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The Cruel Sea

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  5,691 ratings  ·  303 reviews
A powerful novel of the North Atlantic in World War II, this is the story of the British ships Compass Rose and Saltash and of their desparate cat-and-mouse game with Nazi U-boats. First published to great acclaim in 1951, The Cruel Sea remains a classic novel of endurance and daring.
Paperback, 520 pages
Published March 14th 2000 by Burford Books (first published June 15th 1951)
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Average rating 4.21  · 
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 ·  5,691 ratings  ·  303 reviews

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Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“[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 money’s worth out of them. The hateful struggle, to be effective, demanded one hundred ...more
Philip Allan
Oct 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
All fiction is said to be autobiographical, and there are few books where this is more apparent than in The Cruel Sea. It was written shortly after the Second World War by an author whose wartime experience on the convoy routes of the North Atlantic closely mirrored those that he portrays. Indeed, the career of Nicholas Monsarrat, both before the war and during it, are virtually identical to that of Lieutenant Lockhart in the novel. As a result, it feels closer to reportage at times than ...more
Bit of a disappointment, one of those books in which I was glad the characters had different names, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to tell them apart, can't really call it a novel because there isn't a plot as such, the title is misleading, the sea isn't cruel, if at the end of the war the surviving ship's crew were celebrating on the beach and then swamped by a freak wave and dragged under to their watery deaths then - ok, the sea would have been cruel, but throughout the book the sea is ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013

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
A.L. Sowards
There are so many good things to say about this novel. The characters and the situations felt so real. Action, angst, humor, growth—it’s got all the stuff of a great novel. It showed so many aspects of the war at sea—the melding of men into an effective crew, the challenging weather, the u-boats, and the strain the long war put on relationships back home. War brought out the best in some of the men, like Lockhart. The stress was too much for others—yet even some of those men who didn’t quite ...more
David Eppenstein
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am an admitted fan of the Age of Fighting Sail genre of literature. I have read all of Patrick O'Brian, Richard Woodman, and slowly working my way through C.S. Forester. So a good sea yarn is likely to catch my eye. Because of the intriguing review of a GR friend (thanks Matt) I went looking for and ordered this book, "The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monsarrat and I think it is one of the best, maybe the best, sea adventure I have ever read.

Unlike all of my previous reading adventures at sea this
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The best 2nd World War novel I've read. I felt to be living through those years, sharing all the experiences described – whether at sea on a corvette and then a frigate or on land. Masterly character studies throughout.

I kept thinking of Moby Dick whilst reading this. Both set at sea of course and the various crews are closely observed in each. The capains couldn't be more different - Ahab in Moby Dick and Ericson here. Perhaps it is the fight against the elements and the U Boat (Moby Dick)?

Bevan Lewis
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an exceptional book of World War 2 and of the sea. With deep authenticity derived from the author's own experiences, and conveyed through unpretentious but powerful prose, the story and characters are brilliantly drawn. Through the initial fitting out of one of the first corvettes, through travails on the high seas, tragedy and small triumph, this is a book that is difficult to put aside.
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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).
Jul 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
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 ...more
Roman Clodia
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A superb book, as good at depicting ordinary lives as it is at portraying the 'big' heroic moments. Based around a corvette, the Compass Rose, built to escort Atlantic convoys and protect against German u-boat attacks, we meet the men who sail on her from the quiet, steady Captain Ericson, to the newly commissioned officers fresh from their pre-war jobs in banks and newspapers.

There's nothing flashy or 'modern' about this book, it's told in a steady, sober voice, starts at the beginning of the
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, audiobooks, bbc
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. The crew are mostly inexperienced men from non-naval backgrounds and the story focuses on their differing reactions to the horrifying experiences they have as German U-boats attack their convoys with increasing success. Some will survive the war, and some won't - but all of them will be changed by their experiences.

But this isn't
Harv Griffin
May 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A stirring novel of warfare. This tells the story of the gallant corvette the Compass Rose and later the Saltash, and those who sailed upon them. Each vessel has the unenviable job of escorting conveys safely through the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic. It was a time when the battle for supremacy could have gone either way.

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
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Rob Roy
Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
For those who like books glorifying war, this is not for you. Rather it is the tail of men against the sea and a determined enemy. It is about boredom, terror, and doing the job. It is a sailor’s view of war, but you need not be a sailor to enjoy it. Set in the Atlantic throughout World War II, it traces a Captain and his Number One from 1939 through 1945. The real star of the novel is however in the title, the Cruel Sea.
A novel that exposes the mercilessness of the North Atlantic U-Boat war. Monsarrat gives life to the relentless character of both enemies -- man and nature. Arguably the best novel of war at sea.
Daniel Villines
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
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
What's the worst that could happen to you after your ship was sunk by a submarine ?
Your buddies are closing in on your cluster of shivering men in vests, ready to whisk you to the safety of hot soup. Then the sonar picks up the U-Boat's position. It is right underneath you. After a moment's hesitation, the standing orders are clear: engage and destroy the enemy at all costs. A convoy that lingers to rescue survivors is like a herd huddled around a lame beast. The wolves are circling. The depth
This is a memoir written as fiction. It is gripping and a page turner. This is an all time favorite of mine. I love the movie as well.
Huw Rhys
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Erik Graff
Nov 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  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 ...more
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Not awful.
You know those bad, stereotypical WWII films that used to litter the late, late show? This book is one of those, in print. Noble young men striving -- nay, Striving Mightily against Cruel Fate. Or in this case, the Cruel Sea. And, you know, Jerry.
That's this book: Cartoonish characters and dialogue; OK action sequences; a lot of heroic Posing & Musing; possibly the worst romance ever set in print. Appallingly snobbish.
All of which conspires to make it sound slightly worse than it
Dec 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-classics
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
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: GeeVee
Recommended to Bettie by: Brazilliant Laura
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Vance does a marvelous job narrating this audiobook & that helped me to assign this rating. WW2 books are not generally the type of book I like to read but this story about the battle of the Atlantic was excellent. It not only shows the reader about the tension-filled convoy duty being stalked by U-boats but the effects of the weather and the dull jobs when docked and the various personal problems that arise when a man is gone for long periods of time (even in couples who are used
Nov 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked the book very much - although there are some, which explore the topics better (war topic, seafaring, ..), this one combines a lot of mines and it is well written powerful story. Go for it.
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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 ...more
“ 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.” 1 likes
“stations on board, the fo’c’sle had been allotted to” 0 likes
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