WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries, Info Thread

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

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    This thread is intended as a basic guide to help those beginning their research and to illustrate how War Diaries can help with different types of enquiries.
    War Diaries are for Army only, they do not apply to Navy or to Royal Air Force. Queries specific to Navy and Air Force research can be posted on the sub forums War at Sea & War in The Air where members more versed in those areas can help.
    For queries relating to prisoners' experiences after capture see the sub-forum Prisoners of War.


    Often examples are easier to follow than reading dry explanations. If anyone else has examples, corrections or additions please add them to the thread.

    Here are a few threads which were successful thanks to the information held within War Diaries.

    My thanks to Steve Mac for supplying the following:
    "I will highlight three threads that I was invloved in, simply because these are ones I can remember. What was remakable about them was not only the fact that the War Diary information was critical to the successful outcome, but the collaboration between forum members was absolutely fantastic.

    1. The 'My Great Uncle' thread - My great uncle: John 'Jack' Rogerson
    The new forum member was able to find out how her great uncle was killed from the War Diary, but the build up and follow up to this was really great detective work. The collaboration on this thread was really outstanding.

    2. The 'Driver Rowland Thompson Marshall 50th Division Signals' thread - Driver Rowland Thompson Marshall 50th Division Signals
    The forum member was able to find out how his mother-in-law's father was killed via some prominent 50 Div Signals officer's recollections in the appendices.

    3. The 'NIJMEGEN BRIDGEHEAD: II.SS Pz Corps' counterattack in October 1944' thread - NIJMEGEN BRIDGEHEAD: II.SS Pz Corps' counterattack in October 1944

    The information in the 6th Bn Highland Light Infantry appendices (Messages 48 to 54, but particularly # 49 refers) was so meticulously kept by the adjutant that I was able to find exactly who was killed, wounded, PoW, missing, on what date and what company the soldier served in. Absolutely amazing detail. NIJMEGEN BRIDGEHEAD: II.SS Pz Corps' counterattack in October 1944 "


    My thanks go to the following for their invaluable help in compiling this thread:
    Joe Brown
    Rob Dickers
    Steve Mac
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
    stolpi likes this.
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD


    What are War Diaries?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    How many pages?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    What was their original purpose?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    How can a War Diary help with research?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Will the circumstances of a persons death/injury/gallantry be included?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    What if a War Diary isn't enough?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Why bother with War Diary if e.g. a Regimental History has been published?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    What might be included as a War Diary Appendix?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Who was responsible for writing up the diary entries?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    What happened to War Diaries once each month was completed? + Where are the War Diaries kept now?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Field Service Regulations
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Army Council Instruction
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    War Diary folder, Cover, Instructions
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    War Diary folder, Inside, Instructions
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    How do I establish which diaries are relevant?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Getting copies of War Diaries
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Are copies of WW2 War Diaries available online? + WW2 War Diaries on WW2Talk
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    How are the Diary archives organised in TNA?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    How do I find the correct War Diary?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Where are War Diaries for other Commonwealth Armies?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Are there any War Diaries for post-WW2 era?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    What do the abbreviations used in War Diaries mean?
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Other forum threads which might be useful
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries
    Osborne2 likes this.
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    What are War Diaries?

    Stating the obvious: War Diaries are daily entries, recording the activities and decisions of units within the army structure and although names are mentioned they don't normally deal with the circumstances or fate of individual personnel. They could be written up for Corps, Division, Brigade, Battalion and, depending on the nature of their role within a formation, down to Squadron, Company, Battery, etc. Examples of the latter are usually found under Corps, eg RA, RE, RASC, etc, as (smaller) units were invariably placed in support of armoured or infantry units.

    It's also worth pointing out that until a diary has been checked, in person or by a researcher, there is no way of ascertaining detail of entries, contents in appendices or volume of pages. The National Archives does not supply that kind of information in their file descriptions.

    The term 'war diary' is sometimes applied to other documents so it is important to understand that official War Diaries were not personal journals kept by individuals.

    The header columns laid out on what was called Army Form C.2118 were:
    Place (This could be either place name or map reference)
    (Most often used during action when much was taking place, to give indication of timeline)
    Summary of Events and Information (The diary entry proper)
    References to Appendices (Not completed in every case: many diaries which do include appendices for each month have no reference made to them on the form itself. This column was also often used by a Commanding Officer to countersign each page, though some either never bothered or signed off on the last page of the month.)

    Details to be completed in each heading were:
    Month & Year
    name of Commanding Officer.

    The paper used was thin economy grade, and while clearly sufficient/necessary at the time, it means that the originals can now be quite fragile, torn, ripped and curled. Type-written examples can be badly faded, and handwritten ones can be fairly indecipherable, not only due to style of writing but also owing to the use of blunt pencils !

    Below are examples of:

    War Diary, handwritten
    3IG WD.JPG
    6GG WD.JPG

    War Diary, typewritten
    3IG WD Typed.JPG

    Units were also required to include any documents important to the decision making, organisation, etc of the unit. Referred to as Appendix/Appendices these were supposed to be to be lettered or numbered and then referenced within the War Diary entries.

    See the linked post for Appendices
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries
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  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    How many pages?
    There is no hard and fast rule about the volume of information/pages within any diary. They can vary considerably between files, even within the same unit or regiment.
    Generally speaking as the war progressed, and as each unit entered Theatre, the volume increased.

