Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

How the War Was Won
Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II

$29.99 (T)

Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: January 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108716895

$ 29.99 (T)

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:

Looking for an examination copy?

This title is not currently available for examination. However, if you are interested in the title for your course we can consider offering an examination copy. To register your interest please contact providing details of the course you are teaching.

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • World War II is usually seen as a titanic land battle, decided by mass armies, most importantly those on the Eastern Front. Phillips Payson O'Brien shows us the war in a completely different light. In this compelling new history of the Allied path to victory, he argues that in terms of production, technology and economic power, the war was far more a contest of air and sea than of land supremacy. He shows how the Allies developed a predominance of air and sea power which put unbearable pressure on Germany and Japan's entire war-fighting machine from Europe and the Mediterranean to the Pacific. Air and sea power dramatically expanded the area of battle and allowed the Allies to destroy over half of the Axis' equipment before it had even reached the traditional 'battlefield'. Battles such as El Alamein, Stalingrad and Kursk did not win World War II; air and sea power did.

    • Transforms our understanding of the war by showing that the Second World War was not won on the battlefield but in the air, on the seas and in the factories
    • Reveals that the Eastern Front (and the entire land war) was less important than historians have argued and that Anglo-American air and sea power were considerably more important
    • Shows how controlling mobility is more important than overwhelming firepower in military success
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    'It has become the conventional wisdom that the Soviet Union won the Second World War with only minor contributions from the United States and Great Britain. Phillips Payson O'Brien has written a superb rejoinder to such nonsense in a work that represents a major contribution to our understanding of that terrible conflict. It needs to be read by anyone interested in World War II.' Williamson Murray, author of A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War

    'This is a book anyone interested in the Second World War will want to read. It refocuses the story of the war away from the battlefield, to the air and the sea, and also to the transit depot, the maintenance facility, the training base. This is an imaginative, cliché-busting work which lays bare exactly when, how and where the Axis lost the war.' David Edgerton, author of Britain's War Machine: Weapons, Resources and Experts in the Second World War and Warfare State: Britain, 1920–1970

    'This extremely serious book attempts to re-evaluate World War II not in terms of great battles … but in terms of production, mobility, and economics. O'Brien argues that victory or defeat in World War II must be seen during preproduction, production, and deployment … The work focuses on equipment, mobility, and détente … Especially for graduate students, professors of military history, and those generally interested in the history of Europe or the Far East. Summing up: essential.' R. Higham, Choice

    'A novel, provocative, and well-written study based on extensive documentary sources on both sides of the Atlantic. Its author's conviction that 'the effectiveness of tactical air power over strategic … was the most important lesson of the war, one that remains true to this day' makes the book worth careful reading. With his emphasis on degrading an enemy's 'mobility' (perhaps a nod to Basil H. Liddell Hart's 'indirect approach'?) Phillips Payson O'Brien offers a way forward for those working on 'AirSea Battle', area access, and area denial problems in modern warfare. His work will engage and instruct historians of World War II as well as current military officers, strategists, and decision-makers.' Christopher Rein, Michigan War Studies Review

    'Such a thoroughgoing revision of the history of the war will outrage many historians. … This is a brave, important and impressively researched book, and all who have written on the Second World War will have to consider O’Brien’s cogent arguments.' A. W. Purdue, The Times Higher Education Supplement

    'Phillips Payson O’Brien’s book is revisionist history at its best: thoughtful, well grounded in secondary and primary sources, and provocative. It is a mature work, the result of several years of research and reflection. … O’Brien deserves high praise for writing a book that will force scholars to think hard about the nature of World War II and perhaps also about the nature of modern warfare in general.' Talbot C. Imlay, The Journal of Modern History

    ‘… recommended …’ Geoffrey Till, The Naval Review

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108716895
    • length: 654 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 35 mm
    • weight: 0.95kg
    • contains: 100 b/w illus. 8 maps 33 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The dominance of air and sea production
    2. The air and sea war and the phases of equipment destruction
    3. The air and sea war to November 1940
    4. Grand strategists and the air and sea war
    5. Understanding the air and sea war from December 1940 to March 1942
    6. Grand strategy in action, prioritizing the air and sea war
    7. Winning the shipping war
    8. The war in Europe in 1943: strategic bombing and the land war
    9. The war in Europe in 1944
    10. The air and sea war against Japan, 1942–4
    11. The end of the war
    Conclusion: the supremacy of air and sea power and the control of mobility

  • Author

    Phillips Payson O'Brien, University of St Andrews, Scotland
    Phillips Payson O'Brien gained a Ph.D. in History after two years working on Wall Street. Since then, he has published a range of works on British and American strategic and political history during the first half of the twentieth century. More recently, he has taken a leading role as a commentator on defence issues and the debate over Scottish Independence. He has testified in front of UK parliamentary committees, and advised major European governments on the course of the campaign. Through this work he has gained media experience, appearing as a regular commentator for the BBC and STV, and publishing opinion pieces in the Scotsman and the Scottish Herald. He has received awards or research fellowships from the Carnegie Foundation, the US Naval History and Heritage Command, and the Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt Presidential libraries. He has also been invited to Japan twice to speak on World War II at the National Institute of Defence Studies (Tokyo).

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×
warning icon

Turn stock notifications on?

You must be signed in to your Cambridge account to turn product stock notifications on or off.

Sign in Create a Cambridge account arrow icon

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.