The Cruel Sea (Classics of War)
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The Cruel Sea (Classics of War)

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  2,458 ratings  ·  134 reviews
A powerful novel of the North Atlantic in World War II.
Paperback, 520 pages
Published March 14th 2000 by Burford Books (first published 1951)
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Secrets of the Realm by Bev StoutMaster and Commander by Patrick O'BrianTreasure Island by Robert Louis StevensonMoby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Nautical Novels
11th out of 211 books — 198 voters
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World War II Fiction
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Community Reviews

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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.

This applies equally to the characters in the book and to the author. First Lieutenant Lockhart is clearly based on Monsarrat own experiences in the war, serving on small escort ships for the Atlantic convoys. The account he gives has the flavor and the credibility of a documentary, an authenticity that cannot be faked and that puts Monsarr...more
I haven't read much fiction about WWII but I was motivated to read this because waaaaaay back in my late teens I read The Master Mariner, by the same author, a kind of Wandering Jew story covering the history of shipping from I can't remember how far back up to the age of oil super-tankers. It was good but frustrating in that Monsarrat died before completing it and most of the 20th Century exists only as a brief outline. This book being much more famous, I picked it up when I saw it reprinted an...more
Monsarrat created a set of characters on a British warship who, throughout the Second World War, I came to deeply care about. THOSE MEN BECAME SO REAL TO ME. I HURT WHEN THEY HURT. CELEBRATED WHEN THEY SURVIVED YET ANOTHER PATROL, be it on the North Atlantic or in the waters on or above the Arctic Circle (escorting merchant ships carrying goods to the USSR).
I got turned onto this book as a result of watching the great film starring Jack Hawkins (whose grizzled face as he contemplates his sunk ship is hair raising, as is his angry lament: "The war! The war! The bloody war!"). I enjoyed it immensely. Monsarrat clearly knows what he's talking about, and the story of the bravery of those men who protected the Atlantic Convoy from the German u-Boat "Wolf Packs" is one full of long periods of boredom interspersed with terrible, sudden tragedy. It's diffi...more
Harv Griffin
May 07, 2014 Harv Griffin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: WWII nuts
Shelves: own, reviewed
This is Nicholas Monsarrat's best work, in my opinion, and it falls into the "Must Read" category for WWII fans. Actually, it's the only Monsarrat book that really works for me as entertainment. I've read THE CRUEL SEA three times; every time the story just barely holds me to continue reading, and every time I find myself haunted for weeks afterward by some of the scenes. Is it a "Masterpiece?" Maybe.

Monsarrat writes with a staid, formal "British" prose, somewhat at odds with the occasional typo...more
I feel like this was one of the most important books I've ever read.

"... the time for sensibility was past, gentleness was outdated, and feeling need not come again till the unfeeling job was over." p. 106.

"Saltash's crew was almost double the size of Compass Rose's, and sometimes it seemed that they were twice the distance away as well, and twice as anonymous. There was no one like Gregg, the seaman with the unfaithful wife, there was no one like Wainwright to cherish the depth charges, there w...more
Daniel Villines
I enjoy war stories because they hold the potential for human extremes, and examining extreme situations provides a better perspective on everyday life. Within The Cruel Sea these extremes present themselves as unimaginable situations; situations that humans must live through in order to survive. Situations where every action, every decision, is absolutely right regardless of the judgments that may be imposed after the fact, in a relative calm, or in a comparative sanctuary of safety.

This book f...more
This is an excellent novel about the brutal Battle of the Atlantic told principally from the perspective of two officers tasked to escort convoys in the North Atlantic. The novel chronicles their harrowing life at sea and also details the difficulties of leadership.

