💯 {Staff Pick} [WIW] A submariner watches "Crimson Tide"

Ghoti

Pronounced "Fish."
Validated User
#1
Back in 1994, Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman made a movie about a mutiny on a Trident submarine, the USS Alabama. When the movie came out, I had just transferred off of the USS Alabama (SSBN 731), Gold Crew. Several of my friends have been asking me to post a Where I Watch of the movie for a while now, so here it is.

Or at least the first part. It is quite long. I'll be putting it out in several installments.

If this goes over well, I plan to do the same with other submarine movies, like Hunt for the Red October and Down Periscope.

As the movie starts, a bit is printed up on the screen about the three most powerful men in the world one of them being the captain of a Trident missile submarine. That was true. At the time, the captain of a Trident submarine was also the highest paid person in the Navy, due to all of the responsibilities he had.

The camera closes in on a French aircraft carrier, and we hear a television reporter giving us a rundown on the current state of rebellion in Russia, setting up the need for the Alabama to (maybe) launch. Why was it on a French carrier, and not an American one? Due to the subject matter, the movie got no support at all from the US Navy (unlike The Hunt for the Red October, where all of the scenes that were set on the USS Dallas were actually filmed on the USS Houston). The French let them shoot on board a carrier. The US would not.

Then we get to go to a birthday party for Denzel's character's young daughter. The camcorder's battery is dead , so he steps into the kitchen to put in a new one (and why would it have been there?) and gets distracted by the television news program (and why is the TV even on, when they have a house full of kids?) He talks to one of his friends about the news (we later learn that his friend just happens to be the Weapons Officer of the Alabama).

Denzel gets a phone call, and the Weaps gets beeped. Why? The next few scenes try to give a sense of urgency where there really wouldn't be one.

At any given time, there were a certain number of Tridents patrolling. There would always be a Trident there to handle any situation that might arise. There was no need to rush a boat out to sea to cover the situation.

Frankly, they would have a hard time doing so. When a boat is out for over two months (and all patrols were over two months), when it comes back in, it needs a lot of work done on it. They already rush things a lot – when you take the boat over from the other crew, you are working long hours and 6 day weeks, minimum. There just isn't much you can do to speed things up. When you are talking about nuclear reactors, you don't want to skimp on any maintenance.

Now, we see why Commander Hunter (Denzel) was called in. He's in uniform, being driven through a gate that is nothing like anything on Naval Submarine Base, Bangor. I do wish they did a real establishing shot of the base there. It is beautiful. The shot of the gates makes it look like every other military base I've ever been on, but Bangor is fantastic. I really miss that area.,

The next scenes take place in the Offcrew Administration Building, where the crew that doesn't own the submarine spend their time. The small training room where the officers get briefed looks reasonably accurate, but the CO's office wasn't nearly that nice. Since this crew gets underway the next day, though, all of this should have taken place on the boat, though. The other crew would have the OCAB. Either way, he would have driven himself. No need for a driver.

The captain (with the Chief of the Boat, or CoB, in the background) is giving Hunter an interview to see if he should replace the Alabama's XO (since the current one has appendicitis). Captain Ramsey starts reading Hunter's resume. “Five patrols on fast attacks...” That would be a lot more impressive if Fast Attacks made patrols. They do special operations (spec ops), or Western Pacific runs (WestPacs), or Mediterranean runs (Med Runs), but not patrols.

And then, we meet That Damned Dog. More on TDD later.

The Cob calls Lieutenant Commander Hunter “Mister Hunter.” You address junior officer, up to Lieutenant, as Mister. Here, he would have said “Commander,” or, more likely, just “Sir,” which is always right.

The captain then briefs the officers in the small training room. Not sure where the TV came from. If we needed to show a movie for training, we'd wheel in a cart with a TV and VCR. The TV wasn't hooked up to cable.

And what is it with the dim lights? The Navy is fanatical about cleanliness. Part of being clean is looking clean, so everything is brightly lit. A brightly lit area is also safer.

After the admiral briefs the officers, the new XO is introduced to the officers. While the number of bodies in the room before looked about right, he is only introduced to a few.

