Follow TV Tropes


Sink the Lifeboats

Go To

"All those escape pods. So small. So vulnerable. I'll order their destruction immediately."
Weyoun, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "The Changing Face Of Evil"

After destroying or disabling an opposing vehicle, a particularly ruthless (and dishonorable) enemy may decide he wants no one to live to tell the tale. He may blast the life boats, shoot down an Ejection Seat or two, blast the Escape Pods to ions, seal off all exits, 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 civilian craft.

It generally shows just how evil a villain is as a major Kick the Dog, 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. Shares some similarities in terms of the moral blackness of the act with Shoot the Medic First, though the latter can be arguably be justified for pragmatic reasons. This trope is almost always For the Evulz.

For cases of sinking your own lifeboats (Break the kettles and sink the boats) to prevent holding back, see Burning the Ships. Compare: We Have Reserves.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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 Crest of the Stars, the Abh's enemies make no effort to prevent their long-range missiles from destroying escape shuttles (possibly even intentionally targeting them), the barbarity of which shocks Jinto. Lafiel is as calmly rational about it as she is most things, noting that the enemy considers the Abh nothing more than rebellious machines.
  • Dragon Ball:
  • Gundam:
    • A slightly less severe version occurs in Mobile Suit 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.
    • An inversion happens in Mobile Suit Gundam 00, where The Innovators utilize Core Fighters built into their Mobile Suits in order to eject should their Suits get severely damaged. In the final episode, Allelujah Haptism in his fight against one of the Innovators manages to tear out the Core Fighter from his opponents Mobile Suit before destroying them.
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 2, when the Turbines get attacked by Gjallarhorn, Naze orders everyone to evacuate, intending to take them on solo (though his wife Amida Arca refuses to abandon him). Iok orders his men to sink the lifeboats, and they manage to get a couple before Tekkadan's boys "accidentally" stumble across the battle and cover their retreat. As horrible as the act is already, there's an even more cold-blooded reason for it: Iok's forces are using illegal Dáinsleif railcannons (the weapons they accused Naze of transporting) and they're assuring that nobody can report them.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin: The Black Tri-Stars disable General Revil's flagship, the Ananke and in the OVA version of the events, Mash snipes the escape ships as they flee the sinking Magellan. Gaia stops him before he can blow up General Revil's escape vessel as he's more valuable alive.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury: Delling Rembran had specifically ordered those attacking Folkvangr to eliminate everyone present, even to make sure that no shuttles left the colony.
  • Mazinger Z: Baron Ashura ordered a Mechanical Beast to sunk a passenger ship. Then he personally machine gunned the survivors in the lifeboats to death while laughing manically.
  • In One Piece, when Robin's island was destroyed by the World Government, they sunk an evacuation boat full of innocents as well on the off-chance that one of the scholars they were after was on board. 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.
  • A rare heroic example in Toward the Terra. After the Time Skip (the series had a lot of them), Jomey has taken over as Soldier and has had it with humans and their treatment of the Mu. To the point he basically declares war on humanity and broadcasts a warning to stay out of the Mu's way or die. To illustrate Jomey's new state of mind, Tony and the other Children Of The Mu take down an entire fleet of human warships with just 3 fighters. As the escape pods are trying to flee Tony lands on one and telepathically asks Jomey a question. The response is to do it. Tony then proceeds to destroy them all, leaving no survivors. Even the rest of the Mu are taken aback by the move.

