Kenneth Roberts' novel was published in 1934 and became a best seller. Film rights were bought by Hal Roach who made the film as part of a five-picture deal he had with United Artists. (The others were The Housekeeper's Daughter, One Million Years BC, Of Mice and Me and a novel by Thorne Smith.) Eugene Sollow was assigned to write the script.
Plans to make the film were pushed back following the entry of Britain into World War Two out of fear the film could be seen as anti British. However "sea pictures" were in vogue at the time (e.g. The Sea Hawk, South of Pago Pago) so Roach decided to proceed.
The Anti-British tone of the novel was softened and the script rewritten by producer Grover Jones, who said "in the main we won't be giving them much time to think about whether they like the theme of the picture or not. We'll be giving them action and more action. And if we let a little plot to trickle in to let them know why they are getting all that fighting, we do it only because the camera needs a new set up now and again."