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Digging into the Archives

Concise Presentation of some Archival Institutions and Portals that hold collections related to Military History

by Doctor Anna Batzeli post-doctoral researcher.

Anna Batzeli obtained her PhD at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece). 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: https://auth.academia.edu/AnnaBatzeli

The Committee asked Anna how she found CAM blog and contacts:

“I am highly interested in war and military history, having published articles and papers covering case studies from the Bulgarian-Serbian War (1885-1886), the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), World War I & II. I came across CAM’s website while seeking for information on Military Archives and found CAM’s Military Archives Guide. This Guide is useful for war and miliatry historians, wishing to acquire information on institutions holding collections related to their research”.

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our friend Anna Batzeli for her commitment and her participation to this project

The aim of this piece is to briefly present twelve archival institutions and portals that hold collections related to military history, and can be of a great use for military and war historians. The presented institutions cover a wide spatial and temporal range, offering both a national and a transnational outlook of past events. They also allow historians to piece the puzzles and recreate warship and family/personal stories. The great majority of the presented archival institutions and portals provide free access to digitalized collections. These collections not only facilitate the research of historians, but they can further be used for educational and awareness raising purposes. 

A. Archival Institutions and Portals (based in Europe):
▪ The Archive of Athens War Museum (Greece)
Figure 1: Material from the Photographic Archive (source: warmuseum.gr).

The Archive of Athens War Museum is divided into three sections: the Historical Archive, the Photographic Archive and the Film Archive. The Historical Archive holds material covering a wide period ranking from the Greek War of Independence in 1821 till the Cold War and it is consisted by a wealth variety of documents (such as diaries and testimonials). The Photographic Archive has a collection of over 35,000 photographs and the Film Archive is one of the largest of its kind in South-East Europe. Both the Photographic and the Film Archives have items dating from 1897 till the present time.

Uboat.net (Germany)

Uboat.net is a digital archives portal that provides access to materials related to World War I and World War II. As stated by its name, Uboat.net focuses on naval operations. In particular, Uboat.net provides access to items and information related to the German submarines, including technical and operational information, and biographical data about their commanding officers. The portal also includes a special section on the Allied forces.

▪ Historisches marinearchiv (Germany)
Figure 2: Document related to the sinking of “Athenia” by U-30 in 1939 (source: historisches-marinearchiv.de)

The historisches-marinearchiv.de is a database of naval history related projects. Currently the database provides access to  seventeen thematic projects, which cover topics related mainly to the World War II period:

  • ASA – Allied Submarine Attacks in Europe,
  • ASS – Achievements of the Axis Submarines,
  • Inland shipping (a collection of databases about the shipyards, companies and ships on German inland waters),
  • German crew lists from WWII,
  • German flotillas in Greece (World War II),
  • German small combat weapons (World War II),
  • German landing craft (World War II),
  • German Luftwaffe vehicles from World War II,
  • German anti-mine vehicles (from the imperial era till today),
  • German speedboats in WWII,
  • German submarine commanders 1939-1945,
  • Dunkirk wrecks (a database of the ships and wrecks that remained in Dunkirk after the Operation “DYNAMO”)
  • Duikboot (a multilingual World War II submarine database),
  • Preserved ships from German navies (a list of the vessels that are still preserved today from the four eras of the German Navy: Imperial Navy, Kriegsmarine, Volksmarine/Bundesmarine and German Navy),
  • Greek ship losses (during World War II),
  • MTB and MGB battles (a list of the battles of British Motor Torpedo Boats and Motor Gun Boats, based on the existing literature),
  • Transport ships during Operation “Weserübung (World War II).

Finally it should be added that the historisches-marinearchiv.de database is constantly expanding with new material and projects and supplemented by specialists articles, experiences reports and other publications. 

▪ Online Collections of Ireland Military Archives

The Online Collections of Ireland Military Archives are divided into sixteen topics, which can be grouped into six categories:

1. Administration, legislation, communication documents: The first category has the following collections:

  • Military Service Pensions Collection (1916-1923): this collection is consisted of pension and medal applications from veterans of the revolutionary period and relevant administration and legislation documents.
  • The ‘Bureau of Military History (1880s-1966)’ contains of a variety of material, such as press cuttings and photographs.
  • ‘The Collins Papers (1917-1922)’ contains material related to I.R.A. Brigade communications with  Battalion and General Headquarters appointed officers.
  • The “Irish Army Census Collection (12 November 1922 – 13 November 1922)” contains information on any person serving in the National Army in November 1922.

