Book Review / Douglas Reeman / Monitor / Nautical Fiction / Royal Navy / World War II

HMS Saracen, by Douglas Reeman

This is an excellent naval novel by Douglas Reeman. Essentially it is a story about the relationship between a man and a ship, excellently described and told.

The book has two parts. The first takes place in 1915 when young midshipman Richard Chesnaye serves aboard HMS SaracenHMS Saracen is a strange bastard of a ship, known as a monitor. It is a construction with huge guns – 15 inch – mounted on a ship, designed mainly for land bombardment. We follow Chesnaye as he serves on the ship, and during combat action in Turkey (World War I). In Gallipoli in 1915, in heavy combat, both the man and the vessel perform excellently.

Then we meet them both again in the spring of 1941. The two seeming relics of the past are brought together again Chesnaye in command as Captain of the HMS Saracen. Both are viewed as unfit. And to most people, HMS Saracen is just an ugly, obsolete ship. It was a type of ship already obsolete when it was launched and now almost entirely forgotten. But to Chesnaye she brings back memories. She is a ship he loves and one which he regards as having interesting potential. And Chesnaye does a great job and delivers results beyond expectations with his old, beloved ship.

And when a convoy from Egypt en route to Malta protected by the Saracen and a battle group of newer naval ships is attacked by the Italians, both captain and ship rise to the occasion, repulsing the onslaught of the superior foe.

Written in the mid-sixties, H.M.S. Saracen is one of Douglas Reeman’s very best novels and an excellent naval war book. The conclusion of the book is very moving. If you like modern naval fiction or are interested in the Royal Navy and the campaigns it waged in the Mediterranean in the 20th Century, then this is a book to read! HMS Saracen is a highly enjoyable novel that depicts the horror and the glory of war at sea in a very realistic and suspenseful way.