Most of the maritime books I've read about this era have been by submariners (I occasionally, accidentally found myself thinking from their perspective), so this was a treat for me. Also, many of the books I've read about naval warfar...more
Along with the Caine Mutiny, this is considered by many as the great sea novel of World War II. It's truly outstanding, written by a former Royal Navy officer who drew on his own harrowing adventures for the basic narrative. It's remarkable the author survived the war, and the story he tells is remarkable too, not just for its plot, but with its frank depiction of the whole range of emotions he and his men felt - from rare boredom to outright fea - and the very human way in which they dealt with...more
This has to be one of the most well known novels about the Second World War and I finished it thinking it deserved to be so. There’s an authenticity to it that is evident throughout the pages and I found myself reading many of the set pieces thinking that it was written from genuine experience. It’s a work of fiction, but you know some of these things actually happened. What gives it increased authority is that the author has created a set of characters that you can believe in to tell the tale o...more
Erik Graff
Nov 07, 2010 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: WW2 naval warfare fans
Recommended to Erik by: Einar Graff
Shelves: literature
I've kept a list of books finished since the middle of college and can be sure to include all of them in GoodResds. For books earlier than that matters are less certain. Some books are, of course, outstanding, but the bulk of them, the childrens' books and the fictions read in a day, are lost to memory. Dad's moved many times, sacrificing a bit of the family library with each move. I myself have more than once divested myself of books, having traded in almost all softcovers to paperback exchange...more
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in February 1999.

The Cruel Sea is one of the classic novels of the Second World War. It is the story of the Battle of the Atlantic, the struggle between the German U-boats and the British convoys keeping Britain supplied - and in the war. Not only did the two sides have each other to fight, but the Atlantic itself was always ready to claim another victim.

Monsarrat picks two men - Ericson, a regular navy officer from before the war, and Lockhart, a volunteer f...more
Huw Rhys
Just brilliant.

This had been on my "to read" list for years. The notion of "war at sea" is not one that comes easily to me. I once had an argument with someone whilst rowing on Roath Park Lake. I got scared, because I was in a position of conflict with about 2 feet of water below me. It reminded me of the time, one balmy June day, when the clinker I was rowing in on the very warm Isis river sprung a leak. Two of the scariest moments of my life.

So reading a book about large ships in sub-zero temp...more
Doug Norton
I identified with this book’s characters very strongly at my first reading, while growing up in a (U.S.) navy family. My bond grew deeper on subsequent readings, after my own naval experiences, including being skipper of a vessel about the size of HMS Compass Rose (though under much less perilous circumstances). In my opinion Monsarrat gets it all exactly right, from the challenge of maneuvering a quirky vessel in harbor, to the relationships forged in combat, to the feel of a huge ocean in a sm...more
Gary Letham
The film of the book has been one of my favourite war films for many years. It is a powerful exploration of the nature of war, especially so soon after the end of the war. I was interested to see how the book compared to the film. After so many viewings it was very hard not to see Ericson as Jack Hawkins & Lockhart as Donald Sinden. I quickly got past this perceived problem and found the film very very similar to the book. Obviously parts didn't make the final cut but it no way detracts from...more
John Wagner
Royal Navy 150 years after Patrick O'Brien's tales. Despite the rather lame title this is an excellent character driven book. You can tell the author knows what he's talking about and has been there to experience. Somewhat reminds me of The Naked and the Dead which was also written right after the war while fresh in the author's mind.

Since this is about the people who tried to kill German U-boats, it makes me want to read Das Boot to see the other side.
I should have read this book years ago. A great novel about the British Navy and their battle against Germany's U-boats as the former escorted convoys of merchant ships with much needed cargoes for the war effort. Having gone to sea for a few years, I thoroughly enjoyed the description of heavy seas and the plight of the crew in coping.
Written in 1951 when memories were very fresh, this book is a painful reminder of human toll of war and specifically the British navy's epic fight to keep the sea lanes open as U-boats tried to starve out the UK in 1940-1942.. Also known as the battle of the atlantic
Mark Speed
A most extraordinary and realistic account of the Battle of the Atlantic from a veteran of the conflict. I was introduced to this novel at the tender age of ten in school, just thirty years after the end of WWII. I still remember us reading certain passages to our English teacher David Hall.

