The Caine Mutiny

If you haven’t seen it, why not? Humphrey Bogart in one of my favorite performances, Fred McMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer. Lee Marvin as both actor and technical advisor.

That moment where he realizes that he’s said too much is just magnificent.

I haven’t thought highly of Pulitzer Prize-winning anything lately, but Herman Wouk won for fiction with this in 1952, back when the Pulitzer meant something. During WW2, Wouk served on the destroyer minesweepers USS Zane and USS Southard. By the way, Herman Wouk is still alive at the age of 97.

The typhoon scene in the movie actually happened – Typhoon Cobra, also known as Halsey’s Typhoon, because he sailed the Third Fleet right into it. Three destroyers were sunk – the USS Hull, USS Monaghan, and USS Spence. The Hull and the Monaghan were Farragut-class and were top-heavy with added armament and equipment. The Spence, a Fletcher-class, was low on fuel and foundered. Another Fletcher-class ship, the USS Hickox and the Allen M. Sumner-class USS Maddox survived by pumping seawater into the fuel tanks for ballast. The Maddox would later be involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident, but that’s the subject for another post.

The toll was terrible – 790 fatalities. 93 men were rescued from the sunken ships, including 55 by the John C. Butler-class destroyer escort USS Tabberer. Twenty-nine ships were damaged, and over 100 aircraft were damaged or lost. I’m so glad we have weather satellites now.

Xbrad has mentioned before that every sailor is a fireman. The USS Monterey, an Independence-class light aircraft carrier, had fires on the hangar deck from planes knocking around. Then-Lt. Gerald Ford was one of those fighting the fires.

8 thoughts on “The Caine Mutiny”

  1. Roamy,

    Wonderful post about a truly monumental picture. I think the most interesting character was Captain Devries, played wonderfully by Tom Tully, himself a Navy veteran.

    A superb picture. Used to be shown at the Naval Academy. I hope it still is.

  2. Good movie, great book. It’s on my list of re-reads every few years.
    My grandfather went through Typhoon Cobra aboard the USS Kwajalein. It was not a pleasant experience.

  3. One of my favorite scenes is during the storm, when CAINE’s stern is lifted out of the water, and the screws on the model are, in fact contrarotating. WELL DONE Special Effects Man!

  4. Showed this movie to my S3 during one of my many trips to the sand box. After which he wondered openly when our CO was going to start the inquiry about the missing frozen strawberries.

  5. Every sailor a fireman (or more correctly a DC man) came about because of the Stark. She damn near sank because of fires caused by the two missiles and had to have extra DC men flown over from nearby ships because so few (comparitively) sailors were trained in shipboard fires. Fighting fire aboard ship is unlike anything a land base firefighter has to contend with. Just before Stark, I was selected in the first class of contractors to go through the Shipboard Fire Fighting school as a way of helping the Navy with the threat of fires aboard ship during repair availabilities. Shortly after Stark, it was decided to teach every sailor how to fight fires and the training center went to a 7 days a week training cycle. And mister, if you’ve never opened the wateright door to a fully involved machinery space aboard ship, then you have no idea what fighting a fire aboard a ship is like. Huge ball of flame comes out and literally washes over you for an instant until the fog man behind you gets his stream fully on you with the main line. Thats the easy part…the hard part is taking that first step inside that man made hell. Made me very conscious of fire safety aboard ships!

    1. Actually, I first hear the term in 1983 or thereabouts at the Carrier Flight Deck Firefighting Course at NAS Whidbey. In response to the poor firefighting skills shown on the Forrestal and the Enterprise, the Navy instituted a two-day course that all the air-wing personnel had to attend before they could deploy. Through a fellow Sea Scout’s father’s connections at the base, I and two other Scouts were allowed to attend, even though we were still high school students, and not in any way in the service.

      While the course didn’t address directly fighting fires inside compartments, it did address fires on the flight deck, and by extension, on the hangar deck. Day one was mostly classroom stuff (and of course started with a viewing of the film of the Forrestal fire), while day two was “live fire” training at an enormous burn pit. Picture an Olympic sized swimming pool only 6″ deep, filled with JP5, MOGAS and DF2, set ablaze, then attacked with two hose teams of two 2-1/2″ hoses. Water only. No foam. It was a blast. OBA training and use of other firefighting gear was included as well. The military can cram an awful lot of learning into two days.

      That’s not to say that the Stark (and the HMS Sheffield) didn’t have a huge influence on Navy efforts to improve DC. It did. I remember quite a few “lessons learned” presentations from that. And I’ll bet USS Cole led to quite a few as well.

      But DC is a perishable skill, and given the demands on ships company to do many other things as well, absent the immediacy of an object lesson such as the Stark or the Cole, I’m worried that the strong emphasis on it will wane until such time as the lessons are forgotten.

  6. Brad, those DC skills were the first reason why I saw LCS as a complete disaster: there is not enough crew to save the ship. You can only last so long fighting a fire and if you have a hull breach you’re splitting manpower even more. It takes lots of bodies to fight a fire and it takes more to shore a bulkhead or seal a hull breach, not the 40 that LCS carries for a 300 ft long 3000 ton ship.

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