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Damage Control

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"Problem solved, sir!"
Random crewman, World of Warships

There is a base, or a ship, or a city, where our heroes spend their time throughout the story. It may either be the location where most of the story takes place, or it could be a set piece only seen once in a while. Through some course of events, be it an enemy attack, or a natural disaster, or some kind of accident, everything has pitched into a state of chaos. People are wounded, equipment damaged, chaos and confusion reigns supreme, and everything is on fire.

The first order of the day, aside possibly from dealing with the cause of the damage, is putting out the fires, tending to the wounded, and repairing the damage so everything can go back to normal. Expect all this to be going on even as the driving crisis that caused everything is still ongoing. The main characters will often be split apart and unable to communicate with each other or rely upon each other directly. Expect at least one character to reach down inside himself and find the resolve and resourcefulness he needs to solve a major problem without the teammates he normally relies on. The Engineer and the Old Soldier will be at their best here, leading their men in the dangerous and critical work of getting everything operational again. If unsuccessful, our characters will often be forced to segue directly into Abandon Ship.

This is of course a real life practice on ships, and particularly warships, which unlike your average merchant or passenger vessel can reasonably expect to get shot at if they ever have to do their jobs for real. In these cases, damage control is the practice of, by preplanned or improvised means, keeping the ship afloat, powered, and moving through the water for as long as possible. How this is done has varied throughout history. Crews, whether specialized or generalists, will do whatever it takes with whatever is at hand to try to bring their ship home.

Note: when applying this trope to video games, it should only be done when dealing with such repairs as a plot point, as opposed to game mechanics centering on unit healing or repair.

If you were looking for the definition of this term as it is applied to public relations, you may be looking for Slave to PR.

If you're looking for the comic book series of the same name, go here and please fix the link that sent you to this page. If you’re looking for the women’s wrestling stable, see here.

May involve a Midair Repair.


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    Comic Books 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Twice seen in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, first immediately following a kamikaze hit on the bow off Okinawa, and then immediately following the torpedo attack by I-58. The second attempt, however, is botched due to the severe fire and flooding the ship is taking in.
  • Seen in U571 as they try to get a damaged submarine under control before they get too deep.
  • Seen, too, in Das Boot, when the U-96 is in the depths of the Gibraltar Strait.
  • Seen in quite a few Star Trek movies:
    • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise is taken by surprise in the initial attack, but Kirk and Spock are able to turn the tables and deal some swift damage to Reliant. Both ships are forced to withdraw and effect repairs before they can fight again. In the final battle, both ships are again crippled, and it is only a Heroic Sacrifice by Mr. Spock that allows them to survive.
    • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when Kirk asks when they can get their captured Bird-of-Prey under way, Scotty quips, "Damage control is easy; reading Klingon, that's hard."
    • The space battle in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country has Scotty doing his usual thing while the Enterprise is pummeled by torpedoes.
    • Again, during the battle in Star Trek: Generations, Geordi LaForge is seen ordering his repair teams around, although it ultimately turns out to be futile. Interestingly, this scene is a line-for-line recreation of a similar scene in the series epiosde "Yesterday's Enterprise", which nicely foreshadows the Enterprise's fate.
    • In Star Trek: Insurrection the Enterprise gets into another space fight. It's not really seen, but right before it starts, LaForge leaves the bridge for Engineering, knowing what he's going to be doing in short order.
    • The Star Trek II scene is mirrored in Star Trek Into Darkness, this time the roles are reversed. Spock is commanding the battle and Kirk is the one who does the Heroic Sacrifice to repair the ship before it crashes or burns up in Earth's atmosphere.
  • A villainous example in Iron Eagle, due to Chappie and Doug hitting the airfield first, and Colonel Nakesh gives his men one hour to reopen the airfield.
  • In The Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America have to do repairs on the Airborne Aircraft Carrier at 30,000 feet after Hawkeye attacks and blows up one of its engines.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Phantom Menace: After Trade Federation battleships shoot out the shield generators on the royal cruiser, R2-D2 and several other astromechs are called out to fix it. R2 gets it done but all the other droids are blown away in the process.
    • A New Hope: R2-D2 has to repeatedly fix damage to Luke's X-Wing during the Battle of Yavin. The droid is eventually shot by an enemy fighter and knocked out of commission for the rest of the fight.
    • The Empire Strikes Back: Han and Chewbacca are shown trying to get a malfunctioning hyperdrive online while being pounded by Imperial Star Destroyers.
  • In Down Periscope, the Stingray starts bursting water pipes while sailing dangerously close to a freighter to sneak into a harbor, forcing the crew to patch the lines before they cause additional damage, leading to Stepanek's Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • Greyhound: After a surface engagement with a U-boat, GREYHOUND's captain, Commander Krause, has a quick discussion with Canadian escort DICKY about their damage. DICKY reports three hits above the waterline that they say will be patched up and they'll be back in the hunt shortly. Later, British destroyer HARRY takes some damage that threatens the ship itself. Her CO says they will do their best, but by morning it's clear the ship will not be saved and they request permission to abandon ship.

