Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “Ships”

How many Navy ships were named Experiment?

In my entry for Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS) I claim you can answer the question “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships” with this resource. Here’s how:

  1. Visit the site and click on the letter E.
  2. Click on Excel-I through Exultant-II
  3. See that there were two ships named Experiment. Here’s the history for Experiment II:



A trial made to test a theory or a piece of equipment.


(Sch: t. 209; l. 90′; b. 21’6″; dr. 6’1″)

The second Experiment, a schooner, was built in 1831 by the Washington Navy Yard; and sailed for tests in Chesapeake Bay in April 1832, Lieutenant W. Mervine in command.

Until the middle of 1833, Experiment cruised the Atlantic coast between Boston, Mass., and Charleston, S.C. After repairs at Norfolk, she sailed for the West Indies, returning to New York in June 1835. During the remaining 3 years of her cruising service, she was often used for surveying. From 1839 to 1848, when she was sold, she was in commission as a receiving ship at Philadelphia.


You can also use Google or another search engine to do a keyword search of DANFS if you add “inurl:danfs” to your search. For example, if we wanted to search for ships that had some sort of experimental purpose, we’d search [experimental inurl:danfs]. We get a number of results including:

  • George Eastman – 1950s era ship involved in nuclear testing
  • Somers II – 19th Century experimental schoolship for naval apprentices
  • Langley – First Navy aircraft carrier

To filter out references to DANFS from other websites, you might need to add site:www.history.navy.mil to your search. Most of the time this shouldn’t be necessary.

The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships is just one of many Navy related resources in Writer’s Guide to Government Information.


FAS Military Analysis Network (US Weapons via FAS)

FAS Military Analysis Network (US Weapons via FAS) – http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/man/index.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is “angle of attack” in aviation?
  • What sort of missiles might one find on a US submarine?
  • What was the structure of the Japanese military in the 2000s?
  • What are some policy issues related to the militarization of space?


The Federation of American Scientists is a nonprofit group interested in government transparency and national security matters. Their Military Analysis Network documents weapons systems from the US and other nations. Some of the information may duplicate what you might find in the “fact files” of the various services, but if you don’t find something in those fact files, this site may help.

The Military Analysis Network is divided into the following sections:

  • US Munitions and Weapons Systems
  • Rest of the World Military Equipment (China, European Union, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Serbia.) – Equipment list intended to be representative, not exhaustive.
  • Historical Weapons Archives
  • Selected Country Military Summaries – Information appears to date between 2003 and 2006).
  • Weapons in Space
  • US Military Logistics
  • Military Equipment Tutorials
    • Aircraft for Amateurs
    • Airpower Overview
    • Boats for Beginners
    • Underwater Acoustics
    • United States Navy Ship Introduction
    • International Naval Forces Overview
    • World-Wide Land Combat Systems
    • Bullets for Beginners
    • Big Bullets for Beginners
    • Bullets for Beginners Background
    • Bugle Calls
    • Rockets for Rookies
    • Bombs for Beginners

The weapons pages will have pictures and often diagrams of equipment.
I highly recommend the Military Equipment Tutorials, even though most of them seem to be around a decade old. They can teach you the difference between a carbine and sub machine gun, what to play on the bugle when, how to identify NATO ammunition and more.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships  – http://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/danfs.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What Navy ships were destroyed in World War II?
  • How many Navy ships were named Experiment?
  • How is a large auxiliary floating dry dock abbreviated?


This multivolume work is available online and in paper. From the website:

The Histories Branch researches and writes the multi-volume Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, available in many libraries in the United States and abroad. Compiled like an encyclopedia, each volume includes summary histories of U.S. Navy ships from certain sections of the alphabet. The volumes also include an assortment of appendices on small craft, dictionary entries for Confederate Navy ships and various essays related to naval ships.

Each entry starts with the background on the name of the ship, then a brief physical description, followed by a ship history from keel laying to final disposition (final decommissioning/destruction/sale). In cases where multiple ships have had the same name (I.e Mosquito), ship histories will be separated by roman numerals.

If you station characters on real ships, this book will avoid placing ships in wrong place and time.

