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Sink the Lifeboats
A particularly ruthless (and dishonorable) enemy may decide he wants no one to live to tell the tale. He may torpedo the life boats, shoot down an Ejection Seat or two, blast the Escape Pods to ions, etc. Obviously, this is usually a pretty low thing to do, and in Real Life wars, may (rightly) be considered a war crime, especially if the craft in question was a civillian craft.

It generally shows just how evil a villain is, and can be a very quick means of making the villain irredeemable in the eyes of the audience, in addition to having the audience cheer louder when the guy who did this finally bites the dust.

Subtrope of Leave No Survivors. If the lifeboats are carrying wounded, overlaps with Kick Them While They Are Down. Frequently treated as a Moral Event Horizon.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In One Piece, when Robin's island was destroyed by the World Government, they sunk the "evacuation boat" as well. The sheer horror of this was what prompted would-be Admiral Aokiji to spare Robin, and the ship that sank it was commanded by Aokiji's fellow Admiral-to-be, the Knight Templar Akainu/Sakazuki.
  • Area 88: Nguyen's Establishing Character Moment was gleefully shooting a pilot who ejected from a plane that he shot down. He eventually suffers a Karmic Death.
  • In the eighth Dragon Ball Z movie, Paragas tries to use his Escape Pod to flee from his rampaging son, Broly, and from the comet about to collide with the planet he had previously lured the Z-Fighters to. Unfortunately for him, Broly catches up to him, crushes the pod with his bare hands, and throws the remains into the sun.
  • A slightly less severe version occurs in Gundam SEED, where Yzak sees a civilian escape pod and shoots it down because he assumes it's full of military personnel. When he learns the truth later on, he's horrified that he killed civilians, and on the whole the character is treated sympathetically.
  • Aldnoah.Zero decided the show the depths that Trillram, a martian pilot with advanced alien technology (including Deflector Shields), was willing to go in the name of glory when he mercilessly slaughtered a squadron of F-22 Raptors, culminating in him ramming an ejected pilot just to kill him, and enjoying every moment of it.

     Comic Books 
  • In one story by Walter Moers: One evil, opium-addicted captain sabotages the lifeboats (but one) of his own ship, as part of his Evil Plan to move with the women passengers (as his Unwanted Harem) to an unknown island.

    Film 
  • Elliot Carver has his mooks do this on purpose at the beginning of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies as part of his plan to start a war between the UK and China.
  • In a scene near the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope, two Imperials are shooting any escape pods launched from Princess Leia's ship if they detect life signs aboard. Of course, given the existence of sentient droids and the fact that they're trying to stop information from escaping, not a person, this was a rather foolish approach to take.
  • One of several historical errors in U-571. The Nazi captain's Kick the Dog moment has him machine gunning a lifeboat because it's the Fuhrer's order. As noted in the Real Life section it was the Fuhrer's wish, but Doenitz made sure it never got to the order stage.
  • Murphy's War (1971). The title character's Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the U-boat is due to the Germans machine-gunning his crewmates; Murphy being the Sole Survivor.
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Admiral Kirk pokes a hole in Saavik's evacuation order during the Kobayashi Maru test by noting that the Klingons don't take prisoners.
  • In Star Trek, Acting Captain George Kirk has to stay aboard the USS Kelvin to shoot down the missiles directed at the escaping shuttlecraft by a vengeful Nero.
  • In French film The Damned, a Nazi submarine sinks another German ship—Germany has surrendered, but the submarine is manned by The Remnant, which sinks the surface ship for obeying the surrender order. The folks on the submarine then machine-gun the lifeboats to Leave No Survivors.

    Literature 
  • In 1984, there's a scene where Winston watches a news report showing his country doing this. A prole woman is actually taken away because she had the gall to complain!
  • In Timothy Zahn's The Conquerors Trilogy, the Zhirrzh deliberately target and destroy the life pods of the human vessels they defeat. This is actually justified, since radio waves are dangerous to the Zhirrzh, causing them to mistake the automatic distress beacons for weapons.