The Supply Officer (commonly called the Chop) is first. I'm not sure why. While the Supply Officer was a department head, his department was one of the smallest on board. He was also the only non-nuclear trained officer on board. He stands a senior enlisted watch station, instead of an officer's station.

Notably missing from the introductions were the Engineer and the Navigator. The Engineer was always the third most senior man on board (and the fact that Hunter never served as Eng would be a black mark in his resume). The Navigator was usually fourth on a fast boat or fifth on a Trident, after the Weaps.

Then they explain why Captain Ramsey gets to have the dog, and a few other perks. Apparently, Ramsey is one of the few captains left who has actually seen combat. Ummmm... no. No submarine captain has seen real combat since WWII. Launching Tomahawks during Desert Storm and putting a few SEALs ashore when we invaded Panama don't count.

The next morning, they have apparently set up a special bus to take the crew down to the boat, since they are getting underway at 06:00. The Chop acts friendly to one of the sailors, then starts screaming at him for not saying “sir” and makes fun of him for being overweight. The Weaps goes along. In reality, the Weaps would have told him to chill. Nobody takes that kind of stuff that seriously on subs.

The Chop then drops the overweight sailor for 20. Yeah., right. The last time I was dropped for pushups, I was in Boot Camp. The Marine Corps does that kind of crap. The Navy doesn't.

However, the Navy DOES have a fitness program. Before I got out, I was skirting the edge of the height and weight restrictions. I was 6'2” tall and 208lbs. This guy, one of the chiefs, and the CoB are well past this. They would have been put on remedial PT or sent to the fat farm.

Some junior people were on the “Food for Freedom” program – intentionally failing PT tests and gaining weight so that they would get kicked out with a medical discharge. They would still be able to do more than the 5 pushups that this guy manages. The CoB and the chief would have been doing the minimum that they could to get by until retirement.

In the car with his family, the XO gives his young son the “You're the man of the house” speech. It makes it look like this is the first time he's ever been away from his kids. While this trip was unexpected, that is hardly anything new, either. After all, he did five “patrols” on fast boats.

The goodbyes are still tough, though. I had far too many of them while I was in.

The XO gets onto the bus. An enlisted man standing by the door salutes the XO. Hunter calls him by name (probably stenciled on his jacket), but does not return the salute. Unless your hands are full, this is a Big Deal in the military. I checked – Hunter tucked his umbrella under his arm, nodded, and got on the bus. He could have returned the salute.

They make a big production about getting underway. We never did. Even on long runs, when it's time to get underway, you've already said everything that needs to be said. You definitely don't need to make the whole crew stand at attention in the rain for a pep talk. If you really want to give them a speech, you can wait until everybody is on board and give it on the 1MC announcing system.

When they are dismissed, some bozo on the pier plays a bugle to dismiss them. The producer really should have checked to see what service this movie was about. The Army does bugles. The Navy uses a Boatswain's Pipe.

The Alabama sets sail. Funny. You can't see the banks of the Strait of Juan de Fuca anywhere. From where subs tie up in Hood Canal, it's a long surface transit to get to Puget Sound and out into the Pacific. And as I said before, it's some beautiful scenery.

Still, I know why you can't see any of that.

They didn't have any support from the Navy on this. However, they learned that all Tridents have to re-certify at shooting torpedoes once a year (per crew). There isn't a range near Bangor, so they have to pull in to either Pearl Harbor or San Diego to do their certification. For the shots of the Alabama on the surface, they sat in a small boat in Pearl Harbor and waited for the Tridents to sail out. When the sub sailed, they'd also send out a helicopter to do some filming. Unfortunately, though, they really know nothing about submarines. One of the first shots you see of the Alabama on the surface is actually a Los Angeles class fast attack sub.

On the bridge, the CO hands Hunter a cigar and comments on it being the last breath of polluted air for 60 days. But smoking was allowed on board in certain areas, and with all of the chemicals, etc. subs stank. He'd be getting nothing but polluted air until they pull in.