    Also diaries for higher formations (Corps, Divisions, Brigades) would of course contain more documentation by the nature of the fact that they dealt with many units, and that those units could be attached to, replaced or moved from that formation according to requirements.
  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    What was their original purpose?
    Diaries were intended from the outset to have two purposes: to record data which would be later used
    • to improve training, organisation, administration, effectiveness and weaponry.
    • to provide an official record of activities which would be helpful to historians, especially those preparing a Regimental history.

    See Field Service Regulations
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    Army Council Instructions
    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries
  6. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    How can a War Diary help my research?
    For those starting off, usually researching relatives who served in the army in WW2, official War Diaries (and Regimental Histories) are an important source after copy service records.

    Service Records will provide details of joining, training and more importantly posting and movements within a regiment or corps.

    The next logical step then to get a wider perspective on an individual's service is to find what the unit(s) he served with actually did and where; this is when War Diaries can help.
  7. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Will the circumstances of a person's death/injury/gallantry be included?
    Officers' names are frequently mentioned, in relation to changes of command, duties, patrols, wounding and deaths. Occasionally deaths of ORs are mentioned, particularly when a bn is 'At Home', i.e. not Overseas. Inclusion really does depend on the individual recording the data, whether they were aware at the time, whether they knew the person, whether there were other matters to note under pressure of time.

    Since most records for Mentions in Despatches for WW2 have been lost, Diaries can be particularly useful when trying to find an action for which a man warranted a Mention. Often Officers are also noted in the diary for a particular deed, but this requires diligent searching as well as a feel for the diary in general and will ultimately be based on guesswork. Any other references to gallantry awards are down to the individual diary: some do contain information, but not on the day of the relevant action. A decision would have to be made by the Commanding officer and the whole process of recommendation took some time. A few diaries confirm awards and in the appendices lists of awardees may appear in Orders and even on the running order of the ceremony attended.
  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    What if a War Diary isn't enough?
    There can still be gaps in the record. Supplementary information is available from a number of other sources.
    Have a look at where the unit fitted into the army organisation.

    If there is little detail in the unit's diary, check the diaries for:
    • the units who served alongside it,
    • those higher up the chain of command,
    • units who took over their positions,
    • units who they took over from or relieved,
    • units which were attached or in support like RA batteries, RE squadrons/companies, REME LAD, RASC etc, or vice versa.
    Other sources worth looking at are:
    • The National Archives for other file types, e.g. Battle reports under "CAB" series for major assaults, Missing personnel files for witness reports of circumstances under "WO 361" series. Enter key words in to their search engine, the regiment, the battle, date range, etc.
    • Regimental Histories
    • Regimental / Museum archives
    • IWM interviews, photos, personal diaries
    • Published personal accounts, journals and biographies
    • Internet sites, e.g. BBC People's War
    • See also links recommended by WW2Talk Links
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Why bother with War Diary if e.g. a Regimental History has been published?
    There are a number of reasons, but generally speaking War Diaries will contain more details about daily events and locations than a narrative which will cover the run of action over the course of the war. The latter may deal not just with a particular battalion, battery or field company, but also the others within the Regiment or Corps, Brigade or Division.
    Additionally a History can include first-person perspectives collated by the author, from personal journals, reports, interviews, correspondence, etc; so diaries and histories should be considered as complementary resources.
  10. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    What might be included as a War Diary Appendix?
    In order to better explain the usefulness of diaries, it might be helpful to show some examples of the Appendices included with the diary. In general terms: however detailed a daily entry might be, it does not elaborate on the Orders, the Movements, the terrain, the enemy, the strength of a unit, etc. In other words, if daily entries are the tip of the iceberg, the appendices are what lurks below the surface.
    As the war progressed there is a tendency for files to contain more information, but there is no fast guarantee that any given file will even contain appendices.


    Battalion Orders
    Orders relating to the unit itself, and it's day to day organisation and running. Sometimes individuals are mentioned within these orders.
    1WG BN Orders I.JPG 1WG BN Orders II.JPG


    Field Returns
    For officers these are lists of names of those in the unit, recorded for 'the week ending...'. This information can be engineered to provide orbats. If it is known that a man served under a particular Officer, the Field Returns can be consulted to see if any Company or Squadron number (1 Coy or A Sqn), or specialist platoon/troop (Mortar Pl or HQ Troop) is noted in order to provide more detail on service.
    Details are also noted of any Officer who was wounded or sent on attachment or in Echelon as reinforcement, as well as those whose return to unit was requested.
    It might also be worth noting that there were variants of the forms for different types of units, i.e. Cavalry / Armoured / Recce & Infantry

    Details of Other Ranks are sketchier and are for the most part recorded by statistics, also 'for the week ending...'. A unit will show how many men are 'on strength' and by how many each rank or grade is over or under establishment.

    Nominal rolls can be included, but they are fairly rare, see example later.

    [I have only ever seen Acquittance rolls, for pay, in files for Missing Personnel. They were used to confirm when a missing man was last paid, as well as to provide the Casualty Branch with names of potential witnesses - the acquittance rolls being completed at Company/Squadron level.]

