Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II
Paul Kennedy, with paintings by Ian Marshall
Some years back noted historian Paul Kennedy agreed to write an introduction and accompanying text for a book his friend Ian Marshall was putting together. A renowned marine artist, Marshall planned a new collection of his paintings in a book titled “Fighting Warships of the Second World War.” For Kennedy the opportunity offered a diversion from his more serious histories. Then, in 2016 Marshall died. Kennedy wanted the project to continue as a tribute to his friend. With Marshall dead it became Kennedy’s book.
Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II, by Paul Kennedy, (with paintings by Ian Marshall) is the result. Instead of using his text to explain the artwork, Kennedy did something more ambitious. He used Marshall’s paintings to illustrate how over the course of roughly ten years the world changed.
In 1936 it was a multipolar world centered on Europe. Britain, France, Germany and Italy dominated (with the Soviet Union, the United States and Japan providing outlying centers of power). It finished as a bipolar world dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. Moreover, while Europe dominated the world in 1936, by 1946 dominance had transferred to Asia and North America. Moreover, he shows the role sea power played in that transformation.
Kennedy recognized the paintings told a story of transformation. Marshall’s artwork captured the change from pre-war stability into the desperation of the early-war years and into the certainty of Allied victory by the middle war years. He decided to explore that transformation in the text.
The resulting book is broken into five parts. A prewar section explores the six great naval powers that entered the war (in order of power, Great Britain, the United States, France, Italy, and Germany). It looks at the capabilities of and expectations for these navies.
The second covers the early war from 1939 through 1942. These were the desperate years for the Allies captured in Marshall’s paintings of that period. A third section examines the pivotal year of 1943, when the Allied war machine went into full production. The fourth explore the war’s final two years (1944 and 1945), while the fifth examines the world that resulted from it. Each section offers fascinating insights into the conduct of the war and the role the participating navies played.
Victory at Sea will most interest two audiences; those interested in maritime history and those interested in maritime artwork. It holds little to interest model-makers or wargamers. Kennedy does his usual sterling job in explaining the tides of history in this book. Like Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars it is a magnificent strategic-level look at World War II. Kennedy’s exploration of sea power in projecting power and influencing the outcome of the war likely cannot be topped. Similarly, Marshall’s paintings offer a breathtaking view of World War II at sea. They touch on every aspect of the war from its origins to its conclusion. This book is highly recommended to both of those audiences.
- New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022
- 7” x 10”. Hardcover, 544 pages
- Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $37.50
- ISBN: 978-0300219173
Reviewed by: Mark Lardas, League City, Texas