World War II ended almost 80 years ago, and to this day one of the most enduring documentaries about it remains the TV series “Victory at Sea.” Released only eight years after the war ended, and while the Korean War still raged, it originally aired on NBC, premiering October 26, 1952.
Produced by Henry Salomon, a former U.S. Navy Lt. Commander during World War II, the film condenses thousands of feet of original film, shot by combat cameramen on both sides, often while under enemy fire, into 26 half-hour segments. The series’ opening episode, “Design for War,” takes us back to September 1939. The German army is rolling into Poland and its navy’s U-boat wolfpacks are dominating the Atlantic, sinking allied shipping at will.
In the ensuing episodes, this fascinating combat footage takes us throughout the course of the war: the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the D-Day invasion of France, the island-hopping battles in the Pacific and ultimately the Allied victory. In the final episode, “Design for Peace,” we witness the dawn of the atomic age, the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, war’s aftermath and some of the most emotional scenes ever put to film, as surviving servicemen return home from the war to reunite with their families.
Equally impressive is the series soundtrack. Performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra with music composed by award-winners Richard Rodgers and Robert Bennett, the soundtrack was turned into an album on RCA and has become a classic in its own right.
The series was so successful, it has played in more than 40 international markets, with NBC coming out with a 90-minute movie version. This Emmy award-winning documentary’s black-and-white footage, coupled with the challenges and limitations of 1952 technology, only add to its authenticity, beauty and sense of realism when watching today.
To view the entire series for free on Youtube, click here.