal (from the point of view of U/E/O with no administrative value within its scope), after the administrative retention periods set out in the Selection Table. The original classifiers, recovery instruments developed by the producing administrations, must accompany the document lists. According to the needs, the CCD, together with ArqGEx, can elaborate particular complementary provisions for the elaboration of these backlogs.

Picture 5. Army General Archive

Remittances to ArqGEx imply the transfer of ownership of documents from the U/E/O to this Archive, although the transport of the documentation to the receiving service is the responsibility of the sending unit.

The ArqGEx, as an intermediate archive, must establish the frequency of shipments, without prejudice to the conservation periods established in the selection table.

b. Remittances to the Military Historical Archive

When documents acquire a secondary value, translated into their historical interest, that is, whose archival value justifies their permanent conservation, they are finally sent by ArqGEx to AHM. Sometimes, though rarely, there may be direct transfers from the primary archives to the historical archive.

These remittances are made, by way of incorporation, by mutual agreement between the ArqGEx and the AHM. Complementary control and reference instruments such as classifiers, auxiliary files, indexes, etc., which have allowed the retrieval of information in the current U/E/O file or even in the intermediate file, must also be sent to the AHM, accompanying the corresponding documentation.

The incorporation of documents, in addition to their transport and deposit in the archive, also means an official change in the title of ownership and custody of the documentation on a definitive basis. The receiving archive having now full jurisdiction over these documents. However, there may be some exceptions, in the case of documentation sent as a simple deposit, which does not imply a change of custody, in which case there must be an agreement between the two parties on the conditions that the documentation needs to be available to the public and the date from which the documents may be communicated must be clearly specified.

Picture 6. Military Historical Archive – old building
c. Special documentation Shipments

The transfer of documents with security classification complies with specific regulations established in specific legislation.

All classified documents older than 5 years and not of interest to the U/E/O but of historical interest must be proposed for transfer to ArqGEx or AHM.

However and whenever possible, these documents must be declassified by the producing entity, before being sent to ArqGEx or AHM. In the case of mixed consignments, classified and unclassified documents, the respective classification grades must be marked at the installation units and proceed in accordance with the corresponding standards.

The documentation of extinct units in the possession of current units, must be transferred to the ArqGEx without any selection and accompanied by a list by installation units. This list must indicate the installation units (boxes, bundles, folders, etc.) that contain classified documentation and the respective degrees of security classification, proceeding in accordance with the specific standards.

From the transfer of documentation related to former overseas provinces and mobilised units or over 20 years old, documents in which their administrative conservation is governed by specific rules, namely individual, clinical, criminal or financial processes, are excluded.

The files useful to the activity of the heir or depositary unit can be kept on file, in which case ArqGEx must be informed.

Picture 7. Law 16/93
d. Remittance formalities

Any shipment of documents from the primary files of the U/E/O to ArqGEx, and from there to the AHM must be accompanied by a Delivery Notice and a Delivery Note.

e. Deletion of documents

Deletion is the operation by which documents with no secondary value are destroyed, after the statute of limitations for administrative conservation established in the Selection Table. Performed at the level of the primary files of the U/E/O, it is the responsibility of the person responsible for the service holding the documents, after approval by the CCD.

Whenever it is intended to eliminate documentation that is not included in the aforementioned Selection Table, the CCD must proceed with the preparation of an evaluation report that it will submit to the appreciation of the National Archives Institut/ Torre do Tombo as the coordinating body of the national policy of files.

The disposal of documents with security classification must take into account the security conditions established in specific legislation, except if it is a single copy, autographed copy or copy no. as soon as convenient, all classified documents replaced or not necessary, provided that their historical value is not recognised. Installation units with classified documents, included in the list of documents proposed for disposal, must have the respective classification grades marked.

Disposal must be done through a system that makes it impossible to reconstitute documents, namely destruction or maceration followed by sale and incineration, in accordance with criteria of rationality, confidentiality, means and costs.

The elimination of documents is done according to the Selection Table according to the administrative retention periods and the final destination assigned to each document series.

