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Victory at Sea (1952) – DVD Review

Victory at Sea DVD cover art


Directed by M. Clay Adams
Narrated by Leonard Graves

Released by: A&E/The History Channel.
Rating: NR (some of the combat footage may be too much for little kiddos)
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: War buffs should own.

Seven years after the end of World War II, someone at NBC thought it would be a good idea to get some of the footage that was taken during the war that had never been seen by the American public, edit it for television, and present it. This was unprecedented. Clocking in at twenty-six one-hour half-hour episodes, this documentary completely changed America’s outlook on the War. For the first time, they were shown American soldiers and sailors in the line of fire and, in some cases, being wounded or killed. It is for this reason that I put the warning on the ratings above that some of the images of dead bodies may be too much for younger audiences. When you add in the fact that the score was written by Tony and Academy Award winning composer Richard Rodgers and that it was narrated by Leonard Graves, this series couldn’t lose. (Editor’s Note: Please see Paul’s helpful correction below regarding the credit on the musical scoring for both Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett.)

[ad#longpost]If you are a student of history, you simply must not miss this. In some cases, it’s a little slow and the narration is lacking, but the score more than makes up for this deficiency. Perhaps the best reason to watch this series is the unbelievable amount of vintage WWII footage provided and the stories behind some of the biggest battles in the war. In addition to the stories that still hold their resilience today (Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Tripoli, Midway, Tokyo, etc.), there were literally hundreds of tales that I have never even heard of (the battles of the Southern Atlantic, the United States’ protection of its Alaskan interests, etc.). Granted, some of the footage was staged for this presentation well after war had ended, but it doesn’t take away from the overall impact of the entire piece.

There are several items that I can think of that might have been added to this set in the way of bonus material that are very obviously lacking. First, let me point out that what the back of the DVD case lists as a bonus feature was included when The History Channel decided to re-broadcast this monumental series in its entirety, which is that each episode is introduced by Peter Graves (who is quick to point out that there is no relation between he and Leonard). When you factor that in, there is nothing in the way of bonus material.

Here are my suggestions for some additions for the next time this is released to DVD: How about a timeline for each of the episodes? You know, something that gives you just a little snapshot of not only what happened, but in what order they happened. The more animated and interactive these can be the better. Also, some interviews with noted historians would be a nice addition about the historical significance of the series itself. After all, this caused quite a bit of controversy when it first came out. After all, people had never seen this footage before and it was quite shocking to see footage of dead American soldiers.

Victory at Sea Victory at Sea

At the very least, this documentary should be seen by everyone. These are, arguably, the most important events of the 20th Century and this is a wonderful presentation of them. Don’t miss out. Go get it right now.

Buy it from Amazon.
Buy the soundtrack from Amazon.


  • Small correction: These are half-hour, not one-hour episodes. Everyone justifiably notes how important the musical score is to the effect of this documentary series. Therefore, it is too bad that Robert Russell Bennett does not get the credit he deserves for it. Rodgers wrote only the “themes.” It was Bennett who orchestrated them, expanded them into the lengthy score, and conducted the orchestra.

  • Paul: Thanks for the help. I’ve corrected the time of the episodes and updated with a pointer to your explanation. Much appreciated.

  • The History Channel version has poor sound quality. Amazingly enough the Mill Creek DVD version has better video and much, much improved audio quality. And it’s only about $10 for the set!