Vehicular Turnabout

"Just once, I'd like to destroy a ship we didn't pay for!"
Admiral Hurkk, Star Wars, on Rebel Nebulon-B frigates

An extremely common plot in fiction is commandeering enemy equipment and turning it against its former owner as soon as possible, often with the thief in command of the hardware. The commandeered materiel will often then remain in continuous service rather than being reverse engineered and mass produced.

This trope is ubiquitous in works of naval fiction that are set in the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men. This is because sailors were awarded prize money for capturing enemy ships. Captured enemy ships would often be incorporated into the captor's own navy (often under their original names, as it was considered bad luck to change the name. HMS Guerriere is a good example). See The Other Wiki for more information. Because Space Is an Ocean, science fiction works will sometimes use the same concept with spaceships.

Super Trope to Grand Theft Prototype, which is the Super Prototype or otherwise "super weapon-y" version of this trope. See also Hoist by His Own Petard and Death by Irony.


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  • The protagonists in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans does this on an almost regular basis. Tekkadan is a struggling mercenary force of Child Soldiers short on cash, so they try to salvage as much as possible from their battles. Notable examples include Gjallarhorn Lieutenant Crank's generic Graze-model Mobile Suit, and the Brewer's Gundam Gusion and even their flagship. And that's not even getting into how much random materiel they recover: most of the weapons and armor for Tekkadan's Gundam Barbatos are jury-rigged from battlefield scraps.

  • Chewbacca and a pair of Ewoks famously commandeer an AT-ST in Return of the Jedi
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, American POWs turn HYDRA's advanced weapons and technology against them. The opening seconds of the breakout is a Zerg Rush, but with every soldier taken down, the escapees get access to weaponry and vehicles.
  • A recoilless gun mounted on a militia technical is taken over by Deltas and turned against the on-site commander in Black Hawk Down.
  • Done a few times with ships in Pirates of the Caribbean, notably the Navy ship in the first film. These ships are not stolen, they are commandeered. It's a nautical term.
  • In Firefox, Clint Eastwood does a Grand Theft Prototype of one of the two of the eponymous Soviet supersonic fighters and uses it to shoot down the one sent after him.
  • In U571, while the initial plan is to simply board the sub and scuttle it after capturing its Enigma machine, the loss of their own submarine forces the heroes to take control of U-571 and use it in battle against the Germans.
  • In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Azog's army uses chain-steered trolls as shock troops. Bofur kills the rider of one of them and takes the reins, wreaking havoc across the enamy lines like he captured an enemy tank.

