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Victory at Sea

Victory at Sea was a documentary TV series about naval warfare during World War II that was originally aired by NBC in the USA in 26 half-hour segments on Sunday afternoons, starting October 26, 1952 and ending May 3, 1953. The series, which won an Emmy in 1954 as best public affairs program, played a major role in establishing historic documentaries as a viable television genre. When it first aired, NBC thought it so important that it had no commercial breaks.


The project was conceived by Henry Salomon, who, while in the U.S. Navy during World War II, was a research assistant to historian Samuel Eliot Morison. Morison was then writing the 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. During this period, Salomon learned of the large amounts of film that the warring navies had compiled. Salomon left the Navy in 1948 and eventually discussed his idea of a documentary series with one of his Harvard classmates, Robert Sarnoff, a rising executive at NBC television and the son of David Sarnoff, the chairman of RCA (then the owner of NBC).

NBC approved the project in 1951, with Salomon as producer and a budget of $500,000 (large for that era). His team, made up largely of newsreel veterans, scoured naval archives around the world, and received complete cooperation from the U.S. Navy, which recognized the publicity value. Salomon's team compiled 60 million feet (18,300 km) of film, which was edited to about 61,000 feet for broadcast.

After the original run, NBC syndicated it to local stations, where it proved successful financially through the mid-1960s. NBC also marketed the series overseas; by 1964, it had aired in 40 foreign markets. NBC sold the theatrical rights to United Artists, which created a feature-length movie released in 1954; NBC aired the movie twice in the 1960s.


Salomon also signed Richard Rodgers, fresh off several hit Broadway musicals, to compose the musical score. Rodgers contributed 12 "themes"- short piano compositions a minute or two in length; these may be examined in the Rodgers Collection at the Library of Congress. Robert Russell Bennett did the scoring, transforming Rodgers's themes to fit a variety of moods, and composing much more original material than Rodgers, as may be observed in Bennett's inked scores, microfilmed at the Library of Congress. Nonetheless, Bennett received credit only for arranging the score and conducting NBC Symphony Orchestra members on the soundtrack recording sessions, and many writers still refer erroneously to "Rodgers's thirteen-hour score." Rodgers recorded excerpts from the music with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for Columbia Records, but it was Bennett who made the more familiar RCA recordings with the Symphony of the Air, an orchestra created in the fall of 1954 from former NBC Symphony members, identified on the albums as the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra.

RCA's record division sold the Rodgers-Bennett musical score in four different album versions, released on LP and CD.

The movements and approximate timings in the RCA Symphony performance are as follows; 1. The Song of the High Seas - 5:03 2. The Pacific Boils Over - 5:45 3. Fire on the Waters - 5:58 4. Guadalcanal March - 3:08 5. Pelelieu - 3:43 6. Theme of the Fast Carriers - 6:49 7. Hard Work and Horseplay - 3:44 8. Mare Nostrum - 4:31 9. Beneath the Southern Cross - 4:06 10.Mediterranean Mosaic - 5:03 11.Allies on the March - 5:26 12.D-Day - 5:54 13.The Sound of Victory - 6:15 14.Victory at Sea - 6:11

The score was a favourite of US President Richard Nixon.

Current availability

It is now available in VHS and DVD and is in the public domain. Though the score, script, and narration by Leonard Graves retain their appeal, much of the film editing is criticized by knowledgeable viewers for anachronistic sequences. As an example, 1943-45 ships and aircraft in 1941-42 segments.

Episode List

1. October 26, 1952 DESIGN FOR WAR Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1941

World War II comes, and Germany succeeds in invading Poland and France. But is held back by England thanks to the vital convoys, Canada and the American naval forces' initial involvement, and Lend-Lease. Still, the German submarine war increases to its crescendo thanks to new French bases.

2. November 2, 1952 THE PACIFIC BOILS OVER Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

Using Japanese footage, we see the planning, execution, and ultimately the celebration of the Asian country's attack on Pearl Harbor. There's also an explanation provided for the attack and some peaceful moments depicted among the U.S. sailors before the fateful events unfold. And out of this wreckage, the bloodied U.S. Navy fleet rises up to fight another day.

3. November 9, 1952 SEALING THE BREACH Anti-submarine warfare, 1941-1943

With war now declared on the U.S. front, naval forces throughout the states have banded together to bring convoys of supplies across the Atlantic Ocean to our Allies in England. German U-Boats come through and manage to destroy some of ships along the way. Still, Americans are resilient...

4. November 23, 1952 MIDWAY IS EAST Japanese victories & the Midway Battle

Japan is ascendant as it successfully invades Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. But the Americans draw first blood, first on the Coral Sea, and ultimately on Midway as they manage to bomb four of Japan's aircraft carriers--the same ones that participated in Pearl Harbor--making the imperial fleet retreat and giving the U.S. an incredible early victory in the pacific...

