WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries, Info Thread

Discussion in 'Unit History' started by dbf, Sep 27, 2014.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    How do I find the correct War Diary?
    Once a unit of interest has been established, and a date chosen, there are two main ways to find the TNA unique code.

    PsyWar.Org / Lee's War Diary search engine
    Arcre search engine was created by a member of the forum to help identify the TNA catalogue numbers for war diaries. This engine also smoothed out the kinks encountered when using TNA's engine, e.g. variations on regiment or corps titles/abbreviations. It does 'what it says on the tin' and is IMO by far the quickest way to get a Catalogue number for one diary or indeed a whole set of diaries belonging to a particular unit.

    Discovery search engine: The National Archives, Kew
    This engine will enable you to search for any file and retrieve a unique catalogue number.
    This engine is for their entire catalogue so specifying e.g. a series code, WO (for War Office) and date range, specific terms will increase chances of getting good results.

  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Where are War Diaries for other Commonwealth Armies?

    The National Archives Kew
    War Office: Canadian, South African, New Zealand and Indian (United Kingdom) Forces (Dominion Forces): War Diaries, Second World War | The National Archives

    as Spidge has reminded me these diaries are FREE to download.


    Free access - War diaries - Héritage
    See also this linked Resource on the forum


    New Zealand


    South African
    * See Andreas' post no. 32 and PsyWar's reply post no. 35



    USA records can be found at NARA
    See this thread also
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2022
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Are there any War Diaries for post-WW2 era?
    After WW2 ended Army units still carried out duties in various Theatres. Since hostilities had ceased the War Diary system was revised and units were required to file Quarterly Historical Reports, which as the name suggests were filed on a 3-monthly basis.

    Here is one example of QHRs filed for Irish Guards in Palestine.
    Quarterly Historical Reports: 1st Bn IRISH GUARDS, January 1947 - March 1949

    Discussion thread for reports relating to Palestine
    Post war units Palestine


    Please note that these categories below are for Theatres and it is worth checking availability of QHRs for specific units by way of TNA Discovery Search engine, or by clicking the 'Browse by Reference' option within the linked pages below.

    War Office: Middle East Land Forces: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: Central Mediterranean Forces: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    . War Office: British Troops in Austria: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: British Element Trieste Force: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: British Troops in Malta: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: Gibraltar Forces: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: British Army of the Rhine: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: Far East Land Forces: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: East and West Africa Forces: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives

    War Office: Caribbean Forces: Quarterly Historical Reports | The National Archives
  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    What do the abbreviations used in War Diaries mean?
    Below are a few examples of the more common abbreviations used within diaries

    For a more comprehensive list, see this Resource

    2 i/c - second-in-command
    6-pdr (pounder) - artillery gun
    17-pdr - artillery gun
    25-pdr - artillery gun
    88mm (millimetre) - german artillery gun
    a/tk - anti tank
    bn - battalion
    br - bridge
    CO - Commanding Officer
    coy - company
    CSM - Company Sergeant-Major
    HE - High Explosive
    IO - Intelligence Officer
    MO - Medical Officer
    offr - officer
    OR - Other Rank, not a commissioned officer
    pl - platoon
    Pt. - Point (usually a hill, given with height, taken from map, as in: Pt 102)
    QM - Quartermaster
    RAP - Regimental Aid Post
    rd - road
    rly - railway
    RSM - Regimental Sergeant-Major
    sec. - section
    SP - Self-propelled (gun)
    sqdn - squadron
    SO - Signal Officer
    tk - tank
    tp - troop
    tpt - transport
    x rds - crossroads
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2022
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Last edited: Mar 4, 2020
    Murdo Duncan likes this.
  6. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Congratulations on the authoritative and comprehensive aide-memoire on War Diaries. It is a valuable guide to understanding and appreciating the function of War Diaries and their value to the researcher. I am glad I made a contribution but it is due to you and your painstaking research that has provided this unique and valued Thread for the Forum. If I may so, it is an excellent piece of work.

    Joe Brown.
    Murdo Duncan and dbf like this.
  7. spidge


    Well done Diane!

    A most comprehensive and very useful thread.

    I know the Australian war diaries are free to download - is that the same for all other Commonwealth countries and the USA?


    dbf likes this.
  8. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Ah that was cruel.

    There was I, hoping to have found the holy grail of South African war diaries, and nothing. 5,853 files of Canadian war diaries out of 5,930. Then some weird S.A. records and something about Indian forces in the UK... Someone needs to point out to the National Archives that their description is quite wrong...

    Still need to go to Jo'Burg I guess. :(

    All the best

    dbf likes this.
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thank you for your help and your kind comments Joe. This is, as all good things are on this forum, a true collaboration.
    Thanks Geoff, I've added that important part to the Aussie NA link.

    I have found some Canadian ones which were free to download, can't remember if they were WW1 or WW2. I'm afraid I'm just not up to speed on that side of things.

    Andreas, sorry it raised hopes! :)
    I've edited in a link to your post under those SA details.

    As ever, additions and corrections are welcome.
  10. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    There are some in there, here's the South African ones: Search results: "south african forces" | The National Archives
    dbf likes this.
  11. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Thanks mate. Nothing about CRUSADER, but if I ever want to do the history of the war in East Africa, I now know where to look!


    All the best

  12. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Not a war diary but this might be useful, if you haven't got it already: 1st South African Division: report on operations, Nov-Dec 1941: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C165773
  13. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Thanks, that's really helpful. No chance of any of the South African Armoured Car Regiment war diaries though, I guess?

    And your Discovery-fu is strong!


  14. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Well done Diane, you have gone and done it again. A super effort and a great resource for those beginning their research pathway.
  15. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Couldn't agree more by the way. I wish I had known all that before first traipsing off to Kew.

    All the best

  16. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    I note that the FIELD SERVICE REGULATIONS, VOLUME 1, Chapter XVIII, Section 174. War Diaries, states:

    "1. A war diary will be kept in duplicate..." - Message 13 refers.

    However, I note also that Army Form C2119A (the War Diary Cover), refers to an Original, Duplicate and Triplicate - Message 15 refers.

    I have always wondered but never asked, were War Diaries ever kept in Triplicate and if so, where did that third copy go for safe keeping/posterity?


  17. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Strangely enough Lee and I chatted in passing about this the other day. Hope he doesn't mind me saying before he's had a chance to see this but he said he's only ever seen one case of a copy marked Triplicate. I can't say I've ever seen one so annotated, but then again, I've not kept an eye out either.

    Perhaps keeping a third copy for most diaries wasn't practicable, given the need for economies and the fact that 2 copies could be referenced easily enough...? I wonder if any forum members has seen an example, of if Joe has any thoughts on the matter?

    From my understanding there must have been a lot of 'duplication' as it was, i.e. with the up-down & side-ways communications between & within each level of command - Bn/Bde/Div/Corps plus attached/support units and their commands - the volume of paperwork must have been a nightmare to administrate and collate, let alone make sense of.
  18. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    Diane excellent thread on War Diaries, well done

  19. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    You've defeated me now, only thing I could find is the 3 South African Armoured Car Company war diary up to May 1941.
    Andreas and dbf like this.
  20. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Probably because they knew that civies would tear the shit out of copies at the National Archives in years to come, making some pages unreadable. One of my conspiracy theories is the government have the other copies somewhere secret never to be released to the general public :lol:

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