Researching Navy history

For questions about the history of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) or about a relative who served in the Navy, there are several online resources and finding aids available.

Sea Power Centre - Australia

If these resources do not cover the area of interest, please visit the Sea Power Centre - Australia history website  or for specialist advice within the Sea Power Centre’s remit, please email Sea Power Centre - Australia (SPC-A) at navy.history@defence.gov.au.

Australian War Memorial (AWM)

The Australian War Memorial holds an extensive range of military records which have been digitised. Start with the AWM’s Fact Sheet on Defence and war service records. The AWM has excellent research guides as well as other useful research advice on visiting the AWM, asking a question via email or phone, or requesting assistance. The AWM’s online exhibition, Australia’s Navies: Under the Southern Cross, also has extensive relevant content. The AWM also has a large online photographic collection.

National Archives of Australia

An individual’s service record can be found through the National Archives of Australia. Go to the catalogue and use the Name search function. Select from the relevant drop down menu under ‘Records’ (for example ‘Navy Personnel Records’ or ‘Australian Prisoner of War Records’, etc). These records will typically include when and where the person enlisted, their physical description, their postings and rank or rating, as well as when they were demobilised. You can search for other information about an individual’s service on the AWM site. If it exists, this may include information from nominal roll entries, the Roll of Honour, or honours and awards.

The AWM has digitised Australia’s Official Histories of the First and Second World Wars, which can be downloaded and searched. For example, here are the two Volumes on the RAN in the Second World War. The RAN worked with the AWM to digitise the Reports of Proceedings up to 1978 (similar to an official diary) of Navy ships, bases, commands, and administrative units. 

National Library of Australia

The National Library of Australia hosts the Trove resource, which is the gateway into a range of records including a large collection of digitised Australian newspapers and the Commonwealth Government Gazette. Trove can search for images across a number of collections, and photographs of RAN vessels can be found there too. Simply go to the Trove homepage and in the drop down menu in the search box select ‘Images, Maps and Artefacts’. The RAN publication, Navy News, can also be found on Trove.

Australian National Maritime Museum

The Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney has information on Australian maritime history as well as 19 RAN vessels in its historic ship collection.

Awards and Medals

For questions about the medal or awards entitlements then go to the Honours and awards section on the Defence website and follow the ‘My Relatives Medals’ link, or search the AWM database on awards and honours.

Further help

Organisations like the Australian Naval Historical Society focus on conserving, protecting and promoting Australian Naval History. They offer help and assistance to families and historians. See their excellent Research – We Can Help page.

The Australian Association for Maritime History also has an extensive list of publications and resources.