The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS for short) is the primary reference work for the basic facts about every ship ever used by the United States Navy. (Although called a "dictionary," it is more accurately described as a specialized encyclopedia.)
It was published by the Navy (thus its content is in the public domain) in nine volumes, between 1959 and 1991. The volumes were completed in alphabetical order, so the service histories of ships still in service at the time of writing end at dates dependent on their names, and subsequent information must come from elsewhere.
The description of each ship includes official dates and locations of various events, combat and peacetime activities, and some notable events in the life of the ship, plus the physical dimensions and armaments of the ship (if known). The information can be considered authoritative, since it is compiled from the Navy's own records pertaining to the ship.
It also includes short biographies for a number of historical figures after which ships have been named.
Since the Dictionary limits itself to the bare facts, it includes almost no analysis or historical context. Typically, it will say that a ship was transferred from one station to another on a specific date, but not why, and the reader must consult other sources for explanations. While most entries limit themselves to objective data, a number of others make explicit anti-communist remarks when referring to Cold War incidents.
In the 1990s the hazegray.org Web site started a collaborative project of putting DANFS material online. Still more recently, the Naval Historical Center also put the material online, in an independent effort. Both projects have used a combination of OCR and hand transcription; the quality is generally good, although errors still occur throughout.
- Naval Historical Center DANFS Site (http://history.navy.mil/danfs) (DANFS maintainer)
- DANFS online (http://www.hazegray.org/danfs) at hazegray.org