- HMS Ulysses (novel)
name = HMS Ulysses
image_caption = 1994 paperback edition published by
language = English
World War II Novel
publisher = Collins
media_type = Print (
pages = 357 pp (1994 paperback)
isbn = NA
followed_by = The Guns of Navarone
"HMS Ulysses" was the first
novelby Scottish author Alistair MacLean, and ultimately, one of his most popular. Originally published in 1955, it was also released by Fontana Booksin 1960. MacLean’s personal experiences in the Royal Navyduring World War IIprovided the basis for the story.
The novel features a
light cruiser, one of a unique type similar to the real Dido class cruisers (MacLean had served on HMS "Royalist" of that class), extremely well armed and one of the fastest ships in the world. But her crew is pushed well beyond the limits of endurance, the "Ulysses" puts to sea again to escort a vital convoyFR-77 (Based on the ill Fated Convoy PQ-17) heading for Murmansk. Predictably, all elements have a part to play against them: an unusually fierce arctic storm, the German ships and U-boats, as well as airborne attacks, all slowly decimate the convoy from 32 ships to only 5. The Ulysses herself is lost, fittingly, in a failed attempt to ram into an attacking cruiser, after all her other weapons had been destroyed. There is a true story of HMS Rawalpindian armed Merchant Cruiserthat sacrificed itself.
In what became a trait of MacLean's style, the book uses a relatively predictable set of events to paint moving portrayals of the crew and the human aspect of the war. His heroes are not especially moved by ideals, they rarely excel at more than one task, they are even outfoxed by a respectable enemy. It is only their resilience, as they redefine the word, that pushes this bunch of seamen to genuine acts of heroism. The realism of the descriptions, the believable motivations of the characters and simplicity of the line of events make the story all the more credible, though the number of coincidental accidents that plague the crew are startling, robbing them of any real victory.
Literary significance & criticism
The novel received good critical notices as well, with a number of reviewers putting it into the same class as two other 1950s classic tales of World War II at sea,
Herman Wouk's " The Caine Mutiny" and Nicholas Monsarrat's "The Cruel Sea". [http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/books/default.aspx?id=29386] .
Allusions/references from other works
The same background of the World War II Murmansk convoys, with the combination of extreme belligerent action and inhospitable nature pushing protagonists to the edge of endurance and beyond, appears in Dutch novelist
Jan de Hartog's "The Captain" (1967). Comparisons may be also be drawn with Wolfgang Ott's 1957 novel " Sharks and Little Fish", written from the viewpoint of a sailor in the German surface and U-boat Kriegsmarine.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
"HMS Ulysses" has never been filmed. However, it was adapted by
Nick McCartyfor a BBC Radio 4play of the same name which was first aired on 14 June 1997in the " Classic Play" series. It starred Sir Derek Jacobias Captain Vallery and Sir Donald Sindenas Admiral Starr. [http://www.promenadeproductions.com/archive/hms-ulysses.html]
Arctic convoys of World War II
Convoy PQ-17was almost completely destroyed by the Germans
* HMS "Rawalpindi", an
armed merchant cruiserthat sacrificed itself by attacking a German warship.
* [http://www.alistairmaclean.de/Ulysses.htm Book review at Alistairmaclean.de (German)]
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