Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Two-Ocean War

Rate this book
Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison's The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the US Navy in the Second World War is a classic work, a grand and wholly engaging distillation of Morison's definitive fifteen-volume history of U.S. naval operations in World War II. Morison was a distinguished historian, a former Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University. But he also wrote as a participant in many of the events described in this volume: he served on eleven different ships during the war, emerging as a captain with seven battle stars on his service ribbons, having gone to sea specifically to be able to write in contact with the events covered.

Fully illustrated with 35 photographs and 54 charts and maps of key engagements, this is a blazing record of the action from Pearl Harbor to the long war of attrition between submarines and convoys in the Atlantic, through Midway and Guadalcanal, to the invasion of continental Europe, to Okinawa, Leyte, and the final grudging surrender of the Japanese. Morison's narrative is rich enough to reveal all levels of each wartime encounter, dramatizing the strategic arguments that went on between Churchill and King, between MacArthur and Nimitz, as well as highlighting the glory of individual feats of arms. The Two-Ocean War is a truly outstanding contribution to military history.

611 pages, paper

First published January 1, 1963

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Samuel Eliot Morison

324 books82 followers
Samuel Eliot Morison, son of John H. and Emily Marshall (Eliot) Morison, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 9 July 1887. He attended Noble’s School at Boston, and St. Paul’s at Concord, New Hampshire, before entering Harvard University, from which he was graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1908. He studied at the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques, Paris, France, in 1908-1909, and returned to Harvard for postgraduate work, receiving the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1912. Thereafter he became Instructor, first at the University of California in Berkeley, and in 1915 at Harvard. Except for three years (1922-1925) when he was Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford, England, and his periods of active duty during both World Wars, he remained continuously at Harvard University as lecturer and professor until his retirement in 1955.

He had World War I service as a private in the US Army, but not overseas. As he had done some preliminary studies on Finland for Colonel House’s Inquiry, he was detailed from the Army in January 1919 and attached to the Russian Division of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace, at Paris, his specialty being Finland and the Baltic States. He served as the American Delegate on the Baltic Commission of the Peace Conference until 17 June 1919, and shortly after returned to the United States. He became a full Professor at Harvard in 1925, and was appointed to the Jonathan Trumbull Chair in 1940. He also taught American History at Johns Hopkins University in 1941-1942.

Living up to his sea-going background – he has sailed in small boats and coastal craft all his life. In 1939-1940, he organized and commanded the Harvard Columbus Expedition which retraced the voyages of Columbus in sailing ships, barkentine Capitana and ketch Mary Otis. After crossing the Atlantic under sail to Spain and back, and examining all the shores visited by Columbus in the Caribbean, he wrote Admiral of the Ocean Sea, an outstanding biography of Columbus, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1943. He also wrote a shorter biography, Christopher Columbus, Mariner. With Maurico Obregon of Bogota, he surveyed and photographed the shores of the Caribbean by air and published an illustrated book The Caribbean as Columbus Saw It (1964).

Shortly after the United States entered World War II, Dr. Morison proposed to his friend President Roosevelt, to write the operational history of the US Navy from the inside, by taking part in operations and writing them up afterwards. The idea appealed to the President and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, and on 5 May 1942, Dr. Morison was commissioned Lieutenant Commander, US Naval Reserve, and was called at once to active duty. He subsequently advanced to the rank of Captain on 15 December 1945. His transfer to the Honorary Retired List of the Naval Reserve became effective on 1 August 1951, when he was promoted to Rear Admiral on the basis of combat awards.

In July-August 1942 he sailed with Commander Destroyer Squadron Thirteen (Captain John B. Heffernan, USN), on USS Buck, flagship, on convoy duty in the Atlantic. In October of that year, on USS Brooklyn with Captain Francis D. Denebrink, he participated in Operation TORCH (Allied landings in North and Northwestern Africa - 8 November 1942). In March 1943, while attached to Pacific Fleet Forces, he visited Noumea, Guadalcanal, Australia, and on Washington made a cruise with Vice Admiral W. A. Lee, Jr., USN. He also patrolled around Papua in motor torpedo boats, made three trips up “the Slot” on Honolulu, flagship of Commander Cruisers, Pacific Fleet (Rear Admiral W.W. Ainsworth, USN), and took part in the Battle of Kolombangara before returning to the mainland. Again in the Pacific War Area in September 1943, he participated in the Gilbert Islands operation on board USS Baltimore, under command of Captain Walter C. Calhoun, USN. For the remainder of the Winter he worked at Pearl Harbor, and in the Spring

