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Digital archives military archives

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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