In this acclaimed adaptation of Nicholas Monserrat?s epic international bestseller, Jack Hawkins stars as the all-too-human commander of a small convoy escort vessel during the brutal Battle Of The North Atlantic. Amidst a... more »n ocean that churns with equal parts heroism and horror, the captain and inexperienced crew of the HMS Compass Rose must wage a constant battle for survival against sudden torpedo attacks by Nazi U-boats as well as the unforgiving cruelty of the sea itself. Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Donald Sinden and Virginia McKenna co-star in this classic drama that was nominated for three British Academy Awards ? including Best British Actor for Hawkins and Best Film ? that still stands as one of most gripping motion pictures ever made about courage, carnage and the grim realities of men in combat« less
"This book literally changed my life.In the eleventh grade in Greenville, South Carolina, i had an English teacher who designated Thursday as "Free Reading Day" and encouraged the entire class to read anything they wanted to (well, within limits -- "Playboy" would have been Right Out, i'm sure.) -- and, in case you had nothing of your own, she laid out an assortment of magazines and books on a table at the front of the room.On that table, one Thursday, was a copy of "The Cruel Sea". Since i've always been at least a bit interested in sea stories, and it looked interesting, i picked it up. From the first i was hooked solidly.In the next three or so years, i reread it twice at least, possibly more than that.And then i joined the Navy -- and i am sure that it was because of what i read in this book, and what i sensed behind it, in what Monsarrat -- who, like his viewpoint character, Lockhart, was there from the beginning, working his way up to command his own ship before the end of the war -- didn't so much say as assume about the sea and the Navy -- *any* Navy.Monsarrat presents us here with a brotherhood of the sea, corny as that idea may sound. Sailors, more than the other Armed Forces, tend to regard other sailors -- even enemy sailors -- as brothers in arms, and, as Monsarrat says, the only true enemy is the cruel sea itself.As he shows us here, the sailor who was your enemy five minutes ago, who was trying to kill you as you tried to kill him, is merely another survivor to be rescued from the cruel sea once you've sunk his ship.And, even more so, as Monsarrat portrays it, there is a kind of brotherhood that binds sailors in the same Navy together in very mcuh a family manner -- you may not like your cousin, but you want to know what's happening to him and, when all is said and done, he IS your relative.The best summation of this sort of attitude (which i felt to some extent myself during my time in the US Navy) comes when Ericson, the Captain, is touring his new ship as she stands under construction in a Glasgow shipyard; he meets one of his future officers, and mentions the name of his previous ship, which was lost with over three-quarters of her crew, and realises that"He's heard about 'Compass Rose', he probably remembers the exact details--that she went down in seven minutes, that we lost eighty men out of ninety-one. He knows all about it, like everyone else in the Navy, whether they're in destroyers in the Mediterranean or attached to the base at Scapa Flow: it's part of the linked feeling, part of the fact of family bereavement. Thousands of sailors felt personally sad when they read about her loss; Johnson was one of them, though he'd never been within a thousand miles of 'Compass Rose' and had never heard her name before."To be part of a band of brothers like that is a proud thing, and Monsarrat captures it perfectly.He also captures the terrified boredom of being in enemy territory with nothing happening as you wait for the enemy to make the first move, and the shock, confusion and horror of combat (particularly sea combat, in which the battlefield itself is the deadly, patient enemy of both sides). And he captures the glories and rewards of life at sea, the beauty of a glorious clear dawn at sea, the stars and the moon and the wake at night and so much more.This is the book that made a sailor out of me.It will tell you what it is to be a sailor."