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
682 (49%)
4 stars
463 (33%)
3 stars
192 (13%)
2 stars
36 (2%)
1 star
16 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews
Profile Image for Elisabeth.
Author 22 books175 followers
March 17, 2016
I picked up this book looking to get a big-picture grasp of naval operations in WWII to start a research project; and it proved to be exactly what I hoped. Morison gives a concise overview of the major campaigns and battles in which the U.S. Navy participated, and overall naval strategy throughout the war. For operation in which multiple branches of service were involved, such as amphibious invasions, he gives enough of an overview for the reader to understand the operation as a whole, but always focuses specifically on the Navy's role. The writing is crisp, lucid and easy to follow, with occasional unexpected flights into poetic description of the scene before a battle or a divertingly frank assessment of a commander's capabilities and character. It is not the place to come for political commentary—Morison's take on Pearl Harbor, for instance, is simplistic and wholly pro-Roosevelt (in fact he is pretty much pro-Roosevelt in all respects)—but fortunately, that's not what I came for. For a good clear overview of what happened when and where in the naval campaigns, it serves admirably well.
Profile Image for Michael Whitehead.
42 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2016
For most of my life I have had an interest in reading the WW II. Published in 1963 and written by the official historian for WW II of the US Navy, I believe that this is one of the better books written about the war. Samuel Elliott Morrison, a history Professor at Harvard, received a commission to in the Navvy and served on warships during the war. This volume is a condensed version of his 15 volume official history of the war.

He praises the actions of the Navy where needed and hands out criticism were merited. His prose, narrative and story-telling abilities are outstanding. I enjoyed the book.
Profile Image for Brian.
23 reviews2 followers
November 30, 2009
Perhaps the finest short naval history of WWII written in the old style...with all the limitations that implies. Ugly biases creep through at times, as I suppose they must when you consider the impact of the author's US Navy 'embedding' on his objectivity. Perhaps sitting through a kamikaze attack would skew anyone's impression of the enemy. Overall an excellent read despite this; particularly notable is the brutal campaign history of "the Slot" off Guadalcanal.
Profile Image for David Shaffer.
122 reviews4 followers
February 18, 2023
Just finished Samuel Eliot Morisson's, The Two-Ocean War. A short 586 page, which vividly describes both by theater and chronologically, the Naval War in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II.

Originally published in 1963, Morrison starts in inter-war years, and the beginning stages of the war and thematically alternating between the Pacific and Atlantic Wars.

Some of the highlights the problems caused by the German U Boats leading to the convoy system being implemented and the losses in merchant shipping early in the war, the early setbacks in the Pacific, folliwed by victories at Coral Sea and Midway, the Guadalcanal campaign, North Africa and Sicilian campaigns.

Morrison then spends several chapters in Pacific on the Solomons, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands, New Guinea and the Marianas, then jumps back to the Mediterranean and Italy and the Naval aspects of Overlord.

He finishes with the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the end of the war. While an ongoing topic, Morrison dedicates a section in the contributions of the submarine campaign in both theaters but concentrating on the Pacific where its contributions against both warships and Japanese merchant shipping were profound.

The best single volume on the Naval War I have read, and a solid 5 stars.
Profile Image for Joel Toppen.
70 reviews4 followers
November 28, 2020
A very readable account that nicely harmonizes United States Naval operations in the Atlantic theater with the Pacific theater. The writer gives an "insider's look" at the conflict from a naval perspective.
4 reviews
June 15, 2020
This is the single volume history of the USN in WWII that I recommend to friends.
Extremely easy and enjoyable to read.
Surprisingly broad overview for a book of its size. It includes more strategy, logistics, and administrative history than could be expected.
Lacks modern preconceived ideas about what was important. This means that often forgotten theaters, like they Med and central Solomons receive far more attention than in more modern works. Operations of the surface Navy and amphibious forces also receive more detailed treatment.

Aspects of the war which were classified at the time are not covered at all. This includes the entire intelligence apparatus. So there is no discussion of codebreaking, coastwatchers, ect.
Morrison knew most of the people he wrote about. People he didn't like got denigrated. This is especially apparent in the case of Frank J. Fletcher and William Halsey.
It is a decidedly naval history, so the perspective on inter service squabbles isn't always balanced.
Morrison was a friend of Franklin Roosevelt, so the perspective on him isn't really a balanced one. Theaters and ideas that Roosevelt were opposed to, like the Med, are unfairly criticized. Pre war and wartime failures of Roosevelt are ignored while since successes that should be attributed to other people are sometimes given to Roosevelt.
The book is so excellent that it forces me to buy the whole 15 volume series, and that was very expensive.

