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Alistair MacLean's War (Hardback)

How the Royal Navy Shaped his Bestsellers

Maritime > Naval > Royal Navy Military > Biographies WWII

By Mark Simmons, Foreword by Lee Child
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 208
Illustrations: 22 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399019385
Published: 4th May 2022

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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 to the Indian Ocean and operations 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.

While not a whole life biography, Mark Simmon’s book provides a fascinating insight into Maclean’s war service and subsequent works, which deserve enduring popularity.

For both casual and serious students of World War II – and the art of writing – Mark Simmons’ Alistair MacLean’s War comes highly recommended.

The National Maritime Historical Society

"I found this an engrossing book that broadened my knowledge of MacLean's wartime experiences, of many WWII naval engagements, and of how closely the action in MacLean's books did or did not match the realities of those days."

AlistairMacLean.com

As Featured In,

The Naval Review Autumn 2022

As featured in

Waterside Magazine

As featured in

Yachting Monthly

"In his excellent biography of the legendary wordsmith, Mark Simmons reveals how the man with the golden touch on the typewriter also had a talent for turning aspects of his private life into anarchy."

Warships International Fleet Review - October 2022

"I recommend this book to all walks of life especially those who would like to know what made this famous writer tick."

Navy Daze, The Ton Class Association

I would certainly recommend this to all those who remember MacLean’s books – especially the first three.

Read the Full Review Here

Naval Review

As featured in

Waterside Magazine

Article: 'Where Eagle's Dare'

Scottish Field

There is a lot of fascinating background about the fictional island of Navarone. Also included are two full short stories, demonstrating his great talent for compelling fiction,

Read the full review here

WW2 Today

There was a time not so long ago when most of Alistair MacLean's novels were being made into major blockbuster movies. Mark Simmons uncovers the life of MacLean and explains how he managed to capture the imagination of the world of book readers. Fascinating.

Books Monthly

"An enjoyable read which will appeal to fans of Maclean who enjoy good old fashioned adventure stories."

Peter Wykeham-Martin - Scuttlebutt, Warship World

I have to admit my father was a big fan of Alistair MacLean’s various books, asking him once as a teenager why he read his books, he said he enjoyed reading thrillers and really enjoyed MacLean’s books as they were about war and thriller type books. So since then, I have read a few of MacLean’s books too when wanting something easy to read, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read The Guns of Navarone and a few others after that. Like my father, I enjoyed these books too, so it was excellent to be given the chance to read and review this book.

The book, split into 21 chapters and takes a good look at MacLeans’s life mainly his life as a Naval serviceman, as we get to discover his work life, the ships he was on and some of the missions he was a part of, and you can see where he got a good few of his ideas would then go on to use in his novels. For any fans of Alistair MacLean, I’m sure they would really enjoy this book as it’s a good easy read much like the books he wrote himself.

Read the full review here

The History Fella

‘Alistair MacLean’s War’ is a valuable tribute to the life of the man who produced some of the most memorable thrillers ever to be published.

Read the full review here

Alistair Maclean Info

‘Alistair MacLean’s War’ is a valuable tribute to the life of the man who produced some of the most memorable thrillers ever to be published.

Fred de Vries

Everything you wanted to know about Alistair MacLean's war.

When you pick up a book and see that Lee Child has written the foreword, you know that it must be something special.
This book is very special, a tour de force in which Mark Simmons, in his usual forensic way gives the reader an in depth insight into the development of Maclean as a person, serviceman and writer.
I was enthralled by reading some of the detail in the book. Simmons provides an excellent balance between opinions and factual events that knit together elegantly.
I believe that this may be the best book that he has written and would recommend it highly. If you are a fan of MacLean, his books and films or indeed Mark Simmons you will love this book.

5 Stars

Amazon UK Review

Alistair Maclean's War', takes the reader through his war service in the Royal Navy, and how his experiences
became the subject for his books. The sinking of the Japanese cruiser in The Banka Straits off Sumatra, became the basis of his Alistair's third novel 'South by Java Head' (1958)

'Force 10 from Navarone'? There was no such island in the Aegean Sea, but Alistair grafted two together and called it Navarone. His wartime experiences in Malaya, Burma, and Sumatra, together with his literary skills, brought him three block busters, 'HMS Ulysses'(1955), The guns of Navarone' (1957), and 'South by Java Head', (1958) cemented his position as a successful writer and very wealthy,

The book also lifts the lid on his private life, just slightly but enough to smell an aroma of scent and whisky.
An uncomplicated page turner, easy read, and one to read again.

Richard Gough - Historian, writer, author of the Escape from Singapore, The jungle was Red, Outpost of the Empire, SOE Singapore 1941-42. Waiting publication Tony Poe, CIA Paramilitary in SE Asia.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Alistair MacLean’s War and would recommend it to anyone interested in reading about his Naval service, but especially recommend it to fans of MacLean’s books.

Read the full review here

ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)

I’m always intrigued to learn how other authors first got published. Alistair MacLean won a short story contest and his entry moved the wife of publisher Ian Chapman so much that he persuaded Maclean to try his hand at a novel. The rest, as they say, is history. Many of 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 in 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 this MacLean and Royalist were deployed to the Indian Ocean and operations against the Japanese in Malaya, Burma, and Sumatra. A fascinating insight into how the Royal Navy shaped his bestsellers.

Read the full review here

Julian Stockwin

Featured in

Medal News - April 2022

About Mark Simmons

Mark Simmons followed his family’s tradition of service in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines dating back to the times of Nelson. He served in the 1970's with the Royal Marines in 40 Commando, 3 Commando Brigade HQ and the Commando Logistics Regiment.
He has written some 200 feature articles, mainly on naval and military, motoring and travel subjects. He is also the author of thirteen fiction and non-fiction books including a fiction series about a reluctant M15 agent, Rob Nicolson, and two works on Ian Fleming.
His interests include quizzes, playing skittles and classic cars; he is a keen member of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club.
Mark appeared in the BBC Scotland documentary called "The Adventures of Alistair MacLean".


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