He intended to practise law. The law failed to inspire him, however, and he turned instead to writing, moving to London and supporting himself as a freelance writer for newspapers while writing four novels and a play in the space of five years He later commented in his autobiography that the Invergordon Naval Mutiny influenced his interest in politics and social and economic issues after college. His lifelong love of sailing made him a capable naval officer, and Born on Rodney Street in Liverpool, Monsarrat was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge. The law failed to inspire him, however, and he turned instead to writing, moving to London and supporting himself as a freelance writer for newspapers while writing four novels and a play in the space of five years —

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Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental. He was educated at Winchester and then at Trinity College, Cambridge where he studied law. Well known for his concise story telling and tense narrative, he became one of the most successful novelists of the twentieth century, whose rich and varied collection bears the hallmarks of a truly gifted master of his craft.

If I have inadvertently used the names of men who did in fact serve in the Atlantic during the war, I apologise to them for so doing. Where I have mentioned actual war appointments, such as Flag-Officer-in-Charge at Liverpool or Glasgow, the characters who are portrayed in such appointments have no connexion whatsoever with their actual incumbents; and if there was a W.

Before the Curtain This is the story — the long and true story — of one ocean, two ships, and about a hundred and fifty men. It is a long story because it deals with a long and brutal battle, the worst of any war. It has two ships because one was sunk, and had to be replaced. It has a hundred and fifty men because that is a manageable number of people to tell a story about.

Above all, it is a true story because that is the only kind worth telling. First, the ocean, the steep Atlantic stream. The map will tell you what that looks like: three-cornered, three thousand miles across and a thousand fathoms deep, bounded by the European coastline and half of Africa, and the vast American continent on the other side: open at the top, like a champagne glass, and at the bottom, like a municipal rubbish dumper.

What the map will not tell you is the strength and fury of that ocean, its moods, its violence, its gentle balm, its treachery: what men can do with it, and what it can do with men. But this story will tell you all that. Then the ship, the first of the two, the doomed one.

At the moment she seems far from doomed: she is new, untried, lying in a river that lacks the tang of salt water, waiting for the men to man her.

She is a corvette, a new type of escort ship, an experiment designed to meet a desperate situation still over the horizon. Lastly, the men, the hundred and fifty men. They come on the stage in twos and threes: some are early, some are late, some, like this pretty ship, are doomed.

When they are all assembled, they are a company of sailors. They have women, at least a hundred and fifty women, loving them, or tied to them, or glad to see the last of them as they go to war. But the men are the stars of this story.

The only heroines are the ships: and the only villain the cruel sea itself. At the moment the wrinkles were complicated by a frown. It was not a worried frown — if Ericson was susceptible to worry he did not show it to the world; it was simply a frown of concentration, a tribute to a problem. Through the window and across the dock, right under his competent eye, was a ship: an untidy grey ship, mottled with red lead, noisy with riveting, dirty with an accumulation of wood shavings, cotton waste, and empty paint drums.

The file and the ship were connected, bound together by the frown on his face. For the ship was his: he was to commission and to command HMS Compass Rose, and at this moment he did not wholly like the idea. It was a dislike, a doubt, compounded of a lot of things which ordinarily he would have taken in his stride, if indeed he had noticed them at all. Compass Rose was nothing out of the ordinary; it had to be a flower name because she was one of the new Flower Class corvettes, and Ericson smiled to himself by the time they got down to Pansy and Stinkwort and Love-in-the-Mist, no one would think anything of Compass Rose.

Those were trivialities, anyway. Perhaps the real trouble had to do with this precise moment of history, the start of a war. Ericson had been just too young to be closely involved in World War I: now he was secretly wondering if he were not too old to play a worthwhile part in the second round of the same struggle. At the moment he had, as his novel responsibility, a new job, a new ship, and a new crew. In theory he was proud of them all; in practice, he was unsure of the ordeal and concerned about his fitness for it.

He felt remarkably out of practice. He loved the sea, though not blindly: it was the cynical, self-contemptuous love of a man for a mistress whom he distrusts profoundly but cannot do without.

Far East Lines had been a tough crowd: progress was slow, with the threat of dismissal always poised: in ten years he had only had command of one ship, an old two-thousand-ton freighter slowly pounding herself to bits on the Dutch East Indies run. It was not a good introduction to responsibility in war. And now here he was, almost masquerading as Lieut. A fighting ship. He raised his eyes from the interminable office boy job of checking stores, and looked at Compass Rose again.