  • Horatio Hornblower, the Aubrey-Maturin series, Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho and other similar book series depict such captures on average at least once a book, if not more. It would be impractical to list every incident.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, most space battles result in the complete destruction of enemy ships, however on several occasions, enemy ships are captured and then used against the enemy.
    • Earl White Haven gave Grayson the Havenite ships he captured in The Short Victorious War, boosting the Grayson Space Navy while they built up shipyards for more capable designs.
    • The ships Honor captured at Hades for the mass jail break in In Enemy Hands were first turned against the Havenite force coming to recapture the system, and then later were made a group that answered only to the Protector of Grayson (called "The Protector's Own"), to avoid trouble with Grayson laws limiting the armed forces legally available to Steadholders (like Honor).
  • In RCN series, the enemy ships are often captured and used against them.
  • In Sven Hassel's World War II fiction, the lads are often sent on suicide missions or are otherwise caught behind Russian lines and need to get home. This invariably ends up in escapades in Soviet kit they do not know how to use and have to figure out on the spot.
  • On Gor, naval fights, being of the Wooden Ships and Iron Men type, often use this. Specifically, in Renegades of Gor the river town of Ar's Station use this to supplement their navy. Ar is a land superpower but doesn't have much of a navy, so they fill their holds with infantrymen and swarm their enemy's ships when they get boarded, capturing the ship and then using it against the enemy's other vessels.
  • In Biggles Goes To War, Biggles and his friends are hired to help a small Ruritanian state develop its air force. They don't scruple to obtain enemy aircraft by trickery and press them into service.
  • In the Liaden Universe novel Plan B, the turning point in the attempted invasion comes when the defenders steal three planes from the invaders' own airfield and use them against the invading troops.
  • This is discussed in The War of the Worlds, when a soldier fancifully suggests doing this with the Martian tripods.
  • Quite common in Star Wars Legends, in which the Rebel Alliance (and later New Republic) ends up with a good number of Imperial starships, gained through capture, defecting crews, or third-party arms dealers. The Nebulon-B Frigate mentioned in the page quote is used as much by the Rebels as the Imperials who originally built them, after the Battle of Endor the Rebels begin fielding captured Star Destroyers, and after he finally accepts the rank of general, Wedge Antilles ultimately gets a Super Star Destroyer as his flagship. The New Republic is even willing to use the Empire's iconic TIE Fighter and variants, though the Rebels at least are smart enough to install Deflector Shields on as many as possible. So as the war against the Empire progresses, veteran pilots have to deal with lingering nervousness when approaching a friendly Star Destroyer, and in some battles squadron leaders have to remind their pilots to check their IFF sensors before taking a snap-shot at a TIE Fighter.
    • Notably occurs in Wraith Squadron, when the eponymous fighter squadron steals the corvette Night Caller from Warlord Zsinj's fleet by the simple expedient of a makeshift boarding pod disguised as debris. They take it so rapidly that the ship's superiors have no idea it was captured, allowing them to use it for The Infiltration. Afterwards, it remains in New Republic service, presumably in a less prominent role (and maybe with a less obviously evil name).
  • Alexander Kent's His Majesty's U-Boat, set in WWII, is a fictional example of a WWII-era vessel being used against its former owners — actual captured U-boats never went on patrol under Allied colors.
  • One novel in The History of the Galaxy takes place immediately after the live test of the colonial Anti Matter Wave Motion Gun, which results in the destruction of both the colonial and Earth Alliance fleets. Realizing they have to act before Alliance higher-ups find out that colonies are virtually defenseless (the Alliance can quickly put together another fleet), the colonial admiral hatches a daring plan to steal two Alliance flagship cruisers along with their space docks. The crazy plan succeeds, and the Free Colonies get a reprieve until more ships can be built.
  • Seen a fair bit in Perry Rhodan, with the earliest iconic example probably being the STARDUST II — an Arkonid battleship that shot down the protagonists' much smaller craft after its first proper interstellar jump to the Vega system, turned out to have been already stolen by the rather non-Arkonid aliens who had invaded there at the time, was "liberated" by Rhodan & Co. in turn, and eventually became the first flagship of the still-embryonic Terran space fleet for quite a while. (That very shot-down craft is possibly an edge case since, while Rhodan had nothing to do with it and was in fact allied with them at the time, the attack that nuked its stranded mothership on the Moon and left Thora and Crest as its sole surving crew members simply because they were planetside at the time still came from other parties on Earth.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Space: Above and Beyond, the Earth military captured an alien Bomber. They had to spend some time learning how to operate it before they could use it against the Chigs, though.
  • Happened frequently in Stargate SG-1 with the team capturing Goa'uld fighters, or other ships and using them back against the villain of the week. In early seasons the vehicles were often destroyed in the ensuing battle however by later seasons they'd were reliably keeping their prizes long enough to start reverse engineering them. On at least one occasion this shoots them in the foot when a clever Goa'uld booby traps his fighters. The team attempts to use parts from it in an Earth-built fighter, only to (almost) wind up drifting through space for a long, long time.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise, the Mirror Universe episode "In A Mirror, Darkly". The Tholians steal the USS Defiant (in The Original Series episode "The Tholian Web") only to have it stolen again by the Terran Empire, hoping to use the Defiant as a Game Breaker due to its technology a hundred years in advance of their own.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The strategy game of Shogi (aka "Japanese Chess") allows you to bring back captured pieces on your side as early as your next turn. This is said to be inspired by the actions of mercenaries who would switch sides when captured, rather than be executed.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Orks often loot enemy vehicles, which involves riveting on some scrap metal armor plates, adding extra weapons, overclocking the engine, maybe giving it a red paintjob, and welding on some spikes and other gubbins to make it look sufficiently Orky. In earlier editions they could field vehicles right out of other army codices, if using the Orks' Ballistic Skill, while in recent years Orks instead have access to generic Looted Wagons. Their weaponry tends to pack a punch, but every turn there's a chance that the driver will hit the wrong lever and go careening forward at full speed instead of firing.
    • Averted in the case of an Imperial commando who tried to hijack a Tau battlesuit - when the suit didn't recognize him as its pilot, it fried him.
  • With working vehicles as rare as they are in Twilight 2000 this happens all the time.
  • Happens a lot in BattleTech fiction — battlefield salvage as a source of spare parts and entire "new" machines is a long-established part of the setting, and 'Mechs in particular lend themselves rather well to it since it takes a fair bit of effort to destroy them completely. The game itself consequently backs this up with assorted optional rules for salvage, repair, and even outright hostile takeovers of enemy units on the battlefield.