    Comic Books 
  • Judgment Day (Marvel Comics): In the middle of the apocalytic chaos, an experimental spaceship filled with the Earth's "one-percenters" tries to leave to a different planet. The Progenitor promptly blows it up, deeming that running from its judgment is not an option.
  • 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 take the women passengers to an unknown island and make them into his harem.
  • The Unknown Soldier was on a mission that got him trapped on a U-Boat while still in disguise. When it sinks an Allied ship, a fanatical Nazi officer in command on top has a lifeboat destroyed with the U-Boat's artillery gun with a smug smile. That was too much for the Soldier who attacks the Nazi and is of course instantly subdued and unmasked.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, when cornered by the Red Death, Spitelout shouts, "Back to the ships!" Stoick, realizing what's going on, shouts, "No!" Sure enough, the Red Death torches the Vikings' ships, leaving Stoick and his people stranded on the island and seemingly easy pickings, until Hiccup and the Dragon Riders arrive.
  • Titan A.E.: During the Homeworld Evacuation of Earth, most of humanity escapes to varying degrees of success when much of the evacuation ships get blown up. Some are destroyed by the attacking Drej forces, while others are hit by debris or caught in the explosion of Earth.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Subverted. While the crew of the Nautilus does sink Ned Land's longboat and then prepares to submerge, leaving Land, the Professor and Conseil outside, it's a test on Nemo's part to see if Professor Aronnax will stick to his guns and let himself die with the other men. When he proves he's willing to do so, Nemo orders the Nautilus to resurface and bring the trio inside.
  • In Air Force One, as he is wearing one parachute and tossing the rest out of the plane, Gary Oldman's character gloats that either way (live or die) he wins since the Greater-Scope Villain General is being released at the same time.
  • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of the Ultron sentries manages to take out one of the booster engines on a lifeboat evacuating Novi Grad residents to the helicarrier, forcing Tony and Rhodey to shore it up.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Done in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to show how, even before becoming an immortal cursed monster who wholesale kills anyone, Armando Salazar wasn't exactly a good guy despite being a pirate hunter. When he's told the survivors of a scuttled pirate ship are begging for mercy he casually says "there is no mercy" and nods to his men to open fire.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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 (2009), 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.
    • Averted in Star Trek Beyond where the swarm of enemy spacecraft that destroy Enterprise snatch the lifepods as they eject, as they want prisoners for their own purposes.
  • Star Wars:
    • A New Hope: Two Imperial gunners nearly shoot down the escape pod that the droids R2-D2 and C-3P0 are using to escape Princess Leia's ship, as one of the gunners says, "There goes another one!" When they detect no life signs aboard, they assume the launch was due to a short-circuit in the battle-damaged ship and allow the pod to pass. This implies that they would have blown it away if people had been inside.
    • The Last Jedi: The Resistance escapes for Crait aboard a fleet of transports. When the First Order becomes privy to them, they move to destroy said transports.
  • 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.
  • 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 Führer's order. However, the German captain also has very real and practical reasons for doing so, and neither he nor the gunner who receives the order are happy about it. When the gunner protests, the captain explains that the U-boat is prohibited from picking them up, doesn’t have room for them anyway, and the survivors will surely tell any Allied ship that finds them about the crippled and immobilized German submarine nearby. He then grimly orders the gunner to Get It Over With. As noted in the Real Life section it was the Führer's wish, but Doenitz made sure it never got to the order stage.

