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The Cruel Sea (Classics of War) Paperback – March 14, 2000
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From Library Journal
One of the classic naval adventure stories of World War II, Monsarrat's novel tells the tale of two British ships trying to escape destruction by wolf pack U-boats hunting in the North Atlantic. The book was a smash when released in 1951, going through numerous printings. This is the first paperback edition available in ages.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"An impressive novel, portraying the war at sea with emotion, drama, tenderness and terror." (Chicago Tribune)
"Powerful...the dominant quality of this sturdy novel is compassion." (Atlantic Monthly)
"A whale of a story...Solidly conceived and well executed."
Top customer reviews
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Unlike all of my previous reading adventures at sea this one does not take place during the Napoleonic Era but covers England's WWII years from 1939 to 1945. In light of the years involved the book is a bit long but there isn't a single page I would edit out as it is that good. The book is fiction and covers the life of a convoy escort ships in the Royal Navy. Initially it focuses on one small, very small, corvette at the beginning of the war. Unlike my previous reading of naval adventures this tale does not center on the exploits of a heroic captain and his fearless crew of English tars. The author masterfully develops the officers and many of the crew as an entity, a family as it were, engaged in an activity where everyone has their part to play and all play that part well because the others are depending on him. The crew can readily be identified as the author's protagonist at least in the first half of the book.
In a later portion of the book the captain and the first officer become much more the focus and center of the action as the nature of the war has evolved as these two officer note with regret. The familial nature of the ship's crew is altered and the men become more like inanimate parts of an efficient fighting machine bent on the destruction of their enemy. The way the author portrays this evolution of sensitive, humanistic, beings into men that suppress feelings, are unmoved by suffering and death even of their friends and loved ones is quite compelling but there is more.
What really impressed me was the author's portrayal of life at sea during this time and in these convoy situations on the North Atlantic. These convoys were utterly boring, brutally uncomfortable and cold, and indescribably terrifying and the author manages to deliver this life to the reader. I once worked with a man that was in the U.S. Merchant Marine in WWII and what he told me about those voyages was accurately portrayed in this book. My friend described leaving port with scores of other ships in a convoy that might cover 20 miles of ocean. As soon as you left port you were on radio silence and at night you were in complete blackout. In rough seas which were frequent you were riding waves that might be 50 feet or more high and then descending into troughs of these waves. In such conditions you lose sight of the horizon and the visual contact with the other ships. It was not uncommon not to see any other ship in your convoy until your reached your destination. At night in such conditions the disorientation in total darkness is as frightening as the thought of a torpedo attack. You never know if another ship as gotten off course or out of place and may suddenly appear headed directly and unavoidably at your ship. During storms where maintaining agreed courses and speeds was impossible convoys were scattered and the threat of collisions became very real. Of course it was the stray member of a convoy that was the most vulnerable to U-boat attack as well. It was in describing these conditions where the author's talent and his war time naval experience was most evident.
While this is a novel set during WWII there is surprisingly minimal combat action and what there is is fairly one-sided. The nature of submarine warfare seems to defy any notion or idea of a fair fight. U-Boats sneak up on unsuspecting ships and fire their submerged missiles. The target of such an attack usually has no idea of the impending attack until he has been struck and that was frequently too late to either avoid or prepare for. Convoy escorts respond to such attacks or, using new technology, detect the presence of a submarine and start dropping depth charges on the U-boat which has no way to respond once detected. The action in such events in a game of hide and seek requiring cunning and patience, lots of patience. Again, this type of warfare is superbly demonstrated. This book gave me an entirely different and enhanced regard for sailors of this period and for merchant seamen and their sacrifices which are rarely noted but for which England would probably have not survived Hitler's onslaught. (less)
This is a rousing tale, but it is also poignant and it's certainly well written. I really enjoy these themes of battling against the elements with near impossible odds, and this novel delivers in that department. I enjoyed the story more when the Compass Rose took centre stage. I felt that the crew who sailed on her were better presented, and the Compass Rose took on a life of her own. Wonderful descriptions of ship life under very adverse and trying conditions and the sea, the cruel sea......well you felt you were on the decks of the Compass Rose battling the mighty Atlantic.