Victory at Sea

Victory at Sea is a documentary television series about warfare in general during World War II, and naval warfare in particular, as well as the use of industry in warfare. It was originally broadcast by NBC in the USA in 1952–1953. It was condensed into a film in 1954. Excerpts from the music soundtrack, by Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett, were re-recorded and sold as record albums. The original Victory at Sea TV broadcasts comprised 26 half-hour segments—Sunday afternoons at 3pm (EST) in most markets—starting on October 26, 1952 and ending on May 3, 1953. The series, which won an Emmy award in 1954 as “best public affairs program”, played an important part in establishing historic “compilation” documentaries as a viable television genre.

The project was conceived by Henry Salomon,  who while a U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander 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, composed largely of newsreel veterans, searched 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, of Victory at Sea, 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 been broadcast in 40 foreign markets. NBC created a feature-length (89-minute) motion picture condensation. The feature-length version was narrated by Alexander Scourby who replaced Leonard Graves, the narrator of the 26-part series. NBC made a distribution deal with United Artists and the film debuted in mid-1954. NBC also prepared another, 79-minute, condensation for broadcast, and it debuted on 29 December 1960 in a 90-minute evening slot as part of NBC’s “Project Twenty” (“Project XX”) series, which itself was established in 1955 as an offshoot of original “Victory at Sea” production unit.

Victory at Sea won many honors including the Emmy and Peabody Award. For most modern viewers the score, script, and narration retain their appeal, but some knowledgeable viewers criticize the editing for anachronistic sequences—for example, ships and aircraft of 1943–45 are in 1941–42 segments.

Here we present all 26 original 30-minute patriotic episodes of the famous stories on how WWII was won, covering all hemispheres, strategies and the most significant battles. Victory at Sea contains interviews and original film footage from the 40s.


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