At the beginning of each year, the existing documentation in the unit’s primary file, which may be deleted, must be analysed. Each U/E/O will send a list of the documents it proposes for elimination after the expiration of the conservation periods, to ArqGEx, which will present it to the CCD for consideration. After authorisation, the documentation must be destroyed by the primary archives under the guidance of the referred commission. Destruction of documents that are not included in the Selection Table or without the authorisation of the CCD is prohibited.

The elimination of documents must be registered in a Notice of Elimination that will provide legal proof of asset write-off.

This record must be accompanied by a list containing the eliminated archival units, which makes it possible to subsequently constitute the so-called “Ideal Inventory”, i.e. the joint inventory of the preserved and eliminated documentation.

Picture 8. Law 447/88

4. Army File System Control Elements

a. U/E/O Document Review Committees

The directive “Provisional Standardisation on the Preservation of Military Documentation” corrected some of the procedures of the Permanent Enforcement Norms (NEPs) of the former Office of Documentation, Libraries and Archives, preventing the elimination of any documentation at U/E/O level without that there was a prior appraisal of the document lists, by the CCD, at the request of the units. This directive was then generally integrated into the RCAE and the NEPs of the Archives. These should continue to nominate, annually, a commission to proceed with the analysis of all the documentation existing in the respective archive, drawing up a list of the one proposed for destruction, as its administrative and administrative value has expired, within the scope of the U/E/O. technician.

For the transfer of existing military documentation in the U/E/O, attention should be paid to the provisions of the aforementioned directive, which prevented any destruction of documents before the procedures recommended therein were carried out.

According to this directive, all U/E/O must transfer to ArqGEx, accompanied by a list of installation units (packs, boxes, books, etc.), all documentation belonging to extinct U/E/O and deposited in current U/E/O, related to former overseas provinces and mobilised units and over 20 years old, not currently used by U/E/O.

Picture 9. Military Historical Archive – new building

Files of extinct units whose heir, depositary or continuator U/E/O considered useful for their own activity were excluded; and documentation whose administrative conservation was regulated by specific rules, namely individual, clinical, criminal and financial processes, in which case ArqGEx must be informed.

In accordance with the RCAE and the Rules for Permanent Execution of the Army Archives, the Documentation Analysis Commission is appointed at the beginning of each year, in a Service Order, consisting of 3 elements: Head of the Secretariat, Department of Expedient and Archive or equivalent body, and two people familiar with the handling of documentation, in order to proceed with the analysis of the existing documentation in the primary archive, drawing up a list of what it proposes to the CCD, operating at ArqGEx, to disposal, after the administrative retention periods have expired.

All documentation accumulated (produced and received) by the U/E/O must be analysed and the security officer must support the CCD with regard to security classified documentation. The Document List must be structured based on the file classifier of the U/E/O, and the installation units (boxes, folders, packets, etc.) must be numbered according to this structure. After being approved by the Commander or Director of the U/E/O, the list of documents is sent together with a copy of the classifier to ArqGEx, which will present it to the CCD for consideration in order to decide on the possible historical value of the documentation contained in the backlog.

By indication of ArqGEx, the U/E/O will exclude from elimination the documents selected by the CCD to transfer, awaiting indication of the ArqGEx to carry out their transfer.

The remittance or transport of the documentation to ArqGEx is the responsibility of the U/E/O sender, and a Delivery Note attached to the Delivery Notice must be prepared for identification and control of the documentation sent. The remaining documentation will be destroyed at the U/E/O, and a duplicate elimination notice will be prepared. The original will remain at the U/E/O and the duplicate will be sent to the CCD, which will send it to the National Archives Institute/Torre do Tombo (IAN/TT).

Picture 10. Military Historical Archive – new building
b. Document Classification Commission

The CCD coordinates the operation of the Army’s file system through document evaluation and selection operations, both of which are its sole responsibility.

Through the evaluation of the documentation, this CCD determines the archival (primary) and/or historical (secondary) value in order to establish the administrative conservation periods and determine the final destination of the documentation (deletion or permanent conservation). The transfer and elimination of archival documents proposed by the U/E/O can only be carried out by the U/E/O after the authorisation of the CCD.

Initially its action was defined in the Regulation of the General Archive of the Army, being later regulated by the Directive of “Provisional Standardisation on the Preservation of Military Documentation”, and finally by the RCAE.