    Video Games 
  • One mission in Mech Commander has you escorting an APC carrying an elite pilot to a powered-down Masakari assault mech, so the elite pilot can commandeer it and use it against the Smoke Jaguars.
  • Starcraft II: Raynor's Raiders pull a Grand Theft Prototype on the Odin, preventing its use by the Dominion. However, this is actually all part of a plan to get the Odin into the heart of the Dominion with a Raider pilot inside. Also, the chief engineer actually reverse-engineers the Odin in order to produce the Thor, a slightly smaller, less powerful, but mass-produceable version.
  • One mission in Freespace required the player to capture a Shivan fighter, and in the next mission use it for reconnaissance in an enemy held system.
  • Several missions in Wing Commander IV centered on capturing Confed weaponry and equipment. By the end of the game, it is possible for the Border Worlds Union to have captured several weapons prototypes, two squadrons of advanced starfighters, and two carriers.
  • The Bonus Boss of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is Bowser Jr, complete with his mini-Koopa Clown Car. After a few turns, he'll get out of it, at which point you can jump into it and chase him down while throwing various objects at him.
  • Some time between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, Commander Shepard surrenders themself to the Systems Alliance and turns over the Normandy SR2, which had been placed under their command while they were working with Cerberus. By the time the third game begins, the Normandy has nearly completed her refit process to bring her in line with Alliance standards (and to repaint her in Alliance Navy colors.) A sidequest in ME3 also results in the capture of a squadron of Cerberus fighters, which are pressed into Alliance service.
    • During gameplay in 3, you can hijack Cerberus Atlas mechs by killing the pilot, although it's difficult and they often fall apart shortly after you do so. The one time you're guaranteed to have one to play with, you don't have the opportunity to salvage it because the area is lost and you have to run away, but damn is it fun to use the rocket launcher on clusters of Cerberus troops.
  • Command & Conquer: Generals: The GLA can do this with the optional Hijacker unit, or by having Jarman Kell Snipe the Cockpit, then ordering any unit to get in the vehicle.
  • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, the Soviet commando Natasha can pull a similar trick with her own snipe rifle.
  • Fallout 4 treats Power Armor as something you climb into rather than a piece of armor you don out of your inventory. This means that if you sneak up to someone wearing a suit and yank its fusion core out, then kill them when they're forced to disembark, taking the armor for yourself is as simple as putting the core back in. Alternatively, you can shoot the fusion core (difficult without the Penetrator perk, which lets you shoot through obstacles) and cause it to go critical and explode, and replace it with a new one when you finish off the armor's former user. But in either case, the power armor will be considered stolen rather than looted, so you'll lose approval points with "nice" companions if you use it in their presence.
    • On the subject of Power Armor, a few of the Commonwealth's raiders have managed to refurbish some old suits using whatever scrap metal they have at hand. The results aren't as tough as a proper model of armor, but can come as a nasty surprise to adventurers without heavy weaponry.
    • Depending on how you end the game's main quest, the Minutemen or Railroad can gain captured Vertibirds after defeating the Brotherhood of Steel. This is required if you finish the game with the Railroad, as you end up attacking the Brotherhood outpost at Cambridge Police Station (which involves killing Scribe Haylen) to steal a Vertibird to infiltrate the Prydwen with.
  • The ability to scavenge enemy weapons and hijack enemy vehicles is a key gameplay element of the Halo franchise. You can board virtually any Covenant craft, from the nimble Ghost scout to the aerial Banshee… even while the original pilot is still inside.
  • Kirby: Planet Robobot allows Kirby to disable an Invader Armor and then hijack it for his own use.
  • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag allows you to do this with enemy ships, as befitting a game set in the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men.
  • The easiest way to build up a huge navy in games like Total War: Shogun 2? Fight enemy ships and board them instead of sinking them with cannons or Arrows on Fire. Just remember to bring your fleets to port for resupply so you don't fight with a bunch of under-crewed ships.