Overall the minor problems with the book do not outweigh the many positives. Even today there is but a better single volume treatment of the US naval service in WWII.
Profile Image for Henry.
54 reviews
June 9, 2012
Morison here offers a great one-volume summary of his History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II. It is the place to start if you want to learn about what the U.S. Navy did during the Second World War, which is certainly essentail to understanding the conflict.
Profile Image for Hank Hoeft.
377 reviews8 followers
August 15, 2022
This is the definitive one-volume history of the United States Navy in World War Two, by the U. S. Navy's official historian.
739 reviews2 followers
October 30, 2019
This is the basic and best history of the Navy in WWII. There is just the right amount of detail, and the amazing story is told as only a sailor could tell it.
A military historian or “Navy buff” might want to know more about, say, the Battle of Leyte Gulf or convoy operations in the Caribbean, but the coverage here would provide an excellent starting place for further research. And what better place to go for the details than the author’s definitive 15- volume history of naval operations in the War?
Profile Image for Gary Henson.
Author 15 books49 followers
June 24, 2020
Excellent historical telling of the Allies and Axis Naval conflicts during WWII.
I'm amazed at the depth and interest level Morison brought to a story that's been told by so many.
I'm off to find more by this author.
As a former US Navy Nuclear Submarine sailor I find these stories heart rending and scary as hell.
I don't know how I missed Morison's (1887-1976) books over the years but I'm going to catch up now.
I found a first printing copy on eBay and it sits on my ever expanding shelf of great books.
Highly recommend this book!
1,538 reviews45 followers
June 14, 2017
Very, very well written for a military non-fiction. Very readable with enough specifics to keep the reader well informed of the minutiae while continually focusing on the larger picture and personalities that drove the Naval war effort, still the whole book is a love story written by the Navy and for the Navy and reads as such.
Profile Image for Kevin Barnes.
224 reviews3 followers
August 24, 2018
A very good overview on what US Navy operations in World War Two were. Outside of the name dropping, I felt this book was clear and without to much fluff. The fact that he did not try and hide the bad issue that happened was also a change from most books on this subject. Worth the time to read for any who want to know what happened during those frightful years.
Profile Image for William Sariego.
182 reviews3 followers
December 8, 2018
This is an abridgment of the author's multi-volume work on the same subject. Informative and readable, it is a solid book for historians of the conflict. For an exciting and dynamic narrative, you might look elsewhere. I have an older edition and the print was quite small. Hope newer printings have corrected that. So it was slow reading but worthwhile.
Profile Image for Christian J.
172 reviews
July 10, 2017
This summary of naval warfare in WW 2 will leave the reader begging for more. I now wish to explore P.T. Boat engagements with vigor, all because of the far too brief narrative which Morison delivers.
95 reviews
November 19, 2021
This is an excellent book on the two ocean war the U. S. and it's allies fought in WW II. Morrison gives a great descriptions of the battles in both oceans and the success and failures of both navies and their leaders.
January 27, 2021
You have to want to know all there is to know about naval warfare to get through the book. It was worth reading ( I had to read three popcorn books in between chapters).
16 reviews
June 17, 2022
Although it is 600 pages, it's a quick read and a solid overview of the war in the Pacific without getting into too much detail
125 reviews
July 16, 2022
Excellent history of the United States Navy in World War II. Very readable. Maps are a little too technical. Highly recommended.
January 11, 2015
As others have noted, this is a single-volume distillation of Morison's definitive multi-volume account. Even though it still clocks in at just under 600 pages it can still feel condensed, riding a sometimes awkward line between breadth of detail and narrative depth. Morison is a classically-informed military historian, so casual readers might find his attention to the minute particulars of each engagement frustrating. However, he occasionally finds room to spark the imagination with an evocative detail (sailors' pet names for their ship, a German copy of "Murders in the Rue Morgue" bubbling up from the wreckage of a submarine).

As a reader, I'm usually more interested in the human stories behind the grand narratives of battle. So, I sometimes found myself struggling through Morison's litanies of tonnage and displacement, contact reports, bomb hits, kill counts, casualties, degrees of list, and so on (the chapters on submarine warfare suffered especially in this regard). Indeed, readers should expect a semi-specialized text with a good deal of jargon (including plenty of terms outside its own glossary) that presumes a fair bit of naval familiarity on the part of the reader, or willingness to answer one's own questions through further research.

