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Film / Morning Departure

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Morning Departure (released as Operation Disaster in the United States) is a 1950 British naval drama film about life aboard a sunken submarine, directed by Roy Ward Baker, and starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough. A young Michael Caine appears in his first feature film in an uncredited role as a teaboy.

The British submarine, HMS Trojan is out on a routine exercise to test its new snorkel mast. She encounters an unrecovered Second World War magnetic mine. When she dives the mine is set off, and blows off the bows of the submarine. The after section floods from the displaced snorkel mast, killing the 53 crew-members in the bow and stern sections. She settles to the bottom leaving twelve crew members alive amidships, saved by the watertight doors which have been closed by order of the captain when he realises the imminent danger.


When the shore base becomes aware that Trojan is overdue, surface rescue vessels are sent out to investigate. Following standard escape procedure, a diver is sent down with an air line while everyone prepares for the rescue. Armstrong selects the first four for release; they escape safely without incident, and are picked up on the surface. The eight remaining crew assume there are plenty of breathing sets for them all to escape successfully. However, the captain discovers that all but four have been destroyed in the blast. This means the final four will have to remain under water until a full salvage operation can be carried out, which may take a week or more.


Tropes found in this work include:

  • The Captain: The captain of HMS Trojan is Lieutenant Commander Peter Armstrong, who represents the finest of Royal Navy tradition and maintains a stiff upper lip in even the darkest circumstances
  • Claustrophobia: Snipe suffers from claustrophobia and should have been illegible for the submarine service, but he hid the condition so he qualify for the bonus pay paid to submariners. So long as the sub is active he can control his fear, but when the Trojan becomes crippled on the floor of the sea, he starts to freak out and gradually becomes unhinged.
  • Cold Equation: When Lt. Cdr. Armstrong discovers that there are not enough breathing sets to allow all of the crew to escape to the surface, he has to decide which of the remaining men will be allowed to leave, and which will have to stay and wait for a rescue that might never come.
  • Commanding Coolness: The Captain of the wrecked submarine HMS Trojan is the exceedingly cool under pressure Lieutenant Commander Peter Armstrong.
  • Deadly Gas: Late in the movie, chlorine gas start leaking in the admidships next to Manson's bunk, killing him.
  • Dirty Coward: Snipe is a claustrophobe, which should have precluded him from submarine service. However, he lied about his condition so he could recive the extra pay awarded to submariners. When he discovers he is not one of the mariners to be sent to the surface, he panics and attacks the captain.
  • Dive! Dive! Dive!: The Trojan dives in an attempt to avoid the Sea Mine, with disastrous consequences.
  • Drawing Straws: The remaining eight crew draw cards to see which for will use the remaining breathing sets to escape the sub, and which four will remain to wait for the rescue team. The captain volunteers to stay. The three lowest draws will stay with him, and the four highest draws will escape with the breather sets. Snipe and Marks each draw a jack, and have to redraw for the fourth spot.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: When the wrecked sub settles on the bottom of the sea, Lt. Com. Armstrong orders the remaining oil to released so it will create a slick on the surface to allow the rescue ships to locate them.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Eventually the storm is so bad that the captain of the salvage ship decides his own men are at risk, and abandons the salvage operation altogether. The three left in the submarine sense that there is no hope for them. The film ends with Armstrong reading from a naval prayer book.
  • Going Down with the Ship: As captain of the Trojan, Armstrong volunteers to be one of the four who remain on the sunken sub and wait for the rescue team.
  • If We Get Through This...: Armstrong is planning for the eponymous morning departure to be his final patrol, as he is planning to resign his commission and take up a lucrative job offer from his father-in-law. Needless to say, things to do not go as planned.
  • Market-Based Title: The film was released as the more dramatic sounding Operation Disaster in the US.
  • Not Quite Saved Enough: Eight of the twelve trapped sailors manage to escape the crippled sub. The remaining four are waiting for the salvage ship to rescue them. But then one of them is killed by a gas leak, and a storm forces the salvage ship to return to port, leaving the last three sitting at the bottom of the sea awaiting their fate.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Snipe pretends to have injured his arm during his struggle with Armstrong, and allows Marks to take his breathing set as he won't be able to swim properly. This is one of the few decent acts Snipe performs.
  • Sea Mine: An unrecovered sea mine from WWII is what sinks the Trojan.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: The 12 survivors of the explosion and crash are trapped in a submarine sitting on the bottom of the sea.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: All of the surviving crew trapped in the crippled sub display admirable British pluck, apart from the Dirty Coward Snipe.
  • Sub Story