  • The hero of Run Silent Run Deep does this at the climax of the book to make sure a particularly clever Japanese naval officer won't be around to sink any other U.S. subs. Most of his crew are appalled, and he feels pretty down about it, too. In the movie version, that part was left out.
  • In the Barrett Tillman novel Warriors, a Saudi Tiger Force [an F-20 Tigershark force with foreign instructors] pilot kills an ejecting Israeli with his guns after another Israeli had, actually accidentally, caused a parachute of one of his comrades to collapse, assuming it was fair game. John Bennett is incensed as it sets a bad precedent and demotes the pilot from flight leader.
  • The World War I U-boat captain narrator of H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Temple" kicks the dog early on by not only sinking a civilian ship, but then "dutifully" shooting the lifeboats after promising to let the passengers live (he needed them to oblige his taking photos of the sinking ship first, since their bodies would have spoiled the shot). Since he's narrating a Lovecraft story, his status as a Doomed Protagonist soon to face karmic retribution with nothing but an Apocalyptic Log left to tell the tale is all but assured.
  • X-Wing Series:
    • The Adumari do this on pilots that eject during duels. If the victorious pilot doesn't, the losing pilot will possibly be beaten to death by angry spectators on landing.
    • In The Bacta War, Imperial crewmen fleeing a doomed Star Destroyer ask Wedge Antilles et al. not to do this. Given that Rogue Squadron are the good guys, they weren't planning to in the first place.
  • In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet, both sides have been known to fire upon escape pods.
  • There's a form of this, the killing-the-defenseless aspect of Leave No Survivors, in A Brother's Price. A family that has committed treason is executed for it, right down to the youngest children. It happened years ago after the War of the False Eldest. Recalling that those children would have been her mothers if the family hadn't split, Ren is affected by the thought, though her sister Halley is coolly pragmatic about it.
    "Their mothers and father had been executed. Do you think you could take that hatred to suckle at your breast?"
    "They had done nothing wrong!"
    "If we had aunts that executed our mothers for fighting over a just cause, would we calmly accept them as our new mothers, or would we rebel?"
  • The Propagandists of the People's Republic of Haven tell their citizens that Manticore is doing this during one stage of the war in the Honor Harrington novels. It is in fact a complete lie, but it creates a great deal of anger amongst the largely uneducated Havenites.
    • There's a very scary scene when it sounds like the Grayson Navy commander (a good guy, but very angry over Honor's "execution" has ordered his men to do this.
  • In John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy, John F. Kennedy and his crew aboard the PT-109 are horrified when the "uptimers" begin to shoot at the Chinese survivors who are trying to get board and are threatening to capsize the boat. Given that the "uptimers" come from a world where terrorism has gone Up to Eleven, this may be expected.

    Live Action TV 
  • Averted in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Changing Face of Evil," in which the female Founder orders Weyoun NOT to destroy a swarm of escape pods. Her reasoning is that the frightened troops will return home and spread their fear, thereby demoralizing the enemies of the Dominion. This is the exception, though; in "Valiant", for example, the Dominion shoot down the titular ship's escape pods moments after launch (but conveniently miss the main characters).
    • It is possible that the Dominion ship was simply shooting at the ship and the escape pods happened to get caught in the crossfire, since the ship wasn't destroyed (read atomized) yet and the Dominion ship was still firing on it when the pods launched. This theory makes some sense because it is unlikely that the Dominion ship would have missed the main characters if they were following this trope.
    • If you watch this scene, they do appear to be deliberately firing at the escape pods, which are well clear of the vessel when hit. The last pod to leave, however, is shielded by the explosion of the Valiant.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise ("In A Mirror, Darkly", Part One). Enterprise is destroyed by the Tholians who also shoot at the escape pods even though they're already trapped inside a Tholian energy web, as befitting the Darker and Edgier world of the Mirror Universe. There are only 47 survivors, but that's enough to allow a Part Two.
