Official unit diaries and histories

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This page includes official war diaries and other operational records, official histories of campaigns, published orders of battle, other official lists of units and their names, orders for creating/disbanding/renaming units, semi-official unit histories, and useful secondary works. Lots of these could be added to relevant unit pages on this wiki.

McMaster University has a large online collection of trench maps and aerial photos.

Other web pages that include links to relevant resources:

General information about official histories

Robert T. Foley has written a series of posts at the Defence in Depth blog describing and linking to official histories of all nations, and other relevant sources:

General information about war diaries

A war diary is a day to day record of the movements and activities of a tactical unit or formation. They were usually written shortly after the events described, often by the unit's adjutant. The level of detail varies but at the very least they should give the location of a unit on every day that it was in a theatre of war. War diaries were typically only created when units served in theatres of war but a few were created during home service. Most have survived but some that were created might be missing.

These categories list units by whether they have references to war diaries listed on their pages on this site:

If you know where a war diary is or know that a unit doesn't have any, please update the unit's page. Category:War diary templates lists templates you can use to link to existing diaries or show that no diaries exist and why.

British Empire

This section covers the British Army and all other British Empire forces but see sub-headings below for more information about certain countries.

Spencer, William (2008). First World War Army Service Records: a guide for family historians. Kew, UK: The National Archives of the UK. ISBN 978-1-905615-26-1.  This is a detailed guide to official documents of the British Army, not just personnel files. It gives more background and references to many of the sources described on this page. Although it mainly covers the British Army, some of the material is relevant to the rest of the British Empire.

The British Manual of Military Law (1914) gives important information about the contemporary legal definitions of the British Army and other forces of the Empire. See Constitution of the Military Forces of the British Crown.

British Empire war diaries and operational records

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95 includes war diaries for most units of British Empire land forces that served in theatres of war. The main exception is the South African invasion of German South-West Africa. Diaries are arranged by theatre of war, then by formation. A unit that served in more than one theatre might have diaries filed under separate theatres but diaries are not always split between every theatre that a unit served in. You can use the template {{War diary TNA}} to link to any of these diaries.

The diaries are being digitized by TNA. Currently about half of the diaries for the Western Front have been done and can be downloaded via the Discovery catalogue, the rest of the Western Front diaries are in progress, and the other theatres have not been started yet. The digitized diaries are also being indexed by Operation War Diary, a crowdsourced project run by Zooniverse. The resulting data has not yet been made available to the public, but will be eventually. Digitized images of some diaries can also be bought from Ancestry.com and Naval & Military Press.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 153 contains maps, many of which were extracted from WO 95.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 154 contains extracts from war diaries that were removed from WO 95 because they contain sensitive information which had to stay closed for longer.

Australian War Memorial, class AWM4 contains diaries for all of the Australian Imperial Force and also a few British, Indian and New Zealand units. These can be viewed online free of charge and can contain appendices that were removed from the WO 95 version and destroyed before they were released to the public. These diaries are always kept together under the relevant unit and don't have separate sub-series for theatres of war. You can use the template {{War diary AWM}} to link to any war diaries in AWM4.

The headquarters of higher formations (typically corps and above, but sometimes divisions) also kept intelligence summaries. The Australian War Memorial's copies are kept alongside the war diaries in AWM4. These cover Australian formations, and the British formations that contained them. British copies are kept separately in The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 157. Like WO 95, these are sorted by theatre then formation. They cover more formations than the ones in AWM4.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 158 contains correspondence about military operations from the headquarters of formations.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 32, War Office registered files, includes commanders' reports on operations.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 106 contains correspondence and papers of the War Office Directorate of Military Operations, including lots of records of operations in Africa.

