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The story of one site –


by Gordon Smith



When today's warships have long gone to the breakers, the tragic casualties of Iraq, Afghanistan and no doubt future wars are mainly forgotten, and the DSO's, DSC's and QGM's of today's heroes are only of interest to medal collector's, the descendants of those who served will still have little difficulty discovering the details of their naval careers. With the internet, warships and weapon systems are described in depth, the careers and final hours of those who died are covered on Government websites, together with the honours and gallantry awards received. And if they want to find out about the wars themselves, there will be an overwhelming choice.


Go back just two decades, and the story is very different. I wanted to know more about my father (right) who was killed in action off the French coast in October 1943. Finding the answers to my questions took years and the writing of a book that explored the sinking of all major Royal Navy warships in World War 2 against the military and maritime background. I really wanted to understand what his ship, HMS Charybdis, was doing in those waters at that time and why. In short, why had my father been killed?


The book was published by Ian Allan, who then commissioned a battlefield atlas of the Falkland's war, which also went into print. That was in 1989. A few years later, the internet started to enter our consciousness. Computers interested me, I still researched naval history in my spare time, my two books were then out-of-print, and around 1998, I gingerly stepped into the world of the internet under the name Naval-History.Net. I had no aims other than to bring my two books back to life, and on a site which had a simple layout, was easy to navigate, and with maps and photos that loaded in seconds. Over the next few years, I added the contents of my grandfather's (below in 1916) World War 1-era scrapbooks, including the 1919 North Russian Expeditionary Force. People sent me material, the first being the story of Stoker Harold Siddall who started the war on HMS Repulse, served in ML's off Crete in 1941 and spent the rest of the war as a POW. Another was Petty Officer Basil Woolff who saw action during the 1944 Battle of Walcheren.


By now fairly-well established with some pleasant email comments to keep me going, I concentrated on updating British vessels lost in World War 1. Unable to find separate casualty numbers for the old armoured cruisers – Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue - I was approached by an American named Don Kindell with offers of help. He eventually sent me the casualty figures for all Royal Navy ships lost in the War, and then sent over a computer disc of his researches on the Royal Navy in the early years of World War 2. "Oh thank you, that should be interesting." It laid around for a few months, until I discovered a treasure trove. Here were the detailed accounts of hundreds of British, Commonwealth and Foreign warships, almost day by day from September 1939 to April 1942, and all from original Admiralty documents. Next on offer were complete Royal and Commonwealth Navy casualties from pre-World War 1 up to 1948 and beyond. I just had to get what amounted to 30 years of research on to the internet with the minimum of formatting and editing.


Not long after, a retired naval officer, the late and much missed Lieutenant Commander Geoff Mason, telephoned out of the blue to say he had written some papers on naval matters, would I be interested? Then it transpired he had also compiled the histories of some 1,000 Royal Navy warships of  World War 2 – all capital ships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, fleet and escort destroyers and many more. As with Don’s work, this had to be made available to a much wider audience – again, all 30 years-worth of research. That was about five years ago.


Since then, Naval-History.Net has received gratifying reviews from “Britain at War Magazine”, the BBC’s family history magazine “Who Do You Think You Are”, and “A Guide to Military History on the Internet“ by Simon Fowler of the National Archives. We are working with the National Maritime Museum to get their 30,000 ship database online, and also with them, the UK Met Office and the Oxford University "Zooniverse" project to transcribe the logbooks of 280 World War 1 warships of the Royal Navy. Although originally for climate research, the naval information is also being collected for naval and family historians. Last, but not least (hopefully), Don Kindell's casualty lists for World War 1 and the inter-War years have been published, with one of the volumes coming joint runner-up in the 2010 Mountbatten Literary Awards of the Maritime Society.


Much of Naval-History.Net covers World War 2, but with the centenary of the Great War approaching, and certainly with my own grandfather's service, this has become my own main preoccupation, especially as to so many people, World War 1 at sea was the Battle of Jutland, and little else. For both the Royal Navy, and the far lesser known involvement of the US Navy, the eventual aim is to cover all casualties, ships lost and damaged, battles, actions and campaigns, honours and gallantry awards, and the background to these Navies. In the meantime, Don Kindell continues his unique contribution to British naval history. This time transcribing his large of collection of original Admiralty War Diaries for the years 1942-45.

Some 25 years ago, I knew little about my father’s career, the ship’s he served on, what they did, the men who died with him, or even why he died when he did. It probably took me ten years to get to the point where I had satisfactory answers to these questions. Now, through the internet and the many excellent websites that exist, it is increasingly easier to make the same journey of discovery in as many minutes. Naval-History.Net ( is grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this story.


Gordon Smith

   27 January 2011


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revised 27/1/11