  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, 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 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 too far, this may be expected.
  • 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?"
  • One of the stories in Classic Singapore Horror Stories, titled "Message in A Bottle", which is set in the second World War starring a sadistic Japanese submarine commander as it's Villain Protagonist. His Establishing Character Moment have him ordering his men to sink an American ship, the USS Albatross, via torpedoes (to the cheers of the submarine's crew) and then break surface as he takes aim at the lifeboats. Before cracking a smug smile at how he sank four boats with exactly four shots.
  • In the backstory of The Cheyne Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts, a German U-Boat commander torpedoed a liner, then sank the lifeboats to ensure there were no survivors. It turns out he didn't do it just for the sake of cruelty, but to conceal exactly where the ship went down.
  • In Timothy Zahn's The Conquerors Trilogy, the Zhirrzh deliberately target and destroy the life pods of the human vessels they defeat. The humans take this as evidence of their bloodthirstiness, until learning that radio waves are dangerous to the Zhirrzh, causing them to mistake the pods' automatic distress beacons for weapons.
  • Towards the end of Caliban's War a UN ship gets holed by a missile containing a Protomolecule monster. The ship is quickly overrun and a quarantine enforced on it. Some time after Admiral Nguyen is denied rescue, a lifepod is launched and the other UN ships shoot it down to stop anything from escaping.
  • In John Hemry's The Lost Fleet, both sides have been known to fire upon escape pods.
  • The concept is discussed several times throughout the Honor Harrington series.
    • During one stage of the Haven/Manticore war, the propagandists of the People's Republic of Haven tell their citizens that the Manticoran Navy regularly destroys the escape pods of Peep ships. It is a complete lie, but it creates a great deal of anger amongst the largely uneducated Havenites.
    • When repelling a Peep attack on the Basilisk system, Admiral White Haven has given his Grayson subordinate the right to give the firing order due to the particular rage that Grayson feels over the "execution" of Honor Harrington. When the order is broadcast as "No Mercy" White Haven is briefly horrified to think that he is about to witness a massacre. It is only a few seconds later that he mentally distinguishes between the "no mercy" order (Which means "don't go easy on them until they have surrendered/taken to the escape pods") and the order "no quarter" (Which would have been to continue firing even on the lifepods).
    • In Uncompromising Honor, a Solarian admiral, angry at a mere 9 Manticoran ships (already largely dead) gutting his fleet, orders a follow-up volley at clearly defenseless ships, a clear violation of the Deneb Accords. Later, when a subordinate asks for help in recovering Manticoran escape pods, the admiral bristles at the thought and orders them blasted. It's then that a Mantirocan commander, monitoring all this, decides that a League this corrupt it won't even follow its own rules has to go. This is on top of the Solarians already violating the Eridani Edict by destroying orbital infrastructure in systems friendly to Manticore, which risks collateral damage in the form of debris falling on the planet. The reasoning is simple: the Solarian Navy can't yet face the Manticoran Navy in direct combat.
  • 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.