  • During the Grand Finale of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, Trakeena (who has gone completely off her rocker after fusing with Deviot) cripples Terra Venture by turning her minions into suicide bombers. She then orders an attack on the fleeing emergency shuttles, which proves one step too far for Noble Demon Villamax.
  • Averted in the Mini Series The Sinking Of The Laconia, which depicts the rescue of British survivors of the torpedoed ship by the crew of a German U-boat, as described in the Real Life section below.
  • In Space: Above and Beyond, enemy Ace Pilot known by the Marines as Chiggy von Richtofen was known to Leave No Survivors, ultimately culminating in him shooting down the escape pod of a Wildcards Mauve Shirt, which incidentally inspired the semi-Retired Badass Colonel TC McQueen to get off of the carrier and back into the cockpit solely to kill Chiggy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech gives the player a chance to take down an ejecting pilot, or simply to tread on a downed 'mech pilot's cockpit, pilot still inside. Although it's commonly done by dumb chance, some players try for it.
    • Some of the Battletech fiction shows bad guys doing this to show how ruthless they are. It's really stupid as they do this while other active enemies are shooting at them.
    • BattleMechs are actually fairly safe to fight in (relative to conventional vehicles, anyway, to say nothing of service in the infantry); you can't actually count on taking out a MechWarrior by simply shooting up his or her machine, so depending on the circumstances taking that cheap shot may in fact be the single best chance you have to eliminate him or her more permanently as a threat. Something that won't be lost on the Combat Pragmatists of the setting, obviously...
  • In the Shadowrun sourcebook "Gun Heaven 2," ruthless Sixth World pirate Kane mentions in the discussion around one gun that he uses it to shoot people evacuating the ships he sinks.

    Video Games 
  • The game Operation Inner Space has a law against this kind of behaviour.
  • In the first level of Halo: Combat Evolved, the Covenant shoot down the Pillar of Autumn's escape pods which are trying to land on the eponymous ringworld, and then send troops to kill anyone who did manage to make landfall. Justified (militarily at least) by the fact that keeping humans from reaching Halo was their actual mission objective.
    • Not to mention the entire point of the war, for the Covenant, was to wipe out humanity.
    • In Halo: Reach the city New Alexandria is under attack; civilians are loaded into evacuation shuttles, but the shuttles cannot take off due to a small enemy ship hovering overhead. One defiant pilot decides to ignore orders and take off before his ship is overrun; his shuttle is promptly shot down and sinks into the ocean.
    • The Covenant are at it again in Halo 4; while Ivanoff Station is under attack by Covenant under the Didact, a tremor racks the station. When Chief asks what it was, the head scientist tells you the first evacuation craft had just been shot down.
  • This is almost always the result when the player ejects in Starlancer. There is also a mission when the player has to stop enemy fighters which are attempting to perpetrate it on the Escape Pods from a recently-destroyed Space Station.
  • One of the Kilrathi aces in Wing Commander has a reputation for shooting ejection pods. This doesn't seem to come up if you eject when flying against him, though.
  • Occurs fairly frequently in EVE Online and is commonly known as "Podding".
    • Note that this does not kill anyone permanently - The victim may lose skill points if he doesn't have a clone body. If he did, he'll need to buy a new clone to avoid the SP loss the next time he dies. Podding also destroys any implants the victim were currently using.
      • CONCORD does consider this a much more serious offense than simply destroying a ship. But CONCORD's jurisdiction is limited.
  • Many videogames allow the player to conduct this particular war crime, offering serious Video Game Cruelty Potential. The Total War series is a notable example, with the ability to massacre populations, execute prisoners in Medieval 2: Total War, or grapeshot surrendered enemy warships in Empire: Total War. Even at the most basic level, running down shattered enemy units with cavalry qualifies, as the enemy aren't a threat when they're running away to save their sorry hides.
