Tackling the major fronts one by one, he splices the big picture with vignettes of sailors, pilots, merchantmen and submariners battling to tether (or tear apart) the land theaters on which armies fought. Though Mr. Symonds doesn’t claim primacy of naval warfare during the great cataclysm, his montage of battles, geography and technology makes the case for naval power as a prerequisite for global power projection in general and the Allied victory in particular ... He navigates the narrow channel between oversimplifying the story and slowing the book’s pace by describing every turn of a rudder, making the narrative’s 647 pages enjoyable without being rushed ... In capitals from Tokyo to London, war at sea was a numbers game: Construction schedules, losses and ship tonnage determined where and when the belligerents would strike. Mr. Symonds presents these abstract considerations in a clear and uncluttered way ... A thoroughly enjoyable read, World War II at Sea sweeps its glass across the world’s oceans and deftly recounts battles that shaped the course of history’s greatest war.
It is a sign of an outstanding historian if he can take a subject that has been the focus of an almost monumental amount of detailed scholarship and bring all that research together in a coherent narrative. It is the sign of an excellent writer and storyteller if he can make that same story compelling from the first page to the last. Craig L. Symonds manages to do both in less than eight hundred pages in his new maritime history of World War II ... Symonds doesn’t lose the biographies of the players in this global drama by focusing on grand strategy and fleet movements. Alongside the drama of battles, personalities are analyzed and sketched against the backdrop of war. Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt and Mussolini get their due. Assessments of naval leaders like Yamamoto, King, Spruance, Donitz and Halsey are balanced and deftly handled ... With all the detail, with a helpful selection of maps and photographs, and with ample notes and a useful bibliography as well as index, this is a volume that belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in World War II. Its great strength, a compelling narrative, could have been drowned in detail. Instead, the mastery of detail supports the narrative trajectory to create a history that doesn’t let up until the combat is over.
Symonds...has not simply provided a narrative history of naval warfare during World War II but also meticulously analyzed its various aspects ... An overarching theme is the U.S. ability to manufacture vessels faster than German and Japanese forces could sink them ... A scholarly yet extremely accessible work that will be of value to anyone interested in World War II; this will likely be a new standard on the topic.