Is there a better way to present this data?

I’ve been working on a big file that’s going to be very useful to ShipIndex.org subscribers, especially those interested in World War II vessels. H.T. Lenton’s tome, British and Imperial Warships of the Second World War, is an incredible resource. Its 750+ pages are absolutely jam-packed with useful content, but it has presented me with a few challenging issues about how to manage this data. I thought I’d describe some of it here, explain what my plan is, and see if the greater good has any better suggestions. There’s still time to modify how this resource is managed. I’ve probably invested at least 30 full hours in preparing this file – and that doesn’t include a significant amount of work done by another person before me – and I still have a long way to go. But that’s what it takes, sometimes, to get a resource like this one ready to add to the database.

The first part of this remarkable volume looks at larger, named vessels, organized by vessel type and class. As one example, the “Corvettes and Frigates” section is divided into entries on the “Flower” class, the “River” class, the “Kil-” class, and four more classes. (The introduction has several fascinating paragraphs about the peregrinations of naming vessels, and shows how complicated the whole process was. A fair bit of background knowledge is required just to understand this section!) After some commentary on the design and development of the class, Lenton provides tables showing brief history information for every vessel in a class. Information may be quite extensive, or it might consist of as little as an indication of the intended builder and the approximate cancellation date (for example, for vessels ordered but not begun before the war ended).

This works fine for named vessels, but creates a conundrum for unnamed vessels. In the LCM (Landing Craft Mechanised) section, for example, the index notes that “LCM.21-118” appear on pg 490; “LCM.119-220” on pg 491, “LCM.221-334” on pg 492, etc. Of the 100+ ships on each page, though, just two to three dozen have any information at all about the vessel, and that information is slight, at best. For the LCMs, most have no Building or Completion information. Of the ones that have “Fate” information, it usually reads something like “Lost cause unknown Algiers ../11/42.” (Meaning it was lost in November 1942, but the exact date and cause is not known.)

To me, this information might be useful to someone, and I don’t want to not include the entry for that vessel. But for each one like that, there are several where no information at all is included, and I believe that adding an entry to ShipIndex.org should imply that at least SOMETHING is available in the resource. So I’ve decided that what I’ll do is expand entries like “LCM.21-118” to be “LCM.21”, “LCM.22”, “LCM.23”, etc., up to “LCM.118”. Then I’ll compare my list with the book itself. If there’s any information at all about the vessel, I’ll keep the entry. If there is no information beyond its listing on the page – nothing about where it was built, or how it was lost, for instance – then I’ll delete it. My thought is that if the volume offers one piece of information, I’ll include the vessel name in the index.

Still, it’s worth noting that for people who are working on an unlisted LCM, the volume may contain information about the LCM class that might be relevant. And if you’re looking for an image of a specific auxiliary vessel, it may be that an image of a different vessel in the same class will do. It appears that the most common vessel type in which this will apply will be the LCMs, of which several thousand were built, but it will be interesting to see how it actually turns out.

Am I doing the right thing? Should I be handling this in some other way? Is there some other way that I should note the amount of information presented? I’d welcome your comments – if there’s a better way of doing it, now’s the time for me to hear about it.

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