2. Sources for History Educators: This category provides access to the ‘1916 In Transitions’ collection, which contains educational plans/scenarios for teachers and allows navigation by subject or toolkit.

3. Periodicals: category is consisted by the following collections:

  • The Collection “An tÓglach Magazine” contains issues published between 1918 and 1933, while the Collection “Easter 1916 An tÓglách Accounts (24 April 1916 – 29 April 1916)” has all “An tÓglách” articles published on the occasion of the 10 year anniversary of the Easter Rising.
  • The collection “The Irish Volunteer (1914 – 1916)” contains issues of “The Irish Volunteer” and allows search by key word.
Figure 3: Photograph taken of the 1st Cadet Class on the 2nd September 1929 at the Cadet School, Military College, Curragh Camp (source: militaryarchives.ie).

4. Images, Maps, Plans & Drawings Collections: provide access to thousand items. In particular:

  • The “Maps, Plans & Drawings Collection (1702 – 2007)” has 3,950 items, while the “Military Archives Image Gallery (20th Century)” holds app. 40,000 images.
  • The“Media Hub (20th Century)” contains circa 400 photographs submitted to the Bureau.
Figure 4: Countess Markievicz in I.C.A. uniform (source: photogalery.militaryarchives.ie)

5. Oral History Projects: which are of interest for researchers working both on Irish and non-Irish military history related case studies:

w  Oral History Project: the collection has more than 250 interviews from predominantly former members of the Defence Forces, including the integration of previously collected interviews and legacy material. The collection includes direct testimony from interviewees who had served in the Congo, Lebanon, Cyprus, Chad and in other overseas missions as part of the United Nations mission.

w  United Nations Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement Forces Unit Histories from 1958: Unit Histories constitute the day-to-day record of that unit’s service overseas. This project to release the histories of the battalion and infantry group size units (from before the 30 year rule cut-off) is on-going, so more will be added over time.

6. Finally, the “Military Archives Image Identification Project (20th Century)” is an interesting initiative of the Ireland Military Archives, which aims to involve portal’s visitors in the identification process of photographic records.

▪ Archives Portal Europe (APE)

Archives Portal Europe was established in 2009 and  brings together descriptive archival catalogues  from more than 30 countries, in 24 languages (and 5 different alphabets), and from a large variety of institutions: national archives, community archives, parish archives, university archives, corporate and private archives, and others. APE currently holds information on around 7,000 archival institutions, of which over a thousand actively contribute with content, and it holds more than 280 million archival descriptive units. At the same time, Archives Portal Europe is constantly expanding to make more material available for research.

APE is a useful online research resource for military and war historians, as several Military Archives collaborate with APE and have registered their holdings in the Portal, such as the State Military Historical Archives of Bulgaria, the Nederlands Instituut voor Militaire Historie, the Armémuseum, the Associazione nazionale fra mutilati e invalidi di guerra (Modena, Foligno, Marsciano, Perugia, Terni & Todi), the Forum per i problemi della pace e della guerra (Firenze), the Imperial War Museum Archives and the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives (King’s College London). In addition, APE provides access to relevant material held at non-military archival institutions, for example, on the First and the Second World Wars APE provides access to more than 57,480 and 40,050 items respectively. Researchers can search by keyword and by topic (for example “wars”) in multiple languages and access archival descriptions of relevant digitised documents and digital objects (such as photographs) whenever available.

▪ Europeana

Europeana is a web portal created by the European Union and contains digitised cultural heritage collections of more than 3,000 institutions across Europe. Europeana provide access to historical documents, images, videos, books, art. Search is possible by topic and key words. Europeana has several items related to war and military history, including the following collections:

  1. World War I: https://www.europeana.eu/en/themes/world-war-i
  2. World War II: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/3286-world-war-ii
  3. War photography: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/1714-war-photography
  4. Military engineering: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/183-military-engineering
  5. Military music: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/1183-military-music
  6. Pacific war: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/3305-pacific-war
  7. Balkan wars: https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/topic/3280-balkan-wars
B. Archival Institutions and Portals (based outside Europe):
Blavatnik Archive (US-based)

