Victory at Sea
Victory at Sea, a 26-episode series on World War II, was one of the most ambitious documentary undertakings of early network television. Over 13,000 hours of archival footage was compiled by newsreel veterans into a vivid chronological account of naval warfare during World War II. This vintage TV series has withstood the test of time as history at its best. It is a "must-have" for military history buffs, and I also recommend it if you are studying World War II in school or if you had relatives who fought in the war.
This extensive compilation of actual black-and-white World War II footage was produced with the full cooperation of the U.S. Navy. It is dramatically narrated by Leonard Graves, with a stirring instrumental score composed by Richard Rodgers (best known for his musicals with Oscar Hammerstein) and performed by the RCA Symphony Orchestra. The music and narration still retain their appeal while the action sequences have a surprisingly modern feel, and of course its historical value will remain timeless.
The program originally aired on NBC during the 1952-53 season. This was at a time when most TV shows were broadcast live. Victory at Sea won many awards including a special Emmy for best public affairs program, and it established historic documentaries using existing footage as a viable television genre. Victory at Sea remained popular for many years in syndication, so you may remember having seen all or part of it. For its 50th anniversary, The History Channel even re-did Victory at Sea - The Legendary World War II Documentary in 2003 with added commentary between each segment to explain the political, cultural, and military setting of each classic episode.
We recently came across a multi-disc collector’s set of the original Victory at Sea in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart – a super deal at a cost of only $5.50 for 3 DVDs! Even at Amazon it’s $10.99, which isn't a bad price either. (The quality of this DVD set is fine, but the reason why it's so cheap is probably because the footage is in the public domain.) My husband had seen the series on TV before and that's why he wanted to buy it. This was the first time the kids and I had ever watched Victory at Sea, and it has enthralled us too. We have been viewing one or two episodes every night.
Victory at Sea provides a vivid record of World War II that truly brings history to life in your living room. The program contains rare film clips depicting naval and aerial battles in progress, including footage that was captured from the Germans and Japanese. In addition, it features routine moments when soldiers, sailors, pilots, and crew were in transit or waiting for the inevitable fighting to begin or resume. Victory at Sea also covers the supply and logistics side of the conflict, as well as support activities on the home front and the reactions of civilians. All of this provides a comprehensive overview of the war.
Each half-hour installment of Victory at Sea deals with some aspect of World War II naval warfare such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Atlantic convoys and U-boat "Wolfpacks," the Aleutian Islands campaign, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the Far East, the Pacific War, D-Day, and the fall of Japan. You will see lots of rolling waves and ships of all kinds on the high seas – aircraft carriers, battleships, destroyers, cruisers, PT boats, submarines, merchant vessels, etc. Despite the title, there are plenty of air and land battles included as well. While the focus is on America’s effort in the war, the British Navy is also represented as are some others.
Famous and infamous people appearing in the film are: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Emperor Hirohito, Admiral Yamamoto, Hideki Tojo, Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Halsey, Admiral Mountbatten, General Eisenhower, General MacArthur, General Montgomery, and others. But probably the most noteworthy people represented are the troops themselves. While watching the 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal and realizing that any one of those men could have been my husband’s own father who was there at the time, the chance to get a firsthand glimpse into what he experienced was awesome!
It is truly amazing to see how much wartime footage was gathered during World War II. The close-up combat photography is fantastic! Some of the camera operators were right in the line of fire or on the burning decks of ships! Victory at Sea is raw, living, unrevised history happening right before our eyes. For example, some scenes show the last vestiges of sinking ships that will never be seen again. The battle scenes are just as exciting as any Hollywood production, but at the same time you know that those are real planes being shot down with human beings inside them, and it should be viewed as such.
While the black-and-white footage is not as graphic as color would be, viewers will witness many scenes of death and destruction. Still, Victory at Sea is one of the most educational and memorable ways to share this important period of history with your children. It's a little too much for our 7-year-old, but the rest of us (ages 12 and up) have been learning a great deal from this program. It will help if you have a world map or globe handy while watching, so that you can pause and look up the locations mentioned in the film.
On a lighter note, it is refreshing to watch an unashamedly patriotic series that was obviously made before the days of political correctness! The narrator quotes from the Bible at times and there are several scenes that clearly show people praying. Anyway, no matter how old you are, Victory at Sea will help you to better understand and honor the energy, bravery, and sacrifice of our military personnel. I highly recommend Victory at Sea for everyone to see, so we may never forget all of those who gave their lives so that we can be free.
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