    Other Ranks, Army Form W.3009
    tank battalion
    3SG Field Return ORs.JPG
    infantry battalion
    3IG Field Return ORs.JPG

    Officers, Army Form W.3008
    tank battalion
    3SG Field Return Offrs .JPG
    infantry battalion
    3IG Field Return Offrs.JPG

    Joe Brown, who served as an Intelligence Officer, explains how the names and statistics were collated in an infantry battalion:
    "At each Company HQ within the Battalion there was a Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) that in rank rated just below a Company Sergeant Major(CSM) and he had responsibility for the maintaining the register of all NCOs and men in the Company.

    However, in the four Rifle Companies there was also a Second-in-Command with the rank of Captain and the CQMS would report to him and ultimately he was responsible to the Company Commander (Major) for the pay and administration of the men. In HQ and also Support Companies he would report direct to the Company Commander.

    Ultimately, it was the Company Commander who would report under his signature the nominal roll of All Ranks in his Company to the Adjutant who was the Staff Officer to the Commanding Officer of the Battalion.

    The Adjutant had an Orderly Room staffed with Clerks and they would collate the nominal roll of All Ranks in the Battalion, keeping it updated when they received reports from the Company Commanders about any changes caused by Battle Casualties or those no longer with the Company due to admission to hospital or absence without leave. When required these would be forwarded to higher command."


    Formation & Map References / Location
    This is one type of document which will provide locations for units. It also has the added benefit of giving a list of units within the Division. These types of documents are especially useful if planning a battlefield visit to 'follow in the footsteps' of the unit.


    Guards of Honour
    Sometimes a unit would be asked to form a guard on the occasion of a visit by a VIP. Sometimes veterans would mention these visits, so if a reference can be found this can confirm date and location of a personal account.
    6GG Guard of Honour I.JPG
    6GG Guard of Honour II.JPG


    Inspections by VIPs
    As above, e.g. an Officer from a higher formation will visit the Commanding Officer and make an inspection of the men if he has time. If the unit is still in training At Home a display could also be put on to show skills learned.
    6GG Visit I.JPG
    6GG Visit II.JPG
    6GG Visit III.JPG


    Intelligence Summaries/Reports
    These documents contained the information available on a given day to the unit, sometimes denoted by the words "as at 2359 hours" on date given. It is important to acknowledge that our hindsight may differ from what was known, or thought to be known at the time. These documents will explain what was going on in the area and on what intelligence later decisions were based.
    1GDS BDE Intell.JPG
    1IG Intell Summary.JPG


    Lovely if they are included, however most were stripped out to be archived separately, or they were never included in the first place. There are some sites which help with both contemporary maps and with translating co-ordinates used locally with modern ones.
    See these threads, a few of many on the forum
    Converting Wartime Coordinates To Modern Map Coordinates

    War-time maps - where are they...?

    Map reference help..Nijmegen, Bedburg, Rees.. for a veteran's return

    Italian place names in war diaries

    6GG Map.JPG
    also this site The "Coordinates Translator"


    Messages, Telegrams
    Sometimes after battles, after particular successes, when some Commanders left for different commands, a message of congratulations or thanks would be sent to the units. These could also be sent to units by their Colonels on days celebrated in regimental history, e.g. St Patrick's Day, etc.
    6GG Message.JPG
    1IG Message.JPG


    Move orders / March tables
    These can be in list or tabular form. They are instructions to each unit, to show where they will be within a column, when they should move, what route they must take. They were vital to the efficient movement of Brigades, Divisions, etc.
    6GG Move.JPG
    3IG March table.JPG


    Newspaper Articles
    A few appendices contain newspaper articles or photos relating to events in which they took part. Papers can be local to theatre or from UK.
    1IG Paper I.JPG 1IG Paper II.JPG


    Nominal Roll
    These are rarely found in appendix, but they have been seen in a few cases. They can take different forms, sometimes only for companies, sometimes partial lists for special circumstances. There are other lists of names available, e.g. for sports events (see later below)
    Army Form W. 5169 Embarkation Nominal Rolls


    Operation Instructions
    These cover objectives and tasks for a given day and offer information on detailed level.


    Can be included either within the war diary entry or as an appendix. If absent they can be reconstructed from Officer Field Returns, which give Army no.s for individuals, their role within a battalion and whether they were present during by the week's end. They are often included in the appendices of Regimental diaries.
    6GG Orbat I.JPG 6GG Orbat II.JPG
    6GG Orbat.JPG


    Photographs, including aerial
    Like maps, these are a rare but great find. Aerial photographs are likely to be the very ones used at planning stages.


    Pre-embarkation list
    One diary I have seen included a full pre-embarkation list identifying men by name, rank & troop in conjunction with the vehicles (& their census numbers) they were to travel on upon disembarking. This was a rough basis for working out tank crews at the start of the campaign. It was also helpful to those interested in researching the vehicles only.