The Blavatnik Archive has 120,000 items in Modern Jewish History & Culture, covering mainly World Wars I & II and the Soviet Russia periods. Of the total amount of items held in the Blavatnik Archive, 25% are digitized and 15% are accessible online. The following collections of the Blavatnik Archive are of interest for military and war historians:

  1. Veteran Testimonies & Ephemera: the collection has app. 1,200 video interviews with Jewish men and women who fought in the Soviet armed forces and partisan detachments during World War II. The collection is consisted of 14,609 items, of which 3,687 are held online.
  2. Jews in the Military (1814 – mid 20th century): the collection is consisted of 660 items (such as pamphlets, journals, books, prints, postcards, letters, and other documents). These items reflect the participation of and support for Jewish soldiers in armies around the world.
  3. Boris Efimov Illustrations: the collection has 125 items of Efimov’s – a political caricaturist – drawings during World War II. Almost all of them are available online.
  4. WWI Postcards: the archive holds 52,126 postcards, of which 1,564 can be accessible online.
  5. Leningrad-Published Postcards: the collection has 1,330 illustrated and photo postcards, of which 1,327 are available online. These postcards were published and printed between 1941 and 1944 in besieged Leningrad (present-day Saint Petersburg).
Figure 9: Soldier and sailor on a battlefield, ca. 1941 (source: blavatnikarchive.org)
The Military Collection of the State Archives of North Carolina

The State Archives of North Carolina have developed a Military Collection with the aim to preserve military history and heritage of the state from the 17th century till nowadays.

The Military Collection is consisted by a wide variety of items, covering a range of topics, such as, but not limited to:  official and personal wartime correspondence; military camp publications and unit newsletters; regimental and unit records; troop returns, rosters and descriptive rolls; muster and pay rolls; training manuals; reminiscences, memoirs, and diaries; select service records; unit records and histories; wartime propaganda and recruitment posters; military maps; official military publications; materials concerning war-related organizations and home-front activities.

The Military Collection has also a digital component and inter alia the following are accessible online: Civil War, Revolutionary War, Troop Returns and Veterans Oral History Collection.

Online Military Records of the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

The Online Military Records of the US National Archives and Records Administration provide access to Enlistment Records, Casualty Reports, Prisoner of War Data, and other military records. The items can be browsed by category and subject and cover a wide period. Additional key word and advanced search options are available.

Researchers while conducting search in the online records, they have to bear in mind the following note: “Note that most of the electronic records in AAD were created by Federal agencies to meet their own program or business needs. These records were not created with history or general public access in mind. As electronic data files, there may be limited textual or readable information, and some information may be stored in an abbreviated or coded format (although a code list is generally provided for these records)”.

Virginia Military Institute Archives: Digital Collections

The Virginia Military Institute Archives have over 10,600 items in their collections, such as administrative documents, operational reports, newspapers, images, drawings, maps and testimonies. The website allows search by collection, date and topic.

Figure 10: Field Training Exercise, ca. 1960 (source: digitalcollections.vmi.edu)
Online World War I Service Databases

The US/National WWI Museum and Memorial has developed a list of sources related to military service record during World War I. The list is accessible via the following link https://www.theworldwar.org/research/military-records and organised in three categories:

  1. U.S. General Resources
  2. U.S. Resources by State or Territory
  3. Military Service Records for Other Countries
The Military Archives of the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), Japan

The Military Archives of the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) has collections related to the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy, which accounts 96,000 volumes. These volumes are those which were preserved during the Second World War.

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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” (https://wbh.wp.mil.pl/pl/pages/oddzia-ii-i3034-1-100-2022-08-31-1y1w/) are available online.

There is also an electronic resource database for files from the sections I-IV: https://wbh.wp.mil.pl/pl/pages/oddzia-ii-i3034-1-100-2022-08-31-1y1w/

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: https://wbh.wp.mil.pl/pl/pages/formularze-2021-01-21-w9lf/

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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CAM meeting ICMH Congress military archives visit to archives

Poland 2022

New activities in the Committee of Military Archives meetings

28th August-2nd September 2022, Wrocław-Opole, Poland

From 28 August to 2 September 2022, the Polish Commission of Military Hystory hosted the XLVII congress of the International Commission of Military History in Wroclaw and Opole. The CAM agreed with the Polish Commission point of contact, Professor Tomasz Ciesielski, the draft of our activities. So, on 29 August, the Committee, its delegates and other participants visited the Wroclaw State Archive.