Search Tips / Story Ideas

The primary access to this resource is by browsing. There is no official dedicated search to the Dictionary. But you can use Google if you format your search like [keyword/phrase inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil]

This opens up some good possibilities for a writer. Try some of these searches and see if you’re touched with a story idea:

destroyed inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil
sunk inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil
burned inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil
sold inurl:/ship-histories/danfs site:navy.mil

US Navy Ship Camouflage – World War II (Naval History and Heritage Command)

US Navy Ship Camouflage – World War II (Naval History and Heritage Command) – https://web.archive.org/web/20140707134751/http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-co-mk/camouflg/usn-wwii/31-33tp.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • How were battleships camouflaged in World War II?
  • How were destroyers camouflaged in World War II?


A set of drawings and photographs showing how various Navy ships were painted camouflage in World War II. May aid in describing scenes from that era.

US Army in World War II Pictorial Record (Center of Military History)

US Army in World War II Pictorial Record (Center of Military History) – http://www.history.army.mil/html/bookshelves/collect/ww2-pic.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did a P-51 fighter look like?
  • What does antiaircraft tracer fire look like?
  • What did Japanese bucket brigades look like in World War II?
  • What could mail call in the Solomon Islands look like?
  • What did the USS Hornet look like while under attack from dive bombers?
  • Where can I find scenes of urban devastation like that of Osaka in World War II?


Although part of the larger set of US Army in World War II discussed elsewhere, the Pictorial Record volumes deserve their own entry for their usefulness to writers of stories set in this era. The three volumes in the series are:

  • The war against Japan
  • The war against Germany and Italy: Mediterranean and adjacent areas
  • The war against Germany: Europe and adjacent areas

The aim of these volumes is clearly stated in the foreword to “The war against Japan”:

The photographs have been especially selected to show important terrain features, types of equipment and weapons, living and weather conditions, military operations, and matters of human interest. These volumes will preserve and make accessible for future reference some of the best pictures of World War II. An appreciation not only of the terrain upon which actions were fought, but also of its influence on the capabilities and limitations of weapons in the hands of both our troops and those of the enemy, can be gained through a careful study of the pictures herein presented.

Each volume is divided into sections with a brief historical essay that precedes a group of pictures with commentary. An excellent index in the back of each volume makes it easy to find pictures of weapons, aircraft, ships, locations, allied troops, bomb craters, blasted neighborhoods and more. Finally each volume has a list of abbreviations that may be helpful in understanding other materials besides these photographs.

In addition to serving as aids to describing war scenes, people, weapons and vehicles, the pictures in these volumes are public domain. You can freely illustrate your own work with these photographs, though it would be good to provide a credit back to the pictorial volume and the Center of Military History.

The PDF format of this series does make it harder to use the photographs. You might try using screen clipping tools built into Windows and Macs. From an examination of the volumes it was unclear where one might go to request the originals of these photographs. If anyone has insight into this, please leave a comment or use the “Contact Kari” link at the top of the page.

World War I Era Transports — Organized by Type ( Naval History and Heritage Command)

World War I Era Transports — Organized by Type ( Naval History and Heritage Command)


Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where can I find a passenger steamship impressed into troop service?
  • Where can I find a crew picture of the USS Canonicus?
  • Where can I find World War I ships that were both transports and mine layers?


From the introduction:

This page features a list of World War I era U.S. Navy transport groups, defined by ships’ physical characteristics, with links to pages dedicated to each group of ships. Those pages provide further links to the individual ships in each group. Representative photographs are also presented for ship groups and for individual vessels.

The major groupings here are:

  • Passenger liner type transports (75 ships)
  • Former mine layers employed as transports (4 ships)
  • Freighters converted to transports (45 ships)
  • Former coastal and river passenger steamers (21 ships)
  • Combat warships employed as transports (25 ships)

Naval History Online Photo Library

Naval History Online Photo Library (by topic) – https://web.archive.org/web/20140528181709/http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/org11-2.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What did Navy blimps of the 1920s look like and what were they used for?
  • What did a Grumman F4F “Wildcat” Fighter look like?
  • What was the ship insignia for the _____?


