To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill
is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies — 'Er Majesty's Jollies —
soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps
an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too!
A maritime tradition that if a ship is sinking, the Captain should remain aboard it, or at least be the last one to escape
. This can also extend to other crewmen, usually so they can oversee and direct passengers onto the lifeboats first. The latter often goes hand in hand with "Women and children first"
(leading to jokes where adult men dress in drag or like children). A common twist in comedic works is for the captain to appoint someone else captain
and let them
go down with the ship. Sometimes the new captain then uses the "promotion" to reassign the old captain as captain, often going back and forth repeatedly until they both go under.
Originally came about because of maritime salvage laws - if the ship was abandoned by all the crew but didn't sink, anyone who got on board could claim the ship and contents as salvage. So a senior officer had to remain until it was clear that the ship really was going to sink (or at least be the last to leave) to prevent embarrassing losses of cargo and/or repairable ships.
In many cases, the captain goes down with the ship because he would face major disgrace if he didn't
—especially if the ship is only sinking because of his screw-up.
Because, of course, Space Is an Ocean
this also applies to starship captains. Even though there's no (literal) "down" for them to go
No relation to Die for Our Ship
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Anime & Manga
- The French-Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues has an album containing two subversions to this:
- First, when a boat Chesterfield and Blutch are sailors on gets sunk, they are outraced by the captain swiming to the safety of a lifeboat.
- When a later ship gets sunk, the captain stayed on board till the end, and the sailors all salute their captain's bravery... Only for the following shot showing the captain sitting at the bottom of the sea, sighing: "I couldn't tell them I can't swim!"
- This trope was occasionally used in Jonah (a comic strip in The Beano about a man who managed to sink everyship he went on).
- Played for Laughs in one of the Commando War Stories. A coxswain in WW 2 is warned that if he puts a scratch on the landing boat he's steering for shore, the Navy will take it out of his pay. The coxswain quips that now he knows why the captain always goes down with his ship. "I'd hate to fork out for a battleship!"
Live Action TV
- The Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "World War 1" has a ship captain announcing "women and children first!", then we see that the captain and crew are all dressed as women and children... and other costumes, which forces the captain to change the announcement to "women, children, Red Indians, spacemen, and a sort of idealized version of complete Renaissance Men first!"
- Battlestar Galactica invokes this trope a few times in S3. I'm not sure whether this falls squarely under this trope since no immediate crisis is involved — Adama simply kicks (almost) everybody off the ship when it's not in active duty, but refuses to leave with them. The other IS this trope, though. Lee Adama, Commander of the Pegasus, is the last to leave the ship (and says the customary good-bye) before it takes off on a collision course with the Cylon Baseships. Also in S4 Adama is the last to leave the Galactica, except for Sam who is now more part of the ship than part of the crew.
- In the Pilot Movie of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a Flash Back shows us Lt. Commander Sisko and crew abandoning ship during the battle of Wolf 359; Sisko is the last to board an escape shuttle (the captain had been killed; Sisko as first officer was now in command). He had to be dragged aboard, not because he felt he should go down with the ship but because his wife was killed and he was in despair.
- Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager episode Year of Hell, Part 2.
- In Firefly when Serenity is crippled Mal sends the rest of the crew off in the shuttles and stays on board. He claims this is because someone might hear their distress signal, but Inara at least assumes that he's doing this. In the end the crew, who had little better chances of survival in the shuttles in any case, come back to join him.
- Babylon 5:
- Stargate Verse:
- In Stargate SG-1, Col. Lionel Pendergast, captain of Earth's first starship Prometheus, stayed at the helm as the ship was blowing up around him in "Ethon" to beam his surviving crew to safety.
- In Stargate SG-1, a looming asteroid that has naquadah in it, meaning it was not naturally there as there is none of that element naturally in the Sol system is bearing down on Earth. General Hammond sends the entire SGC staff through the Stargate to the Alpha Site, but when queried if he was coming too, he says he "hasn't been relieved of this command".
