The Cruel Sea is one of the best known seafaring books by author Nicholas Monsarrat. Written in 1951, it is a fictional retelling of the experience of corvettes in the Battle of the Atlantic, written by someone who lived through it. Telling the escort duties of the fictional HMS Compass Rose until the ship is torpedoed and the surviving crew moved to the HMS Saltash to see out the war.
The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monsarrat
The Cruel Sea, written in 1951, is one of the best known seafaring books by author Nicholas Monsarrat.
About The Cruel Sea
Written by a Royal Navy officer who served in corvettes and on convoys, drawing on his experiences and written less than ten years after the end of the war, The Cruel Sea is considered the best novel about the Battle of the Atlantic, and one of the greatest war novels of all time. It is not an easy read: it is realistic about the casualty figures, the injuries, and the hard choices the escort captains had to make.
Unusually for a war story it doesn't end with the sinking of the ship. The HMS Compass Rose is torpedoed, but instead of ending the story it follows the few survivors onto the HMS Saltash, and their continued service until the end of the war, as this is the story of people, not a single ship.
The Cruel Sea is not a Boy's Own adventure - it is about the grinding terror of escort duty in the Battle of the Atlantic day after day, escorting unarmoured merchant ships across the Atlantic in danger from convoy raiders and U-boats and knowing that this is Britain's only lifeline. The reward for completing that duty? To do it again, and again, to keep family and friends alive.
A Review of The Cruel Sea
"The best novel to come out of world war two..." Charles McCain
The real-life story of a convoy - HMS Jervis Bay and convoy HX84
The HMS Jervis Bay was the sole convoy escort for convoy HX84 which was ambushed by a pocket battleship, the Admiral Scheer. The heroism of the Jervis Bay, protecting the convoy at the cost of their lives, earned the Captain a Victoria Cross.
The Cruel Sea on film
The novel was brought to screen by Ealing Studios, in a critically acclaimed film. With a cast including Jack Hawkins. Donald Sinden and Denholm Elliot, directed by Karl Friend, it was released to massive critical and audience acclaim.
It pulled no punches, and in a country where rationing and food shortages were still common, and the effects of the war were still being felt, it struck a chord with the audience. Given the high casualty figures in the UK, many of the people watching it for the first time would have lost people they had known in the war.