She was odd, definitely odd, even making allowances for her present unfinished state. She was two hundred feet long, broad, chunky, and graceless: designed purely for anti-submarine work, and not much more than a floating platform for depth-charges, she was the prototype of a class of ship which could be produced quickly and cheaply in the future, to meet the urgent demands of convoy escort.

The depth-charge rails aft led over a whaler-type stern — aesthetically deplorable, but effective enough at sea. Ericson knew ships, and he could guess how this one was going to behave. She would be hot in summer — there was no forced draught ventilation, and no refrigerator — and cold, wet, and uncomfortable at most other times.

She would be a natural bastard in any kind of seaway, and in a full Atlantic gale she would be thrown about like a chip of wood. And that was really all you could say about her — except that she was his, and that, whatever her drawbacks and imperfections, he had to get her going and make her work.

The crew he was less worried about. Both the discipline and the habit of command instilled by the Royal Navy died very hard: Ericson knew that he had them still. All things being equal, he could handle those men, he could make them do what he wanted — if he knew himself.

The advance guard of a dozen key ratings had already arrived, to take charge in their various departments — gunnery, depth-charges, asdic, telegraphy, signalling, engine room. And his officers — a First Lieutenant and two subs — could make a hash of anything he might want to do with the ship. Ericson frowned again, and then stopped frowning.

Whatever his doubts, they were not to show: that was a cardinal rule. He bent to his desk again, wishing he could develop some sort of a taste for paperwork: wishing also that his First Lieutenant, whose work incidentally should have included the file in front of him, was a slightly more reassuring character. Bennett looked tough, and knew it, and liked it: everything about him — the red face, the stocky figure, the cap worn at an unusual angle — all proclaimed the homespun sailorman with no frills and no nonsense.

That was the picture he had of himself, and with luck it was going to carry him through the war: certainly it had got him his present job, aided by fast talking and a selection board preoccupied with more important things than sifting claims about past exploits.

Chance had found him in England at the outbreak of war, instead of clerking in a shipping office in Sydney: his commission in the Volunteer Reserve was undeniable: the rest had been easy — an anti-submarine course, an interview in London, and the job of First Lieutenant in Compass Rose.

And meanwhile he was First Lieutenant of this little crap barge, and he was going to act the part. But Tallow, like the Captain, was a product of the Navy, which meant, above all, acceptance of the current job and the current circumstances: only in the subtlest ways and none of them destructive would he indicate that this sort of thing was not what he was used to. Not working proper routine yet, sir.

Tallow tried again. The Captain looked up, and then turned in his chair. One of them, the elder one, was tall, black-haired, thin-faced: he had a watchful air, as though feeling his way in a situation which only needed a little time to fall into its proper category, alongside hundreds of other situations which he had dealt with competently and effectively in the past.

The other one was a simpler edition altogether: short, fair, immature — a very young man in a proud uniform, and not yet sure that he deserved the distinction.

He waited for one of them to speak, knowing well which of them it would be.

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Nicholas Monsarrat

Start your review of The Cruel Sea Write a review Shelves: classic-novels , historical-fiction [T]hat was the way the war was going; the individual had to retreat or submerge, the simple unfeeling pair of hands must come to the fore. The emphasis was now on the tireless machine of war; men were parts of this machine, and so they must remain, till they fulfilled their function or wore out. If, in the process, they did wear out, it was bad luck on the men but not bad luck on the war, which had had its moneys worth out of them. The hateful struggle, to be effective, demanded one hundred percent from many millions of individual people; death was in this category of demand, and, lower down the list, the cancellation of humanity was an essential element of the total price. How can it be? Catch


The Cruel Sea

They were both very smart: number one doeskin jackets, gloves, gas masks — they might have stepped straight out of the Manual of Training. The Captain, in his old serge working jacket with the faded gold lace, seemed theatrically shabby by comparison. The Captain smiled, and waved his hand round the room. The two young men saluted, somewhat uncertainly, and made for the door. The proper drill is for you to take your cap off when you come in. They could hear the friendliness in his voice. But they seemed willing, and the older one, Lockhart, had some common sense, by the look of him.


The Visitor, his only play, fell into the same category. The story of a young, idealistic, aspiring writer coming to grips with the "real world" for the first time, it is at least partly autobiographical. Based on his own wartime service, it followed the young naval officer Keith Lockhart through a series of postings in corvettes and frigates. It was one of the first novels to depict life aboard the vital, but unglamorous, "small ships" of World War II—ships for which the sea was as much a threat as the Germans. The similar Three Corvettes and comprising H.

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