- In Stargate Atlantis, in "The Last Man", an alternate reality Carter rams a Wraith Hiveship with the Phoenix, a much smaller 304 Battlecruiser. The Phoenix not only destroys the Hiveship, but two more are destroyed when they get caught in the blast of the first. It is unknown whether Carter meant to go down with the ship, or whether she intended to beam down to the planet below but couldn't because the transporters were knocked out.
- This almost happens to Captain Jack Harkness at the end of the two-part episode of Doctor Who that introduced him. He uses his ship to capture a German bomb about to kills the Doctor and Rose. Unfortunately, the bomb has already started the explosion sequence, and the only thing keeping it from exploding is a stasis field. However, the bomb is exploding slowly. Already in space, Jack orders the ship to jettison the bomb, only to receive the reply that this will cause the bomb to explode while inside the ship. Realizing it's over, he asks the ship to mix him a martini ("Ooh, too much vermouth! See if I ever come here again!) and prepares to die in just the same way he does everything else — with buckets of style. Then the Doctor shows up in the TARDIS to ruin the moment by saving the Lovable Rogue.
- This happens with the captain of the space cruiser liner Titanic in "Voyage of the Damned". However, in this case, the captain is the one who causes its collision with meteors, having been paid to do so to care for his family. He stays on the bridge and dies during the impact. However, the Doctor manages to save the ship (but not the girl).
- In "The Night of the Doctor", Cass has stayed behind to operate the teleport and get her crew off. The Doctor shows up to save her, but when she realises he is a Timelord she elects to stay on her ship until it crashes rather than go with him. The Doctor also elects to go down with the ship rather than abandon her.
- In The Muppet Show, Statler mentions that he was on the Titanic, to which Waldorf remarks that he still has the dress he(Statler) wore to get off.
- JAG: The Russian destroyer captain in "Cowboys & Cossacks" invokes this.
- In the series finale of Last Resort, Captain Marcus Chaplin stays on the bridge of his crippled submarine to make sure that no further surprises occur before the F-18's destroy the Colorado.
- The poem "Soldier an' Sailor Too" written by Rudyard Kipling as noted above.
- Joseph Conrad's uber-depressing short story The End of the Tether was about a Captain who went down with his ship, but that was entirely for the life insurance.
- In Golding's To The Ends Of The Earth trilogy (a great satire, deconstructing many sea tropes) we get this for poor newly-made Commander Summers when the old ship catches fire and sinks. In the book he apparently has no time to flee, in the TV mini-series he could but he doesn't.
- A variation happens in Mikhail Akhmanov's Fighters of Danveyt, when the novel's protagonist finds himself in a no-win situation with a much more powerful enemy ship. He orders the ship's semi-sentient computer to eject the two other crewmembers (who are sealed in personal pods) and sets a collison course for the enemy's Antimatter gun. The ship decides to alter the plan slightly by ejecting the captain as well a few seconds before the collision. The collision results in the loss of containment for the Antimatter and the destruction of both ships. The protagonist wakes up a week later having barely survived the blast.
- Averted by Admiral Trigit in Wraith Squadron. His fleeing his damaged but still combat-capable Star Destroyer prompts the beginnings of Gara Petothel's Heel-Face Turn. She blows the whistle on him to Wraith Squadron, and Myn Donos shoots him down.
- Invoked in Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners with Nicky Nichol's dad, who went down with his ship when it was torpedoed.
- Dale Browns Sky Masters, the Chinese Admiral fails to invade Mindanao, and his ship gets struck by the Americans satellite. With his ship sinking he decides to sink with the ship and shoot himself, because even if he lives, he'll get court martialed, scapegoated for everything and executed by his superiors.
- Played very straight by Captain Jack Aubrey of the Aubrey-Maturin saga. In the book "Desolation Island", the HMS Leopard springs a very large leak and is in danger of sinking. Captain Aubrey lets the men bring out the boats and gives his First Lieutenant dispatches for the authorities, while he himself prepares to go down with the ship. The situation eventually improves, thankfully.
