on 30 November 2004
The Cruel Sea had been in my book shelf for years, as part of some book sale deal when I first opened it. Not knowing what to expect, I started reading with an open mind and found myself completely enclosed by the atmosphere of WW2.
The book, a literary masterpiece, slowly and humbly tells us stories of war, fighting and death as well as love, longing and comradeship. The characters so real and true, it is hard to believe this is not based on real events. Or should I say, of course it is! Montsarrat is well acquainted with naval affairs, having worked as an officer himself and having lived through the war. Of course characters resemble persons he has met and actions are of course depicted in the most realistic ways, I wouldn't know, being totally ignorant to naval ways.
What i do know, however, is that I still think this may be the best book I have ever read! Montsarrat was indeed a compelling author and i have tried to find more novels by him.
I recommend you to read this book, for no other reason than that it is wonderful literature.
The Cruel Sea is the story of the crew of a newly commissioned corvette, acting as an escort to merchant convoys during World War II. The crew is initially mostly inexperienced, from non-naval backgrounds. The plot focuses on their differing reactions to some of the horrifying experiences they have as the German U-boats attack their convoys with increasing success. Some will survive the war, and some won't - but all of them will be changed by their experiences.
Monsarrat served in corvettes himself during the war, and perhaps this is what gives the book an air of harsh reality. Although it is a fictionalised account, I found myself checking this part way through, because the story felt so real. Well worth reading - and if you enjoy this type of book, you may also enjoy H.M.S Ulysses, by Alistair MacLean.
on 8 July 2008
Simply superb, you will not read a better book about leadership, sacrifice and courage than this book. A wonderfully written book that brings home the realities of the longest battle in the second world war, the Battle for the Atlantic.
As a measure of how well regarded this book is by the Royal Navy, for those young RN officers undergoing training at Britannia Royal Naval College this book is given as a prize presented to the Cadet with the best performance in leadership.
This superb book tells the story of how Britain fared in the battle of the Atlantic, the longest continuous military campaign in World War II. It pitted the Allies against the superior U-Boats (which attacked in sinister-sounding "wolf-packs") and war ships of Germany and it lasted until May 1943, when the German forces were overcome by new uses of the technology available to British vessels (improved radar and sonar known as "asdics"). During this battle the Allies lost 36,200 sailors and 36,000 merchant seamen, and the Germans lost 30,000 sailers. In addition, the Germans lost only 783 submarines, while the Allies lost 3,500 merchant vessels and 175 warships. At the end of the war, Rear Admiral Leonard Murray, Commander-in-Chief Canadian North Atlantic, remarked, "...the Battle of the Atlantic was not won by any Navy or Air Force, it was won by the courage, fortitude and determination of the British and Allied Merchant Navy."
The statistics tell their own story but the individuals involved, in sometimes horrendous events, bring the numbers to life. The Compass Rose, a vessel known as a corvette - a small ship that was used to search out and attack U-Boats and also to pick up survivors from ships that had been sunk, is captained by Ericson and though there are personal problems between the initial No.1, Bennett, and his fellow officers, this is sorted out when he opts to remove himself, supposedly suffering from a duodenal ulcer. Captain Ericson and his new No.1, Lockhart, make a good team. The writing is brilliantly perceptive as long as the men are at sea and there is plenty of heart-in-mouth action here. The portrayal of men who have been torpedoed and are waiting to be picked up by rescue ships, was devastatingly realistic and horrendous.
On land, however, I felt Monsarrat had a jaded view of women. One working-class woman's portrait is particularly viciously drawn as she proceeds to neglect her sickly baby by leaving it alone all night while she's out having fun. No one doubts it happens, but it is odd that we only see the faults of one sex. All the problems men have in the book are caused by women, but there is only one unfaithful sailor, mentioned right at the end. Why raise this subject at all if not to apply blame - and what about the millions of women who were faithful?. Captain Ericson reflects on the history of Gregg (whose wife is another slut) and concludes that: "women, marriage and emotion should not play a part in war... Some women were worthless, and some were getting bored with the war: when the two things coincided, no result, however mean or sordid should ever come as a surprise." Later he compares unfaithful women to people doing nothing for the war effort, States such as Spain and Ireland, for instance. Airily, he concludes these are also degrees of unfaithfulness and: "one may forgive a woman an occasional cold spell, but not her continued and smiling repose in other men's arms." The conflation is stunningly inapt. How is it possible to compare female incontinence with a preference for neutrality among sovereign states? I find most of his remarks about women quite bizzarre. I tend to think I should overlook all this nonsense because the rest of the book is so good.
Elsewhere Monsarrat raises two approaches to the war in the persons of Hamshaw and Keys. Hamshaw the smug administrator earns Monsarrat's scorn by being content to be a sheltered cog in the war machine, while Keys is lambasted for his cynical belief that no one in this war is doing anything that won't promote their self interest. But these are just extremes and there are much larger forces that act upon people and much more compelling reasons for going to war. Not many young enlisted men believed they would die - few really believe it will happen to them. In the end there are only inadequate rationalisations for war. Most often, people do what they feel is right, or follow blindly behind the next man.
I feel Monsarrat's gifts for describing action and the actual conditions and events that these brave and honourable men came up against are wholly impressive. This novel is a wonderfully rousing account of the Battle for the Atlantic and a stirring and often poignant read.
on 21 December 2011
I have been waiting for The Cruel Sea to be published on kindle for over a year, To find it at last has made my day. It is my favourite book and written by a master of his trade. The characters are so real that you find yourself caught up with them. it is a fantastic read i had a paperback copy of this book and almost wore it out. You almost feel the atmosphere of what life on a small ship must have been like, You can smell the sea, You almost feel the roll of the sea. Iam only sorry that I cant give this book,A story of men against a common enemy, The cruel, cold, unforgiving sea more than five stars.
on 11 September 2009
Seldom have I read a book that is able to emulate the emotion and reality of the war at sea. There is something different and special with the way that Monserat has portrayed the life of "Compass Rose" a convoy escort, and the people involved. The ship is eventually sunk and some of the survivors go to a new ship and the story follows a number of the crew.
I have read a number of books on the stories of the convoys in the second world war but it is this fictional book that really makes me understand the misery and relief of surviving the convoys. It is difficult to explain this in a review and I would recommend anyone to read the book alongside any of the factual books and you will see what I mean.
Incidently, the BBC audio dramatisation (Donald Sinden, Phillip Madoc, Helen Baxendale and others)is also excellent.
on 17 July 2014
Since it was first published,over half a century ago,this has remained one of the very best novels ever written about the Second World War at sea.It ranks alongside Herman Wouks"The Caine Mutiny",and Alistair MacLean's "HMS Ulysses",and its depiction of that most desperate battle fought in the North Atlantic,which if lost,would have changed the course of world history,is outstanding.
The greatness of the authors writing is also encapsulated in his concern for the extreme hardships experienced by the civilian and military personnel alike,and the real problems of Command,when confronted by inadequate resourcing and a largely inexperienced"Hostilities Only"Ships company.This book is really how it was.
on 23 February 2007
I first studied this classic at high school in England. The author's knowledge and love of the sea and naval battles shine through. His characterisations and the motivations he gives his cast are well-thought out. He is able to bring the reader onto the corvettes during battles, skirmishes, slack times. Monsarrat superbly describes the brutality of war, the beauty of the landscapes and seascapes, romance, pride in what the sailors are trying to achieve. A masterpiece and thoroughly deserving of its reputation. Buy it!!