It is no coincidence that many of Alistair MacLean’s most successful novels were sea stories. In 1941, he was called up after volunteering for the Royal Navy and served as Ordinary Seaman, Able Seaman, and Leading Torpedo Operator. For the majority of his service, he was on HMS Royalist, a modified Dido-class light cruiser, seeing action in the Arctic, and operations against the German battleship Tirpitz. The ship then deployed to the Mediterranean taking part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the South of France, and later in operations against German-occupied Greek Islands, in the Aegean. After which MacLean and Royalist were deployed against the Japanese in Malaya, Burma, and Sumatra.
His wartime experiences coupled with exceptional literary skill resulted in the runaway success of his first novel HMS Ulysses (1955) followed by The Guns of Navarone (1957) and South by Java Head (1958). These three blockbusters cemented his position as one of the most successful and highly paid authors of the era. A fascinating insight into MacLean’s war service and subsequent works, which deserve enduring popularity.
Mark Simmons Alistair MacLean’s War: How the Royal Navy shaped his Bestsellers Foreword by Lee Child. Publisher Pen & Sword 2022 hardback 193 pages New