  • Intended by one of the protagonists of Ship Core, but she's talked out of it. When a Corporate fleet left behind by Commodore Brigit, who was nominally enforcing the Octis accords against Dedia IV, first blockades the system 92 Pegasi, then secures Ackman station, all sound, yet legally ambiguous acts, then comes for the orbital refinery A-3123Y, the NAI avatar Abbey is ordered to surrender and let herself be taken into custody for "illegal" mining activity, and have all her goods confiscated, including the orbital refinery. (Which would be fatal for Abbey). Abbey presents proof that the corporation she works for, Starlight Revolutions, and the mining are legal, by broadcasting the corporate charter and the mining permit signed by Portmaster Whitely of Ackman station. The Corporate fleet attacks anyway. When the now pirate fleet starts losing and jettisoning escape pods, the pods fall into the sun's gravity well, and Abbey is so angry she proclaims the intent to either fire on them, or just simply sit back and laugh as they burn up in the sun's corona. Amy, one of the locals who was hired on as a manager, talks her out of it, pointing out that this is a war-crime, and convinces her to attempt a rescue. The corporate cruisers refuse to surrender when given the chance and continue the attack even while the rescue attempt is underway.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, Sadeas executes a bunch of listeners for the "crime" of trying to surrender to him instead of giving him a proper fight. Aside from the obvious evilness of this action, it turns out that this is what pushed the Parshendi into assuming Stormform and summoning the Everstorm. If not for Sadeas's actions, the Desolation would have been at the very least delayed and weakened somewhat.
  • 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.
  • In the Barrett Tillman novel Warriors, a Saudi Tiger Forcenote  pilot kills an ejecting Israeli with his guns, assuming it was fair game after another Israeli collapsed the parachute of one of his comrades.note  The Tiger Force commander is incensed as it sets a bad precedent and demotes the pilot from flight leader.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Babylon 5's backstory of the Earth-Minbari War, the Minbari, on a genocidal crusade against Humanity, had a standard space naval practice to destroy Earth ships with all hands without mercy regardless of how helpless they are. (Then) Commander Sheridan, in impromptu command of such a crippled ship and hunted by the Minbari flagship, The Black Star, makes them pay for that policy when he places nuclear bombs in the area before sending out a distress signal, knowing that the Minbari who come to finish them off. Once the Minbari ship was in range, the nuclear weapons were detonated and they destroyed the ship; a fate the Minbari could have avoided if they were more merciful in that regard. Even so, the Minbari still believe years later that Sheridan was actually the dishonorable party.
  • Community had a variation in the animated episode "G.I.Jeff" (the one where Jeff falls into a coma and dreams he's a member of G.I. Joe). During the opening combat operation, Destro's plane is shot down and he ejects. As he's parachuting to safety, Jeff shoots his parachute and sends him plummeting to his death. This gets him court-martialed.
  • 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. He gets destroyed because of his refusal to do it, but this buys the Rangers enough time to attack her ship directly and prevent the shuttles from being hit.
  • 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.
  • In the Season 10 opener of Stargate SG-1, the Ori actually defy this trope, to the surprise of the protagonists, leaving the non-functional wrecks of the Allied fleet intact. While discussing why, the protagonists decide that it's because this is a crusade, and the Ori want to leave survivors who will go back and tell their homeworlds about how scary and powerful the Ori are.
  • Star Trek:
  • War and Remembrance. After torpedoing a transport full of Japanese infantry, the captain of an American sub orders them to surface. He then orders his crew to sink all the lifeboats and and execute the men now in the water. His first officer protests, only for the captain to double-down, loudly telling his crew that if they do not execute the infantry said infantry will simply be rescued and sent into combat within a week. The crew obeys, strafing the floating men with automatic fire. This occurs in both the book and the series. How this action is taken in-setting is mixed. This instance is especially notable as at the time the US was practicing unrestricted submarine warfare, and thus the captain was technically well within his authority to give the orders.

