The Cruel Sea Is Awash with History

In The Cruel Sea Nicholas Monsarrat takes readers along into World War II’s little remembered  naval war, the one the British Navy fought in the Atlantic to keep the Germans at bay and the Brits from starvation.

Monsarrat weaves the stories of 150 men over into a seamless narrative with a  grip as tight as history.

In 1939 George Ericson takes command of the new corvette, the H.M.S. Compass Rose, assigned to escort duty.  His crew are mainly a scratch lot, but Lockhart, a former journalist, turns into a first-rate seaman.

Before 1943 when the Compass Rose is torpedoed and 80 of  its 91 men die in the frigid North Atlantic, Ericson’s wise leadership has turned them into a fighting machine.

The next year, the Navy puts Ericson in command of a frigate, the newest type of escort, a huge vessel compared to the Compass Rose. Lockhart is his second in command, but the responsibility is Ericson’s.

After 68 monthstogether, when the war in the Atlantic ends Ericson tells Lockhart, “I’m damned tired.”

Monsarrat makes you feel the tedium and the terror of  five-and-a-half years at sea; the Atlantic takes on a personality as real as that of the seamen.

Storytelling doesn’t get much better than this.

The Cruel Sea
by Nicholas Monsarrat
Alfred A. Knopf, 1951
510 pages
1951 bestseller #6

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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