An astonishing portrayal of the human side of war
D. Cloyce Smith | Brooklyn, NY | 02/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Cruel Sea" focuses on the British naval experience during World War II--more specifically, on the crew of a corvette during the first half of the war and, to a lesser extent, of a frigate during its waning years. Like most war stories, the plotting is at times necessarily predictable (yet still thrilling), but Monsarrat's epic is a cut above in both its human element (even in its occasional depiction of Germans) and in its presentation of the morally gray aspects of war. This is no ode to blind patriotism. Instead, the novel is an elegy on the selfless bravery and selfish survival instincts of a group of sailors whose reasons for being in the war are as varied as the men themselves: the stern but fair-minded Lieutenant-Commander Ericson, the indolent and tyrannical (and somewhat comical) First Lieutenant Bennett, the nervous and self-doubting Sub-Lieutenant Ferraby, the level-headed and thoughtful Sub-Lieutenant Lockhart (who, I would guess, is Monsarrat's alter ego), and a supporting cast of dozens. There are some spine-chilling and devastating battle scenes, but the book never once loses its focus: the men (and women) who fought and endured the war. Another surprising aspect of "The Cruel Sea" is its intense lyricism. There are many sentences and descriptions that linger in the mind long after one has finished the novel. The death a crew member: "He did not exactly surrender to the sea, but he stopped caring much whether he lived or died; and on this night, an ambiguous will was not enough." An officer finding out his girlfriend is pregnant: "The child would be the occasion of their marriage, not the cause for it." Equally impressive is the novel's unusual wit--humor far beyond the stereotypical bawdiness of sailors: the friendly banter between crew members, the scrapes between men on leave and family members or other civilians, the hilarious clash of cultures when the frigate is docked for repairs in New York City. Generally, I am averse to "war novels" (with the exceptions of the usual famous classics); I'd rather read the real thing--journalism or history--and forego the shallow characterizations and poor writing so common to the genre of military fiction. So I can't explain what caused me to pick up this 500-page book, but I am certainly glad I did. This novel is a neglected classic and should be read by an audience far beyond the aficionados of war novels."
War in the North Atlantic
Paul McGrath | Sacramento, CA | 09/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an exciting and yet very poignant novel of naval warfare which took place in the North Atlantic during World War II. It focuses primarily on two English naval officers whose job it was to escort--with first an inadequate corvette and then a frigate--the numerous convoys that went back and forth across the Atlantic throughout the course of the war. It was a difficult job to begin with and got worse: by 1941 Allied shipping was being destroyed by German U-Boats at an alarming rate. During one memorable journey, eleven of the 21 ships they were sent to escort were sunk. This was an enormous toll, both in supplies and in lives lost.What this great book does is give us a first hand view of the action, and also the effect that it had on these men, and the lives of those around them. To be sure there is blood and gore here, but it is not sensationalized or glorified. It is simply recorded in a straightforward manner, and is all the more chilling because of it. What is really emphasized is the psychological effect. We get a clear picture of their exhaustion, their fear, their terror, and their frustration in their inability to deal effectively (at least early on), with an unseen and deadly enemy. They are at sea for months at a time and incapable of dealing with family problems on shore: philandering wives, sick mothers, far-away sons and loved ones. Their homes and villages are being bombed. They begin to feel hatred--not only of the enemy, but of the ship itself, and all that it represents: exhaustion, terror, helplessness, and death. The captain must make terrible decisions at a moment's notice. After one attack, he steams towards where he believes a U-boat to be, an area which also happens to be occupied by English survivors of an earlier wreck. He decides he must drop his depth charges, knowing for certain that these sailors will die. Later, he agonizes over whether there was a U-boat there to begin with. We get a sense of the dangerous nature of the sea itself. There is no place to go during wild Atlantic storms, and sometimes they last for days. Everything in the ship is tossed around. There is no hot food. Sleep is impossible when you are routinely thrown out of your bunk. Everybody is banged and bruised and sometimes severely injured by suddenly being heaved against a bulkhead. Of course there is also the terror of being swept overboard entirely. The only saving grace was that, during a storm, the U-boats didn't attack. The book covers this aspect of the war, and covers it thoroughly, from 1939, which is chapter one, to 1945, which is chapter seven. It is written from the perspective of adult men and women we learn to know well and come to care about deeply. We are saddened when they are wounded, or killed. And the termination of the love affair between the first mate and his "Wren" was nothing less than heart-wrenching. This is a great novel, and belongs on the shelf with perhaps the half-dozen or so of the greatest novels of World War II."
