Monday, September 2, 2013

Submarines on the Web: The Historical Naval Ships Association

My research specialty is the Pacific Theater in World War II, with a focus on submarine warfare. In the past, to do research about the “war in the boats” it was necessary to make a trip to National Archives II at College Park, Maryland, because that’s where the really important primary materials live: the sub commanders’ “patrol reports” for the fifteen hundred-odd combat sorties made by U.S. submarines during WWII.

The patrol reports were very detailed, day-by-day accounts—diaries really—of events from the time the boat left its base until it returned sixty to ninety days later. These documents are not the same as the ship’s log, which kept track of things like speed, distance traveled, fuel used, weather and ocean conditions. The patrol reports kept track of things both mundane and monumental that happened on, or to, the ship, including narratives and data about attacks on Japanese vessels. Here is an entry from June 9, 1944, for USS Harder’s (SS257) fifth war patrol:

In the digital age it’s no longer necessary to travel to College Park to review these reports. Since 2009 all them—totaling some 63,000 pages—have been available online through the Historical Naval Ships Association website.

On the Patrol Reports page scroll down to the boat you’re looking for and left click. This brings up the file of all the patrol reports, special mission reports, and appendices available for that sub. In the case of USS Harder, that’s 325 pages of material covering six war patrols. The file will open at, and you’ll need to use Issuu’s interface to scroll page-by-page through the reports. I was unable to find a way to print directly from Issuu, but you can download a PDF and print from that (BTW—the PDF is much easier to navigate). 

In order to do the download you’ll need to create an Issuu account—it’s simple and it’s free.

Once you’ve done that and you’re on the file’s start page, cursor down to the double-diagonal-arrow box to the right of the Facebook logo. Click on that and it brings up a full page view. Then, up toward the top right you’ll see another box with a page/arrow icon. Click on that and it brings up a menu of choices. Then click “download” and you can grab your PDF, either opening it or saving it.

Here’s another page from the Harder file, this one is a table outlining a successful attack on an enemy destroyer:

HNSA also has an online collection of U.S. Navy operations manuals, mostly WWII era, classified by type of ship. There are about thirty-three, including a fascinating German U-Boat commander’s handbook from 1943.

On another page are a series of sounds and videos , mainly of submarine operations. Here is a track of a submarine diving: 

In time, there will be a lot more digital material available online. Check back with these sources frequently. And, as they say to a departing boat: “Good luck and good hunting.”

If this post was helpful or interesting to you, please let me know. I’m always looking for ways to improve the blog. 

Disclaimer: The description of web pages are accurate as of the date of the post. Like everything else in this digital world of ours, they can change in the blink of an eye.

P.S. - USS Harder was lost on her sixth patrol, in August 1944.