Research guide B3: The Royal Navy: Sources for enquiries

The Museum does not hold the official records of the Royal Navy, it does however have extensive collections of books, photographs, paintings, prints and manuscripts about the Royal Navy.

There are a number of ways to explore the official records of the Royal Navy, using the information below. The National Maritime Museum also holds a wealth of information in its collections dealing with most aspects of the Royal Navy.

General and service records

Before 1972 all Royal Navy personnel were given their records when they left the service. The surviving records until that date only contain basic services details and lists of postings. Further details regarding 20th century service records can be obtained from the Veterans Agency-UK.

The National Archives

The National Archives

Ruskin Avenue

Kew

Surrey TW9 4DU

Tel: (+44) 020 8876 3444

Tel: (+44) 020 8392 5200 (Records Enquiries)

Fax: (+44) 020 8392 5286

The National Archives holds most Admiralty records including official logs of warships, muster rolls and pay books. It also holds all personnel and service records of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines up to at least 1920 – generally personnel records are transferred to The National Archives when they are 75 years old. They include:

  • RN officers to about 1920
  • RN ratings enlisting before 1924
  • RM officers before 1924
  • RM marines before 1924 (arranged by Division and Company)
  • RNR officers prior to WWI (1910–1920 due to be transferred during 2002)
  • RNR Honorary officers 1862–1960
  • RNR ratings for WWI and a selection 1860–1913
  • RNAS officers and ratings for WWI (excludes details of any previous RN or subsequent RAF service)
  • RNAS Russian Armoured Cars WWI
  • WRNS for WWI
  • QARNNS before 1924 (including records of nursing sisters 1884 onwards)

RNR officers were also included in the Navy List from 1862. The RNVR was founded in 1903. In 1958 the RNR and the RNVR amalgamated to form the present RNR.

Ministry of Defence

Ministry of Defence

Directorate of Personnel Support (Navy)

Navy Search

TNT Archive Services

Tetron Point

William Nadin Way

Swadlincote

Derbyshire

DE11 0BB

Tel: (+44) 01283 227913

Fax: (+44) 01283 227942

Email: navysearchpgrc@tnt.co.uk

This office controls all service records for the years approximately 1920 to at least 1939 which have not yet been passed to The National Archives (excluding Royal Marines – see below). Please note that information can only be given to next of kin.

  • RN officers over 60
  • RN ratings enlisting 1924–1939
  • RNR officers 1920–1950
  • RNVR officers up to 1950
  • WRNS ratings enlisting 1939–1955
  • QARNNS 1923–1955

Ministry of Defence

NPP(Acs)AFPAA Centurion Building

Grange Road

Gosport PO13 9XA

This office controls service records as listed below for the period after 1940. Please note that information can only be supplied to next of kin.

  • RN ratings after 1939
  • 'Hostilities only' records post-1939 (i.e. WWII and Korean War)
  • FAA after 1939
  • RNR ratings after 1945
  • RNVR ratings after 1945
  • WRNS after 1956
  • QARNNS after 1956

Other records

Royal Marines Historical Records

Royal Marines Historical Records

DPS(N)

Building 1/151

Victory View

PP65

HM Naval Base

Portsmouth

PO1 3LS

Tel: 023 9272 7531 / 3114 / 6063

Personal records of Royal Marines who enlisted into the service during or after approximately 1930. Records prior to 1930 are held at The National Archives (details above).

Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Human Resources Bureau

Fleet HQ

West Battery

Whale Island

Portsmouth PO2 8BY

Medals

Gallantry Decorations and Honours & Awards

The London Gazette contains citations relating to the grant of Honours & Awards and decorations, together with the names of recipients. Some citations give no details or only the briefest description of why an award was made. Citations associated with the Victoria Cross and George Cross include details about individual recipients, actions; other citations may allude to operational activity.

The London Gazette is available online. Copies are available at The National Archives, Imperial War Museum, and Royal Navy Museum Library.

The individual papers relating to First and Second World War naval Honours & Awards, i.e. the recommendations that led to an award being granted, are no longer retained by the Ministry of Defence. Few of the Admirality's Honours & Awards records (files) were transfered to The National Archives. If the records are less than 30 years old and not in The National Archives, it may be assumed that they have been destroyed.

Where such records still exist, details concerning recommendations and mentions in despatches may be found at The National Archives in record classes ADM 1 (under Code 85) or ADM 116 (under Code 85). The National Archives online catalogue can be used to search amongst these documents, or they can be accessed via ADM 12. As well as giving details in despatches these papers contain operational records.