- John M. Ford added this trope to the Klingon mindset in The Final Reflection. The captain of a Klingon warship is free to send his crew to safety before the ship goes kablooey, but is expected to remain behind himself. (The saying "Kahless' Hand" refers to the first Klingon emperor, who tied his hand to his command chair so no one could say he'd ducked out.)
- H. P. Lovecraft's short story The Temple, a Sub Story set during World War I is essentially one big story about this. Once it becomes clear the odds of surviving are next to non-existent without surrendering, the Captain decides that not only he, but the entire crew should go down with the submarine. He is, however, the only one who lives long enough to see the submarine hit the bottom, and the story ends with him donning a suit and wandering toward a sunken temple where he will presumably die of suffocation.
- Steeleye Span song - "Let Her Go Down".
While the Captain steered our wounded ship
To the bottom of an angry sea
And with his dying breath we all heard him say
Just the fortunes of a sailor
- Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
- Though in this case it was more due to the ship being sunk in a matter of seconds with no time for anybody to even think of abandoning ship.
- The Far Side: In one strip, a lone man remains on a sinking ship while the rest of the crew (including a man who is obviously the Captain) rows away. He wonders to himself if "The cook always goes down with the ship" really is a maritime tradition, or the others just lied to him.
- Mass Effect 2: Shepard is told Joker is ignoring orders to abandon ship; in his case it's less about dying honorably and more about trying to save the Normandy. After Shepard manages to get him into an escape pod, an explosion blasts him/her away from it. S/he sends the pod off anyway, saving Joker but sacrificing him/herself. Shepard didn't want to go down with the ship, s/he's just ridiculously altruistic. Besides, Shepard's death didn't stick.
- Subverted by the Battlecruiser Captain in StarCraft II. One of his (joke) quotes is "We're going down. Stay with the ship. I'm out!". Not taking heavy damage or close to death. Just as soon as they're hit.
- Recurring antagonist Admiral Amagi is assumed to go down with his ship the last time the player meets him in Warship Gunner 2.
- Occurs in Freespace when the Galatea is destroyed by the Lucifer. The Galatea launches escape pods, which you are charged with defending, but the the mission debriefing states that the Captain stayed behind and went down with his ship.
- Tron 2.0 played it straight with I-No, the old Tower Guardian who chose to de-rez with the server. However, it's discussed, then averted with Alan and Jet when it comes to them crashing the F-Con server.
- A cross between this and Taking You with Me in Starlancer with the captain of your first carrier evacuating the crew and then proceeding to ram the ship into the Coalition flagship, killing the guy who orchestrated the sneak attack at Fort Kennedy at the beginning of the war. The Coalition admiral realizes too late what his old acquaintance is planning to prevent the collision.
- AssassinsCreedIII: Templar Nicholas Biddle asks to go down with the Randolph after you disable it. Connor accepts, but blows up the magazine to ensure that it actually sinks.
- In Fallout 3, if you purge Vault 101's water chip during "Trouble on the Homefront" and lie to the Overseer that the rebels did it, he stays behind in the vault to die.
- In Metal Wolf Chaos, General Forester goes down with the command ship in Miami when the President sinks it. It's probably a gesture of atonement for going along with the Vice-President's coup.
- In The Horror At MS Aurora, this is what Daniel chooses to do if Kirk kept him alive to this point.
- An aviation crossover comes to us care of the immortal Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who put his crippled aircraft down on the Hudson River, deployed the rafts, got all the passengers out and walked through the cabin twice to make sure nobody was left behind.
- HMS Birkenhead which was carrying over 600 people, men, women, and children. When the ship ran into a dangerous reef, the Captain ordered that women and children would go in the lifeboats first and, realizing that adding any extra weight to the boats would swamp and sink them, it was then ordered that all the men were to stand at attention as the ship sank. They all did so and while some managed to survive, all of the seniors officers were killed. This is known as the "Birkenhead Drill".
- Dick Gregory mentioned once: "When I lost my rifle, the Army charged me 85 dollars. That is why in the Navy the Captain goes down with the ship."