  • 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.

    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.
    • Literal example in the Word of Blake Jihad. Word of Blake being the ruthless, omnicidal temper-tantrum bastards that they are, would destroy everyone who opposed them. Space battles against Word of Blake space fleets was almost always to the death as a result, as they would either ignore enemy escape pods or simply shoot them if they were in hurry. Given that the list of Blakist war crimes is long and exhaustive (including the nuking of civilians, the poison-gassing of civilians, and implanting bombs into people to turn them into brainwashed deep-cover suicide bombers), shooting helpless enemies is quite to be expected of them.
  • 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 
  • Ace Combat:
    • At the end of the tutorial level in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, Bishop gets shot down, deploys his chute, and gets a chance to observe the ongoing furball before he is splattered against the plane that shot him down. It's unknown whether the pilot did this intentionally, but given the circumstances, it's actually quite likely.
    • In Ace Combat Infinity, Quox unmanned aircraft with mounted laser projectors will actually prioritize shooting down bailed-out pilots, as a number of unfortunates find out as they get shot down.
    • This is a game mechanic in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War. Occasionally when defeating an enemy fighter jet, they will not simply explode, but turn yellow to indicate their plane is no longer capable of combat. You can choose to go the high road and spare them, or choose to shoot them down for extra cash. Some levels will also feature evacuating helicopters or cargo planes marked as yellow. What percentage of these yellow targets you shoot down determines your Ace Style.
  • 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 Alligator Hunt destroyed alien ships will eject an alien pilot, which you can shoot or ram into for extra points. If you leave the pilot alone, the alien will float away off-camera after a while.
  • Boogie Wings have enemy pilots bailing their planes via parachute after you shot them down, and you can shoot them in mid-air. Or, alternatively, use your plane's skyhook to skewer enemy pilots in mid-air, and then swing them in circles before having them land with a splat.
  • Its possible to shoot parachuting pilots in Chuck Yeagers Air Combat.
  • 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).
  • A failure of gameplay design in Elite inadvertently encouraged players to blow up defeated 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 you will then become a wanted criminal for slave-trading. 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.
  • Occurs fairly frequently in EVE Online and is commonly known as "Podding". Note that this does not kill anyone permanently, but it does destroy any implants the victim was currently using. CONCORD does consider this a much more serious offense than simply destroying a ship. But CONCORD's jurisdiction is limited.
  • Halo:
    • 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 also happens in Halo Wars, with one mission involves the player having to protect civilian evacuation shuttles, which are under attack by Covenant forces.
  • 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.
  • Marauders encourages this as part of the PVP mechanic. In space combat, any player can jump into an escape pod at any time, though if the ship is crippled, it's usually the best time to do so. However, the escape pods also double as breaching pods, allowing a player to force their way into another ship (but not a station). As this is the only way to board a player-owned ship in space, it's very common for gunners to shoot at any pods they see out of an abundance of caution. Fortunately (for the people in the pods), the pods are extremely nimble and hard to hit.
  • Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance uses a minor example of this trope to establish The Dragon as a complete bastard. He blows up your uncle and mentor's Mech and then snipes the ejection seat as it ejects.
  • Metal Slug: If you destroy one of Morden's boats, the soldiers will get out and the ship will break apart... but when the smoke clears you'll see the boat, now tilted upward dangerously and obviously crippled, with a lone weaponless soldier desperately trying to bail it out.
  • 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.
  • More than one installment of Rampage allows you to do this. You're a kaiju, for reference, and sometimes the humans will send jets and helicopters at you; destroy the aircraft and the pilot will bail out via parachute. Attack them while they're on their chutes and the unfortunate pilot will instantly hit the floor with a splat.
  • 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.
  • StarCraft:
    • A variant occurs in StarCraft Brood War, with Kerrigan overrunning and destroying the fleeing forces of the UED to cement how evil she's become.
    • It's then Subverted in StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, as Kerrigan is placed in the same situation (her forces have routed the enemy and the opposing commanding officer tells her to let their men live) and spares fleeing enemy troops, demonstrating that she has regained her humanity. But it's played straight in the Kaldir missions, as Kerrigan had to prevent the stationed Protoss base from alerting to her presence. The "Shoot the Messenger" involve stopping their shuttles from reaching their warp conduits and the last segment of "Enemy Within" involves literally destroying their escape pods before the timer runs out and killing every last Protoss in the ship.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • SunRider: In an early mission, Kayto takes down a band of pirates engaged in selling kidnapped civilians into slavery. After defeating them, he can either bind their survivors over for trial on a planet with an underfunded justice system, or jam their distress beacon and leave them to die.
  • 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.
  • 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. It's also common to try to shoot those ejecting from their Titans. Of course, the ejectee is usually shooting back.
  • 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 II: 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.
  • One of the Kilrathi aces in Wing Commander: The Kilrathi Saga has a reputation for shooting ejection pods. This doesn't seem to come up if you eject when flying against him, though.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X: The humans didn't want any part of the alien war, but that didn't stop the combatants from shooting most of them down as the humans tried to escape Earth.
  • XenoGears: In the opening scene, the captain of The Eldridge orders all crew and passengers to evacuate after seeing the ship will be taken over. However, as soon the escape shuttles take off, the entity that's in control of the ship shoots them down with their own weapons.
  • 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.
  • Both escape pods and ejected pilots appear in X-Wing Alliance, and can be destroyed by the player - without penalty if they are Imperial. Conversely, some missions have the player trying to prevent this trope from happening by protecting an escape pod until it can be recovered by friendly forces.

    Web Animation 
  • gen:LOCK: The Union's favored tactic is to kill everyone not aligned with them. During the attack on New York, several transports with civilians are destroyed as they take off, and they would have destroyed more if the Vanguard had not shown up.
  • In the classic Llamas with Hats 2, Carl manages to sink an entire cruise ship, followed by destroying all of the lifeboats but his and Paul's own.
    Paul: Where are the other lifeboats, Carl?!
    Carl: Looking at the trajectory of the moon and the sun... probably at the bottom of the ocean. I bit lots of holes in them.
  • In the eighth volume of RWBY, the Mantle citizens need to be evacuated before they're destroyed by Salem's Grimm army. Their only chance rests upon the heroes dispatching a fleet of civilian cargo ships that are piloted by drones. Unfortunately, Ironwood shoots down the ships and publicly announces his intentions to bomb Mantle if Penny does not surrender. This act convinces both Winter and Marrow that Ironwood has become a true villain, resulting in them siding with the heroes to stop him.


