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Monsarrat at Sea Hardcover – 1 Jan 1975
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The second part are clearly novellas, but based on the authors experiences.
All in all, a compelling book
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The interesting thing about Monsarrat's memoir is the almost entire absence of action. There are relatively few passages about attacking or being attacked by U-Boats, E-Boats or German Aircraft. Most of the attention is focused on the normal pedestrian difficulty of life at sea in a small ship. The most common foe is the weather, especially in North Atlantic Winter. Monsarrat also does a good job of recreating the blend of tedium and fear of standing bridge watch during endless winter nights, trying to stay warm and dry while waiting for one of the merchant ships to be torpedoed. Monsarrat also excels in describing the aftermath of the U-Boat attacks. The oil soaked bodies pulled from the sea frozen in their life-jackets, the crew of the oil tanker faced with a choice of burning to death aboard their ship or jumping into the frozen Atlantic with seas running too high for other ships to rescue them. There is one story that sticks with me. One dawn a lookout on Monsarrat's ship sites a life raft with three men, half dead from exposure. The seas are too rough and cold for swimmers so the ship throws a line to the raft. One of the survivors ties the line to the raft and, after great exertion; two of the three men are rescued. The line parts. The crew throw another line, but the remaining survivor makes no move to grasp it. The deck officer on the corvette tells one of the rescued survivors that the man must grasp the line or, in this sea, nothing can be done for him. The rescued man tells the officer, "He can't. He has broken a leg and both arms. He told us to go first." Eventually the corvette must move on, leaving the man to his fate. As the ship pulls away, the man waves good-bye.
Aside from the core of the book, the short stories are pretty good as well. Monsarrat is a good writer, with something of a gift from describing interior thoughts of the protagonist. There is also a fair amount of humor in the books to relieve the gloom. For example, one morning on the way out of harbor, Monsarrat querys the local lightship "Did the Germans lay any mines here last night?" the lightship replies "We'll know in a minute, you're the first ship out".
At the end of the day this is an excellent book about what it was really like to be a watch officer in one of the "small ships" that kept Britain supplied during WWII and won the Battle of the Atlantic. I recommend it without reservation.
The best part are the signals exchanged from ship to ship, often witty, at times poignant. Other signals recounted may be apocryphal, but such a good story.
A German warplane was circling the convoy outside of gun range, and a destroyer radioed, "You are making me dizzy. Go round the other way."
"With pleasure," replied the aircraft, which promptly reversed and circled the other way.
Another small warship was riding the waves of the North Sea when word came over the wireless to "Commence hostilities against Japan forthwith."
The captain turned to his number one and ordered, "Commence hostilities against Japan forthwith." Number One saluted and said, "aye, aye, sir!" Meanwhile one little ship kept bucking the waves, thousands of miles from Japan and any possibility of carrying out such an order, watching for U-boats and mines.
This is an anthology of three books, with the first of the trio being the best. You do need to have an understanding of the British approach to life and the British Navy in order to understand all of the remarks and asides.
This book is well worth the search to find it. I've had this copy some fifteen years, and reread it periodically with great pleasure.