British Empire Army Lists and orders of battle

The published Army Lists give lists of British and Empire units and officers:

  • official Monthly Army List gives British units and overseas contingents, which include the wartime expeditionary forces of the dominions. Out of copyright but not available online. A full set of the First World War volumes is on open shelves at The National Archives of the UK. There should be another set in the British Library. Naval & Military Press has published reprints of the volumes for August 1914 and July 1916. You can use {{Cite Army List M}} to cite any issue.
  • official Quarterly Army List only lists British officers without a convenient list of British units, but it does list units of colonial forces. These tend to be forces raised before the war for home defence by governments of certain colonies, and most didn't serve in theatres during the war, but they are still within the scope of this project. You can use {{Cite Army List Q}} to cite any issue. Scans of several volumes are available at the Internet Archive, for example:
  • Hart's Annual Army List was a semi-official publication covering the British and Indian armies, giving similar information to the Monthly Army List. It stopped updating after the outbreak of war but is a useful source for pre-war units. You can use the template {{Cite Hart}} to cite any issue from 1909 to 1915. Several volumes are available at the Internet Archive, for example:

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5467-87 contains original orders of battle. These give snapshots of the hierarchy of British Empire units and formations in each theatre at regular intervals.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 24/894-1181 official war establishments, which give the theoretical size and composition of a typical unit or formation at full strength.

United Kingdom

British official history

The British Official History covers all operations under British command. It was published in many volumes, arranged by theatre and year. Currently only the first volume is available at the Internet Archive. A DVD-ROM version of all the Western Front (ie France and Belgium) volumes and maps can be bought from Naval and Military Press.

The official historians papers contain drafts of the official history and some of the sources used, including letters and diaries:

  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): CAB 44 drafts of chapters.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): CAB 45 correspondence and papers, including letters, personal diaries, maps and photos.

Australia, Canada and New Zealand published their own official histories separately. See headings below.

British war diaries

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95 is the main source for British war diaries. Duplicates are often kept at regimental museums, and some of these have been published in print or online.

Other sources of online war diaries:

Many of these links have already been added to the relevant unit pages at this site but there are probably more to do.

British orders of battle

WO 95 includes the following lists of British Army units as well as the war diaries and orders of battle listed above:

  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5494, list of artillery, Army Service Corps, Machine Gun Corps and medical units, giving the divisions they served with.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5495, deployment of Labour Corps units
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5496, deployment of Military Police traffic control units.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5497 deployment of Ordnance Corps units.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5498, deployment of Veterinary Corps units.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5499, deployment of engineer and pioneer units.


A.F. Becke Order of Battle of Divisions was published as appendices to the British Official History. It was derived from the original orders of battle in WO 95 (see above), giving a full order of battle for each division in each year, along with notes about changes in between these snapshots. It was published in several volumes which are now out of copyright but not currently available online:

  • Becke, Archibald Frank. (1935). Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 1: The Regular British Divisions. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents. London: HMSO. 
  • Becke, Archibald Frank. (1936). Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2A: The Territorial Force Mounted Divisions and the 1st-Line Territorial Force Divisions (42-56). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents. London: HMSO. 
  • Becke, Archibald Frank. (1937). Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 2B: The 2nd-Line Territorial Force Divisions (57th-69th) with the Home-Service Divisions (71st-73rd) and 74th and 75th Divisions. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents. London: HMSO. 
  • Becke, Archibald Frank. (1938). Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3A: New Army Divisions (9-26). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents. London: HMSO. 
  • Becke, Archibald Frank. (1945). Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3B: New Army Divisions (30-41); & 63rd (R.N.) Division. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents. London: HMSO. 
  • Becke, Archibald Frank. (1945). Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 4: The Army Council, G.H.Q.s, Armies and Corps 1914-1918. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents. London: HMSO. 

There is also a volume 5B covering Indian divisions. It's not clear whether a volume 5A exists.

You can use the template {{Cite Becke}} to cite any volume of these orders of battle except 5B.

James, E.A. (1998) [first published 1978]. British Regiments 1914-1918. Heathfield, UK: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 0-906304-03-2.  This is a semi-official secondary work giving a brief history of every infantry and cavalry regiment of the British Army in the First World War. Infantry regiments have a brief history of each battalion, including locations at the start and end of the war (or dates created and disbanded if during the war), parent brigades, and dates of entry to theatres (or locations in the UK if they didn't serve overseas). Gives full names of regiments and seems to be a reliable source for the name histories of their Regular and Special Reserve battalions, but doesn't give full name histories for Territorial or New Army units. There can be errors in James's information. For example, see 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. You can use the template {{Cite James}} to cite this source.

