One of the most important documents used by the British Army in both World Wars was Army Form C. 2118, the War Diary or Intelligence Summary. War diaries were maintained by every infantry battalion and brigade, their equivalents in other branches (e.g., artillery batteries), and higher formations while on active service. War Diaries were intended as unit-level operational histories, so they are an extremely valuable primary source and are critical to the military historian; additionally, war diaries and their attachments are sometimes studied by those interested in genealogy.
Most war diaries are held by Britain’s National Archives in the London district of Kew. Since I live in the United States, getting to the National Archives and reviewing the original documents is a significant challenge. However, I recently worked with The British Army War Diary Copying Service to obtain high-resolution images of 2nd Parachute Battalion’s records from its time in North Africa, covering the period November, 1942 through May, 1943. This is a treasure trove of information, and it will take me some time to read and take notes on the diaries and attachments. For now, I want to simply write about the form itself.
I have wanted to obtain a blank C. 2118 for my collection for a number of years, but have been unable to do so. In fact, I have seen many photographs of completed war diaries from both World Wars, but have only rarely seen a blank form available for sale (and always too late to act on it). Additionally, while this was designed as a dual-purpose form, I have only ever seen examples completed as a war diary, and not as an intelligence summary; war diaries were intended to be archived, while I suspect intelligence summaries were often destroyed for security reasons. It is also interesting to note I have seen both typed and handwritten examples.
Like all Army Forms, the document itself changed slightly over time; additionally, there were minor differences depending on the contracted publishing firm. However, the C. 2118 seems to have been more consistent than some other forms, such as the B. 295 Pass. A typical C. 2118 had a field at the top left for the month and year, with fields at the top right for the unit and commanding officer. The bulk of the form was set up in columns for indicating the place, date, and hour for each entry; summary of events and information; and references to appendices.
As a dual-purpose form, there were two headers, “War Diary” or “Intelligence Summary”, with a note to delete whichever heading was not applicable. Each Army Form C. 2118 typically included the following text in the top-left corner:
“Instructions regarding War Diaries and Intelligence Summaries are contained in F.S. Regs., Vol. I and the Staff Manual respectively. Title pages will be prepared in manuscript.”
While I do not have a copy of the Staff Manual, I do have a copy of the Field Service Regulations, Volume I; I have the 1930 version, as reprinted and amended in 1939.
Field Service Regulations
Organization and Administration
1930, Reprinted with Amendments 1939
Office Work in the Field
174. War Diaries
- A war diary will be kept in duplicate from the first day of mobilization 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.
- 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 initialed 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.
- The cover will bear the following inscription:–
- In so far as they are applicable the following points 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 the 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.
viii. Summary of important information received, whether military or political.
- 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.
ii. Copies of orders, or instructions, received from higher commands if no longer required for reference.
iii. A copy of each narrative or report on operations drawn up by a subordinate formation or unit, including any sketches or maps relating thereto, to supplement the account of operations furnished in the text of the dairy (para. 4, iv, above).
Appendices will be numbered, and each will have a brief descriptive heading naming the author. References to appendices will be made in the last column of A.F. C 2118.
- All diaries will conform to the regulations for drafting orders, reports, &c. (See Volume II.)
- Disposal will be made monthly of war diaries as follows:–
i. Unless otherwise ordered, the original copy of a war diary for the preceding month will be forwarded on the first day of the succeeding month direct to the officer i/c 2nd echelon for transmission to the War Office, care being taken that all its appendices are attached.
ii. The duplicate copy, clearly marked as such, of a cavalry or infantry brigade or higher formation will be forwarded within a period of two months to the officer i/c 2nd echelon for transmission to the Under-Secretary of State, The War Office. The duplicate copies of the diaries of units will be sent within a period of three months to the officer i/c 2nd echelon to be transmitted to record offices at home for safe custody.
*In the case of formations and units of the Territorial Army, war diaries will be kept from the first day of embodiment.
The sheets were grouped together by month. The cover sheet described above in (3) was published as its own Army Form, C. 2119. The field returns mentioned above in (5)(i) were completed once per month and attached to the war diary as appendices. The field returns indicated the strength of the battalion or other unit; W. 3008 gave a list of all officers, and W. 3009 was a tally sheet of other ranks (enlisted personnel) without giving individual names. Casualty reports were handled separately.
Like the Army Form B. 295 Pass, I have created my own reproduction of the C. 2118 to use at reenactments and public displays. I created the document in Microsoft Word, using tables and text boxes. I found this form easier to reproduce than some others I have attempted. However, since I used standard US-sized paper, the aspect ratio does not match the original. Professionally-made reproductions are available from Rob Van Meel’s Re-Print Military Literature.
I would like to thank The British Army War Diary Copying Service, without whom this article would not have been possible.