Not that I take any of these to be deficiencies of Morison or the book per se, just some of the hazards of reading hard military history. I found that Morison was at his best in the heat of battle, where he does an excellent job of following the action minute by minute and infusing his pages with a palpable sense of the tone and tenor of each operation.

Readers should also not expect a particularly critical point of view. As a retired sailor himself, Morison is more or less straightforward in his militarism. He sees America's inter-war pacifism as unmitigated folly, and also occasionally is heard to mourn the passing of the pre-20th century period of colonial expansion. Writing in the depths of the Cold War, he expresses an unrepentant belief in the importance of American strategic dominance. He will sometimes preface a chapter with some comments on the political background of the operation at hand, often to bemoan the loss of tactical advantage through diplomatic sluggishness (Churchill comes off especially poorly in these passages).

In conclusion, I think this book could be a worthwhile jumping-off point for a detailed study of the topic, and useful as a quick reference when investigating this or that incident of the war. Scholars and other readers of intense interest will no doubt want to tackle this volume's mother-work. Readers more interested in the human face of the war, the political maneuvers behind it, the cultural impact on the nations that endured it, and other not-strictly-military topics, will probably want to look elsewhere.
Profile Image for Michael McCue.
564 reviews12 followers
February 26, 2017
Large comprehensive book that covers just about every movement of the US Navy in the 2nd World War.
Profile Image for Au Yong Chee Tuck.
30 reviews2 followers
December 13, 2012
The historian Mr Morison served with the US Navy and was later employed as an official historian. Therefore, such a work will be inevitably be biased in favor of the US Navy. It shows in the prose when Mr Morison described the adversaries as "the enemy" whereas the men of the US Navy were "our boys.

As an example, the sentence on page 457 read "The Japanese admiral (Kurita) was sadly bewildered by the way everything we had afloat or airborne went baldheaded for him."

The publisher has included a list of "Illustrations" and "Charts." But the paperback version has no photos, only the charts. If the photographs were omitted to keep down the price of the paperback version,the publisher should at least have deleted the list of "Illustrations" instead of retaining it to tantalize the readers.

It is no defense to argue that the bias was unavoidable. There are many other US naval histories of the Second World War era which do not show such a marked bias. For instance, one may consider "The Pacific War" by William Hopkins (Zenith Press, 2008).

One could also examine the works of other official historians outside the US Navy, for example, the US Army historian SLA Marshall's "Pork Chop Hill." In this work, Mr Marshall chose to call the enemy "the Communists" and he did not call the US Army officers and men "our boys."

The "Two Ocean War" is an abridgment of Mr Morison's fifteen volume definitive history of US naval operations in the war. Despite the shortcomings,readers who want the condensed version will find the book useful.

The Pacific War The Strategy, Politics, and Players that Won the War by William B. Hopkins Pork Chop Hill by S.L.A. Marshall
27 reviews
December 5, 2010
To paraphrase Morison, Americans in World War I left the reputation of a brave, almost foolhardy, amateur. World War II left the world with the knowledge that Americans were equal to all others in the practice of the art of war.

The Two Ocean War is an excellent overview of the US Navy's contributions to victory in World War II. It does a good job of putting into perspective fighting a war starting out woefully unprepared, the difficulty of maintaining and supplying fleets across oceans, and the complexity of fighting two very different enemies. Morison begins with the dreadful state of the Navy prior to Pearl Harbor. He then moves into the Atlantic, describing how the US began supplying allied forces by running convoys through the U-boat infested North Atlantic. The Pacific disasters of late 1941 and early 1942, Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Wake Island, and others are then described. The book then moves back and forth between the Atlantic and Pacific with how the Navy learned quickly, built ships faster, and created strategies and tactics which ultimately defeated Germany and Japan.

My only complaint with this book is how it sidestepped poor strategic decisions and blunders by US commanders. These included Halsey leaving Leyte Gulf undefended, Spruance and Mitscher not pursuing at the Philippine Sea, Nimitz not leapfrogging Pelelieu, and MacArthur's stubborn insistence on returning to the Philippines. I guess that is what we must expect from an "official" history.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the US Navy during World War II. It is an excellent overview that will leave a reader wanting to follow up with more focused histories of specific events.
74 reviews5 followers
December 3, 2010
Distilled from Morison's definitive fifteen volume set, The Two-Ocean War is a comprehensive recounting of WWII's naval war, detailing both the large fleet actions of the Pacific as well as the Allied struggles against the German U-Boats in the Atlantic. As Morison was attached to eleven ships during WWII for the express purpose of chronicling the war, he provides a unique historical perspective since he is both the writer and the source.