    Propaganda leaflets
    Something of a curiosity for the men and their officers, these were often included along with comments about the enemy's tactics. Some veterans kept a few in their memorabilia.
    1GDS BDE Leaflet.JPG


    Reports: action, battle, patrol
    The term is more or less self-explanatory. Occasionally these were written up by officers or warrant officers who took out fighting or reconnaissance patrols, particularly during unique or important circumstances.
    2HAMPS Patrol I.JPG 2HAMPS Patrol II.JPG
    1IG Report.JPG


    This stands for Situation Report and they were written up to give a summary of the situation at the front and elsewhere and included recent information about enemy movements as well as other allied units.
    3IG Sitrep.JPG


    Situation Daily, Army Form C2118A
    These forms provided an overview of the month, collating information such as locations, changes in command, Strength, Casualties, Prisoners taken, Weather conditions, as well as how the Unit was employed and if it received any visits from commanders VIPs.
    3IG Daily I.JPG 3IG Daily II.JPG


    Sketch & Trace maps
    Not the same as maps, Sketch maps were hand drawn often after or during reconnaissance, trace maps were as the name suggests traced on thinner paper as an overlay to original maps.
    3SG Sketchmap.JPG
    5CG Sketch.JPG
    1GDS BDE Sketch.JPG
    2HAMPS Sketch.JPG


    Sports, etc
    During training in UK or during rest periods Overseas a unit might organise inter company or inter unit sports. Team lists exist, as well as photos, clippings and results. If a relative mentioned participating in sports, he may well appear on these documents, along with other information identifying his company or platoon.
    6GG Sports.JPG


    Standing Orders
    Orders which were to be passed on down the chain of command and of which each soldier was to be made aware. Often they dealt with equipment, duties, uniform, etc.


    Training & Courses
    Self-explanatory really, this information can also appear on AB64s as well as on service records. Names of those participating as well as instructors can be found, depending on whether the training was in unit or at a specialised training centre.
    2HAMPS Training I.JPG 2HAMPS Training II.JPG 2HAMPS Training III.JPG 2HAMPS Training IV.JPG 2HAMPS Training V.JPG 2HAMPS Training VI.JPG


    Unit newsletters
    if these exist they are a veritable mine of information: from successes on other fronts, battalion casualties, to awards, announcements, BBC headlines from UK and worldwide, football results. They give a flavour of what men might have been aware of and what interested them, when they were on active service.
    5CG News.JPG
  11. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Who was responsible for writing up the diary entries?
    Intelligence Officers, aided by their staff in the Intelligence Section, played a pivotal role by liaising with higher formations, as well as gathering, recording and disseminating information from their locality about the enemy, terrain, objectives and results. Considering that they had to contend with battle conditions, time constraints, sudden changes of orders and circumstances as well as sporadic volume of data owing to fluid and chaotic conditions inflicted upon their unit in general, it is therefore understandable if some diaries aren’t quite as thorough as others.

    The role is best described by a veteran who served as an Intelligence Officer in NWE, Joe Brown.

    • I became responsible for the Battalion War Diary when I was appointed Battalion Intelligence Officer. I received no instruction but used my common sense to record the salient facts in the life of the Battalion.
    • Its importance became significant the moment we became operational and were in a theatre of war. The I.O., apart from having to know all about the enemy : formations and identity, weaponry and tactics, matters of intelligence and recognising whatever, would be help to send back to Division and to Corps, the I.O. was also the CO's Tactical Staff Officer. He had to be fully in the picture about all that was going on. He helped to draft the Sitreps sent to Brigade as he was the recipient of all reports from O.P.s and patrols.
    • Clearly, we would be as comprehensive as possible about reporting the CO's Orders given to his Rifle Companies and Support Arms, attaching plans and detailing artillery firepower schedules, phases and objectives, and orders for consolidation. My Int Section would draw sketch maps of the battle objectives, such as at Flushing, and would be an appendix to the War Diary.
    • The War Diary would be submitted to the Bn CO and if he approved of what had been written would countersign it.

    *See Second World War Memoirs of JOE BROWN War Memoirs of Joe Brown of Peebles. There you will find a section about an IO's responsibilities and look in the. Index for a section headed War Diaries and you will find replica copies of my efforts at Flushing and see what they covered.[/quote]

    See Joe’s thread dealing with the role of I.O. :
    A Second World War Infantry Battalion Intelligence Officer

    *his excellent website :
    NOTES of a War-time Infantry Battalion Intelligence Officer
    Second World War Memoirs of JOE BROWN
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2021
  12. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    What happened to War Diaries once each month was completed?
    They were sent, usually through Echelons, up the chain of command, eventually to be filed and archived.

    Duplicates of British war diaries ended up in Regimental Archives/Museums with the Originals eventually ending up at The National Archives, Kew.

    See the Regulations and Instructions in the posts after this one.

    Where are the War Diaries kept now?
    The National Archives at Kew hold most of the diaries kept by the British Army during WW2. Regiments or Corps may have kept copies for their own records and some may also offer transcripts or copies to interested parties through their Museums/websites or as a result of research enquiries.

    Duplicates of Commonwealth forces war diaries ended up the National Archives Kew with the Originals going to the country of origin.

    See later posts for more details


    From WO 162/205, Appendix O
    History of Casualty Branch (Liverpool) (Cas L) | The National Archives
    11th MAY, 1942

    Serial No. 4
    Forwarding of Duplicate War Diaries by Formations and Units.

    In order to avoid formations and units keeping duplicate copies of War Diaries for a longer period than is necessary, General Officers Commanding may authorise this to be forwarded to Officers i/c G.H.Q. 2nd Echelon at such an interval after the original is forwarded as may suit the Theatre of War concerned.

