In April and May 1945, a mission, headed by Dr E Ralph Perkins of the State Department in Washington, editor of the Foreign Relations Series and member of the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee, went to Europe. The mission members had been briefed to track down German political and economic archives which were concerned primarily with the war with Japan, the influence and effects of Nazism, and the penetration and invasion of foreign countries. Regular communication was maintained with the Foreign Office, Britain's and the United States' shared objectives being to gain an understanding of the origins of the war and to learn about Germany's operations and war aims.
Allied to the work of the mission to acquire captured archives was that of the British Ministry of Economic Warfare to obtain printed books, periodicals and maps relating to the Axis powers for intelligence purposes, which proceeded during the war, and to obtain printed scientific works from occupied Europe during and after the war.
Although the Russians had managed to seize a significant amount of documents (which were later deposited in the Potsdam archive) following the surrender of Berlin on 2 May, 1945, the mission succeeded in capturing around 400 tons of the archives of the German Foreign Ministry, dating from 1867 to 1940, almost immediately. More followed, including microfilms of the records of the German foreign minister's secretariat, made in the summer of 1943, and the bulk of the post-1918 Reich Chancellery files.
At the beginning of 1946 it was agreed by both the British and the American governments that the captured archives would be published jointly, once intelligence needs had been met. The captured archive was held by the Allied military government in Berlin until the 1948 Berlin crisis led to the archive being sent to Britain and the United States. The German Foreign Ministry archive was sent to Britain where it was held at the Captured German Documents Unit, Whaddon Hall, Buckinghamshire.
The records were appraised for microfilming by the German War Documents Project set up by the British and United States governments in 1946 and later joined by the French. Until 1952 only official representatives of these governments had access to the records. After 1952 universities and scholars were permitted to sponsor microfilming programmes, but mainly only of pre 1920 records. Studying and selection for microfilming were free of other official constraints, providing the resulting microfilms were made freely available to researchers for copying. Only those records judged worthy of historical interest were filmed. Some files were filmed more than once, some only in part, others not at all.
In London all aspects of the copying and research processes were considered by an interdepartmental Joint Consultative Committee on Captured Enemy Documents (JCC) which was set up under Foreign Office auspices in 1947. The JCC became a Cabinet Committee in 1959; it was dissolved in 1978.
The original German records were returned to the Federal Republic of Germany in sections in 1950, 1956 and 1958. Italian Government records were also captured by allied forces at the end of the Second World War along with records of German agencies operating in Italy and records from the Japanese Embassy in Rome. The original Italian records were returned to Italy in 1947.