Naval Warfare Books

Book reviews

The Cruel Sea

Monsarrat, Nicholas

1999, United States Naval Inst.
ISBN 1580800467
Paperback, 520 pages

Type. Novel
Pros. Overall excellent portrayal of escort duty
Cons. Anti-German bias

Nicholas Monsarrat served in the Royal Navy from 1940 to 1946, and brought firsthand experience to this story of the convoy escorts which battled the U-boats in World War II. His wartime experiences left him with intense feelings of bitterness and dislike toward U-boats and the men who served on them. This attitude is expressed openly in his preface to U-Boat 977, in which he deplores the "forgive and forget" attitude of the postwar years toward the U-boats and states that "if U-Boat 977 were not two things - a readable book and an engrossing piece of war history - I would not touch it with a depth charge".

Nevertheless, this book is an excellent account of life on convoy escort duty in the Atlantic. Telling the story of two corvettes, including the sinking of the vessel of the title, the narrative encompasses the entire course of the war. The maturing of the characters from green conscripts to experienced officers and men parallels the technical developments that marked the turn of the tide in the U-boat war and turned the hunters into the hunted. The grisly realities of the U-boat war, familiar to all its participants - skeletons bobbing in their life jackets, a lifeboat manned by a corpse whose hand frozen on the tiller steers the boat straight through a convoy - are presented in vivid images; the loneliness and strain of command, the dull despair of the shipwrecked, the gradual devouring of individual personalities by the huge, impersonal machine of war - all are captured by Monsarrat in gripping prose.

Review written by Tonya Allen.

Published on 26 Nov 1999.

This title is highly recommended.

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