    • Elite inadvertently encourages players to blow up ships' escape pods. You can't use your jump drive when the pod is within detection range, which means a long and tedious wait while you leave the area using thrusters. You can pick up the pod and sell the occupant as a slave, but that will leave you with a criminal record. So the convenient and consequence-free options are to shoot the pod or "accidentally" crash into it.
      • The Fan Remake Oolite is a little better about this, since escape pods are treated as cargo on the scanners and the game has an in-built bounty / insurance reward system for delivering captured / rescued pilots. It's still an option, though.
    • * Its possible to shoot parachuting pilots in "Chuck Yeagers Air Combat"
  • Allegiance has a game mechanic that discourages players from Sinking The Life Boats in most situations. When an enemy player's spaceship is destroyed, they are ejected in an Escape Pod, and must slowly fly back to a friendly base or ship to be rescued, get a new ship, and re-join the battle. This gives the enemy an advantage, since the team of the "podded" pilot now has one less member doing something useful until the pod reaches home. However, if the pod is shot down by the enemy, the pilot is immediately re-spawned back at base, and can immediately rejoin the fight. It is more advantageous to let them float.
    • However, players also earn a bonus to the damage their weapons do depending on how many enemies they've shot down — and this bonus is re-set if they are defeated and their pod is destroyed, but not if their pod makes it home safely. Thus, it makes sense to destroy the escape pods of those players who have earned a particularly large bonus.
  • In Titanfall, the losing team at the end of a game is tasked with escaping via jumpship extraction. The winning team, conversely, is tasked with making sure they don't: one way to accomplish this is to shoot down the jumpship before it leaves.
  • Skies of Arcadia has Vyse, Aika, and Fina choosing to bail from the Little Jack when Drachma gets a little too obsessed with hunting down Rhaknam - and for good reason, given that Ramirez's fleet has just caught up with them. The fleet fires on the Little Jack at the time the trio take the escape pods; Ramirez, wanting to be sure that the Blue Rogues pose no further threat, opens fire on them as well.
  • IL-2 Sturmovik: Shooting parachutes. You can shoot the pilot, leaving his lifeless body dangling on the chute. Or you can shoot the chute, sending the poor devil plummeting to his death.
  • In Star Trek: Bridge Commander there is a mission where you have to escort a hospital ship as it picks up escape pods after a battle. The Cardassians then show up and start attacking the hospital ship and, presumably once that is done, will finish off any survivors in the pods.
  • This is done automatically in Nexus: The Jupiter Incident both by your ships and your enemies', as flak lasers cannot be controlled (you can shut them off, though).
    • If one of your ships is damaged beyond repair, the crew starts evacuating in escape pods. If you manage to retrieve at least 50% of the crew, the new (identical) ship you get for the next mission will have the same experience as the lost one. You will, however, have to get all new equipment.
  • In Tachyon: The Fringe, one mission can be played for either of the two sides. After this, your campaign path is set. In "Withdraw from Independence", the player has to protect Bora civilian shuttles as they're leaving the Independence station from GalSpan forces. In "Taking Independence", the player has to shoot them down for GalSpan. This is considering GalSpan forced Bora to hand over the station only to try to shoot the evacuees.
    • Despite this, your character doesn't see anything wrong with that.
  • Suikoden IV has Colton suggest this to Troy after their first encounter with Lazlo and his party leads to them fleeing on their tiny boat. He fears that They Know Too Much about their plans; Troy vetoes the idea, pointing out how unlikely the chances of them surviving are anyway.
  • Possible but unlikely in Escape Velocity. Carrier-based fighters can be used as lifeboats, but the AI always launches all of its fighters, and most players tend to do likewise: keeping one back as a lifeboat is kinda counterproductive since, particularly in the third game, fighters are basically Red Shirtsnote  that you throw at your enemy to distract them from the big guns on the mothership. Averted with escape pods, which don't actually exist as collision-mapped objects (they shoot out a little ways from a disintegrating starship, then disappear).
