War at Sea
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"A ship in port is safe, but that's
not what ships are built for."
The Centre's naval collection holds a rich and varied cross-section of maritime experience. Memories, photographs and other documents of individual seafarers are featured on these pages, illustrating the various aspects of life at sea during the Second World War, including the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, Fleet Air Arm and navies of the different countries involved. We also focus on the substantial commitment made by women's services. Please also take time to visit the Key Aspects section to read more on the different naval campaigns, including the ill-fated convoy PQ17 and personal experiences relating to the harsh conditions of the Russian convoys.
Allied: British and Commonwealth
The Royal and Merchant Navies have a long history in Britain, vital to the maintenance of this island nation. We include experiences from those serving in both, and of course those in the Fleet Air Arm and in the Women's Royal Naval Service, which witnessed tremendous growth during the Second World War. The sheer length of naval campaigns, such as the Battle of the Atlantic, including the heavy loss of life suffered by those serving in the Merchant Navy, the severe conditions endured seasonally in the Russian convoys and the intense action on the Malta convoys, evacuation of Greece and Crete and supply of Tobruk are represented here and in our Key Aspects section. Vital duties were undertaken by those involved in mine-sweeping, submarine operations, amphibious landings and the Royal Marines.
The Commonwealth Navies played a vital role in Second World War naval operations; the Royal Canadian Navy took part in the Battle of the Atlantic, the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Navies operated in all theatres until concentrating on the Pacific War and the Royal Indian Navy carried out its role in the Burma campaign. This aspect of the archive is developing and we would very much like to expand our holdings.
Should you wish to contribute memories or memorabilia please see how to Donate Material.
This area of the archive is newly developing and we plan to feature personal experiences of those involved in the naval units of European countries which had escaped take-over on occupation or were newly recruited in the UK as well as those in the navies of neutral countries and the Russian navy as time permits. We would welcome memories and memorabilia of those involved. Should you wish to contribute to the archive, please see how to Donate Material
The US Navy undertook a massive role during the Second World War, particularly in conducting naval operations in the Far East against a determined opponent. Following the grievous blow suffered at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 in terms of damage inflicted and casualty figures, the US Navy began the process of re-building and recovery, culminating in the major Pacific battles for supremacy. US ships also supplied Russia using a variety of routes. Here we aim to include personal experiences of those in the US Navy as well as the merchant marine, submarines, and the Waves (the American equivalent of the WRNS). Should you wish to contribute memories or memorabilia please see how to Donate Material.
Both Germany and Italy had expanded their navies by the outbreak of the conflict, posing a significant threat, with Germany soon inflicting grievous losses to Allied shipping from U-boat attack. In the East, the Imperial Japanese Navy instituted a rigorous programme of modernisation and technological advance during the 1930s, including torpedoes and submarines, super-battleships and special training exercises. Linked to improvements in aviation, this made the Japanese Navy a powerful force during the Second World War. Although this area of the archive is growing more slowly, we plan to feature personal experiences and images from those involved in Axis navies and the major campaigns as time permits. Should you wish to contribute memories or memorabilia please see how to Donate Material.
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