They are finally getting ready to dive. Everybody slides down a ladder (what you landlubbers call stairs) in a compartment that has a lot of metal gratings for decks. I have no clue where this is supposed to be. There is exactly one small area in the Engine Room that has grating like that for a deck. If you drop something, there is too much chance that it will fall through the grating. If it does, not only will you have to climb down three decks to get the tool or bolt that you just dropped, but you will also make a hell of a lot of noise.

They are diving. They do not have a positive report from anyone that the bridge hatch is shut. They have not heard from the Chief of the Watch that the hatch is shut (he has indications for all hull penetrations that aren't part of the seawater systems in the engine room). It's kind of important to make sure of this before you submerge. Otherwise, you tend to get excess water in the People Tank.

They also didn't sound the Diving Alarm.

From the outside, you see huge plumes of spray come up from either side of the bow of the sub. That is something that I never saw when I was on board, but I think that it is really cool. When they are on the surface, the Main Ballast Tanks are all full of air. To submerge, they open the vents on top of the sub and let water in the bottom. The air rushing out through the vents is what is causing all of the spray (which goes up about 30 feet).

After the dive, it shows the Ward Room. The CO is still in the shirt from his dress blues. He had that on under his orange exposure suit on the Bridge? I'd have figured he'd have changed into khakis before he went topside.

A lot of the sets look great. They look a whole lot like the real thing. But again, why is everything so dark?

You can hear noises from the hull. They have just changed depth. That happens sometimes. It's not a big deal. But you'll be hearing more about this later.

And the friction begins between the “Simple minded SOB” Ramsey and the complex, highly educated Hunter. Nothing serious, but the start of the rift that will blow things wide open later.

The Captain says “Rickover gave me my command, the checklist, a target, and a button to push.” Hyman G. Rickover, the father of US Naval Nuclear Power, interviewed every nuclear officer before they became officers and interviewed them again when they were up for Captain of a nuclear ship.

Submarine command tours are three years. Based on the dates listed in the movie, the earliest that he could have taken command of the Alabama was 1991. If he meant that Rickover gave him command of the fast boat he commanded, he couldn't have taken over before 1986. Rickover died in '86. He retired in '83.

After one of my favorite sets in the movie they come to one of the worst – a bunk room. Oh, it looks right. It's well made. But otherwise, it's all wrong.

All of the lights are on.

Sub crews are divided into three sections. At any given time, one section is on watch, one section is doing maintenance, working on qualifications, watching a movie, or relaxing. And one third of the crew is asleep. Bunk rooms are split up by divisions, so in the 9 man bunk room that it shows, probably 3 people would be asleep. Or trying to. It's hard to do when someone turns all of the lights on and plays his music loud enough to wake up everyone in the missile compartment. Nobody would be smiling at the guy and enjoying his performance.

And there it is. The Fish Tank.

It's obviously in the guy's bunk. The bunk is 6' long. It looks like the tank would take up at least a foot of space at the end of the bunk. In my time in the Navy, I met only one person who was less than 5' tall, and he had to get a waiver. He'd sometimes store stuff at the foot of his bunk, but never a fish tank.

Also, subs take sudden sharp angles, without warning. If that tank isn't sealed, that means that his bunk and the one below it would be liable to get quite wet on occasion. If the tank is sealed, how are the fish getting oxygen? The noise of the pump would also annoy everyone trying to sleep, and I'd hate to have to clean that thing while we were underway.

The XO is doing laps around the missile compartment. This was actually done a good bit – 8 laps was 1 mile. They ran around upper level, though, because it was less crowded. From all of the people there, I'd say it looks more like Missile Compartment 3rd level, which makes no sense. In upper level, you can run around outside of the tubes. MC3 just has a passageway down the middle. Outside of the tubes are the two crew's heads, the crew's lounge, the crew's study, and the 12 bunk rooms. And as I said before, the decks are linoleum, not grating.

While the XO is out on his run there is a fire in the galley. It's a bad one, too. Everyone dons the right fire fighting gear, with one major exception. I understand why, so it's not as big of a hit, but it still gets me.

All of the air on the sub recirculates. And it is all getting filled with smoke. You can't get out of the space and breathe normally. You have to put on breathing masks. There lots of masks in every compartment. They hook into special manifolds that tie into the ship's air banks.

I understand that, for a movie, you don't want everyone's face covered. But all of most of the crew are now dead.

“Did you get to the kill switch?” “It was too hot!” If they are talking about the deep fat fryer, the kill switch is a fusable link that melted and shut down the power. If it's not, everything in the galley is will probably already have been de-energized by one of the electricians. For just this reason, everything in a given area was powered off of the same electrical panels. There is a fire in the galley? Oh, no! We'll open these two breakers, drop these two panels, and if it's an electrical fire, it will go out.

They get the fire contained (but not out – we NEVER called a fire contained. It was out, or it was burning and needed to be fought). The CO decides that he wants to see how the crew handles a drill in the middle of a real casualty. Again, no.

On the Alabama, we were running some kind of an engineering drill back aft when someone called away a fire in the galley. IMMEDIATELY, on ALL of the announcing systems, we heard “SECURE FROM THE DRILL!” We all ran forward to fight the fire in the galley. It turned out to be a biscuit that someone had left in the microwave too long. Still, stopping the drill was the right thing to do. If you want to have multiple casualties, you run a drill where you get hit by a torpedo and get fire here, flooding there, and maybe reactor scram. We didn't do it often but we did it. It was not realistic, though, because a big chunk of your labor pool for fighting the casualties was, instead, simulating them and monitoring the drills.

They get a simulated EAM and go directly to Battle Stations Missile. No.

We would get tons and tons of EAMs every patrol. First, they had to be decoded. When they called away the EAM, the two junior officers who were assigned to decode the messages would rush to Radio. Everyone else on board would go on with what they were doing. The vast majority of the messages were just decoding drills. The officers would finish decoding them, and that was it.

Now, some of them were full blown, we're going to launch all of our missiles drills. Those included all of the simulated targeting packages and everything. They also included the time that we were supposed to launch. We NEVER got an EAM and went straight to battle stations.

The XO is in the galley. The fire is apparently out, but this fact is never reported to Control and is not announced.

The XO says to the cook “What the HELL is he running a missile drill now for?” Nope.

I served under about 8 captains in the Navy,and about the same number of XO's. Guess how many times I heard the XO criticize the captain? I'm sure that at least one XO I served under hated the CO, but you never would have known it from watching him. The CO is always right, and the CO, the XO, and the CoB put up a solid front.

The two junior officers concur with each other that the message is properly formatted. The Captain then asks where the XO is. This is both a stupid question and a good question. It is a stupid question because the XO was exactly where he was supposed to be. When there is a casualty on the ship, the CO goes to Control to coordinate things. The XO goes to take charge at the scene. It is a good question because the XO left the galley as the two officers started to decode the message. If he's not there yet, it took him an awfully long time to go to the nearest ladder, climb two decks, and walk a little bit forward.

Of course, another good question is where the hell the CO is. I mean, they really wouldn't have gone to battle stations, but if they did, the CO's battle station is at the most important place on the ship. When you are launching missiles, that place is not in the Control Room It's in the Missile Command Center (MCC).

For even an internal drill, they break a set of authenticators. Just how many of those things do they have? In a two month patrol, you could have dozens of EAMs. That safe didn't look that big.

They announce to set condition 1SQ for WSRT. That is actually what would have been announced, but the XO would not have echoed the Captain. We did tons of missile drills in my three patrols. and I never heard the XO play parrot.

All of the flourescent lights in the MCC are red. The MCC is rigged or red? WHY? You rig Control for red before you come to periscope depth at night. You do this to preserve the OOD's night vision – it's easier for the eyes to go from red light to darkness than it is to go from normal light to dark. The MCC is one deck down and a bit aft. There are no periscopes there, and they are too deep anyway.

It just showed some place on the boat with a big glass board to track the missiles and people on a catwalk above. At first, I had no clue where it was supposed to be until I noticed a bit orange thing with a “4” on it to the right of the screen. It is supposed to be somewhere in the Missile Compartment (that's tube 4). I'd assume it's on the second deck (as I said earlier., 3rd deck is the crew's living quarters). That particular spot doesn't exist, though.

The CO asks for approximate time to 1SQ. The Weaps says “14 minutes” and resets a clock. WHAT? We DID have timers, stopwatches, etc. for things like that. That clock would be used for minor, unimportant things like recording the exact time that you launched the missiles that started WWIII.

One of the chiefs has a heart attack. While someone who looks suspiciously like a doctor reports this to control someone else is using a defibrillator on the Chief in sick bay. The CO immediately secures from the drill and heads to the sick bay.

This wouldn't be taking place in the sick bay. It would be going down where the chief collapsed. They would report it to Control (who would announce it to the crew and get the Doc to the scene), and they would try to save his life, then, if he survived, they would worry about getting him to sick bay.

And again. why is sick bay so damned dark? How dark was the last doctor's examining room that you sat in? It was pretty brightly lit, right? So that the doctor (or corpsman, in this case, since subs have no doctors) could actually see what he's doing? And yet the most brightly lit place on the sub is the one bunk room that they show.

A small thing that keeps happening – the CO tells the Chief of the Watch that he is using the 1MC. The Chief of the Watch knows. Everybody on the ship knows. The 1MC is the Ship's Announcing System. It goes everywhere on board. It's not like he's saying “To all hands,” to let the layman know who is hearing his announcement. That I could forgive. He's just throwing in a bit of jargon to make it look authentic, but is doing just the opposite.

The chief dies. A sub, even one that is almost 600' long, like a Trident, is too small to have a morgue (not to mention almost never needing one). Guess what happens to the body?
The chief would get put into a body bag and put into the freezer for the rest of the patrol. Yep, the same one where all of the food that the crew is going to be eating is stored. Bon Appetite.

That is it for the first installment. I'll put more up tomorrow.
 
Last edited:

cliffc999

Registered User
Validated User
#2
On surface ships, or at least the one I was on, the 1MC was capable of being at least broadly selective; depending on what switches you threw it was possible to hit every speaker in officer's country without touching any down in the main space, or to leave deck department berthing out of the loop while waking up everyone else, and so on. So I would imagine that prefacing it with "All hands" or suchlike lets you know if the announcement is global or just specific to your area, which is actual information and not just wasted hot air.

Never been on subs, so, can't speak to most of the rest of what you said. But yeah, seriously, the XO badmouthing the CO to an enlisted man, especially when he just got there? Dafuq?

Also, why the hell is he surprised at a drill being run? You run drills all the time. The entire point of unscheduled drills is that they happen when you don't expect them! That's what "unscheduled" means!

Pets on board? A fish tank? So Hollywood. Fuck, "Down Periscope" didn't go that far.
 

Rabbit

Registered User
Validated User
#5
I'd be interested in "Run Silent Run Deep." I know it's a different period but the book it was based on was written by a submariner.
 

Ghoti

Pronounced "Fish."
Validated User
#6
On surface ships, or at least the one I was on, the 1MC was capable of being at least broadly selective; depending on what switches you threw it was possible to hit every speaker in officer's country without touching any down in the main space, or to leave deck department berthing out of the loop while waking up everyone else, and so on. So I would imagine that prefacing it with "All hands" or suchlike lets you know if the announcement is global or just specific to your area, which is actual information and not just wasted hot air.
On the subs that I was on, there was one mic for the 1MC. There was another mic, with a switch box, for the various other announcing systems. Still, even if they had been the same box, it was the captain doing the switching. Why tell the Chief of the Watch?

If you meant that he might be saying it on the 1MC to let people know it was going everywhere, that's not what he did here. He looked at the CooW and said "Chief of the Watch, 1MC" as he was hitting a button and grabbing the mic. And it sounds like our announcing systems were more limited. We had a few very specific ones, we had the 2MC that went to the engineering spaces only, and we had the 1MC that went everywhere.

Even Tridents, which are huge subs, are probably smaller than what you were used to on the surface. The crew was 150 men. 600' long and 40' diameter may sound huge, but it isn't. A lot of that space was machinery and ballast tanks, as well. Most of the people were compressed into a relatively tight space. I guess the designers didn't think we needed as much flexibility.

Also, why the hell is he surprised at a drill being run? You run drills all the time. The entire point of unscheduled drills is that they happen when you don't expect them! That's what "unscheduled" means!
He wasn't surprised that the drill was being run. He was surprised that the drill was being run when the ship was on fire. While the fire had been reported as being under control, it was not out. Drawing people away from the damage control efforts could have easily caused it to get out of control again.

Fire is a huge concern on subs - even more than it is on surface ships. You can't go topside for fresh air. Also, if the hull insulation manages to catch fire, it puts out some extremely hazardous fumes and burns at extremely high temperatures. If that catches, you are all dead.

Pets on board? A fish tank? So Hollywood. Fuck, "Down Periscope" didn't go that far.
Believe it or not, Down Periscope was one of the more accurate submarine movies that I have seen.
 
Last edited:

Ghoti

Pronounced "Fish."
Validated User
#7
I'd be interested in "Run Silent Run Deep." I know it's a different period but the book it was based on was written by a submariner.
*scribbles it on his list*
As you said, it was a different period, but I'll see if I can find it. While I never served on a WWII fleet boat, I've read a lot about them. I've also toured three of them.

Something that still amuses me - I was raised near Mobile, Alabama. I'd regularly go to visit the USS Alabama memorial there. Along with the battleship, the park has a WWII fleet submarine, the USS Drum.
I didn't pick either of my first two boats by name, just a fast boat out of San Diego, then a boomer out of Bangor, Washington. My first boat was the USS Drum (SSN 677), and of course, my second was the USS Alabama (SSBN 731)
 

cliffc999

Registered User
Validated User
#8
He wasn't surprised that the drill was being run. He was surprised that the drill was being run when the ship was on fire. While the fire had been reported as being under control, it was not out.
Oh, I'd missed that.

Yeah, what the fuck? Actual casualty means stop the fucking drill. We had a minor electrical fire in one of the feedwater pumps once, while in port no less, the sort of minor short circuit that you can deal with by flipping one breaker and aiming one CO2 extinguisher at the sparking object until the sparks stop, and they still had an entire damage control party down there in two minutes. 'Something is on fire' means 'Forget everything else unless people are actually shooting at you'.

Admittedly, you still don't try to lose the CO's face in public even when he is being that stupid, but man, the convo they should have had in private would have been epic.

From what you've described so far, I am guessing that this movie is going to be a giant nonsense pile of everyone making bad decisions. I hate idiot plots.

Believe it or not, Down Periscope was one of the more accurate submarine movies that I have seen.
Actually, I do believe it. I even know about the real-life wargame incident that the basic concept of the movie is based on. And the comedy bits sound just like the sort of sea stories we'd make up when we were not even pretending to be serious. It was like the movie version of a Dan Gallery novel. :)
 
Last edited:

Carandol

Story weaver
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#9
Then we get to go to a birthday party for Denzel's character's young daughter. The camcorder's battery is dead , so he steps into the kitchen to put in a new one (and why would it have been there?)
Why not? I know quite a few people who keep assorted odds and ends in a kitchen drawer, including batteries.

and why is the TV even on, when they have a house full of kids?
Perhaps for the benefit of any adults who want a break from the kids. In my circle, it's quite common at family parties for the adults to slip into the kitchen when the kids get a bit much. A couple of adults will stay with the kids to prevent any major disasters, while the rest of us enjoy some actual conversation.
 

Rabbit

Registered User
Validated User
#10
Why not? I know quite a few people who keep assorted odds and ends in a kitchen drawer, including batteries.
It's also a good place to charge batteries. One of the few places in a house that has a lot of free outlets at standing height. I know if we want to charge a situational item (i.e. something that doesn't have a "place" to be plugged in) we tend to do it in the kitchen. Topping up an iPad or charging a drill battery.... that kind of thing. Charging something like a camcorder battery sounds reasonable.
 
Top Bottom