  • In all of the X-Universe games, hostile NPCs consider the player's space suit to be a valid target if he/she tries to bail out of their ship, and will try to blast the suit out of the sky. Some particularly angry players do this to Pirates who have blown up the player's traders and explorers, then try to bail out when the player's four kilometer long destroyer is ripping their patched-up fighter to pieces. The Xtended Terran Conflict Game Mod adds actual Escape Pods to capital ships and corvettes that are being evacuated or exploding, which the player is free to gun down. It doesn't accomplish much, though.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • In AJJE Games, Prinz Eugen (one of the LOTW ships) launched an attack on a pirate base. The captain ordered the destruction of escape pods from a pirate ship, on the grounds that the pirates would only conduct further murders.
  • In the classic Llamas with Hats 2, Carl manages to sink an entire cruise ship. The dialogue goes something like:
    Paul: Ummm...where are the lifeboats?
    Carl: I have no idea what you are talking about...
    Paul: Where are the lifeboats, Carl?
    Carl: Probably at the bottom of the ocean. I bit lots of holes in them.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Road Rovers had a hero jump out and pop a parachute out, only for a bad guy to cut the strings with a laser.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars General Grievious orders his ship the Malevolence to shoot at fleeing escape pods. On the grounds that he has a reputation to keep.

    Real Life 
  • German U-boats attacking Allied shipping during World War II were accused of this on occasion. Hitler made a strongly worded suggestion towards this end only to have Doenitz countermand it; the reasoning being that if the U-boat crews offered no mercy, they would be granted none. Given the number of U-boat crewmen who survived the war in Allied POW camps was several thousand, the decision was probably wise. Only one incident of a German submarine attacking lifeboats or people in the water was ever confirmed. This was vastly outnumbered by times when U-boat crews were surprisingly solicitous to people in lifeboats, offering food, navigation implements, and course to nearest land- Winston Churchill in The Second World War even records a case of a U-Boat notifying the British of the coordinates of a sunk merchant ship.
    • One especially notable aversion was the sinking of the Laconia: upon realising that they had sunk a ship carrying Italian POWs in addition to British civilians, the captain of the U-boat responsible surfaced, and along with two other U-boats allowed some of the female survivors to board in order to be taken to safety, while radioing in English to any Allied ships in the vicinity that they should expect civilians. Unfortunately some idiot in a US B-24 Liberator came across the U-boat in the midst of rescue operations and bombed it multiple times, with a red cross flag draped across the deck in full view and with the lifeboats tied up to the sub, while a rescued British officer onboard was signalling the plane over the radio that there were women and children aboard. He succeeded in sinking 2 lifeboats and killing dozens of survivors, and received a medal afterwards for his bravery(idiocy). This fiasco led directly to the order not to assist civilian survivors in future. This came up later in the Nuremburg Trials: One of the war crimes that was brought to bear against the Nazis dealt with their unrestricted submarine warfare, and caused an embarrassment for the US Navy when the defense brought up the real story of the Laconia Incident.
      • The attack on U-boats by the American bomber was quite intentional: the pilot radioed for instructions and he was ordered to commence attacking. Technically, the fact that U-boats were rescuing survivors did not grant them legal protection under laws of war and the US command was concerned that Germans might identify a nearby US base on Azores, territory belonging to ostensibly neutral Portugal, whose existence was kept secret.
    • Ironically, while the Doenitz refused to issue these orders, the Germans actually managed to convince the Japanese sixth fleet to issue explicit orders to massacre survivors of sunken merchant ships. Most of their Captains simply ignored these orders, most of the few who didn't only complied once, and the orders were soon rescinded because they proved very bad for morale. Most Japanese submariners simply didn't want to massacre civilians.
  • American submarines and aircraft would occasionally do this in World War II if they sank a Japanese ship near Japanese-held or contested islands. Early in the war, they tried to rescue survivors from Japanese ships that sank or aircraft that were shot down, but after enough of the survivors refused help or tried to kill their would-be rescuers, preferring to go down fighting rather than be taken prisoner, the Americans lost interest in helping them. A regrettable case of I Did What I Had to Do or a serious case of Moral Dissonance, take your pick. For their part, the Japanese would often execute rescued American fliers who were shot down over Japanese fleets, sometimes immediately after fishing them out of the water, and more than a quarter of captured westerners died in Japanese captivity.
