It is relatively easy to talk, and to write, about ‘the Second World War’, but it is a formidable task to make a coherent story tying together all the parts which in reality were so imperfectly united. Mastering an immense range of sources in diverse languages is only the start. Mawdsley’s real achievement is to link so many ships and fleets and armies together and in such a way as to make sense of what was going on, showing why things happened when they did, how each part affected all the rest. He isn’t interested in the old question ‘Who won the war?’ so much as in what and how they won, and quotes the admiral, strategist and historian Herbert Richmond: ‘Sea power did not win the war itself: it enabled the war to be won.’
Mawdsley urges that the Royal Navy’s contribution to victory in 1945 deserves more credit than it usually receives. The price was high. While America made a handsome cash profit from victory, the British were left with strategic and financial debts they were unable to service, and never rebuilt their ravaged merchant fleet. He quotes the great naval thinker Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond: “Sea power did not win the war itself; it enabled the war to be won.” Mawdsley’s study illustrates this thesis, and is full of good sense, a commodity at as high a premium among today’s Britain’s historians as among its politicians.