    Officers i/c G.H.Q. 2nd Echelon wil ensure that there is an interval of at least three months between the despatch of the original and duplicate copies.

  13. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    [Courtesy of AB64/Alistair]

    VOLUME 1

    REPRINTED WITH AMENDMENTS (Nos. 1 - 11) 1939

    Chapter XVIII, Section 174. War Diaries

    1. A war diary will be kept in duplicate from the first day of moblization or creation of the particular command or appointment* by:-
    i. Each branch of the staff in the headquarters of a formation, a subordinate command and area or sub-area on the L. of C.
    ii. Unit commanders.
    iii. Commanders of detachments of a unit.
    iv. Officer i/c 2nd echelon, officers holding technical appointments (Sec. 36), and personal staff.
    v. Base, auxiliary and advanced depot commanders.
    vi. Heads of services and their representatives, controller of salvage and his representatives.

    *In the case of formations and units of the Territorial Army, war diaries will be kept from the first day of embodiment.

    2. A war diary is secret. Its object is to furnish a historical record of operations and to provide data upon which to base future improvements in army training, equipment, organization and administration.
    It will be entered up daily, each entry initialled by the officer detailed to keep it, on A.F. C.2118. It is to be noted that the extraction and retention of appendices, maps, &c., from a war diary is an offence under the Official Secrets Acts.

    3. The cover will bear the following inscription:-




    From........... To............

    4. In so far as they are applicable the following point should be recorded when preparing a diary:-
    i. Important orders, instructions, reports, messages or despatches received and issued, and decisions taken.
    ii. Daily location. Movements during the past twenty-four hours and present dispositions. March tables in the case of large units or of formations are of assistance.
    iii. Important matters relating to the duties of each branch of the staff.
    iv. Detailed account of operations. Exact hour of important occurrences, factors affecting operations, topographical and climatic. Clear sketches showing positions of troops at important phases.
    v. Nature and description of field engineering works constructed, or quarters occupied.
    vi. Changes in establishment or strength. As regards casualties the names and ranks of officers and number of other ranks or followers and of animals should be noted. In addition in the case of units on the L. of C. changes in stores, transport, &c.
    vii. Meteorological notes.
    vii. Summary of important information received, whether military or political.

    5. Appendices as under will be attached to the original copy of each war diary:-
    i. A copy of each field return (A.F.W. 3008) and A.F.W. 3009) and of each operation or routine order or instruction issued during the period covered by the current volume of the war diary.
  14. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Courtesy of Rob Dickers, his original thread can be found with the link below:

    14th April 1941.

    War Diaries
    1. From enquiries recently received, it is apparent that there is considerable doubt regarding the purpose of these diaries, their contents and the procedure for their preparation and for their disposal.

    The purpose of a war diary is primarily to ensure that:-
    a. the experience of formations and units are recorded and the lessons deduced therefrom are put to the best use.
    b. there is a record available from which a history of the war as a whole and of the individual formations and units can be written.

    2. War diaries will be maintained by units stationed in the United Kingdom, as follows:-

    i. G.H.Q. Home Forces and headquarters of formations. As laid down in para. 4 below:
    ii. Units. Normally a war diary will only be maintained by the unit headquarters. This will include the activities of all squadrons, batteries and other sub-units. Sub-units will only maintain separate war diaries if they are on detachment or out of touch with their unit headquarters. The deciding factor in this case will be the unit commander. In the event of active operations in the United Kingdom, it may therefore be necessary for sub-units to keep some record, however rough, of their activities, which will later form an appendix to their unit war diaries.
    iii. Establishments other than those referred to in iv. below will keep war diaries.
    iv. The following will not keep war diaries unless involved in active operations -
    Training regiments
    Training units
    Training establishments.

    3. The importance of ensuring that a complete record of active operations is maintained should be impressed on all concerned.
    Any question of doubt whether or not a war diary should be kept by a unit or sub-unit will be referred, through the usual channels, to the Under-Secretary of State, The War Office (S.D. 3), London, S.W.1.

    4. War Diaries will continue to be kept as at present, except by the formation headquarters enumerated below, who will maintain only those shown against them:-

    a. G.H.Q. Home Forces and commands
    “G”, “RA”, “R.E.”, “R. Signals”, “A”, and “Q”, “Medical”.
    The “Q” diary will include anything of interest affecting the Services, except Medical

    Corps and divisional headquarters
    “G”, “R.A.”, “R.E.”, “R. Signals”, combined “A” and “Q”, “Medical”. The “A”and “Q” diary will be contributed by “A” and “Q” Services except Medical.

    c. Brigade Headquarters
    One diary only, to include “G” and Administration.

    5. The war diaries of headquarters and units at home will be disposed of as follows:-

    a. G.H.Q. Home Forces, headquarters of commands, areas, corps, divisions brigades.

