Seventy-five years ago, in August 1945, the greatest naval war ever fought came to an end. World War II at sea was unequaled in terms of geographic extent, forces involved, and impact on the art and science of naval warfare. The story of this six-year-long struggle undoubtedly teaches many lessons, but from the perspective of 75 years, it also is true that events that once seemed important have lost significance; interpretations once considered canon are being reconsidered.1
For example, did Britain nearly lose the Battle of the Atlantic? In the 1970s, a prominent historian wrote, “It is a matter of history now how close the Allies came to defeat in the Atlantic during the first three months of 1943.”2 Today, however, most historians regard this campaign with a cooler eye and agree that the situation was never so dire. Distance has diminished passion and permits a more nuanced perspective.
1. See Richard B. Frank, Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War, July 1937–May 1942 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2020). Frank dates the naval war from the Japanese attack on Shanghai in 1937. Others, such as the Italian historian Enrico Cernuschi, consider the naval war to have started with the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
2. Peter Kemp, Decision at Sea: The Convoy Escorts (New York: Elsevier-Dutton, 1978), 105.
3. Craig Symonds, World War II at Sea: A Global History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Evan Mawdsley, The War for the Seas: A Maritime History of World War II (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019).
4. Symonds, World War II at Sea, 641. Mawdsley, The War for the Seas, 478.
5. V. D. Dotsenko, Flot – Voina – Pobeda 1941–1945 (St. Petersburg, Russia: Sudostroenie, 1995), 21. Translation courtesy of Stephen McLaughlin.
6. D. K. Brown, Nelson to Vanguard: Warship Design and Development 1923–1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 33.