The Cruel Sea (book)
The Cruel Sea is a 1951 novel by Nicholas Monsarrat
Nicholas Monsarrat
Commander Nicholas John Turney Monsarrat RNVR was a British novelist known today for his sea stories, particularly The Cruel Sea and Three Corvettes , but perhaps best known internationally for his novels, The Tribe That Lost Its Head and its sequel, Richer Than All His Tribe.- Early life :Born...

. It follows the lives of a group of Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 sailors fighting the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


The novel, based on the author's experience of serving in corvette
A corvette is a small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship, originally smaller than a frigate and larger than a coastal patrol craft or fast attack craft , although many recent designs resemble frigates in size and role...

s in the North Atlantic in World War II, gives a matter-of-fact but moving portrayal of ordinary men learning to fight and survive in a violent, exhausting battle against the elements and a ruthless enemy.

Few books have ever conveyed in such gripping detail the brutal destruction of the Battle of the Atlantic and the endurance of the men who fought it. The novel brought instant fame to its author.

Plot summary

The action commences in 1939. Lieutenant-Commander George Ericson, after service in the Merchant Navy, is recalled to the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 and given command of the fictitious Flower-class corvette
Flower class corvette
The Flower-class corvette was a class of 267 corvettes used during World War II, specifically with the Allied navies as anti-submarine convoy escorts during the Battle of the Atlantic...

 HMS Compass Rose, newly built to escort convoys. His officers are mostly new to the Navy, especially the two new Sub-Lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant is a military rank. It is normally a junior officer rank.In many navies, a sub-lieutenant is a naval commissioned or subordinate officer, ranking below a lieutenant. In the Royal Navy the rank of sub-lieutenant is equivalent to the rank of lieutenant in the British Army and of...

s, Lockhart and Ferraby. Only Ericson, and some of the Petty Officers are in any way experienced.

Despite these initial disadvantages, the ship and crew work up a routine and gain experience. Bennett, the First Lieutenant
First Lieutenant
First lieutenant is a military rank and, in some forces, an appointment.The rank of lieutenant has different meanings in different military formations , but the majority of cases it is common for it to be sub-divided into a senior and junior rank...

, a mean and shirking disciplinarian with a penchant for bullying and canned sausages, Snorkers
Snorkers is a British English colloquialism for sausages. The reference is probably to the resemblance between a sausage and a snorkel. It may have a Royal Navy slang origin.Snorkers is the nickname for Palethorpe's pre-cooked tinned sausages...

, leaves the ship ostensibly for health reasons, and the junior officers are able to mature, with Lockhart gaining promotion to First Lieutenant.

The crew cross the Atlantic many times on escort duty in all kinds of weather, often encountering fierce storms in one of the smallest ships to provide escort services to the Allied convoys. The men endure the ship's constant rolling and pitching in the huge waves, freezing cold, the strain of maintaining station on the convoy on pitch black nights and the fear that at any second a torpedo from a German U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 could blow them to oblivion. Somehow the tradition of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 and the knowledge of the importance of their work carries them through.

They continue the monotonous and dangerous but vital duty of convoy escort and after one particularly difficult convoy they use all their hard won knowledge to sink a German submarine.
They are nearly sunk several times until in 1943 they are finally torpedoed and forced to abandon ship. Most of the crew die in the freezing waters, but Ericson, Lockhart, and a few others are rescued the next day.

Ericson, now promoted to Commander, and Lockhart, now a Lieutenant-Commander, take command of a new ship, the fictitious River class frigate
River class frigate
The River class frigate was a class of 151 frigates launched between 1941 and 1944 for use as anti-submarine convoy escorts in the North Atlantic....

 HMS Saltash. (In the film The Cruel Sea
The Cruel Sea
The Cruel Sea or Cruel Sea may refer to:*The Cruel Sea , a 1951 novel by Nicholas Monsarrat*The Cruel Sea , a 1953 film made of the above book, starring Jack Hawkins...

, the ship is called Saltash Castle and is portrayed by a Castle class corvette
Castle class corvette
The Castle-class corvettes were an updated version of the much more numerous Flower-class corvettes of the Royal Navy, and started appearing during late 1943...

, as no River class vessels were available.)

The Royal Navy is now finally gaining the upper hand over the U Boats and Saltash adds to the growing number of kills due to Ericson's determination and patience.
When the war ends, the ship returns to port as a guard to several German submarines that have surrendered.

A secondary plotline concerns Lockhart's poignant romance with a beautiful Women's Royal Naval Service
Women's Royal Naval Service
The Women's Royal Naval Service was the women's branch of the Royal Navy.Members included cooks, clerks, wireless telegraphists, radar plotters, weapons analysts, range assessors, electricians and air mechanics...



Nicholas Monsarrat spent the war in corvettes and finally a frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

, rising from lowly Sub-Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander and his own command.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The novel was made into a film
The Cruel Sea (film)
The Cruel Sea is a 1953 British film from Ealing Studios starring Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden, with Denholm Elliott, Stanley Baker, Liam Redmond, Virginia McKenna and Moira Lister...

 in 1953, directed by Charles Frend
Charles Frend
Charles Frend was an English film director.Charles Frend started his career at British International Pictures in 1931 and after editing Hitchcock's Waltzes from Vienna moved to Gaumont British Pictures in 1933 where he worked as an editor on Alfred Hitchcock's movies Secret Agent , Sabotage and...

 and starring Jack Hawkins
Jack Hawkins
Colonel John Edward "Jack" Hawkins CBE was an English actor of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.-Career:Hawkins was born at Lyndhurst Road, Wood Green, Middlesex, the son of master builder Thomas George Hawkins and his wife, Phoebe née Goodman. The youngest of four children in a close-knit family,...

 as Commander Ericson and Donald Sinden
Donald Sinden
Sir Donald Alfred Sinden CBE is an English actor of theatre, film and television.-Personal life:Sinden was born in Plymouth, Devon, England, on 9 October 1923. The son of Alfred Edward Sinden and his wife Mabel Agnes , he grew up in the Sussex village of Ditchling, where their home doubled as the...

as Lockhart.

External links

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