    To be forwarded on the first day of the succeeding month to:-
    The Under-Secretary of State, The War Office (C.7), London, S.W.1.
    To be forwarded within two months to:-
    The Under-Secretary of State, The War Office (R. Records), London, S.W.1.

    b. War diaries of all medical formations and units.
    To be forwarded on the first day of the succeeding month to:-
    The Under-Secretary of State, The War Office (A.M.D.2), London, S.W.1.
    To be forwarded within two months to:-
    The O. i/c R.A.M.C. Records, Colet Court, Hammersmith, W.6.

    c. All units, other than those enumerated in sub-paras. a. and b. above.
    To be forwarded on the first day of the succeeding month to:-
    The Under-Secretary of State, The War Office (C.7), London, S.W.1.
    To be forwarded within two months to the O. i/c records of the unit, or, if not record office is available, to:-
    The Under-Secretary of State, The War Office (R. Records), London, S.W.1.

    6. Formations and units of the late B.E.F. and N.W.E.F. who still have war diaries in their possession should forward them direct to the Under-Secretary of State, The War Office (C.7) at once.

    7. The terms of this A.C.1. do not in any way alter the instructions for the disposal of war diaries of formations and units proceeding overseas, which will continue to be disposed of in the theatre of operations, as laid down in Field Service Regulations, Vol. I, 1939, Section 174, para. 7.

    8. With effect from 1st May, 1941, areas and sub-areas will include in their war diaries matters appertaining to the Home Guard in their areas. These will include changes of officers down to and inclusive of battalion commanders and incidents of importance.

    Home Guard zones, groups and battalions will keep a war diary only after being mustered. War Diaries will be kept on A.F. C 2110 for each month during which any operations have taken place. Zone headquarters will collect war diaries from lower formations and submit them to the War Office on the first day of the succeeding month or as soon after as operation conditions permit.

    9. A.C.1. 103 of 1941 is hereby cancelled.

    26/Records/2173 (S.D. 3)
    By Command of the Army Council​

    Attached Files:

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    War Diary, Cover, Instructions (Images courtesy of Drew)
    [21 Army Group]

    Army Form C2119A

    Instructions for compiling the war diary are printed inside this cover.
    They will be strictly observed by all responsible for compiling war diaries.

    Signature of O.C. unit or senior staff officer.........................
    Narrative (AF C2118).
    A Situation at Nightfall (AF C2118A or C2118B)
    B Signal Log
    C Messages connected with Log (in chronological order)
    D Operation Orders or Instructions issued
    E Operation Orders and Instructions received from Higher Formations
    F Intelligence Summaries issued
    G Administrative Orders or Instructions issued
    H Administrative Orders or Instructions issued
    I Strength States, Field Returns, etc
    J Other Papers, e.g., Maps and Diagrams, Orders of Battle, Graphs (port clearance, railway working, etc.), Commanders’ demi-official messages and correspondence, etc.

    Z Top Secret Supplementary War Diary

    Instructions for compiling the war diary are given inside this cover

    ()F.S.R., VOL. I., 174

    1.. The objects of a war diary are two-fold:-
    (a ) To provide information from theatres of war in sufficient detail and in such a form as to provide data upon which to base future improvements in Army training, equipment, organisation and administration. The views and constructive recommendation of commanders are welcomed for this purpose.
    (b ) To furnish an historical record of the war.

    2.. A section of the War Office has been established to scrutinise war diaries as soon as they arrive in the United Kingdom in order to extract all possible information of value under 1 (a) above. It is therefore of the utmost importance that completed diaries should be submitted promptly in accordance with the terms of para. 11 below.
    3.. A war diary will be kept in duplicate* by:-
    (a ) Each branch if the staff at the headquarters of a formation, a subordinate command, and area or sub-are on the L. of C.
    (b ) Unit commanders.
    (c ) Commanders of a headquarters or unit on detachment.
    (d ) Base, auxiliary and advanced depot commanders.
    (e ) Heads of Services and their representatives.

    Note: In the case of headquarters, sections of the various branches may keep separate war diaries or one combined war diary as is found convenient.

    4.. Both original and duplicate* copies will consist of:-
    (a ) Cover;
    (b ) Index as printed on cover;
    (c ) Narrative;
    (d ) Appendices.

    5.. All details of the unit and formation (if a detachment is concerned, the name of the parent unit), period covered and folio numbers of appendices will be shown on the cover.
    6.. The war diary will be signed once, as a report, by the commander of a unit, head of a branch, or a senior staff officer. It is a secret document. The extraction and retention of appendices, maps, etc., from a war diary is an offence under the Official Secrets Acts.

    7.. In order to ensure accuracy and completeness and to save work, as much important information as possible will be conveyed in appendices consisting, with one exception, of copies of documents issued and received in normal routine. The narrative is intended to supply information not given in the appendices.
    NARRATIVE (A.F. C.2118)​
    8.. The narrative should be written up daily. It should supplement and connect the appendices, but need not given a precis of any of them. it should contain:-

    (a ) Account of operations with notes of topographical and climatic factors affecting them.
    (b ) Notes of how orders were carried out.
    (c ) Nature and descriptions of field engineering works constructed.
    (d ) Note of any administrative difficulties encountered and action take to overcome them.
    (e ) Note of how time not accounted for above was spent. The type of training, etc., should be specified.
    (f ) Brief notes of the time of receipt and issue of orders and important messages and a reference to the Appendix letter and folio number; and, only if necessary, a very brief note of the contents.
    (g ) Intermediate movements of unit or formation.
    (h ) Notes of any important visits paid and received by commanders and senior staff officers. It is equally important to make a note of the reason for the visit and decisions taken.