  • In The Hunt for Red October the sub takes damage in a fight with another sub and has to be repaired.
  • Red Storm Rising had a number of instances, notably the damaged USS Nimitz limping back into port after being struck by missiles, a soviet freighter carrying troops and equipment having to fight fires after being strafed by F-15s, the seawater used to put them out inadvertently ruining a lot of missiles that had planned to install in their new base. It isn't seen, but it's obvious that this is what's going on aboard the ill-fated USS Providence. Finally, the Soviets manage to take over a USAF base in Iceland, and when the Americans attack trying to render it useless, cratering the runways, the Soviets use the repair materials the Americans themselves had left in the event of such an occasion and have them back in use before nightfall.
  • Happens fairly often in the Honor Harrington series, particularly in the books that center on one or two ships. Books which focus on fleet actions will mention the damage control in passing, rather than focusing on it in depth.
    • On Basilisk Station shows some of the issues that a crew of a ship in battle have to deal with. When the missile launchers on one side of the ship are damaged, along with the automated systems for transferring missiles from one magazine to another, crewmembers have to move the missiles by hand with the assistance of anti-gravity rigs, which make the missile weightless, but do not eliminate its inertia, causing one crewmember to be crushed (nonfatally) against the wall when the ship takes a hit.
    • One compartment on the ship is designated as Damage Control Central and the crew there are responsible for coordinating the efforts of all damage control teams onboard. Generally it's run by the chief engineer or one of his senior assistants.
  • A common occurrence in the Hornblower Saga, and generally described accurately and in some detail. Hornblower's ships often take damage in battle, and that damage has to be repaired as soon as possible - sometimes while still under fire, lest the enemy gain an advantage and win the fight. Perhaps the most impressive example of this is in Beat to Quarters, when Hornblower's frigate Lydia is fighting the stronger Spanish ship Natividad. An exchange of fire at close range leaves both ships missing a mast, just before bad weather forces them to separate and lose contact. The one that manages to repair its damage faster will win.
  • In the Warrior Cats series, a forest fire burns through ThunderClan's territory in the fourth book. In addition to killing several cats and driving out all the prey, the camp itself was destroyed. They have to try and rebuild it with whatever little they have left to work with, and try to get back to a normal lifestyle, before the other Clans take advantage of their vulnerability.
  • The Argo II in The Mark of Athena takes frequent damage through the course of the book, but since they are attacked almost every time they set down they have to do a lot of repairs on the fly, in one case their means of escape does almost as much damage as the attack, meaning Leo has to do some fast work just to keep the ship from flying apart. Another time after being attacked by a sea monster Leo got washed overboard so the others, under Annabeth's direction, had to do enough repairs to keep them from sinking.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • Throughout the entire series, exterior shots of the station will often show a few robots or people in spacesuits doing repair-work or conducting routine maintenance on parts of the hull.
    • A subtle example: Part of the station (one of the fork-like protrusions on the top of the station for handling cargo) is blown off during a battle with an attacking ship in the season 2 finale. In the season 3 intro, the damaged section can be seen re-attached and surrounded by scaffolding.
    • Given a mention in the season 3 episode Severed Dreams. As soon as the last enemy ship is dealt with, Sheridan calls for a damage report. Lt. Corwin responds that the station's hull integrity has taken a beating and repair crews are already en route. Unfortunately, another wave of enemy ships show up.
    • The season 4 episode Endgame has a fleet of ships get crippled due to the heroes' sabotage just before the final battle of the season. The repair-work isn't shown, but is discussed soon after, and later referenced in passing when one of these ships arrives during the final battle just in time to save the Aggamemnon.
      "Engineering, this is General Lefcourt. In case you didn't notice, the enemy just pulled our shorts up over our head and tied them into a knot. You will get the ship under control ASAP, or I will come down there and skin the hide off every last one of you."
  • Battlestar Galactica (1978) episode "Fire in Space". Cylon raiders ram the Galactica in suicide attacks, causing fires to break out throughout the ship. Several of the crew are trapped and Commander Adama is injured.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) had this on more than one occasion, as the Galactica often came under attack by the Cylons. The miniseries had many of the damage control personnel get Thrown Out the Airlock when the Galactica officers were forced to vent the atmosphere from part of the ship in order to put the fires out before it was too late.
  • Better Call Saul: Howard spends all of the first two seasons trying to protect HHM, having taken Jimmy to court previously over a plagiarized illboard in the first season. By the end of Jimmy's disciplinary hearing midway through season 3, and Jimmy exposing Chuck's illness for the public record, Howard now also has an apparently delusional partner to deal with, which is a big problem as Chuck has already cost them one client and has just gone on record ranting about his own brother. He also has the confidence of his other clients to deal with, now that document security concerns may come into the open over the Mesa Verde incident. Before the disciplinary hearing, Howard even tries to talk Chuck out of testifying out of concern for all of this, but Chuck doesn't listen to him.
    • The prosecution at the Bar hearing doesn't help things. When Robert Alley realizes Chuck is either delusional or lying, he tries to object on the grounds that while Chuck very well may have a mental illness, it is a non-issue. Unfortunately, one of Chuck's berserk buttons is the implication that his disease is all in his head — and then the prosecutor pushes that button even harder by mentioning schizophrenia, and plays right into Jimmy and Kim's defense strategy.
  • Doctor Who: In "Voyage of the Damned", after the starship Titanic is heavily damaged, Midshipman Alonzo Frame, the only surviving crewman on the bridge, does what he can to keep the ship in orbit and its power on until the Doctor can make it to the bridge.
  • Firefly: In "Out of Gas", Serenity is crippled by an explosion which disabled their life support. In this case, the required repairs are implied to be simple enough, but they don't have the required part. Mal sends them off while he waits on the ship for someone to answer their distress call.
  • In the first episode of Last Resort the crew of the USS Colorado are shown repairing the sub after a missile attack.
  • Depicted realistically in several episodes of Sea Patrol.
  • Another first episode, this time for SeaQuest DSV, had the titular sub taking a direct from a torpedo. Afterwards, the first officer is talking about the repairs being made. Later a more extensive effort is shown trying to root out a virus that's been screwing up their computer systems.
  • Frequently seen in various Star Trek episodes after the ship takes damage.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The board game Red November is nothing but damage control on a submarine prey to fires, flooded compartments, and the looming threat of a Kraken attack.
  • The board game Wreck of the BSM Pandora is about fixing the eponymous ship before it explodes as a result of damage from a nearby supernova, while avoiding or neutralising the alien specimens released when she was hit.

