This is the third volume of the four volume Official History of the War at Sea written by S.W. Roskill. It is therefore to be approached as a text with its own history first published in 1960 and reprinted in 2004 by The Naval & Military Press. One immediate question to ask is - why pay money for an out of date history that is clearly written from a Anglocentric point of view, is forced to completely ignore if not obsfucate the significant role of Ultra intercepts, and is at times rather muted in making historical judgements that others of more polemical bent have not hesitated from in suceeding years?
Before that question is addressed, some description of the structure of the book would be in order. As began to be the case in the second volume, the narrative is done by theater of operation such as Battle of the Atlantic, The Mediterranean Campaigns, Home Waters and the Artic, and so on. The mere listing of these topics illustrates one of the main themes of this volume - the overstrech of British naval resources to the tasks at hand. These narrative streams are futher broken into two time blocks, June to December 1943 and January to May 1944.
Returning to the question at hand, the reason for reading this book is that it was written less than 15 years after the end of the war and the author knew, had met, or had access to most of the British participants at the command level. Here and there in the story are anecdotes of individuals of rare nature who made an impression on the Navy, often for small but significant deeds. Also and most disturbingly, are hints and turns of phrase that indicate that even in mid 1943, the fear of losing the war still existed. Only in retrospect did victory seem inevitable after a certain point and Roskill does not allow that hindsight to set the point. There is a sense of immediacy and connection with the emotions of command and control elements of the RN all through the war in this series. It is not history from the bottom but its view of history from the top is informed by understanding of the real conditions of men struggling to kill each other at sea. There is also respect of the skills and bravery of opponents though not an "objective" and deliberate balancing of skills and abilities as had been done recently with those accessing archives and material from all sides.
As this 2004 edition is essentially a photocopy of the original, the great photographs are seriously degraded and the wonderful fold out battle maps of the original printing are now black and white on page illustrations, still useful but not the same. I am lucky enough to have the first two volumes from HMSO and they are irreplaceable.