     Western Animation 
  • Star Wars Rebels continues the trend from Legends, featuring numerous instances of the Rebels stealing enemy ships for continued use.

    Real Life 
  • Happened during WWII to a great extent. The Germans used a great many captured tanks — French ones were used as training, guard and anti-partisan units, Czech ones formed standard combat forces. In the Desert campaign, it was not unknown for both the Axis and Allied sides to scrounge and use each other's captured vehicles so long as the ammo and spares lasted, with Germans operating examples of practically every British tank, whilst so many Italian tanks were captured intact in early 1941 that they were used to equip entire armoured regiments. In 1944, the Guards Armoured Division recycled captured Panthers as "Cuckoo" tanks. The Luftwaffe had a squadron of captured aircraft it used for spy missions, and the Kriegsmarine operated several captured submarines (for example UB-1, the former HMS Seal). The Japanese used captured M3 Stuart tanks. A number of battles were initiated specifically to prevent the enemy from taking advantage of captured vehicles, most significantly the British bombardment of Mers-el-Kebir which sank three French battleships and killed a thousand French sailors.
  • HMS Morse was a German U-Boat captured intact near Iceland. The Morse was used to patrol the approach routes to the German U-Boat bases in France: the reasoning being that a German crew so near home would relax and take her for a friendly vessel. Until...
  • The Germans during WWI operated captured British tanks in addition to their own (since their own design was more cumbersome and took a long time to build).
  • A standard tactic of La Résistance in pretty much any war ever.
  • Ironically, the first fighter planes of the nascent Israeli Air Force were four Nazi-designed Messerschmitt BF 109s. Subverted since they were license-built postwar by Czechoslovakia, and due to a different engine were poor knock-offs of the original marks of the aircraft. Still it must have been a bit satisfying. In a further irony, they were flown against Egyptian Spitfires — when most of their pilots had been flying British Spitfires against German Messerschmitts a few years before. The Israeli army also used thousands of Nazi rifles (which in some cases, still bore swastikas, though these were usually obliterated by stamping).
  • Regarding the statement above, the renaming of enemy ships was common practice, just not amongst the British and American fleets. And the British took this rule to the extreme. During the Revolutionary War, the British took a ship called Ville de Paris (the City of Paris). This ship sank in a storm soon after it was captured, but a second Ville de Paris was commissioned twelve years later. The only problem was the time period: the second Ville de Paris was launched during the Napoleonic Wars, where she served admirably.
  • The peculiar case of USS Stewart (DD-224). Stewart was a Clemson-class destroyer built in WWI, assigned to the Asiatic Fleet when WWII broke out. Stewart fought valiantly against superior Japanese opposition in the Asiatic Fleet's retreat from the Philippines to Indonesia to Australia, but was badly damaged and had to be scuttled in Surabaya Harbor on February 22, 1942. Beginning in early 1943, American planes and submarines in the western Pacific started reporting attacks by a "ghost ship" of sorts. She had Japanese-style trunked funnels and a raked-tripod mast, but still had the unmistakable silhouette of a classic American "Four-Stacker." The Japanese had refloated Stewart, given her some cosmetic alterations to avoid friendly fire by looking more Japanese, and commissioned her as Patrol Craft 102. In Japanese service, she was partially responsible for the sinking of USS Harder (SS-257) in 1944. She was repossessed by the US Navy after the war's end, but since there was already a new ship named USS Stewart, she was called "RAMP-224" (RAMP stands for "Recovered Allied Military Personnel"—rescued POWs) and transported former POWs back to the States. She was then decommissioned and sunk for target practice.