5. November 30, 1952 MEDITERRANEAN MOSAIC Gibraltar, Allied & enemy fleets, Malta

World War II comes to the Mediterranean Sea as Italian, French and British naval forces flex their muscle. British forces have the enviable position of guarding the sea as they escort convoys from Gibraltar to Malta. Still, they have their relaxing moments, especially the daily mealtimes: Morning cocoa, breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper. Meanwhile, the German Luftwaffe never fails to besiege the island of Malta, but they remain steadfastly determined to keep fighting and tough it out. Their heroism is rewarded when King George VI pays a later visit to the island, reviving their spirits.

6. December 14, 1952 GUADALCANAL Guadalcanal

After training in Australia and New Zealand, the U.S. Marines land on Guadalcanal. The U.S. Navy suffers defeat after defeat at the hands of the Japanese Navy around the island--in an area called Ironbottom Sound. Essential information is conveyed about how some deaths are caused not just by battle but also by malaria that comes from the long stays in the Guadalcanal rain forests. The number of people dying on both sides is especially emphasized here, a remarkable example of endurance. Meanwhile, to the tune of Richard Rodgers' most famous march from the series, America's men and materiel are mobilized against the ultimate struggle that is World War II.

7. December 21, 1952 RINGS AROUND RABAUL Struggle for the Solomon Islands

The Japanese Navy is ascendant in its conquests, of which its linchpin is the main base at Rabaul in the New Britain Islands. This Victory at Sea episode refers to the US strategy of surrounding and strangling the Japanese base in the fall of 1943 through set piece invasions of its surrounding islands (Bouganville, Rendova). Praise should be given to the Seabees, which made the airfields operational in a short time, and observation planes and radar, which helped the U.S. Navy stop cold Japanese reinforcements and counterattacks.

8. December 28, 1952 MARE NOSTRUM Mediterranean Command, 1940-1942

Mussolini calls the Mediterranean "mare nostrum"--our sea. And seeks to exploit it to the full. British and Greek military forces, however, defeat the Italians, forcing the Germans to bring in the Afrika Korps. But it is in the heroic sea battles to take over the Mediterranean that is the crux. At issue is who controls the Suez Canal in Egypt. Eventually, the Allies triumph, and proceeded to destroy the Germans in the desert.

9. January 4, 1953 SEA AND SAND Invasion of North Africa, 1942-1943

The Soviet Union demand a "second front" as their country struggles under the might of the Nazis. The wish is granted as Roosevelt and Churchill in Casablanca agree on the first invasion at North Africa against General Rommel's forces via Operation Torch, while the Allies also neutralize many of the axis' Mediterranean supply bases. Eventually, the Germans fight back, but to no avail.

10. January 11, 1953 BENEATH THE SOUTHERN CROSS War in the south Atlantic

The South Atlantic becomes a front in the overall Battle of the Atlantic, from the pursuit of the Graf Spee to the battle between HMS Devonshire and the German raider Atlantis. The Allies, meanwhile, nurture their ties to South America and gained a vital base in Ascension Island. Despite deep rooted Nazi sympathy, the South American nations rallied to the Allies' cause, securing vital bases, forces, and resources.

11. January 18, 1953 THE MAGNETIC NORTH War from Murmansk to Alaska

This episode of Victory at Sea explores the battles between the Allies and Germans over the Arctic Circle, and the convoys battling past Nazi-occupied Norway to Russia. Meanwhile, Japan unsuccessfully invades Alaska, and the U.S. Navy again is called to guard this vital area amidst the toughest climate and vast vistas.

12. January 25, 1953 THE CONQUEST OF MICRONESIA Carrier warfare--Gilberts and Marshalls

The ubiquitous aircraft carrier of the U.S. Navy goes into the attack in the Central Pacific at the Gilberts and Marshalls, destroying Japanese installations and taking the fight to the enemy. But for all of these, there is a price to pay for victory in men and materiel.

13. February 1, 1953 MELANESIAN NIGHTMARE New Guinea campaign

The Allies are victorious in New Guinea as they repel the Japanese. They thus bring the fight through a series of island-hopping offensives using a new ship--the slow but vital LST. The price paid is high in both sides, but as Japanese casualties pile up in their never-ending losing battle against the Allied onslaught, their homeland only hears news of their victory being broadcast on the radio. We see also just how Japan's people are suffering in defeat through a very touching scene of a massive funeral at the conclusion of this segment, providing a balance of how universal grief truly is.

14. February 8, 1953 ROMAN RENAISSANCE Sicily and the Italian campaign

While Hitler's Germany starts its decline, Mussolini's Italy falls. Eventually, as destruction is heaped upon Naples and Rome, Italy accepts defeat and surrenders, allowing the allied forces to liberate their people. But the conflict grinds to a slow ruinous campaign (Salerno, Cassino, Anzio) until final victory is achieved by the liberation of Rome, where ecstatic Romans celebrate freedom waving American flags, and the Pope addressing the audience...

15. February 15, 1953 D-DAY Normandy

The Allied invasion of Normandy--from preparation to execution--is detailed to very compelling effect courtesy of vintage footage from both sides. One of the most important turning points for victory from the Allied side. Perhaps one of the most exciting episodes of the entire Victory at Sea series--the pivotal moment of World War II in Europe.