    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 Grievous orders his flagship, the Malevolence, to shoot at fleeing escape pods. On the grounds that he has a reputation to uphold. He also had the slightly more legitimate reason of ensuring that the Republic does not learn of the Malevolence's secret weapon (a giant ion cannon) and begin countermeasures. Sure enough, it doesn't take long after some survivors are successfully recovered that the Malevolence is crippled and scuttled.

    Real Life 
  • Under Protocol I, article 42, sections 1 and 2 of the Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1977 to supplement the 1949 Conventions, pilots who survive the destruction of their aircraft are considered hors de combat ("out of combat"), since they can no longer perform their intended role, and as such, attacking them is considered a war crime.note 
  • 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.
  • American submarines and aircraft would occasionally do this in World War II if they sank a Japanese ship near Japanese-held or contested islands, on the grounds that Allied troops would have to later kill them anyway. 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, as well as stories of Japanese brutality towards their prisoners filtering across the lines, the Americans lost interest in helping them. 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. Allied aircrew who bailed out over Japanese-held islands were often made to dig their own graves, usually after several weeks of starvation and torture. They were also known to shell life rafts or dense patches of sailors abandoning ships.
    • "Mush" Morton certainly did this. He was something of a Sociopathic Hero to give him his best judgement. Ironically, his victim was a "hellship" carrying Indian and British prisoners of war in addition to its Japanese crew.
    • If attacked by Allied forces, the crews of Japanese ships carrying British or American prisoners of war would very often take retribution against those prisoners. It was not unknown, if the merchant ship was sunk as a result of attack, for the Japanese to murder the complement of prisoners, to force them to go down with the sinking ship, and to reefuse to allow them access to lifeboats or rafts. Many such instances were catalogued when proceedings began against Japanese war criminals.
    • Both sides of the coin were seen in the aftermath of the Cruiser Night Action off Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942. The light cruiser USS Atlanta, badly damaged and dead in the water, was the only ship left floating in Ironbottom Sound the day after the battle, with the badly-bloodied American and Japanese fleets having both withdrawn. Atlanta's crew did what they could to rescue men in the oil-slicked and shark-infested water (both sides had lost ships), but Japanese sailors refused the lifelines thrown to them, with some even shouting insults in English at their would-be rescuers. The men aboard Atlanta, who had lost hundreds of shipmates aboard their own battered vessel, took personal offense and began shooting Japanese survivors in the water. An aversion took place at the same time, as a motor launch pulled alongside with men of both nationalities aboard. It took several minutes for anyone to notice that the boat's coxswain was a Japanese petty officer (they figured he was a Bosun's Mate, because "the rating insignia is the same in pretty much every navy"). The crew of Atlanta accepted his help without complaint, and even detailed a few men to help him handle the boat. When Atlanta has to be scuttled that afternoon, the Japanese Bosun's Mate with the motor launch helped evacuate the ship's crew and the men they had rescued. In the end, he saved over a hundred lives.
  • Similar to the above, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. 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.
  • A common response when seeing an enemy crew escape from a disabled armored vehicle is to simply gun them all down, even if they are unarmed or surrendering.
  • In military aviation, there is an equivalent to sinking a lifeboat: shooting pilots or crew who have ejected from an aircraft and are attempting to save their lives by parachuting to the ground. Once they abandon their wrecked plane and pose no threat, they are effectively non-combatants. note  As early as the Old-School Dogfights of World War I, there are reports of vindictive pilots finishing off their already-defeated enemies by machine-gunning them in midair. At first this was merely discouraged as dishonourable behaviour, but later prohibited as an outright war crime. Not all pilots agreed with notions of "honour", though. First World War ace "Taffy" Jones said "My habit of attacking Huns dangling from parachutes led to many arguments in the mess. Some officers of the Eton and Sandhurst type thought it 'unsportsmanlike'. Never having been to a public school, I was unhampered by such considerations of 'form'. I just pointed out that there was a bloody war on, and that I intended to avenge my pals." Another ace, Mick Mannock, was known for strafing downed planes to kill the pilots on the ground. note 
    • 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.