- There's an element of Truth in Television to this; having their command sunk under them is often a Career Killer for naval officers, even if they weren't directly to blame.
- Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, the admiral aboard the IJN Hiryu, who chose to go down with his ship. He refused rescue and chained himself to an anchor to ensure his death. The IJN lost one of its most brilliant flag officers.
- This was especially common in Japan because they had learned their naval traditions from Britain, but through subtle translation difficulties, they believed the British tradition was that the Captain ought to insist on staying aboard and drowning if his ship is sunk. This was readily accepted because it fit the Samurai mentality and the bushido code so well. They even had a particular phrase you'll see used to describe it often: "share the ship's fate".
- Famously, Captain Edward J. Smith of the RMS Titanic went down with his ship. There are dozens of differing accounts as to how he died however, with some survivors claiming he shot himself just before the final plunge while others say he saved a child by swimming over to a lifeboat and lifting him in but dying from exposure before he could be saved.
- Thomas Andrews, the designer of Titanic, also went down with the ship—after frantic efforts to help others get off—holding himself responsible for the shortage of lifeboats and the fact that the ship was not as "unsinkable" as advertised.
- Admiral George Tryon, who went down with HMS Victoria in one of the worst naval accidents of the 19th Century. Due to a dreadful miscalculation on his part - his last recorded words were an admission of how he'd fucked up and "It's all my fault."
- Averted by captain Avranas of the Oceanos, who was one of the first off the ship. He later stated that "abandon ship is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay," but many people on board said there was no alarm raised and they had no idea that the ship was sinking. To make matters worse, his crew didn't close the lower deck portholes, which made the sinking even faster. The rescue operation was carried out by two entertainers. People were furious with the captain and crew for abandoning them. Luckily, all people on board were rescued.
- Infamously averted again by Craptain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia, who not only left his ship before the evacuation was completed, but refused orders from a commander of the local Coast Guard to get back on board to supervise the search for survivors. Commander De Falco's frustrated exhortation "Vada a bordo, cazzo!" ("Get back on board, for dick's sake!") to Schettino is adorning T-shirts not just in Italy, but around the world.
- The captain of IJN Yamato was said to have asked two junior officers to tie him to the ship's compass as the battleship was sinking. He then ordered the two to evacuate over their desires to die with him.
- Notably not a prominent tradition in the US Navy. A captain who abandons ship prematurely is labeled a coward, and one that abandons ship before taking every reasonable effort to see to the safety of his crew is likely to be labeled a Dirty Coward. But, the captain should at least make an effort to abandon ship himself. If the captain goes down with his ship, both need to be replaced.
- Subverted in the case of the Admiral Graf Spee. The captain, Hans Langsdorff, should have gone down with that ship when he ordered it scuttled on December 18, 1939, but his officers convinced him not to. So he killed himself the next day, a symbolic act of dying with his ship.
- Three out of Cracked's Five Least Courageous Things Ever Done In A Crisis are captains (and crews) abandoning the passengers when things go wrong.
- Averted and subverted in the case of HMS Guardian in 1789. The Guardian was a British ship of the line, hastily converted into a transport ship to try and resupply the newly founded colony at Botany Bay in Australia. During this - her maiden voyage - she collided with an iceberg and began to sink. Most of those on board escaped in the ship's boats, while the captain, Lieutenant Edward Riou, remained on board with a skeleton crew of sailors, civilian passengers, midshipmen and convicts - all of whom expected to die. Remarkably, they decided they weren't about to go down without a fight and frantically began a series of quick repairs and gruelling, non-stop shifts at the pumps. Riou - in an incredible feat of seamanship - managed to guide the crippled Guardian back to Cape Town; according to some accounts by the time she arrived she was little more than a gigantic raft. In a tragic subversion, only the occupants of one of the lifeboats - 15 people who took the ship's launch - survived; they were lucky enough to be found by a French merchant ship. The rest - over two hundred and forty people - were never seen again.
- Again a subversion with the RMS Lusitania: Captain Turner wanted to go down with Ol' Lucy... It's just that the wall of water swallowing the bridge had other ideas.