Chris Baker's website, The Long Long Trail synthesizes Becke, James and Chris Baker's own research. It has pages down to division and regiment level, and infantry regiment pages have a section for each battalion. Mentions having corrected some errors in James's information but is occasionally more vague than James. You can use the template {{Cite TLLT}} to cite pages at The Long Long Trail.

There is no known source that gives complete division-corps-army relationships. Becke only gives these during major battles and doesn't give all of the dates when the relationships changed.

Other lists of British units:

  • Embarkation and disembarkation returns. These give dates when units sailed and their total strengths but don't list the names of soldiers.
    • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 25, embarkation returns.
    • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 25, disembarkation returns.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 73, monthly returns of the distribution of the army, giving locations of units.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 114, strength returns, giving the actual strengths of army units at regular intervals

British Army Lists

British units are listed in the official Monthly Army List and Hart's Annual Army List. The official Quarterly Army List is not much use for lists of British units.

Sample pages from Hart's Annual, 1914:

You can use the template {{Cite Hart}} to cite pages in Hart's Annual Army List. This template automatically creates links to the page scans at the Internet Archive.

British orders and instructions

Orders and instructions for creating, disbanding and renaming units (among many other things):

  • Army Orders. Published monthly. Includes royal warrants for creating new regiments, and other orders for raising or recognising new units. Crown Copyright now expired but these are not available online. There is a set in the British Library and another in The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 123/30-492. Volumes covering the First World War start at WO 123/56 (1914).
  • War Office Instructions (to December 1915) and Army Council Instructions (from January 1916). Includes detailed instructions for raising and renaming units. Not available online and don't seem to be in British Library. The only known set available to the public is in The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 293
  • London Gazette includes notices of some of the above warrants and orders, but not the full text.
  • General Routine Orders issued by headquarters in theatres of war might mention renaming or reorganising units. The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 123/199-295.


British semi-official unit histories

Many unit histories were published between the wars, often by officers who had served in the unit. We are adding these to the relevant unit pages as we find them. If you know any more, please add them to the relevant unit page if you can, or otherwise list them here.

Australia

Australian war diaries

All surviving war diaries and intelligence summaries for the Australian Imperial Force are held by the Australian War Memorial in class AWM4. These have been digitized, and images can be viewed online free of charge. They can include appendices which have been removed from the versions held at the UK National Archives. You can use the template {{War diary AWM}} to link to these diaries.

We don't yet know whether the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force has any surviving war diaries or if so, where they are.


Australian official histories

All volumes of the Australian Official History are online at the Australian War Memorial. You can use the template {{Cite OH Australian}} to cite pages in any volume.

Australian unit lists

The British official Monthly Army List includes the Australian Imperial Force. The British official Quarterly Army List includes the Permanent Force and Citizen Military Force. Examples from July 1914:

Embarkation rolls listing the names and embarkation dates of units and the names of soldiers who embarked are held by the Australian War Memorial in class AWM8.

The Australian War Memorial has unit pages for AIF infantry battalions and light horse regiments. Links to most of these have already been added to the relevant unit pages here.


Canada

The Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group wiki has unit pages that link to diaries at LAC and other relevant sources.

Canadian war diaries

All surviving war diaries for units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force are held by Library and Archives Canada. These have been digitized, and page images can be viewed online free of charge. They can include appendices which have been removed from the versions held at the UK National Archives.

There's a transcription project in progress at the Canadian Great War Project, which also gives more information about how to find war diaries.

Canadian official histories

Several official histories are available as PDFs via the National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces Official Histories page, including:

(These still need citation templates.)

Canadian units and soldiers

Various nominal rolls for the Canadian Expeditionary Force are also available online, 'listing the names, ranks, countries of birth, and dates and places of enlistment for each member of the unit, often with next of kin and address'.

The British official Monthly Army List includes the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The British official Quarterly Army List lists units of the Permanent Force and Non-Permanent Active Militia. Examples from July 1914:

Official Lineages of Canadian regiments gives name histories of regiments whose identities have been perpetuated by the Canadia Army.