    The exact hour of occurrences should be noted.
    9.. GENERAL
    Assignment of copies of the war diary. When an operation order, appreciation, letter laying down policy or other important document is prepared, two copies will be made at the time specifically for the war diary.
    It is essential that copies of all important documents should be placed in the war diary, including commanders’ “personal” and demi-official messages which contain instructions of operational importance.

    Grouping of the Appendices. The appendices will be assembled in the GROUPS shown on the cover, not in simple chronological order. This is intended to make assembly and reference easy.
    Where there are no documents to be included in the appendices the word “NIL” should be entered in the appropriate space in the index.
    In cases where addition appendices appear suitable for the branches of certain headquarters or for certain units the relevant papers should be inserted and lettered accordingly, beginning with “K”.

    10.. NOTES
    Appendix “A.” The forms which constitute this appendix are intended for use by operational units and headquarters of divisions and below. The form will be completed whether the unit or formation is engaged in active operations or not.

    Formations and units belonging to the Canadian Army will prepare complete war diaries in triplicate.


    Two forms are obtainable: Army Form C2118A for units and detachments; Army Form C2118B for formation headquarters. When printed forms are not available, proformas will be used; the correct headings are shown on page 4 of this cover.

    The forms are designed to elicit essential information which is readily available in the normal course of events, but which is frequently omitted from war diaries. A reply to each question is required daily. Headquarters of higher formations, however, which regularly publish orders of battle, location statements, AFV and other returns, and intelligence summaries and include them among the appendices, need not fill up the columns “Changes in Command,” “Strengths” and “Intelligence Notes,” provided that full and regular information is given in the appropriate appendices.

    The same form may be used for several consecutive days, a clear division being shown; but a fresh one should be taken into use at the beginning of each month.

    Appendices “B” and “C”. The signal log and messages kept by units or formation headquarters will be placed in these appendices.

    Appendices “E” and “H”. Originators of documents are responsible for preserving copies for assignment to war diaries. Nevertheless it may be convenient to include in the war diary copies of important orders and instructions received if these are no longer required for reference. If duplicates of these are not available for inclusion, a note of the fact should be made on the covers of originals and duplicates. It is emphasised that, whether copies of orders and instructions are included in the war diary or not, a note of the receipt of such orders, giving sufficient details to enable them to be identified, should be made in the narrative.

    Appendices “I”. Any statistical or other returns, i.e., location statements, strength states (e.g., AF W3008 and W3009), distribution of transport, ammunition returns, etc., should be included.

    Appendices “Z”. Documents concerned with future planning for operations which will or may take place after the original copy of the normal war diary is due for despatch, or with special equipment, etc., will form a supplementary war diary. Documents normally handled by units or formations, even when graded “Top Secret” - “Officer Only” will never fall into this category. Commanders’ “personal” messages may be included in Appendix “Z.”

    Appendix “Z” will be prepared and disposed of as shown in paras. 12-14 below.
    11.. War diaries will be disposed of as follows:-
    (i ) British - To GHQ 2nd Echelon, 21 Army Group.
    (ii ) Canadian - To Canadian Section, GHQ 2nd Echelon, 21 Army Group.

    Note: If the duplicate copies of diaries of these formations are required at an intermediate address for record purposes, separate instructions will be issued.

    (i ) British - To GHQ 2nd Echelon, 21 Army Group.
    (ii ) Canadian - To Canadian Section, GHQ 2nd Echelon, 21 Army Group.

    The original copy will be forwarded to 2nd Echelon as soon as possible after the end of the month to which it refers. It will be accompanied by the duplicate copy (complete with all appendices) for the previous month.

    Units and formations of the Canadian Army will forward a duplicate copy of the war diary at the same time as the original and forward the triplicate a month later.

    The duplicate, and in the case of Canadian units and formations, triplicate, copies of the war diary will be carefully checked before despatch of the original to ensure that they are identical in every respect.

    Canadian units and formations will continue to maintain war diaries in accordance with instructions contained in Canadian Routine Orders. AF C2119A may be used where Canadian forms are unobtainable.
    12.. The documents referred to in the note on Appendix “Z,” together with a list of them made out on AF C2118 will be placed in a separate war diary cover. All details of unit and formation, date, etc., will be filled and the cover will be clearly marked in red: APPENDIX “Z” - “OFFICER ONLY.”

    If several distinct subjects fall into this category, it may be found convenient to sub-divide the papers by subjects, lettering them in similar fashion to appendices of normal war diaries. In such cases the standard grouping of appendices should be adhered to as far as possible.

    13.. Supplementary war diaries will be forwarded through the normal channels for correspondence in the TOP SECRET category to HQ 21 Army Group, from where they will eventually be forwarded to the War Office (C7). They will be placed in two envelopes, the inner envelope being wax-sealed and plainly marked:-
    War Diary of ............................(formation or unit).
    Period From .......................to........................194​
    If possible an indication should be given on the inner envelope of the date on which the contents can be downgraded to SECRET.
    The duplicates of TOP SECRET supplementary diaries may be despatched as soon as receipt of the originals has been acknowledged.

    14.. Where supplementary diaries of the type referred to above are compiled by Canadian formations or units they will be forwarded by the most direct and secure means available to Chief of Staff, Canadian Military Headquarters, London.