From the website:

The Online Library is the Photographic Section’s readily accessible index to Naval and maritime history pictures.

Each entry provides a thumbnail image, a caption and the appropriate credit line. “Click” on the thumbnail to access a larger (average 50KB to 150KB) 96 dpi digital image that can usually fit on letter-size paper.

To the best of our knowledge, all Online Library pictures are in the public domain and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose without requesting permission.

The topics on this page are:

  • Aircraft, U.S. Navy – Aircraft from 1911 – 1962
  • Albums & Scrapbooks – Mostly from 1910s, with some from 1939-45 and Vietnam, 1970-71
  • Art Topics – including Ships’ Insignia and Navy Recruiting Posters
  • Awards & Medals
  • Documents – Including Souvenir folders
  • Event – From War with Tripoli (1801) through 1975, including the first flight from a warship (November 1910). Not all images are actually photographs.
  • People – From US, Japan and United Kingdom
  • People – Topics
  • African-Americans and the U.S. Navy
  • Asians, Pacific Islanders and the U.S. Navy
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Nurses and the U.S. Navy
  • “Old Salts …”
  • Women and the U.S. Navy – World War I era Yeomen (F)
  • Women and the U.S. Navy – World War II era WAVES.
  • Places – United States (California and Washington DC, with some photos of the Washington Navy Yard, setting of NCIS)
  • Places – Asia – Vietnam
  • Ships – U.S. Navy
  • U.S. Navy Ships – Listed Alphabetically by Name
  • U.S. Navy Ships – Listed by Hull Number
  • U.S. Navy Ship Types
  • Ships of Other U.S. Government Agencies, State Government and the Confederate States
  • Ships Of Foreign Navies And Government Agencies
  • Merchant Ships And Other Civil-Use Ships
  • Ship Color Schemes, Camouflage And Markings (From WWII)
  • Weapons And Sensors (Radar)

The main use of this resource for writers will be as an aid to describing ships, people and locales from specific historical periods. It would be well worth your time to spend time scrutinizing the Events page. In addition to offering the first pictures of a plane taking off from a warship, it also covers things like the 1918 Influenza pandemic and at least one of the Suez canal crisis’

UPDATE 1/19/2015 – While I’ve provided you with the Internet Archive version, the live site is still available but seriously restructured in a way I think makes it harder to access the photos you may want to see.

Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command –

Live – http://www.history.navy.mil/

2014 Internet Archive version – https://web.archive.org/web/20141216073338/http://www.history.navy.mil/

UPDATE 1/29/2015 – This website had a major reorganization in December 2014. The description below refers to the 2014 Internet Archive version. A write up of the live site, described as a work in progress, is planned for later in 2015.

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What was the Navy’s involvement with nuclear weapons testing?
  • How can I get a log for a Navy ship?
  • Why were there aircraft carriers in the Great Lakes?


The front page of this site has a number of articles of current interest. For example in August 2012, the front page featured an article on Naval Olympians. For writers, the most important section of this site will be the “Resources and Research” tab. This section links to a dozen plus topics, including:

Biographies – One to two page biographies of notable naval figures.

Block 39 Resources – Set of illustrated postcards on naval history topics aimed at Chief Petter Officer (CPO) evaluation. (Only about half of these work in the Internet Archive version)

Deck Logs – Procedures on obtaining ship deck logs. Includes explanation of what is and is not included in ship logs.

Diversity – Information on African Americans, Asians & Pacific Islanders, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and women serving in the US Navy. Also includes information on current diversity efforts.

Photography – From the website, “The Online Library of Selected Images is a readily accessible picture index to some of the Photographic Section’s images. The Online Library contains thousands of interesting photographs on a variety of Naval and Maritime subjects. New images are added continuously.” The photography section also includes information on conducting an in person research visit.

Publications – Annotated bibliography of naval history publications. Only a handful appear to be available electronically. One example of a book that could be useful to writers of a number of genres is The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War, by Stuart I. Rochester which covers techniques to communicate with fellow prisoners, maintain fitness and other tasks.

Video Index – Topical index to YouTube videos posted by the Naval History and Heritage Command. Note: this is a link to the live site.

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