    Video Games 
  • Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault: US Marine Private Tommy Conlin, is tasked during the Pearl Harbor attack with helping sailors and other Marines aboard the USS West Virginia. One of these is helping the beleaguered crew control fire and flooding damage in the bowels of the ship, saving it from certain doom like the Arizona and Oklahoma just minutes prior.

    Real Life 
  • In World War II, superior damage control was one of the US Navy's major advantages compared to the Imperial Japanese Navy, though not to the extent people may think. Both sides started the war with relatively comparable damage control capabilities, with their own strengths and weaknesses. However, the US was much faster at addressing their weaknesses. The USN focused on standardization, spread new ideas and techniques, offered more cross-training so more crew could pitch in for repairs, and incorporated more redundancies, altogether making their ships more and more durable. In fact, US damage control measures were so good that the Japanese sometimes mistook enemy ships they previously hit as other ships because they could not conceive of them being able to survive. Meanwhile, the Japanese took a lot longer to adapt and innovate, partly due to the notoriously hierarchical culture of the Japanese Navy,note , partly due to each ship's design flaws,note  and partly due to the emphasis on specialization. While very well-trained, crews were trained for one specific ship and one role on that ship. As the IJN lost more ships, the crews were either lost with the ships or taken off duty altogether, meaning the knowledge they COULD gained from those losses was never utilized.
    • The loss of the Taiho illustrates the problems of this system. She was built with a heavy belt armor and an armored flight deck, and was clearly intended to be able to take several hits and remain functional. Instead, she was sunk by a single sub launched torpedo because of a mistake her damage control team made. The torpedo hit had ruptured a fuel line, causing the enclosed hanger to fill up with fumes. Now, an experianced DC team would have known to cover the fuel with foam from the fire systems to stop the spread of fumes. The Taiho's teams were not experienced; instead of taking teams from other lost ships the Japanese had filled the ship with fresh recruits, as per doctrine. So while they did know that they had to get the fumes out of the hanger, they didn't know that to stop the spread of fumes you to cover the spill with foam from the fire suppression system. So what happened is the chief damage control officer ordered all of the ships bulkheads opened and the ventilation turned up, spreading the fumes throughout the ship and turning it into a giant fuel air bomb. Eventually those fumes found a spark and caused a massive explosion,note  dooming the ship. A second explosion a few hours later dealt the coup de grâce, and the ship sunk stern first, taking 1,650 of the 2,150 man crew down with her.