    • 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 would 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 would be taken prisoner. Another pilot remembered shooting a German plane down over the Channel, and coming back around to machine-gun the pilot. It was winter and getting dark, and there was no sign of a lifeboat, so he gave the man a quick death rather than let him die of hypothermia or drowning. He said he would have expected the same mercy if their positions had been reversed.
    • A direct subversion of this was at the core of the famous 'Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler Incident' in 1943. While there were no actual parachutes involved, Stigler's reaction on seeing the incredibly battered B-17 (along with its wounded crew) was to remember what his former commanding officer, Gustav Rödel, had told him: "If I ever see or hear of you shooting at a man in a parachute, I will shoot you myself." While they weren't in a parachute, he felt that they might as well have been, and initially tried to get them to land in neutral Sweden (where they would be interned, yes, but also receive medical treatment) via gestures and mouthing words. Brown and his crew didn't understand what he was trying to tell them, so Stigler instead escorted them out to sea, flying on the port wing to protect them from German anti-aircraft gunners, before peeling off with a salute. The two met nearly 50 years later, and struck up a friendship that lasted until both of them died in 2008.
    • On one occasion, though, this would come back to bite the offending fighter pilot in the ass. On March 31, 1943, a B-24 crewman named Owen J. Baggett was shot at and wounded by Japanese fighters in his parachute after bailing from his fatally damaged aircraft. Upon taking a hit, he played dead in his harness, hoping to convince the Japanese pilots to fly away. Most of them did, but one pilot decided to fly in closer to confirm the kill. When he got close, Baggett pulled out his Colt M1911 pistol and fired four shots into the fighter's canopy, causing it to stall and plummet out of sight. This made Baggett legendary as the first (and only) man to shoot down a Japanese fighter using an M1911.
    • In the European Theater of World War 2, shooting down parachuting aircrew tended to be extremely hazardous to the perpetrator, who would suddenly become a first priority target for all of the downed plane's buddies. The much more vicious Pacific and Soviet fronts generally had more instances of this behavior.
  • A variation: In unrestricted submarine warfare, any submarine that sinks an isolated enemy vessel will by necessity end up abandoning the survivors to their fate (though they generally won't actively harm them; that's just asking for reinforcements to show up and depth charge you) — a submarine does not have the capability or resources to mount a rescue operation.
    • It's also dangerous for the submarine. A celebrated incident of U-boats trying to save men they had sunk was (literally) scuttled by Allied air raids that caught them on the surface. Infamously (and rather inexplicably), the American bombers that came across the U-boats bombed and strafed them despite being able to clearly see and hear that the U-boats had survivors crowding their decks, were towing lifeboats with yet more survivors, and were calling for help in the clear. The crew of the bombers who attacked the U-boats taking part in the rescue effort were awarded medals for doing so.
    • And it used to be against the laws of war — in the age of sail, it was much more reasonable to expect a winning ship to rescue the loser's survivors, especially since there was a good chance they'd capture the enemy ship outright. Britain used to bring up propaganda points against German U-boats on this basis, but it was quietly recognized that the old-fashioned laws were broken by everybody's submariners, simply because it was completely impractical to do anything else, and the laws were rewritten. An attempt to prosecute Admiral Doenitz at Nuremberg on this basis was dropped when US submarine commanders testified they did exactly the same thing, although he was convicted of other charges.
  • 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 for their help.
  • One of the most controversial segments of the Six Day War involved the American spy ship, USS Liberty. Theories abound as to why it was carried out, but the survivors state that after being napalmed, rocketed, and strafed by Israeli strike planes, Israeli gunboats torpedoed the Liberty, and the captain of the Liberty gave the order to Abandon Ship. Seeing the American sailors making their way to the lifeboats, Israeli sailors then riddled the lifeboats with their deck guns, the empty lifeboats that landed in the water were then towed using hooks. Then, it is claimed, that several Israeli Commando-filled helicopters were waiting for the chance to board the crippled ship.


Video Example(s):


Being Thorough

Despite the Marines allowing a boat full of innocent civilians to leave Ohara during the Buster Call, future Admiral Akainu decides to sink it, justifying it on the off-chance one of the scholars they were hunting had hidden aboard. His fellow Vice Admiral Kuzan is horrified and disgusted.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / SinkTheLifeboats

Media sources: