Armored Coffins

"We agreed that Russian Jaegers would have no ejection system. They win or die."

In the world of mecha/dogfight fiction, one thing noticeable about the mechs is this: No Ejection Seat is built into the mech or fighter and every battle you fight in must be seen through to the end. If you fail or get captured, see to it you do not leave behind any trace of your existence.

The Armored Coffin speaks of mechs or jet fighters or any type of war machine that forbids mid-battle retreat by design.

See Self-Destruct Mechanism for when the thing takes itself out enough so its tech cannot be discovered by the enemy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Older Gundam series have this, without any real way of escaping from an exploding mobile suit.
    • Averted with any mobile suit using the Core Block system (Yes, this includes the Impulse Gundam from Gundam SEED Destiny), and thus has a Core Fighter. The original Gundam's Core Fighter was designed primarily as a method for preserving valuable combat data should any of the Project V mobile suits be put out of commission. That the pilot would also be saved by this system was considered merely a side benefit: the combat data was what mattered; the pilot's job after ejected would be to fly back to base so that the data could be preserved.
    • Also averted in the second season of Gundam 00 - some of the Innovade mobile suits have the cockpit attached to the back which can be ejected and flown away.
    • The RB-79 Ball was derisively known to Federation Pilots as the "Mobile Coffin" since it was just a Pod with rudimentary Armor and a Cannon.
    • The Prototype Mobile Suit Forbidden Blue from one of Gundam SEED Sidestories is designed to use it's energy field to deflect the water around it, making it the first Amphibious Mobile Suit of the Earth Alliance. However, the problem with this was that the suit itself cannot withstand deep pressure and any sort of engine failure meant that the suit would be quickly crushed as the water came back in. It's mass production model, the Forbidden Vortex, is functionally identical, but with an added Titanium cockpit that gives the pilot a decent chance at survival.
  • Averted in Patlabor, where, being in a Real Robot setting, people build in ejection seats. In the second movie, however, one of them jams in a warzone, leaving the pilot to die.
  • Averted in Xabungle. Walker Machines are basically trucks with legs, and are just as vulnerable. The kicker, of course, is that not only does this make them easier to escape, but a ridiculously high percentage of the pilots live to talk about it; despite being a Tomino Yoshiyuki show, pretty much only named pilots run a risk of dying.
  • Played straight in Armored Trooper VOTOMS. How straight? ATs are nicknamed 'steel coffins' in-universe for enough reasons that any sane safety board really wouldn't let them anywhere near a battlefield.
  • The Lancelot in Code Geass doesn't have an ejection system, because Lloyd was too busy installing everything else he could think of into it. Suzaku thus has to rely on its supreme technological advantage, because he's not walking away from a fight otherwise. Ironic considering that Knightmare Frames were developed from Escape Pods with legs and every other one has an ejection system.
    • It fits him well in the second season as all the other Knights of the Round also lack ejection systems in their Knightmares. Knights of the Round are expected to either return with their machine intact, or die in it. The Lancelot itself IS finally equipped with an escape device when C.C. takes over it as she certainly isn't willing to risk herself (although being an immortal she'd survive anyway, albeit painfully). The Lancelot Albion as a Knights of the Round unit also seemingly lacks one except it DOES have it, so Suzaku can fake his death as per Zero Requiem, timing his ejection as the machine explodes just right so nobody sees it and assumes him killed.
  • Averted in Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko all the ships the character use have a built in teleporter which teleports the pilot out of the ship when its about to be destroyed.

  • Pacific Rim: Mk 1 Jaegers tend to stop functioning only in ways that either directly or indirectly kill the pilots. Later models have ejectors, but only one destroyed mech in the entire movie gets to actually use them; all the others go down in ways that preclude ejection, from having a Kaiju rip the cockpit out with its teeth to setting off a nuclear bomb strapped to the back.
    • Russian Jaegers are designed to be like this. While other countries' Jaegers have an escape mechanism, it's a general for Russian pilots that if their Jaeger goes down, so do they.

    Video Games 
  • In Armored Core, adding to the Spartan Way training given to Ravens/LYNX, all ACs/NEXT's do not have any sort of ejection pods. In Armored Core 5 this is averted since you bail out if you mech goes out of commission.(in multiplayer anyway)
  • In Front Mission, the Vampires — a Black Ops branch of the B-Organization - have their wanzers set up for complete destruction to cover any trace of their relations to their employer.
  • Star Wars' TIE Fighters might or might not be examples. Imperial pilots (unlike their Rebel counterparts) wear spacesuits, so very simple ejection seats would let them survive their fighters being destroyed; but does the Empire provide them? Either way of thinking, "expensive pilots, cheap fighters" or "disposable fighters for disposable pilots", would be in-character for the Empire.
  • All the planes in Ace Combat 3 are piloted via a so-called COFFIN system, which is a kind of neural interface that allows you to steer them with your brain but has no ejection seats whatsoever.
  • In Metroid, Space Pirate boarding pods are referred to as "Space Coffins"; they only let you out if successful.
    • Scanning one gets you some more detail. The boarding pods are really just large metal containers with explosives at one end, designed to go off when the pods hits the targeted ship. However, there are also many times were the explosives go off too late, too early, or not at all.
  • The assault pods from Quake II. How they are used? Take a few hundred of them, put a marine in each, seal the can, and let them swarm the enemy's base or planet, hoping that at least a few will survive the anti-aircraft fire. The whole thing is aptly named "Operation Overlord" at the end of the Strogg War.
  • Averted in Steel Battalion, where you can manually eject (via a specific button). If you don't, then you technically "died", eliminating any and all progress you made prior to the point of your destruction.
  • FreeSpace has never hinted at the existence of ejection systems on its fighters, and tactical retreats are rare in the game. For most ships and fighters, once committed to the field it is do or die.
  • Averted in the MechWarrior series, the mech simulator set in the BattleTech universe. All mechs have built-in ejection seats, which the player can activate in some games. Played with in Living Legends; while ejection is normally enabled on all vehicles, the Solaris Arena deathmatch mode disables the ejection seat on all mechs, forcing pilots to see combat through to the bitter end. The only way to get out of a mech in Solaris Arena is to power down and climb out.
  • Averted in Titanfall, the Titans have an ejection system with them, which launches the pilot out of the mech when it's about to be destroyed.
  • All aircraft in the Command & Conquer series lack ejection mechanisms, with the only exceptions being some USA craft in Generals. Even those don't always work.
  • Mentioned in War Thunder's "The Battle is ON!" trailer, though in-game you can always bail out of aircraft. The trailer shows the defiant last moments of a B-17 tailgunner has he blasts the wings off of a German fighter as his bomber plows into the ground.
    "From the second it [bomber] takes off you're inside, it's a cage, you see... And then the flak comes in, thick and heavy. You won't get out, not when it dives at 300 knots."
  • Small craft in Elite Dangerous have no ejection seat despite the ship's computer repeating Eject...Eject...Eject... when about to explode.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech is a notable aversion, as most pilots will survive the destruction of their 'Mech even if they have to ride it down when it goes over, and all 'Mechs are equipped with sophisticated automatic ejection systems in the event of ammunition explosion or reactor containment loss. Similarly, since their armor is ablative, most suits of power armor can be reduced to failing wrecks that daylight can be seen through, but you still have to take one more shot to kill the person wearing it. Aerospace fighters have reliable ejection systems as well, though recovery has to be on hand if the pilot bails out in space.
    • ProtoMechs are highly Armored Coffins. They are often too slow to retreat even if they wished to, and destruction of the machine is destruction of the pilot.
    • However, the Spider light mech, is an infamous death trap because it has no ejection system. To get out in combat, the pilot must physically climb out of the control chair (no easy task while wearing a 10 pound Neurohelmet) in the tiny cabin, and climb through the hatch mounted below the armored glass.
    • Similarly, early in its service-life the Lucifer aerospace fighter went through a redesign to repair major structural flaws, and one of the ‘fixes’ required deleting the ejection system. Given that the type ended up spending more than five centuries as the Lyran Commonwealth’s mainstay medium fighter, one can only imagine how many pilots ended their careers (and lives) helplessly careening off into deep space as a result.
    • It's worth noting that a MechWarrior can always turn his or her machine into an example of this trope by simply disabling the automatic ejection mechanism (more common since the advent of explosion-mitigating CASE for the ammo bins made it more likely that the 'Mech itself would survive) and then overstaying his or her welcome (even a vented explosion is rough on the pilot and combines with damage from other sources to knock out and possibly even kill him or her).
    • This is also one of the downsides of conventional combat vehicles in the game and setting. Simply put, by default 'Mechs and fighters have ejection seats...and tanks and helicopters don't.
    • The Clan Hunchback IIC is designed to be this, it has meager armor and poor endurance, as they are usually piloted by older solahma warriors (above 35) so they can die in the next fight. Its even shaped like a coffin with arms and legs.
  • Rifts does the exact opposite when it comes to Powered Armor: any weapon powerful enough to penetrate it is more than powerful enough to reduce the wearer to pinkish mist after doing so.
    • It should also be noted that while most mechs and vehicles lacked an ejection system, they usually had their pilot's compartments armored, so the crew could still survive their machine's destruction.
  • Implied in Warhammer 40,000, where an ejection seat is actually an upgrade for an Imperial or Tau airplane, which suggests their basic planes aren't equipped with them. Chaos plays this straight since most of their aircraft are piloted by Servitors hard-wired into the cockpit, but we have no confirmation either way when it comes to the Eldar.
    • Also similarly implied for Tau battlesuits, where an ejection seat is again an optional upgrade.
    • Taken to literal extremes with the Space Marine Dreadnoughts, whose pilots are crippled veterans who are too broken to fight alongside their brothers but too valuable to simply allow to waste away. Since the life support that keeps them alive is integrated into the Dreadnought itself, there wouldn't be much point to having an Ejection Seat anyway.
    • Imperial Guard Sentinels are walking mechas that are usually "armored" to such an extent that they are vulnerable to mere small-arms, and frequently designed with an open canopy. They are usually used for reconnaissance or search-and-destroy, missions which hardly ensures they won't be fired on. A common fan joke is friction ensuing about Sentinel pilots regarding their machines as walking coffins with an above-mentioned Dreadnought in their midst.
    • Ork pilots, on the other hand, have no such problems: the only reason an ork would install an Ejection Seat is to have an extra rokkit close by, and being in a screaming hunk of metal blazing by at quasi-sonic speeds spitting death and smoke can only be improved by being on fire. The only problem is getting them back on the ground, where there's no one to shoot and speed is limited to walking.

    Real Life 
  • During World War I plane crews did not have parachutes (usually). Some officers considered that the crew should not be allowed to leave the plane, as that would be cowardice. It was thought at the time that if a pilot had a parachute, he would jump from the plane when hit rather than trying to save the aircraft. That being said, planes didn't always come with harnesses either, although they did have seatbelts (for most part).
    • Japanese pilots in World War II were not issued parachutes as standard. Though they were available to anyone who asked, other nations made them a requirement.
      • They became standard issue only in 1944 when the air war was waged over the Japanese home islands and any parachuting airmen would be quickly rescued. Japan did not have at that moment a reserve of experienced airmen to be expended, and every rescued pilot counted.
      • The Japanese military was (in)famous for an absolutely callous treatment of its own troops (Soviet commanders at least got similar reputation because of sheer desperation, for the Japanese it was a standard operational practice). Its command wasted the whole prewar cadre of highly-trained Ace Pilots in fruitless attacks in God-forgotten places such as Rabaul, and only by the very end of the war did Japanese commanders get the brilliant idea that training a pilot is actually a much longer, expensive and difficult process than building a plane. By then, there was simply not enough resources or the time to properly train pilots, even if they had considered irreplaceable. Unlike the allies, Japan also never had a dedicated search-and-rescue service for downed airmen. Even if a pilot had successfully bailed out, he was on his own.
  • The LaGG-3, a Red Air Force fighter which the Soviet airmen said stood for LAkirovannyi Garantirovannyi Grob (Lacquered Guaranteed Coffin). It was of plywood construction and had somewhat sub-standard flying properties, largely from its anemic engine (a common problem for most Soviet fighters of WWII). Later, when a new, more powerful engine and other improvements were installed, it evolved into the seminal (and astonishingly deadly) La-5 and then La-7, an aircraft of choice for the best Allied ace, Ivan Kozhedub.
  • A number of World War 2 vehicles acquired this reputation:
    • Italian tanks were literally referred to by their crews as "self-propelled coffins" due to their poor armor and poor hatch placement; they were easily knocked out and difficult to bail out of.
    • Shermans earned a number of derogatory nicknames (most notably "The Tommycooker" and "Ronson", after a brand of lighter that "lights up the first time, every time") for their propensity to catch fire, leaving the crew with only seconds to get out of the tank after a penetrating hit. This was due to the fact that early versions of the M4 didn't have water jackets for the ammo storage and fuel tanks.
    • Some early versions of both German and Russian tanks did not have a hatch for the radioman, forcing him to try and escape via the driver's hatch. If the tank caught fire, this usually resulted in the radioman's death.
    • German U-Boats were dubbed "iron coffins" by some. If a sub was sunk, there was no chance of survival for the crew, and they would be entombed in the hull at the bottom of the sea, hence the name. Even if the crewmen somehow managed to get out of the U-Boat before it was completely submerged, if any of the electric cell banks necessary for underwater operation were breached the battery acid inside would render the nearby water toxic enough that anyone would be as a corpse by the time they could be plucked out of the waves.
      • Late in the war, when Germany could no longer field an effective submarine fleet, the Navy created the Neger, a torpedo-carrying one-man submersible. It was a good idea on paper, the small size and low profile of the craft made them perfect for sneak attacks. Unfortunately, the Neger leaked like a sieve, was difficult to steer, aiming the torpedo was almost impossible, and the boat had a nasty tendency to get stuck to a fired torpedo such that both the craft and the torpedo ends up plowing into the target. The Neger was so unsuccessful as a weapon that the Allies never realized it existed.
    • The trope name was invoked for the Brewster Buffalo even though it came with standard safety procedures because of its immense uselessness in the Southeast Asian and Pacific theatres of World War II against the Zero fighters. It was redesigned in the later phases of the war and ended up even worse. The Finns used them to good effect during the Winter War as Soviet aircraft wasn't as good.
      • The problem with the Buffalo was that it was poorly suited to carrier operations, mainly due to issues with the landing gear. Modifications to the aircraft increased its weight, which exacerbated the landing gear issues. All this on top of relatively modest performance and the fact that Japanese pilots in the early months of the war were better trained and more experienced than their American counterparts. By the time the Americans had adapted their strategies to exploits flaws in Japanese aircraft and tactics, the Buffalo had been phased out of service in favor of more powerful aircraft, along with many other early-war aircraft such as the Douglas Devestator, Vought Vindicator, and the Curtiss Hawk.
  • The Royal Navy County class heavy cruisers were called tinclads as they had good armament but poor armour.
    • Contemporary USN heavy cruisers were frequently accused of being "eggshells armed with hammers" for similar reasons. (Namely the tonnage limits established by the naval treaties of the time. In the attempts to squeeze the most warship possible into the allowed weight, compromises were all but unavoidable — and decent armor is actually quite heavy.)
    • On a similar note, the US Navy nickname for Destroyers is "Tin Can", after the generally weak protection that WWI and WWII destroyers had against the capital ships they were often tasked with protecting or attacking.
      • "Tin Can" was more specifically used in reference to the American destroyer escorts, which were even smaller and less armored than full-sized destroyers. How can you have less armor than a destroyer that has virtually none at all? Simple: while destroyers had little in the way of armour plating, they did incorporate some armour over essential areas and made significant use of hardened steel alloys in their construction. Destroyer escorts, designed to be cheaper and more disposable, had absolutely no armour at all and thinner hulls of made of mild steel. To put this into context, it's like substituting cheap plywood for seasoned oak.
    • Italian torpedo boats (effectively light destroyers), destroyers and light cruisers of World War II were built for ludicrous speed and adequate range and armament, resulting in them being lightly armoured. While they were devastating against lighter ships (they were designed to hunt down the immediately smaller type of warship, having matching or superior speed and heavier armament) and had more chances of attacking battleships and survive by simply not getting hit, they were in trouble when facing ships of the same type and not having enough space to turn and run, leading to engagements like Cape Spada (where the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney took on two Italian light cruisers, each of them outgunning Sydney, and won, disabling one and forcing the other to retreat while shrugging the one hit she received) and one embarrassing incident where the Italian torpedo boat RN Sagittario rammed the submarine HMS Protheus and nearly sank.
  • The modern Russian BMP series of IFVs has a darkly humorous backronym "Bratskaya Mogila Pehoty" (Rus. "Common Grave of the Infantry"). The interior is cramped, forcing troopers to squat with their knees close to their chest; this of course, made it more difficult to exit the vehicle, even under normal conditions. What made things worse was that passengers sat with their backs facing the centre of the vehicle, where the main fuel storage tanks were located. One direct hit by anything that wasn't an infantry firearm could easily penetrate the BMP's thin side armour and turn the entire compartment into a fireball. Additionally, the rear door also functioned as secondary fuel tanks, while these were supposed to be left empty in combat operations, a BMP caught in an ambush with fuel in its doors could easily find itself on fire due to a hit on the door allowing fuel to leak inside the crew compartment. While these problem was fixed with the newer BMP-3 model, Russian soldiers participating in the Chechen Wars decided to take their chances riding on top of the vehicle, rather than inside it.
    • Russian armor traditionally was always designed for the large, WWII-style conflict where the most pressing concern was NBC protection, so its mine resistance wasn't anything to write home about — APCs were envisioned to be advancing behind the tank columns, equipped with the mine trawls and interspersed with the combat engineering vehicles that would dig up or detonate the mines. So when the most conflicts fought by the Soviet and then Russian Army since Afghanistan turned out to be relatively low-intensity counter-insurgency warfare, where the anti-tank mines and IEDs were used by everyone and their little dog too, but the mine trawls and forward engineering recon proved impractical for each and every column, only for the largest and most important ones, up to forcing the logistics to switch into convoy mode, sitting inside the vehicle was seen as more dangerous than on top of it (it also gave the soldiers better field of view to try to notice any possible ambush). Only by The New Tens Russian military had the time and money to develop their own MRAP vehicles.
    • For that matter, the older BTR-40 and BTR-152 armored personnel carriers also acquired a similar reputation and nickname in the Middle East. Up until recently, these vehicles were fairly common in Arab service; several of them ended up being captured by the Israel Defence Force, which made use of them as well. Israeli troopers gave the vehicles a backronym in Hebrew: "Bo Tizrok Rimon" ("Come, throw a grenade"), due to their invitingly-open tops. It didn't help that the sides of the vehicle effectively boxed the occupants in.
    • Finnish army conscripts refer BTR as Sukellusvene ("Submarine"), not only because its hull resembles one, but due to an accident at Taipalsaari 1991, where a BTR-60 cossing a lake on light wind took water in and sank, killing seven conscripts.
      • Technical note: the requirement to make the blasted thing amphibious came in fairly late in the design process, so the best designers could to without restarting everything from scratch, was to stick in the powerful bilge pump and hope for the best. Yes, BTR-60 could float — but barely, and only so far as its bilge pump was working, as it leaked like a sieve — and, note, it was in normal operation. If the pump failed, it would promptly take in water and sink.
  • The Killdozer was used in a destructive rampage when a zoning dispute boiled over. After entering, the operator of the makeshift armoured bulldozer had effectively sealed himself inside after welding the entry point shut.
    • Killdozer armored capsule wasn't welded shut, it was simply lowered to the chassis from above. It would've theoretically possible to remove it by any crane (as it was eventually done, in fact), but Heemeyer just already decided to commit suicide at that point.
  • The Handley Page Victor strategic bomber had the crew hatch immediately ahead of the jet turbine. Attempting to bail out would result in crew salsa.
  • While the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter had an ejection seat, the ejection seats were often too weak to lift the pilot clear of the gigantic tail fin. Early versions of the plane had an ejection seat that ejected downwards, but that would create obvious problems when landing. Given that the Starfighter also had a well-earned reputation for being difficult to fly (in West Germany, for example, they were nicknamed "lawn darts" and it was said that the best way to acquire one was to buy a random plot of land and wait for it to fall from the sky), this was a major problem.
  • Issues with getting away from the plane after bailing out (as opposed to getting hit by the tail or wing at high speed) were of course the reason for the development of the Ejection Seat, particularly once jets arrived on the scene. Many airmen throughout history attempted to bail out of crippled planes only to suffer such a fate before that development.
  • Born out of desperation during the final years of World War 2, the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet was an emergency rocket-powered air defense fighter that barely had enough fuel and ammunition for a very brief sortie against an incoming formation of bombers. The one detail that makes it an Armored Coffin is the fact that it had to use a landing skid to "crash softly" on a runway since it had no landing gear or brakes. A very bad idea as the Komet's fuel tank was highly susceptible to leaking from a hard impact and contained two types of hypergolic (A.K.A very volatile) propellants that would ignite when combined. This meant that the Me 163 would literally turn into a Komet if it landed hard enough for the fuel to 'slosh' together and spontaneously combust.
    • Even worse, one of those two substances was potently acidic, which meant it needed to be held in a glass container. In turn, this was very easy to rupture if the landing was anything but smooth. Many were the reports of Allied infantry coming across Komets with pilots who had been skeletonized by a leaking fuel tank.
      • It would have been less of an issue, because the entire amount of fuel was to be spend to gain altitude, then glide to attack and glide back home to crashland. The Komet had rediculously good gliding characteristic for that manner. Still, the volatile fuels were an issue, to the point where tanking either one of them was made separate, and after one, the other had to wait for the fuel tanker to leave the area entirely before the other fuel was filled in. Before that, rigurous washing with water had to be performed. And while one of the fuels was corrosive, the other would burn after coming in contact with organic tissue, and you were pretty much surrounded in fueltanks. Pick your poison.
  • Being a Ball Turret Gunner meant this trope applied. Most of the crew of the b-17 got parachutes. Not the Ball turret gunner as there was not enough room to wear one. Statistically speaking, the ball turret gunner was just as likely to die as any other member of the crew (having the same amount of armor protection, which is to say none at all), but being suspended in a cramped glass ball beneath the plane left one feeling particularly vulnerable.
    • Additionally, if the motors that controlled the turret were damaged during combat, this could prevent the gunner from being able to exit the turret. And if the plane's landing gear were also damaged that would mean the plane were forced to perform a belly landing that would assuredly kill the gunner. There is more than one instance where this did indeed happen.
      • This was the main reason why Harry Harrison, having served (and surviving) a full tour of duty in this very position, came to hate all things military with a passion. Which is where all the snark and ridicule in his writing comes from.
  • While the RA Fs Avro Vulcan did have ejection seats, these were only for the two pilots, the rest of the five man crew had no such luck and were expected to try to jump out manually via the plane's hatches. Interestingly enough, the original prototypes of this had it worse, with only one pilot having an ejection seat.