    • "Mush" Morton certainly did this. He was something of a Sociopathic Hero to give him his best judgement.
  • Similar to the above, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea (no, not that Bismarck) A Japanese convoy heading to Papua New Guinea, composed of 8 transports and 8 escort destroyers, was attacked and completely sunk by Australian and American aircraft. Though the subsequent destruction of the lifeboats and any other floating objects from the air was presented as a military necessity, as they were close enough to land they could reach it and join the fight, it is much more likely that the attacks were large-scale retaliation for the fact several Allied airmen who bailed out were machinegunned hanging from their parachutes by the Japanese.
    • This sort of cycle in which a relatively small breach of the rules of war causes the other side to kill hundreds or even thousands of people in retaliation is not uncommon in the history of war, and one of the best purely military arguments why the rules of war need to be observed rigorously.
  • The Commando Order in World War II; any commandos captured by the Nazis were to be shot, even if in uniform and/or attempting to surrender. However, some commanders, such as Rommel, refused to relay this order to their troops.
    • Rommel, in fact, made a bit of a habit of this. When ordered to have the 'lazy/cowardly ones' among the Italian troops under his command shot to encourage the rest, he argued ever more elaborate reasons why he couldn't (Culminating in the excuse that shooting all of them would deplete his ammunition, also a dig at his being horribly under-supplied). Truly crowning was that when he received an order similar to the Commando Order that he was to quietly put out the word that any Jewish prisoners of war he captured were to be taken away from the rest and shot, he ignored that and later once word had gotten out, even more quietly put out the word that any of his troops trying to follow that order would be separated from the rest and...
    • The Nazis had a similar order to summarily execute any captured Soviet commissars (see The Political Officer).
  • There are several anecdotal accounts of Polish and Czech pilots in the Royal Air Force "accidentally" flying too close to the canopies of the parachutes of German aircrew who had bailed out of shot-down aircraft and causing them to collapse. Fortunately for the large number of British servicemen in German POW camps at the time, the RAF apparently succeeded in putting a stop to this before it became widespread enough to provoke retaliation.
    • Shooting on the parachutes was common on many war theaters (especially the Eastern Front) and even during the First World War.
      • A British pilot who asked about this during the Battle of Britain was told that shooting a man parachuting onto his own territory was acceptable (as he'd be given a new plane and be back in the fight) but not shooting someone who was coming down on territory held by your own troops, as he'd be taken prisoner.
  • A variation: Any submarine that sinks an isolated enemy vessel will by necessity end up abandoning the survivors to their fate - a submarine does not have the capability or resources to mount a rescue operation.
  • A variation: During the Age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, and to an extent still today, it was considered extremely poor form to capture or detain people who had gone to sea to save lives, such as local lifeboatmen or warships that assisted stranded enemies only to find themselves stranded or surrounded by reinforcements. After the Action of 13 January 1797, where two British frigates forced the French 74-gun Droits de l'Homme onto a sandbar, British prisoners from a previous engagement onboard the Homme were freed and helped heroically to rescue the trapped crew. They were among the 140 survivors of the ship's 1300 strong crew and embarked soldiery, and they were all immediately returned to Britain in recognition of their help.
  • In modern air-to-air combat, shooting down an ejected pilot's parachute is quite possibly the single most evil thing a fighter pilot can do, given the pilot is no longer a threat, and realistically you have to go out of your way to kill the pilot like that. It has been known to cause entire squadrons to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to kill that guy. It was a pretty quick way for the killer to lose points with his own wingmen, too. Even on a pragmatic level, shooting down parachutes meant the enemy might start doing it, too, and that meant if they ever had to bail out, they might get killed the same way.


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