In accordance with ArqGEx’s regulations, it is responsible for examining and classifying all documents, classifying them as useful and useless and proposing the destruction of the latter; classify useful documents into historical and administrative interest, proposing the delivery of the former to the AHM after a deadline to be established, sub-classify the latter and send them to the respective sections; specify from among the documents of administrative interest those that have potential historical value, allocating archiving time to them; and collaborate with the U/E/O primary archives.

Within the scope of the RCAE, the CCD is responsible for coordinating the operation of the Army archives; to prepare the internal regulation of document management; and monitor compliance with the rules in force within the scope of the file system.

In order to carry out the functions of classifying and evaluating documents, this commission is assisted by an AHM delegate, and this representative is responsible for definitively deciding on cases of classification in which there is disagreement with the other members.

Picture 11. Military Historical Archive. new building

5. Selection Table

Since the evaluation, while determining the primary and secondary value of the documentation, is based on the documentary series, constituted by archival units of the same fund whose aggregation was determined by the needs of the service, taking into account criteria of administrative or other rationality, the GTAE built a Selection Table organised by functional areas, to be adopted by the current files of the U/E/O, to which reference numbers were assigned.

For the elaboration of the draft regulation, the following steps were necessary:

– Survey of Army documentary series based on unit classifiers, interviews with those responsible for U/E/O files, legislation study, etc.;

– Assignment of administrative conservation periods and final destination of the documentary series that make up the selection table;

– Development of a database to support the Selection Table design;

– Introduction of documentary series in the database;

– Preparation of the index of the documentary series, entered in the Selection Table, as an auxiliary tool for information retrieval;

– Elaboration of the text of the ordinance project composed by the RCAE.

The project proposal was submitted for consideration by the U/E/O, in order to consider criticisms, opinions and suggestions for the timely planning of possible changes.

The organisation of the series in functional areas to the detriment of the organic-functional areas was related to the fact that the Army is an extremely complex institution since it is composed of numerous units, bodies and establishments, each with its specific organic structure.

The reference number consists of two fields, the first corresponds to the functional area and the second to the alphabetical order of the series, however the Selection Table should not be used as a document classifier.

In each functional area, the documentary series, ordered alphabetically, were numbered with a minimum of 4 digits and spaced out to safeguard the eventual entry of new document series, thus allowing the continuation of the alphabetical order. Whenever a series is composed of documents of a particular type (eg invoices) it can be processed in batches on a half-yearly or annual basis.

The Selection Table indicates, for each document series, the minimum periods of administrative conservation of the documentation, in years, related to the interests of the services themselves and with the tax deadlines and legal obligations that the law defines. This minimum term must be understood as the minimum time of permanence in the primary archives of the U/E/O. The table applies, in principle, to documents issued by the issuing body (originals), namely to single copies or, in the case of multiple documents, to the autographed copy or to copy no. 1.

The documents must be kept in the files of the U/E/O according to the minimum periods indicated in the Selection Table, attached to the RCAE. Documents whose conservation is determined by special regulations, in the case of documents with a security classification, are subject to the provisions of the respective regulations. Any documentary series not included in the Selection Table is considered permanent conservation until the respective conservation period is defined.

Once the administrative retention periods have been indicated, the final destination to be given to the documentation was established: elimination or permanent conservation, with the consequent entry into the documentation transfer circuit, based on its remaining administrative, historical-cultural or other interest. Documentation with reduced fees for administrative use, and in accordance with what is stipulated in the selection table, must be sent to an intermediate file, in order to rationalise the use of current U/E/O files.

The indication of the final destination must be understood as a rule, although the CCD may decide on a case-by-case basis, establishing its own criteria. In this way and in accordance with the ordinance, the U/E/O are always obliged to make proposals for the elimination or transfer of documents or archival funds to the CCD, since this commission, operating at ArqGEx, is the coordinating body of the Army Archives System, being responsible for the decisions regarding the application of the table and document transfers.

It is, therefore, the responsibility of the CCD to verify the application of the Selection Table, especially in terms of series that are no longer of current use, which presupposes the regular examination of conservation plans, in order to identify the documents that should be deleted or transferred to ArqGEx.

The remarks field appears to explain some references.