29 August 2022, Professor Tomasz Ciesielski introduces the CAM members and other ICMH congress participants to the Wroclaw State Archive

On 30 August the Committee of Military Archives had its first meeting in the morning at the Wroclaw University – Institute of History.

29 August 2022, the CAM Secretary-General introduces her paper on “Sources dans les archives: types et expériences”

The session was suspended because some delegates had other obligations on the same day presenting their papers. So the Committee convened again in the late afternoon in the hotel where the session continued.

29 August 2022, in the afternoon Col Marius Croitoru, Romanian delegate to the CAM, presents the Romanian Military Archive to the Committee.

Initially, with a first tour of the table the delegates and the attendees presented themselves. The first part of the meeting has been reserved to the approval of the minutes of the meeting held in Athens in 2021 (see the post published here). The presentation moved to the Committee of Military Archives blog, providing some facts and figures of the job done along the year September 2021 / August 2022. The steering committee asked for a strong support by the delegates and the friends of the CAM in order to launch the Military Archives Online Guide harvesting campaign during the year September 2022 / August 2023. Finally, the presentation ended with some conclusions agreed by the delegates.

Because of the lack of time, the Committee decided to meet again in the late afternoon thanks to the availability of the meeting rooms booked in the hotel. During the second phase of the meeting the delegates received the presentation of the Romanian Military Archives (see the post published in our blog) by their director, Colonel Marius Croitoru, and the archives of the Belgian War Heritage Institute by Dr. Patrick Nefors.

On 1 September, the congress moved to Opole, hosting one of the session at the Opole State Archive. Thanks to the full support of the Opole Archive Director, Professor Miroslav Lenart, the CAM members and other participants to the congress had the opportunity to visit the archives briefly.

Opole 1st September 2022, the CAM steering committee together with Marius Croitoru, Romanian delegate to the Committee, and other participants to the congress in front of the Opole State Archive main entrance.

In other posts, the steering committee will present the visits to the State Archives in Poland.

Categories
CAM meeting ICMH Congress

Athens, August 2021

The Committe of Military Archives meeting

On 29th August 2021, the Committe of Military Archives convened in Athens in the framework of the XLVI International Congress of Military History on the theme “Independence wars since the XVIII Century” (29 August – 03 September 2021).

The Hellenic Military Archives presentation by Pigi Kalogeraton

According to the agenda of the meeting, the Committee discussed for 2 hours of the main important topics as in the agenda. Ten attendees (delegates or observers) from 8 countries (Belgium, Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Turkey and USA).

After a quick introduction by each attendee, the discussion took place and then two presentations were held by Pigi Kalogerakou (on the Hellenic Military Archives within the Ministry of Defence) and Kathleen Van Acker (new privacy rules and declassification). The presentations will be published in future posts.

The Hellenic Military Archives presentation by Pigi Kalogeraton (2)

The first main outcome is connected an initiative that the Committee launched some years ago. The CAM decided to continue the project launched by the previous steering committee led by Michael Steidel, the Online Guide of Military Archives

The Online Guide of Military Archives project (see below the ICMH Newsletter n. 35 – June 2021, pp. 20-21 where there is an history of the guide as well) has the aim to become a gateway the help researchers and scholars to find the most important military archives or archives with significant military archival funds.

The form is very simple and it takes about 30 minutes to be filled with the all the relevant information. No specific requirements are needed to fill the form.

At the moment, a first group of national commissions members of the ICMH sent the template filled as proposed (the template is available in the ICMH Newsletter as above, p. 22). As far as a second group of national commissions will send other filled forms, the Guide will be available on-line on the ICMH website. The subsequent forms will be added subsequently.

The declassification process presentation by Kathleen Van Acker

The second main outcome of the discussion was related to “Mars&Janus”, the CAM newsletter according to the Statutes. The newsletter has not been published since 2010. So to re-launch the information strategy of the Committe, it has been approved to transform the newletter in a permanent blog hosted on line (here the presentation). There are some reasons behind the decision. The most important, in our view, is to spread as much as we can the information and products that CAM received.

So the steering committee of the CAM decided to move to Hypotheses.org because it is a platform for humanities and social science research blogs. The texts are in open access and they are not intended at specialists solely; in this regard it could be raise more to a broad audience.

The results of the meeting have been presented to the general assembly of the International Commission of Military History on 3 September 2021.

 
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