The Admiralty Index of Honours & Awards granted during the First World War is in The National Archives. The National Archives also holds various medal rolls for naval gallantry decorations. The Ministry of Defence (Naval Secretary (Honours & Awards)) maintains the current Admiralty Index of Honours & Awards that was started in 1939. This Index is not available for public inspection but much of the information relating to naval Honours & Awards from 1939 to 1959 (1969 for the Fleet Air Arm) has been published by W W F Chatterton Dickson in Seedies Registers. These are available in the Library of the National Maritime Museum, together with other publications about awards of gallantry decorations to Naval personnel (see Research Guide U2).

Naval Secretary (Honours & Awards)

Room G10 (MP G.2)

Fleet Headquarters

West Battery

Whale Island

Portsmouth

Hampshire PO2 8BY

Tel: 023 92 628675

Campaign Service Medals

The National Archives holds Medal Rolls up to 1921, and some Rolls after this date in Board of Trade records, e.g. WWII RNR Officers. In the War Office records in The National Archives there are also records of medals issued to Royal Marines and the Royal Naval Division where these came under the Army's operational command.

Ministry of Defence Medal Office

Building 250

RAF Innsworth

Gloucester GL3 1HWThe single Services' Medal Offices merged to form the (Joint Service) MOD Medal Office in 2005. Records of later issues of campaign medals are available from the MOD Medal Office. The MOD Medal Office also deals with applications for campaign medals and requests for replacement medals. Enquiries relating to the RFA should continue to be referred to the address above.

Casualties

The National Archives

  • Muster and Pay Books record deaths of officers and ratings before service records kept.
  • Registers of killed and wounded 1854–1929
  • Reports of deaths 1939–1948
  • Casualty records RNR officers 1939–1946

Imperial War Museum

  • Royal Naval Division casualty ledgers (WWI)
  • Copies of listings of officers and ratings who died, 3 September 1939–30 June 1948 (Originals are in the Royal Naval Museum).

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Details of the burial place or commemoration of those who died in service 4 August 1914–31 August 1921 and 3 September 1939–31 December 1947.

The Royal Navy Loss List

The Royal Navy Loss List

A free, searchable, comprehensive database of Royal Navy vessel losses since 1545 (approx. 4747 vessel losses), run by the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust. 

Ministry of Defence

Ministry of Defence

SO3 Memorials and Graves

Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC)

AFPAA(JPAC)

Bldg 182

RAF Innsworth

Gloucestershire GL3 1HW

For records relating to the burial locations of naval personnel killed during non-world war conflicts.

Other sources

Naval Historical Branch

No. 24 Store, PP20

Main Road

HM Naval Base

Portsmouth PO1 3LU

Tel: +44 (0)2392 725 187

Fax: 02392 724003

This library holds the operational history of the Royal Navy, as well as a major archive and the Admiralty Library. Subsidiary collections for the latter are held at the Royal Naval Museum and the Institute of Naval Medicine.

Royal Naval Museum Library

No 12 Store

Semaphore Tower Road

HM Naval Base

Portsmouth PO1 3NH

Tel: +44 (0)23 9272 3795

Fax: 023 9272 3942

Email: library@royalnavalmuseum.org

Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Haslar Jetty

Gosport

Hampshire PO12 2AS

Tel: +44 (0)1705 51035

Fax: +44 (0)1705 511349

Email: archives@rnsubmus.co.uk

Royal Marines Museum

Southsea

Portsmouth

Hampshire PO4 9PX

Tel: +44 (0)23 9281 9385

Fax: 023 9283 8420

Shows the history of Britain's sea soldiers from 1664 to the present.

Fleet Air Arm Museum

Box D6

RNAS Yeovilton

Near Ilchester

Somerset BA22 8HT

Tel: +44 (0)1935 840565

Fax: +44 (0)1935 842630

Email: enquiries@fleetairarm.com

Covers the history of the Royal Naval Air Service and Naval aviation as well as the Fleet Air Arm. Also holds some personnel records for WWI.

Imperial War Museum

Lambeth Road

London SE1 6HZ

Tel: +44 (0)20 7416 5320

Fax: +44 (0)20 7416 5374

Email: mail@iwm.org.uk

Collection covers 20th century naval history and warfare only.

Imperial War Museum

The Photograph Archive

All Saints Annexe

Austral Street

London SE11

Tel: +44 (0)20 7416 5333

Fax: +44 (0)20 7416 5355

Email: photos@iwm.org.uk

Includes the official photographic record of the Royal and merchant navies during the First and Second World Wars.

Veterans Advice Unit

Free phone: 0800 169 2277 (from overseas +44 1253 866043)

Email: help@veternasagency.gsi.gov.uk

Advice on various aspects of military records, including contacting military associations, tracing former comrades, service records, and historical records.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Royal Navy are:

For general research help see:

Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.