A true masterpiece of war time realism
Nick Clark | Nottingham England | 07/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A realistic tale of the Second World War at sea This war time drama is played out through the desperate struggle of one man, his crew and their ship. We follow the expliots of a Royal Navy corvette HMS Compass Rose, as she carries out her duty in protecting the vulnerable convoys from the hunting packs of U-boats in the North Atlantic. All the experiences of the war at sea are there, in the faces of the men, the arduous conditions of the rough seas and in the horrors of war like the poor wretched survivors they pluck from the sea, choking and covered in oil. However, the most memorable scene, and one of which is surely equal to any other in cinematic history, has to be when Captain Ericson (Jack Hawkins) is forced to decide whether or not to attack a U-boat or save a group of British survivors that struggle in the water directly above his intended target.After 1942 this dilemma was turned into a blunt order when the Admiralty instructed anti-submarine vessels to make every attempt to destroy a U-boat thus carrying out their sole duty of protecting the convoy. At that time U-boats were believed to be diving close to the sinking ship so that their presence in the area would be harder to detect by the ship's Asdic radar. This often resulted in survivors losing their lives or being seriously injured from an indiscriminate depth charge attack. In the book by Herbert Gordon Male 'In All Respects Ready For Sea,' there is a true story of such an attack and the author gives such an account. My father served on a anti-submarrine armed trawler during the war and his experiences were of special interest to the film's main star Jack Hawkins whom he met and became friends with during the completion of the film. My father felt that this film was an important one as it told a real story of the men and their sacrifice during the history of the Battle of the Atlantic. Today it is as honest a film as it was then and shows the effects of war on the ordinary men who fought it. Only a few films have since dared to portray the personal and true realities of war with out the usual and expected thrilling pyrotechnics of the big screen action film."
Man versus the sea - the real war
Paul Sayles | Japan | 03/20/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Cruel Sea is perhaps the finest novel written out of World War II. It is drawn on the actual service in the Royal Navy of the author. It is the story of two ships, maybe 200 men, German submarines and the constant relentless ocean. Even when there is no combat action, the sea is always there in all its forms - just waiting for a small defect to occurr and then it will claim another victim - be it man or ship.The sailors of the Compass Rose are a dramatic cross section. The captain is a reservist from the merchant navy while his officers are all volunteers from the civilian sector. One officer's only sea going experience is crossing the channel in a small yacht with a one woman crew. Not the best of material.The crew is even more diverse. The senior ratings, coxswain, signalman, engineer and several others, are all professional Royal Navy and it is one these men the captain will lean the most. The remainder of the crew is drawn from all walks of life from clerks to vet assistants. Together they are all molded into a working crew.The contacts with the German submarines are numerous but the end result is disappointing to some in that only two submarines are sunk between the two ships. Lots of survivors are pulled from the sea though as the submarines whittle away at the convoys chugging across the sea.One gets a sense of the unending grind that the men endure as the ships make thier rounds from Liverpool to New York with a side trip to Russia for variety. Even shore time is not enjoyed as the local Liverpool area is pounded by German bombers and wives and girlfriends are not willing to endure the constant seperation.Compass Rose is sunk and the crew, once more, is held together by the captain. Some men are heros and die a heros death and others are simply freightened men trying to stay alive which few do. It is a sobering time for the survivors as they look back at their life in Compass Rose.The captain and one officer move on to another ship and finish the war in her. Again, it is a return to the grind of fighting the sea and occassionally fighting the Germans. One submarine is sunk by the new ship and the war ends. There is little glory to be earned in this story, rather it is a tale of survival, hanging on to make it through the day or night. Everyone is a hero in this story from the junior sailor to the captain. It is a story that is being remembered less and less as the survivors of World War II diminish in numbers. It is a story to be read and remembered - when there was no array of electronic weapons and nuclear energy to draw upon to destroy an enemy; rather it was skill, patience, persistance and a willingness to endure that saw a successful outcome from a combat between corvette and submarine. Sometimes the corvette won and sometimes the submarine won. Many times it was a draw.I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the war at sea during World War II. It should be in every naval officer's personal library regardless of nationality. Once read, it should never be forgotten."