    3IG WD Cover.JPG
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    War Diary, Cover, Instructions (Images courtesy of Drew)

    Middle East Form 160




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    How do I establish which diaries are relevant?
    If a man's unit has been ascertained, either through copy service records, or from A.B.64 or from personal accounts, it should be fairly straightforward to locate a diary, if one exists. The service records are the best source of service history; armed with these it is possible to identify any transfers, moves to other units, or attachments during the course of service.

    Before applying for service records, It is possible to check via Army Number if a man joined one unit but transferred to another at some later stage. This won't really help with war diaries, it can only to confirm regiment or corps at time of enlistment.
    See this thread to check block allocations for Army Numbers Army Number Block Allocations
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    Getting copies of War Diaries
    There are different options available, in terms of cost, format and source.

    Some forum members here may be willing to privately share what they have on their own hard drives, others might quietly offer to spend some of their own time at Kew to copy a few relevant pages.

    However, those interested enough in complete diaries for their units of interest can
    • go to Kew in person, and access/copy files with a digital camera for free (there is a charge for using photocopier and a readers card must be issued before access is granted) See the very informative and sometimes entertaining 'Kew Tips' thread
    • order copies online through TNA; their quotes can be comparatively high
    • locate a researcher to do this for you; fees will of course vary
    • check WW2Talk for copying services offered by forum members here.
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    Are copies of WW2 War Diaries available online?
    TNA recently released WW1 Diaries to download for a fee, but the WW2 Diaries are not available from their website.
    There are diaries available online, but it really is dependant on who has put in the time to make them available.
    There are examples of others but to give an idea here is one site which made diaries available online and searchable by date.
    War Diaries - The Wardrobe housing The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum

    WW2 War Diaries on WW2Talk
    Members of this forum have posted War Diaries to help others with their research. They can be found by searching various locations on the forum

    Diaries can be found under

    If you have a copy of a war diary, please consider sharing the information with the forum, either by way of transcript/image or by simply posting an offer of help.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2020
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    How are the Diary archives organised in TNA?
    Diaries are under series WO (War Office).
    They are firstly sorted by Theatre and then given a code, e.g. WO 167 for British Expeditionary Force.
    Most are for a full year, though some have been split into months relating to Overseas and Home duties.
    The series then breaks down from Corps, Division, Brigade down to battalion, squadron, battery or field company level, depending on how each Regiment or Corps operated.
    Within each unit file, the paperwork is subdivided into calendar months, though it should be noted that some material relating to an earlier month can be found in a later month's file. However, most appendices relating to events in the daily entries will be found within the correct month.


    A fuller explanation of archives held by TNA for Army WW2 operations can be found in the link below

    For the sake of brevity I've quoted below the parts most relevant to this post.

    This guide will help you find records at The National Archives relating to military operations in the Second World War, planned and carried out by the:
    • British Army
    • Indian Army
    • Canadian, New Zealand, South African or Indian forces (also known as dominion forces) under British command
    • Allied and colonial troops under British command
    The records will include details of:
    • invasions
    • battles
    • secret operations
    • daily activities of army units (as recorded in unit war diaries)
    4. Unit war diaries
    All units, from battalions and brigades to divisions and whole armies, maintained a daily record of events, often with appendices of signals and orders.
    To access the right diary you will need to know the theatre of war - where the unit was fighting (see section 10for help with this). For example, the diaries for a regiment fighting in Mesopotamia will be with the Middle East forces diaries in record series WO 169.
    First select your record series from the table below. Then search our catalogue for the unit name, restricting your search to the relevant series.
    As many of these records are described in our catalogue using military abbreviations and specialist language, you may have to try formatting the unit name in different ways or browse the relevant series.

    War Office directorates WO 165

    Home forces WO 166
    British expeditionary force WO 167
    North-West expeditionary force WO 168
    Middle East forces WO 169
    Central Mediterranean forces WO 170
    North-West Europe WO 171
    South-East Asia command WO 172
    West Africa forces WO 173
    Madagascar WO 174
    British North Africa forces WO 175
    Various smaller theatres WO 176

    Medical services WO 177
    Military missions WO 178
    Dominion forces WO 179
    GHQ Liaison Regiment* WO 215
    Special services WO 218
    Ships Signals sections* WO 257
    Royal Marine Commandos DEFE 2
    *These series include associated papers

    5. Headquarters papers
    The records of the military headquarters of each theatre of operation, and of the forces under their command, are the most important sources of information on the planning and conduct of military operations. Search or browse the following record series:
    Description Record series
    British expeditionary force in France 1939-1940 WO 197
    North West expeditionary force in Norway 1940 WO 198
    Home forces WO 199
    Middle East forces WO 201
    Military missions WO 202
    Far East forces including ABDA and SEAC WO 203
    Allied forces in North Africa, Italy and France 1942-1945 WO 204, WO 228
    21st Army Group in Northern Europe 1943-1945 WO 205, WO 229
    SHAEF WO 219, WO 229
    North African and Mediterranean theatres: maps WO 234
    East Africa command WO 276
    Combined operations DEFE 2

    WW2 Commonwealth Army War Diaries

    National Archive War Diary file prefixes

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