A group of refugees, untrustworthy and secretive, drift in a lifeboat, struggling to survive the harsh climate and ruthless Japanese attacks. The Japanese, dominating the Pacific Front, have reduced Singapore to a burning, smoking wasteland, and refugees flee for their lives. Among the stragglers is an Allied soldier, Farnholme, carrying priceless papers containing the Japanese's blueprint for the invasion of Australia. He demands to be transported away from Singapore as soon as possible, but the only available ship is the Kerry Dancer, a small, dilapidated craft captained by Siran, a two-faced liar and cheat. However, it sails without Farnholme and he is left stranded.
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As Farnholme is despairing, the Kerry Dancer returns, commandeered by Van Effen, a brave Dutchman. Farnholme boards and invites several other refugees, three nurses and a young boy, aboard.
The boat is attacked by the Japanese and drifts aimlessly, the passengers too weak, sick, and wounded to care. They are rescued in the nick of time by a brave sailor, Nicholson, who brings them aboard the Viroma, but just as they as regaining strength, the Japanese proceed to dive-bomb the Viroma. Some of the passengers, including Farnholme, Nicholson, and Siran, escape to a lifeboat.
The people in the lifeboat squabble, suffering from the heat and shortage of food and water. Some of them are mysteriously murdered and the inter-boat tensions grow. Then a Japanese submarine surfaces, and the refugees execute a desperate do-or-die attack which succeeds.
The boat stops at a small jungle-like island in the South China Sea, then, outsmarting the Japanese, sets sail once more. It drifts, battered and broken, for days, the passengers dying off slowly. They are too weak to resist the Japanese soldiers who find them several days later. They can only glare as Farnholme, who appears to be friends with the Japanese, boards their ship. Their resentment is turned to admiration and gratefulness as seconds later the ship and all the Japanese are blown up, courtesy of Farnholme's grenades.
After several hellish days at sea, the boat runs aground and the refugees are captured by the Japanese. The refugees find out that there were multiple plotters in their midst; Siran wanting the rumored diamonds possessed by Farnholme, and Van Effen secretly working for the Axis Powers to retrieve the blueprints. The others, bound and guarded, await torture and death. All hope seems lost when suddenly Van Effen, who cannot bear to see his fellow humans treated in such a horrible, inhumane manner, attacks the Japanese guards, giving the refugees time to escape. However, he himself is fatally wounded and dies, though not before giving Nicholson directions on where to find a ship so they can escape.
Nicholson leads the refugees to the ship, defeating the Japanese who try to stop them, and they shortly rendezvous with the British, the diamonds, blueprints, and survivors safe at last.
Best part of story, including ending:
Although the blueprints and diamonds are saved from the hands of the Japanese, there are so many deaths along the way. The sacrifices of noble men and the suffering of the survivors makes one wonder whether their expedition is worth the price.
Best scene in story:
Farnholme greets the Japanese with enthusiasm and abandons his fellow refugees. They are all thinking hateful thoughts while he boards the Japanese ship to discuss matters with them. Suddenly a huge explosion wrecks the ship and kills the everyone on it, including Farnholme. It is revealed that he detonated grenades so that the others could escape.
Opinion about the main character:
Nicholson, a reticent naval officer, pities the refugees and empathizes with them.