The book begins with the bumbling incompetence leading up to Pearl Harbor and the disaster in the Philippines and then details the daunting task of defeating U-Boats in the Atlantic. I knew how the story ends, but I felt a sense of impending doom nonetheless. The mood of the book quickly rebounds during the Battle of the Midway and the genius timing and calculation displayed Spruance. After Midway the book loses some momentum, but is still a great read till the end.

My biggest complaint is that I did not agree with Morison's generous treatment of Halsey's actions in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was very quick to disparage other commanders for lesser sins and I cannot help but think Morison's presumed membership of the Navy's elite compromised his objectivity.

Other points about this book is that it is loaded with maps and pictures, making it a beautiful volume. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in naval history.
Profile Image for Dpwarzyn.
110 reviews
October 13, 2012
Morison won two Pulitzers because he was a great writer. If you have any interest in the naval aspect of WWII, but don't know where to start, start here.

Those of us raised on a diet of Hollywood War Films need to forget everything and start from the baseline that winning the war was far from a foregone conclusion. We were behind enough of the time to have possibly sued for peace at any turn in the first two years. Bumbling incompetence and bureaucracy cost us dear. Lives were lost needlessly. We had our share of good luck, too. Midway was good luck, Having the Japs do such a piss-poor job of bombing Pearl Harbor was really good luck, and on and on.

This book undertakes the titanic (ha) struggle and makes it as readable as any thriller. Written before our code-breaking successes were declassified, events have a much more human feel. I've read it twice and will probably read it again, even tho I have 150 books to read on the shelf.

Morison wrote 15 volumes based on his placement as an historian by FDR on 10 or so warships all during the war. He saw it. This book extracts from the 15, and adds to them as well.

32 reviews2 followers
June 17, 2016
One of the more detailed accounts of the naval aspects of the Second World War, The Two-Ocean War enlightened me about how some of the broader tactical and strategic shifts that occurred during the conflict (i.e. the shift from battleship power to carrier power as the primary method of naval power projection) played out in the context of the blow-by-blow accounts of the major battles. Some of the larger points - the differing views on the role of naval support in the Atlantic theater vs the Pacific one of them - were newer to me, and are interesting to consider.

A note for the reader: Morison was literally a commander in the Naval Reserve during the war, and was commissioned by FDR to produce this work. It is not a dispassionate work. You will find our adversaries referred to as "Japs" and other terms here, and the actions of American service members are praised in ways that one would not find in later works of history. In that sense, The Two-Ocean War is interesting not simply as an examination of naval combat in WWII, but also our view of the conflict at a time when it was more proximate to us.

It was interesting finishing this one on the anniversary of D-Day.
Profile Image for Helen Foster.
Author 13 books37 followers
June 19, 2016
Someone else brought it home, but I found myself picking up and running off with The Two-Ocean War--Samuel Eliot Morison's 1963 history of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Morison captured me with his inimitable way of smoothing the reader's way forward. The story shuttles between the Atlantic and the Pacific, as newspaper headlines did for wartime readers. Morison gives a broad overview, pointing us to key factors--supplies, logistics, radar advances, tactical decisions by Doenitz and Yamamoto, vagaries of leadership style--but he does not shield us from vivid and specific descriptions of the horrible and costly realities of sea battle. Indeed, "your historian," as he calls himself, did serve in the Pacific. Nor does Morison mince words as he reviews battles and evaluates leadership and decisions--tactical error or brilliant move? But he also brings to life the key roles and accomplishments of ordinary sailors and small boats. Non-naval history buffs in another century may find themselves surprised and moved by Morison's achievement.
Profile Image for Adam.
25 reviews
July 12, 2007
One of the more difficult subjects to keep interesting over 500 pages, Morrison managed to describe battle after battle with sufficient tales of individual bravery, commentary on the significance of tactics and engagements, and grandiose, intense descriptions of incredible accomplishments, that it was actually a riveting page-turner. I came away from the book not only with a much more complete understanding of the naval aspects of World War II, but also a strong appreciation for the fantastic scale of the war and all that it entailed. It's simply incredible what the US and other nations accomplished when they truly put their mind to either conquering or saving the world. My only complaint, and a relatively minor one at that, was that Morrison often assumed that the reader was familiar with the various types of ships and airplanes employed by the different sides, and it would have been useful to have an appendix or running descriptions.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 57 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.