Saturday, June 26, 2010

HMS Ulysses (published in 1955) - written by Alistair Maclean and about the struggle of a doomed ship during the war

Alistair MacLean is a Scottish writer who specialized in writing thrillers and crime stories. He was third son of a Scottish minister and joined the Royal Navy during the world war two. He was a senior torpedo operator at the height of his career. He was in the thick of the war theater during the world war and saw action on many fronts especially the arctic north. After retiring he started penning his novels based on the war he saw and many of them became best sellers. Maclean never looked back as a writer until his death in 1987.
Because of his war experiences, his novels are also high on the action content. The emotional and the romantic angle is not very much touched upon by Maclean. His characters are highly cynical men who are always part of the high octane action and push themselves against all odds with out any thought for their safety. The elements also play a very important in MacLean's writings. Most of the time his men are pitted against harsh unforgiving surroundings which brings out the innate nature hidden inside, be it a devil or a hero.
HMS Ulysses is Alistair MacLean's first novel and is largely drawn upon his war experiences. The true story about the ill-fated convoy PQ-17 provided the basis for this story. It tells us the story of ordinary men who fight against seemingly unsurmountable odds just to prove their loyalty. HMS Ulysses is Captained by Richard Vallery, who commands unflinching loyalty from his men.

The story begins with Ulysses at Anchor in Scapa Flow after a grueling mission as an escort ship in the arctic north. The men are exhausted and tired battling the harshest of climates coupled with low food rations. They are emotionally exhausted because of the battle of nerves against the U-boats, enemy aircraft and ships. These men learn upon weighing the anchor that the higher authorities are planning to send them back in to battle and are ready to put them through the same grind with out any concerns for their well being. A mini mutiny spreads across the ship and only their loyalty towards Richard Vallery prevents them from deserting.
Now a much soothed crew find that the trust in their abilities is eroded and orders are very clear, - escort a convoy through the battle field of Murmansk and on return will be rewarded with a draft to the Mediterranean. HMS Ulysses is to use to bait German Destroyer Tirpitz and help her destruction. The Captain and the crew accepts the terms for the sake of redemption.
But a fierce storm is raging in the Arctic, coupled with death stalking Ulysses in the form of U-boats and fighter planes above. Men have to fight against bone chilling cold and the waters toss the Ulysses with no mercy with the specter of tuberculosis among them. In the last pages Alistair Maclean graphically describes the hopelessness of the expendable men battling everything stacked up against them and sacrificing their lives for honor. Glory is for them for ever because the mind numbing hopelessness brings the men to give the battle everything they have, not to survive but to sacrifice and win.

HMS Ulysses (published in 1955) - first book written by Alistair Maclean and about the struggle of a doomed ship during the war

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