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on 2 April 2015
Royal Navy cruiser, HMS Ulysses, leads a convoy of destroyers, carriers and merchant ships deep into the Arctic Circle, heading for Murmansk with vital supplies for a beleaguered Russian Army. Waiting for them is a U-boat wolf pack and some of the worst winter weather of the war. Their orders are to get through at any cost but no-one can predict just how high that cost will turn out to be.

Alistair MacLean's debut novel is arguably also his best and it ranks easily alongside Monsarratt's "The Cruel Sea" as an exemplary account of the Allied Convoy War. Taking his inspiration from his own extensive experience as an RN sailor in the Atlantic and Arctic convoys there is a strong feeling of verisimilitude to this story; but the sheer quality of his writing is also worthy of note.

The novel introduces the Ulysses as a ship with a broken and troubled crew, close to mutiny and exhausted beyond recall from previous forays into the Arctic. However, MacLean continues to build the pressure on the ship by throwing at it the most appalling weather conditions and the privations of a ruthless, determined and resourceful enemy. The attrition rate is high, both in terms of the ships and the physical and mental health of their crews. MacLean does occasionally resort to some common war story tropes and cliches and one or two frankly unlikely coincidences in order to maintain the tension and atmosphere. This is perhaps a forgivable crime because "HMS Ulysses" really is an unrelentingly compelling and indeed deeply moving page-turner of a novel. One wonders whether there is at least /some/ exaggeration for dramatic effect: on the other hand I worried that perhaps there was none and that the navy and merchant crews really did suffer as terribly as MacLean recounts here. Either way, this is an impressive piece of story telling and a true "must-read".
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on 24 January 2016
A great book of a ship on the Artic convoys. HMS ULYSSES was a escort ship her story is a tale of great courage of the men of the Merchant Navy of conditions at sea which meant certain death for so many brave sea men in the war against the German U-boats. When only a handful of ships made it .and so many went down in the freezing waters of the artic seas. The men who served on these convoys have only recently been honoured . This book is a book that tells us what conditions were like and is a great credit to those brave men who went well beyond the call of duty, and of the Admiralty who took them for granted.
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on 4 May 2016
From beginning to end the book magnificently provides an honest, brutal description of the suffering both physical and mental endured by the sailors of the Arctic Convoys. There is no sentiment here just raw fact and emotion. This is not a tale of the plucky underdogs overcoming the odds. Oh no. This is a tale of the underdog getting beat up, picked up and beat up again -over and over. The book gives the reader no break. Horror is piled on horror and the despair and fatigue suffered by the crews is masterfully conveyed by Mr MacLean. A masterpiece of technical understanding and clever storytelling makes it a book you won't put down
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on 9 April 2012
You may think that's an exaggeration but for me, having read a lot of books of all kinds over the years, it's true. Have you ever read a paragraph, midway through a book, that made you stop? Just stop. Then read it again. And then once more, just because it completely takes your breath away. I never had until I read "HMS Ulysses".
I had never read any Alistair MacLean even though many of his titles were familiar from films. Reader reviews steered me to this book and I will always be glad they did. Rarely can a writer transport you to a time, place and environment you can't possibly imagine, and immerse you in it so fully.
I stand by my title for this review. If you are not convinced, find the passage, "At 2230 Ulysses crossed the Arctic Circle. The monster struck.", then read on for the following page and tell me you don't stop reading and just stare, open-mouthed and with goose bumps for at least a minute or two.
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on 7 August 2014
Surely the most powerful story written about the Murmansk convoys in World War II; certainly the most powerful story I have read about any campaign in that war. Yes, 'The Cruel Sea' does give it close competition and is more typical of the Navy's operation in northern waters; in 'HMS Ulysses' incident is is piled upon incident in an unremitting sequence giving it raw power. I didn't serve in the RN until a decade later but there were still enough survivors of that time to hear them confirm the realism of individual incidents in 'HMS Ulysses'. No, they weren't giving the popular messdeck 'fourteen days on one wave' stories; they were not bantering. They didn't banter about the Murmansk convoys. 'HMS Ulysses' is a classic.

My only criticism is not of the book itself; it's of the sloppy editing on the Kindle version, especially towards the end. I get the impression that many Kindle books are scanned from the actual printed version using OCR software straight into the Kindle file. I have no problem with that but I do wish that the publishers would just read the OCR output for typos first before publishing. OCR software is good but not perfect. Good but not perfect does not do justice to writing of this quality.
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on 13 January 2018
This is the novel that started MacLean's writing career and what a novel! Ever since I first read it in the 1960's, I have read it on average every 5 years. It is a novel that can make you shiver with the Arctic cold, it gets under your skin and stays there!!
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on 2 December 2016
Bought this in paperback, oh so long ago when it was first published. The way Maclean wrote, making the ship seem to be a living thing was sincerely emotional, the thriller story a compelling read. I was then a committed Maclean enthusiast and have been ever since. Looking forward to reading this again on my Kindle.
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on 16 December 2010
I first read HMS Ulysses just after I left school. It was somewhat easier to get into than Nicholas Monsarrat's `The Cruel Sea' (itself an excellent story and on the school book list at the time - though I found it too much like hard workthen and returned to it later in life) whilst sharing similar subject matter. The characterisations in MacLean's book are excellent and so are the descriptions of the harsh environment and the vesssels within which the action takes place. Sometimes the pace of the story feels a little too fast and the enemy actions can feel a bit contrived - though I'm mindful that Alistair MacLean was in the Navy and has a far better idea than I will ever have of the battles fought. The book captures the feelings of its characters well though and, by the speed with which it progresses to its inevitable conclusion, makes you feel part of their suffering. I highly recommend this ebook with the proviso that some basic words in the earlier passages have accidentally been altered in the Kindle translation process and sit incongruously within the sentence - they're obvious misprints and do not affect the enjoyment of the story. It was an absolute joy to re-read this book after so many years!
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on 28 January 2014
I first read this book in the years just following its publication (the 1950s?)and had more or less forgotten about it. A month or so ago,.however, BBCTV showed a documentary about the first of the Russian Convoys in World War Two and it suddenly brought HMS Ulysses back to my mind. I quickly downloaded it to my Kindle and began to re-read it there and then. I expected to find it rather dated compared to what you would expect to find in a similar tale by a current writer..This expectation lasted for barely the first few pages. Thereafter I was drawn into one of the most gripping, and harrowing, narratives I've ever read. I found myself hoping against hope that Ulysses would survrive the horrors of the convoy as most of the ships around it were sent to the bottom. I found myself quite overcome when its inevitable end came as it went down attacking the enemy with its few guns still functioning still blasting away.
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on 28 November 2010
I enjoyed some of Maclean's novels as a boy and from nostalgia, I read this one since it had the reputation of being his best.

The author served in a similar ship to the Ulysses and so writes passionately and competently. The action is fast and furious. The characters aren't necessarily deep or convincing and cliches abound but that need not detract from a story well told.

It's a pity that as with Irvine Welsh after his first masterpiece, Alistair Maclean drifted and ran low on ideas after his first book, becoming ever less convincing. If you only read one of his books, make it HMS Ulysses.
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