The Warship Histories is an alphabetical index of Royal Naval vessels, originally compiled by Commander Pitcairn-Jones but with later additions and corrections. Whilst the published list of naval vessels, by J.J. Colledge, gives similar information in some respects – technical details, launch and fate – Pitcairn-Jones’ index goes further. The index records captains’ dates of commission and, in many cases, actions in which the vessel has participated.
Due to the size of the undertaking some weaknesses are inevitable in the Warship Histories. However, for the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries they represent the most accurate combined index thus far produced. Information for this period was taken from the “list books” at the National Archives, Kew which record all vessels in commission, who was in command, and where the vessel was stationed. The sample was drawn by consulting the lists for July of every year (although it should be remembered that vessels may have gone out of, or come into, commission during the intervening months). For the 19th and 20th centuries, the Navy Lists were the main source used. Outside periods of hostilities, however, the sample was only taken every five years and once again commissions may fall within the intervening period and hence not be recorded.
The length of entries to be found in the Warship Histories is dependent on the type of vessel, for instance line-of-battle ships would normally be laid up in times of peace whereas frigates would often see a more continuous service during these times. This was particularly the case in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. For the 20th century, material between the two world wars is not consistent, for example the First World War “C” class cruisers have had their inter-war service covered in great detail whereas this is not the case with many vessels which served in both world wars.
Unfortunately the Warship Histories has not yet been digitised or made available online. Additionally, the poor quality of print obtained from the microfiche means that we tend not to take remote orders to print from this resource as we would do for many other texts. Therefore the only practical method of consulting the source is to come to the Caird Library where prints from the fiche are available. On a positive note we are now open six days a week with a late evening on Thursday. No advance notice is required to consult the Warship Histories as it is available in the reading room.
Physical description: 84 microfiches (ca. 264 frames each)
Publication info: London: National Maritime Museum, 1986.
Gregory (Assistant Librarian)
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