India

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95 is the main source for war diaries of units of the Indian Army and Imperial Service Troops that served in theatres of war. Diaries for a few Indian units are also available free from the Australian War Memorial in class AWM4.

A.F. Becke, Order of Battle of Divisions, volume 5B covers Indian divisions but is very hard to get hold of.

The official Indian Army List is the best source for names and creation dates of units. Many volumes are available online at the Digital Library of India. The easiest way to find them is the list of links at FIBIwiki. Naval & Military Press have reprinted the volume for 1919. There are also printed copies at the British Library and The UK National Archives.

Hart's Annual Army List covers the pre-war Indian Army. For example, from the 1914 edition:

You can use the template {{Cite Hart}} to cite this source.

The British official Quarterly Army List includes the Indian Volunteer Corps. For example, July 1914. Units transferred to the Indian Defence Force in 1917 are shown in the Indian Army List (see links above).

FIBIwiki includes pages for Indian regiments.

India and the First World War post by Vipul Dutta at Defence in Depth blog mentions lots of recent research.

New Zealand

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95 probably contains a full set of diaries for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, but with some appendices removed. These are either paid downloads or have not yet been digitized.

Australian War Memorial, class AWM4 contains diaries for some, but not all, New Zealand Expeditionary Force units. These have been digitized, are free to view, and should have appendices that have been removed from the versions held in the UK.

Are there copies in New Zealand, and if so where are they held? Are they available online? If anyone knows, please edit this page or get in touch.


'campaign histories and the regimental histories covering New Zealand's involvement in the First World War' from the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection. A useful index for this content is provided on the WW1 NZEF Unit Histories page.

Transcribed Regimental Diaries and links to images of originals in the Australian War Memorial

New Zealand's Te Papa has lots of online material from the First World War. Their Collection of World War One Ephemera includes 'Gallipoli campaign photographs, propaganda and recruitment information, French & Spanish postcards, Gallipoli diary, Troopship magazines & battle plans etc'.

The British official Monthly Army List includes the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The British official Quarterly Army List includes the Permanent Force and Territorial Force, for example July 1914.


South Africa

The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95 includes war diaries for units of the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force in theatres other than German South-West Africa, probably with some appendices missing. Are there other copies in South Africa?

We don't yet know whether war diaries for the invasion of German South-West Africa survive, and if so, where they are held. If anyone knows, please edit this page or get in touch.

The British official Monthly Army List includes the South African Overseas Expeditionary Force. The British official Quarterly Army List includes the Union Defence Force, for example July 1914.

France

War diaries for French units seem to be all available online, free to view, but there are no permalinks to individual units.


Portugal

  • Momentos de Historia includes order of battle for the Portuguese army and navy in every theatre that they served in.
  • Jesse Pyles, 'The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps in World War I: from Inception to Combat Destruction, 1914-1918' (MA thesis, University of North Texas, 2012). Gives a narrative and analysis of Portuguese operations on the Western Front and cites primary sources from British and Portuguese archives, including many personal narratives.
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5488, war diary of British military mission with the Portuguese Expeditionary Force (December 1916 to April 1918)
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 95/5489, war diary of British military mission with the Portuguese Expeditionary Force (May 1918 to April 1919).
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 106/546, correspondence and papers of British military mission with the Portuguese Expeditionary Force (August 1916 to January 1918).
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 158/709 , Convention and arrangements for the employment of Portuguese Forces in France (21/11/1916 to 14/8/1917).
  • The National Archives of the UK (TNA): WO 158/75, British Expeditionary Force, General Headquarters correspondence: Battle of Lys: Attack on Portuguese Front, April 1918


United States of America

US operational records

Operational records of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I are held by the US National Archives in Record Group 120. These seem to go down to regiment level but not battalion level, because the US Army used the continental system. They don't seem to have been digitized.

US orders of battle

Official published orders of battle of the US Army in World War I are free to download as PDFs:

You can use the template {{Cite OB US}} to cite these volumes.