This draft legislation containing the RCAE and its Selection Table, was submitted to the National Archives Institute/Torre do Tombo as the management body of the national archival policy, and approved by the Ministers of National Defence and Culture on 22 May 2000.

The entry into force of this table introduced some innovations in terms of conservation and selection of documentation as well as in the circuit of periodic transfers of archives from the U/E/O to ArqGEx and from this to the AHM, allowing the standardisation of archival procedures at the level of Army.

The Selection Table must be subject to periodic reviews in order to adapt it to possible changes in the documental production and in the archival structure that organizes it. Table changes or revisions of selection, introduction of new documentary series, change of deadlines, etc., are prepared by the CCD, based on proposals from the Army’s U/E/O. These proposed changes must be communicated to the CCD, mentioning the following: name of the department or service that proposes the change; recommended changes, inclusion or deletion of certain measures, namely at the level of series, retention periods, etc.; explanation and justification of proposed changes; signature of the person proposing the change and authorising it; proposal date. In turn, the CCD must send the final proposal for revising the Selection Table to the National Archives Institute/Torre do Tombo.

Picture 12. Law 272/2000

6. Conclusions.

The RCAE made it possible to regulate the functioning of the Army Archives System, in its current, intermediate and final phases; ensure the conservation and remittance of permanent conservation documentation to the definitive archive; promote the elimination of documentation with no secondary value, after the administrative retention periods have expired; guide and support the classification of documents; regulate the replacement of supports and the accessibility and communicability of documents.

The practical results of the entry into force of this regulation will promote a reduction in the volume of documents to be read and the information to be retrieved; to save space by removing documents that lose their current usefulness, as it avoids the use of additional locations and equipment; effective document control; and identification of documents that must be preserved according to their archival value.

declassified archives military archives Military archives legislation

Declassification procedures in different countries: food for thought


The Committee of Military Archives thanks Kathleen Van Acker, our Secretary General, for her great commitment and active participation to this blog


One of the most discussed topics during our annual conferences is dealing with classified archives. Military archivists deal with these kind of archives on a daily base; we all have similar but also different legislations and directives. So we decided to give an overview of what we found online and what we learned during our discussions.

This summary doesn’t pretend to be complete, on the contrary, like mentioned above, it was mostly an online search and we had to deal with language barriers. It is an invitation for colleagues and researchers to add their information about declassifying procedures, the changes in legislation, etc… So please go ahead and comment in the comments section and send an e-mail to We will adapt this list on a regular base.






  • The Army History Directorate:
    • in 2020 all classified documents of the Directorate’s archive issued by Army institutions until 1955 were declassified
    • access to the more recent ones and those not issued by the Army still remain restricted








  • Thirty year rule”: all governmental records are released after 30 year (now 20 year)
  • Exemptions: Intelligence services have a “blanket approval” given by the Lord Chancellor to keep their records as long as they are classified, in order to protect national security.
  • More information: 


  • Declassification after 25 years after creation of the document.
  • Exemptions:
    • reveal the identity of a confidential human source, a human intelligence source, a relationship with an intelligence or security service of a foreign government or international organization, or a non-human intelligence source; or impair the effectiveness of an intelligence method currently in use, available for use, or under development;
    • 25X2 – reveal information that would assist in the development, production, or use of weapons 25X1 of mass destruction;
    • 25X3 – reveal information that would impair U.S. cryptologic systems or activities;
    • 25X4 – reveal information that would impair the application of state-of-the-art technology within a US weapon system;
    • 25X5 – reveal formally named or numbered U.S. military war plans that remain in effect, or reveal operational or tactical elements of prior plans that are contained in such active plans;
    • 25X6 – reveal information including foreign government information, that would cause serious harm to relations between the U.S. and a foreign government, or to ongoing diplomatic activities of the U.S;
    • 25X7 – reveal information that would impair the current ability of U.S. government officials to protect the President, Vice President, and other protectees for whom protection services, in the interest of national security, are authorized;
    • 25X8 – reveal information that would seriously impair current national security emergency preparedness plans or reveal current vulnerabilities of systems, installations, or infrastructures relating to the national security;
    • 25X9 – violate a statute, treaty, or international agreement that does not permit the automatic or unilateral declassification of information at 25 years.
  • More information:

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