I've sailed in the merciless winds and waves of the North Atlantic in the summer. Even with that experience I find it difficult to imagine what life was like for the men of both sides during the winter months...more
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
The Cruel Sea is the story of the crew of a newly commissioned corvette, Compass Rose, a ship that forms part of the escort to merchant convoys during World War II.
Jade Heslin
I feel a little bit guilty for not liking this. It is based on the author’s real life experience in a World War II Naval Corvette, and so finding it boring would be deemed disrespectful. It was boring though. It was one of the most boring things I’ve ever read. In my defence, I’m a 26 year old female with no interest in the war, or the Navy, or anything to do with any of this. Even the love stories (which the author had doubtlessly thrown in for all the women out there) bored me. Boring, borin...more
russell barnes
For a novel delivered in a perfunctory, businesslike style, this is a surprisingly affecting tale of life and death on the Atlantic during WW2.

I suppose this theatre of war has probably been the least explored in fiction, and Monsarrat's never-ending watches on the bridge, which were draining enough to read let alone endure, probably offer some glimpse as to why this might be: Ships might be going down, and the seas might be swarming with submarines, but you were just as likely to spend a whole...more
you are in a destroyer
you are at sea
you are cold and wet
you are reading a great book
Carey Combe
Mar 08, 2012 Carey Combe rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Bettie, Hayes, Laura, Claire
Shelves: wwii
A really unusual, but highly moving account of this aspect of WWII. Loved it.
My dad loaned this book to me and never got it back. It's definitely one of the top five of all time. If there were a way to give it 6 stars, I would. Even if you do not like "military books," or history, or even nonfiction, this book will knock your socks off. I don't know how Monsarrat does it, but he can somehow write prose that not only allows you to easily distinguish from a huge cast of characters (including the ships! and the sea itself!) but make them so colorfully and dramatically real...more
Список "Книжный "ТОП 200" по версии BBC" прямо говоря вызывает некоторое недоумение, по крайней мере, на первый взгляд. Когда же выясняется КАК и КЕМ он был составлен вопросы почти отпадают - все эти 14 Ж.Уилсон и 14 же книг Т.Пратчетта, 8 произведений Р.Даля и 7 Диккенса, книги про Гарри Поттера и романы Остин... В общем, поиски чего-то действительно интересного и стоящего в этом списке будут долгими (но не безрезультатными). "Жестокое море" Николас Монсаррата - это как раз та жемчужина, котора...more
I remembered seeing the movie version of this book long ago as a young boy. Later, my work involved military contracts with the U.S. Navy during which I was able to spend many months aboard various Naval ships including aircraft carriers and merchant class ships including one called the U.S.S Compass Island in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. During these times we experienced several very large storms so I saw first hand how powerful the sea could be. I've always loved Navy adventure stories a...more
Nick C
What a cracking read. Not just a tale of derring-do and back home for tea and medals either, it's subtle and sophisticated (like moi) and packed full of insight and emotional intelligence (once again like moi).

The writing is a bit dated (first published 1951) especially re 'love making' (yuk) and it's not really an ideas book, but my word, who needs that when you've got this epic story laid out for you.

I glean from the potted bio' that Nicholas Monsarrat is a copper bottomed (naval term there...more
Au Yong Chee Tuck
This novel remains a classic since the first publication by Cassell in 1951. Such a book could only have been written by someone who had been there, done that.

For the sailors, there would be no phony war. Their war started when hostilities was declared and ended only when the U boats surrendered. In between there could only be struggles - against the unseen enemy as much as against the elements and the sea.

The characters in the novel develop and change with the progress of the war. It was all t...more
Edward Rush
First read this in my early teens and the vignettes relating to adultery profoundly shocked me at the time. Rereading as a less moralistic adult, they have lost their power to upset, but I still can relate to the fear that sailors must have experienced about this during war. That aside, interesting for the very frank expressions of sex and the capturing of what gender relations were like at the time. The horror of naval warfare is well-evoked. A good yarn for the commute.
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Born on Rodney Street in Liverpool, Monsarrat was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge. 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 (1934–1939). He later commented in his autobiograph...more
More about Nicholas Monsarrat...
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“ eyes as level as a foot rule, with wrinkles at the corners—the product of humour and of twenty years' staring at a thousand horizons.” 0 likes
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