16. February 22, 1953 KILLERS AND THE KILLED Victory in the Atlantic, 1943-1945

The U-Boats are ascendant, and their triumphs trumpeted over Germany. But the Allies hit back with new bases in lands bordering the Atlantic Ocean, new antisubmarine techniques, and the new escort, or "jeep", carrier. Thus, the neutralization and destruction of the German U-Boat forces is guaranteed.

17. March 1, 1953 THE TURKEY SHOOT Conquest of the Marianas

Guam, a U.S. territory, gets invaded by Japan a few days after Pearl Harbor and remains under occupation for two and a half years before the Americans arrive to take Saipan and Guam back, and finished off as well the Japanese fleet in a classic "turkey shoot". The Guamanians are thankful as expressed on their smiling faces, making it one of the most inspiring segments of Victory at Sea. Meanwhile, the Americans are preparing the bases in the islands as well as in other areas of the Marianas for the ultimate bomber offensive against Japan.

18. March 8, 1953 TWO IF BY SEA Peleliu and Angaur

Before the Philippines, the United States first attacks Peleliu and Anguar. Through communiques, we follow the bloody battle in its ferocity.

19. March 15, 1953 BATTLE FOR LEYTE GULF Sea battle for Leyte Gulf

The Japanese fleet is fast disappearing, and the Imperial Navy conducts its last major operation in the Philippines. It ends in debacle: The risen battleships of Pearl Harbor avenge the attack in Surigao Strait, the Center Force is defeated in Sibuyan Sea, the jeep carriers and destroyers heroically fend off a stronger Japanese force near Samar, and their remaining aircraft carriers were sunk. This Victory at Sea segment marked the counting of the days until the Japanese would accept defeat and surrender to the allies.

20. March 22, 1953 RETURN OF THE ALLIES Liberation of the Philippines

Just after the U.S. entered World War II, the Japanese conquered the Commonwealth of the Philippines, an American protectorate, bringing despair to its people. But they still hope, and in January of 1945, these were answered as much of the Philippines were liberated and its people cheered the Americans. Their liberation became bloody as they fought their way in Manila, but still they cheered. A touching tribute to the will of the Philippine people to survive as they waited for liberation--and their eventual independence a year later.

21. March 29, 1953 FULL FATHOM FIVE U.S. submarines, 1941-194

In this episode of Victory at Sea, we see how the U.S. Navy's submarines contributed to the Japanese empire's downfall, sinking thousands of tons of ships, and strangling the Japanese. We see footage of ship upon ship from the House of the Rising Sun destroyed. But a price is paid for those whom the U.S. Navy classifies as "did not return".

22. April 5, 1953 THE FATE OF EUROPE Black Sea, south of France, surrender

Sevastopol was liberated, and the Allies finally crush Germany. We also witness the meeting of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin on final plans for Germany's surrender and the forming of the United Nations. At the end, Hitler commits suicide, and Nazi flags are torn apart and German military uniforms and hats lie on the ground like discarded garbage. However, compelling footage of German cities in ruins make this one of the most triumphant as well as somewhat somber episodes of Victory at Sea.

23. April 12, 1953 TARGET SURIBACHI Iwo Jima

The United States fought two battles here--the U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima against the Japanese, and the U.S. Navy against the typhoon. During the now-legendary events depicted in this episode, we reach the final throes of battle in the Pacific war against Japan. And as the scene of the recent Mount Suribachi memorial appears, we are once again reminded of the price that comes before true victory can be achieved.

24. April 19, 1953 THE ROAD TO MANDALAY China, Burma, India, and Indian Ocean

Japan invades China in 1936, but the Japanese are not satisfied, and they began to invade Indochina and Thailand, paving the way for the invasion of Burma. The U.S. and British Navies nurture their relations with the Indian Navy as supplies are building up for the return back. Eventually, it was decided to build a road to link up with the Burma Road, and with human and elephant power, they succeeded. Eventually, they "came back to Mandalay", and the first supplies traveled the road to hordes of cheering Chinese.

25. April 26, 1953 SUICIDE FOR GLORY Okinawa

In one last ditch effort at glory, having lost most of their best men in military actions, Japan employs suicide pilots--the Kamikaze--men who would willingly crash their planes into ships in order to destroy the American spirit. But the U.S. Navy and Marines are ready for them with their guns, and they fought heroically against the onslaught. And on Okinawa, Americans fight a major battle with the Japanese Army.

26. May 3, 1953 DESIGN FOR PEACE Surrender of Japan & aftermath of war

The atomic bomb is detonated, and its effects demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With that, Japan surrenders, and their country's diplomats and military officials sign the official surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri. The U.S. armed forces come home to signs saying, "Welcome Home" before they are greeted by mothers, wives, children and fellow neighbors. But before the series come to a close, there is one last parade to march in their honor.


Peter C. Rollins, "Victory at Sea: Cold War Epic," in: Gary R. Edgerton/Peter C Rollins (eds.), Television Histories. Shaping Collective Memory in the Media Age, Kentucky 2001, pp. 103-122.

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