Glory at Sea (1952) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • In 1940, the Captain of an old Royal Navy destroyer struggles with his crew, as well as the Nazis.

  • In 1940, a mothballed American destroyer is commissioned in the Royal Navy. Her experienced Commanding Officer has had a checkered career and the crew are mostly lacking sea experience. A series of mishaps seem to dog the ship for some time, and the personal lives of the crew are turbulent, but at last the ship's company make good and the destruction of a U-boat marks their first success. Now they are asked to volunteer for the most dangerous mission they will encounter.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The year is 1940, the second year of World War 2; the United Kingdom stands almost alone in facing the threat from Germany. The United States remains neutral, but has agreed to loan fifty mothballed destroyers from the First World War to the UK, an arrangement known as lend-lease. In Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) a British ship's company have arrived to take over one of the destroyers; they are marched to the quayside, and ratings and officers express negative comments about the ship's age. The British captain, Lt Cdr Fraser, addresses the ship's company, explaining the situation. The US crew will remain on board for a period until the British crew are familiar with the ship. As the British crew board the ship, Captain Fraser quietly reprimands the First Lieutenant, Lt Jennings, for the slovenly appearance of the crew. A moment later the US Captain tells Fraser he envies him, for having a whole crew with combat experience. Fraser replies that on the contrary, only four officers and fourteen ratings have been to sea before. Fraser says that he too left the Royal Navy in 1932. While they are talking, OS Flanagan ("Yank") reports to the Captain as he has been ordered; he is to be the Captain's servant, although at first Fraser thinks he is joking. The handover period is complete and the ship is renamed HMS Ballantrae. At sea on the bridge, the Captain asks the navigating officer Lt Grant the location of the ship. Grant starts to take a fix to find out but is reprimanded by Fraser, as he should already know. Grant is a RNVR officer; regular officers often looked down on these officers as weekend sailors. They make contact with a convoy that they are to escort, but a main steam pipe joint bursts and the ship is disabled. With an unsettled sea she rolls considerably, and leakage water in the bilges has to be bailed manually. Eventually the fault is repaired, and the Captain immediately exercises action stations, to the annoyance of some of the hands. Eventually the put into Londonderry and some of the men get shore leave. But AS Wood has a letter from his wife about a lodger she has taken in; he is not sure he likes the sound of it. The Captain inspects the ship prior to the libertymen going ashore, but he finds numerous signs of slovenly work, and he cancels the shore leave. All hands will attend to the state of the ship. When the work is finished, the libertymen go ashore, but the Captain again reprimands the First Officer for the slovenly appearance of the men. Fraser has to call on the flotilla commander, Captain (D) Wilson. Wilson welcomes Fraser to the group, but the informal conversation is extremely strained, and it emerges that Fraser left the RN after a Court Martial. The officers are in a bar when a WRNS officer comes in and orders a drink. The officers undisguisedly compete for her attention and bet on whether one of them can get her attention. The First Lieutenant chats her up, and his offer of an expensive meal persuades her to go to a restaurant with him. Meanwhile several of the ratings are in another bar, where the credulous publican wants to hear what they have been doing. He gives them all free drinks, but after a while two ratings from the senior ship make loud and rude remarks about the Ballantrae and her Captain, and a fight starts. Back on board the next day, AS Daniels is at the Captain's table as a requestman for extra pay, for the bailing in the bilges during the breakdown. He quotes the paragraph number of the Admiralty Instructions and is granted the pay; he was a trade union organiser in civvy street. Later on the Ballantrae is looking for convoy stragglers; their position is uncertain in fog and Fraser decides to go in the direction from which they have come to find them, believing that they will be late at the rendezvous. After some time there is an explosion five miles astern; the stragglers were in fact on time and he has missed them. Fraser reverses his course and catches up with a merchant ship, but its master says that the other ship was torpedoed with the loss of most of the crew. Fraser has a painful interview with Captain (D) who agrees that the loss was not directly Fraser's fault, but nevertheless it was regrettable. OS Flanagan calls in at a café ashore to see his girlfriend Marge; Glad is on duty and after hesitation tells him that Marge has gone off with another man. Flanagan is downcast but then asks Glad to go out with him, which she agrees to. Fraser is at home talking to his son; the boy wants to join the Royal Navy and Fraser has mixed feelings about that; the boy has heard about "Dave Wilson" and Fraser explains that there was a collision many years ago in which Wilson and Fraser were involved; Fraser got court- martialled, although the fault was not entirely his; now Wilson is the Captain (D) to whom Fraser reports. They are back on patrol with a convoy, when a U boat surfaces nearby. Fraser is about to depth charge when a main steam pipe blows, and the ship is crippled. The U-boat submerges and is lost. Later there is a dive-bomber attack on the convoy by the enemy. Anti-aircraft fire brings one of the enemy aircraft down, but Captain Davis claims it as a hit by his ship, to the disbelief of the Balantrae's crew. Nevertheless Fraser congratulates the crew. They are entering harbour later, feeling that at last they have had some success, when the propeller fouls the boom, bringing further humiliation on the ship. The First Officer Jennings is frustrated and is thinking of asking for a transfer away from the ship; he goes to the cypher office ashore and meets June Mallory, the WRNS officer he took out in Londonderry. In a pub, AS Wood is asked by the landlord to speak to AS Daniels, who is moping over a letter he has received. As an older man, Wood adopts an avuncular tone, and Daniels eventually admits that his Mother is dangerously ill, but his trade union scruples prevent him from asking for the concession of compassionate leave to visit her. Meanwhile Flanagan is back in the café and proposes to Glad and they get married. The ship is in the dockyard and Daniels is coming back on board; someone, obviously Wood, told an officer and Daniels got his compassionate leave and visited his Mother, who has had an operation and is fine. Captain Wilson talks to Fraser and asks him if he would like command of a new build ship "to make a fresh start" but Fraser refuses the offer; later he meets his son who has joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman. Back at sea the Ballantrae is hunting an enemy minelaying submarine off the Lizard (Cornwall). They are close inshore. There is a strange echo on the ASDIC and the ship collides with a submerged wreck. The Navigating Officer Grant checks his warning signals and discovers that the wreck was reported; he had failed to enter it on his charts. At the subsequent court of inquiry, Fraser says that he accepts full responsibility for the failure to mark the wreck's position, even though Grant admits that he should have done it himself. There is discussion among the court members. A court member is very critical of Fraser, but Wilson defends Fraser. Later the court will decide not to court-martial Fraser. The seamen are celebrating with Flanagan and Glad, who is pregnant. Flanagan is sending Glad to stay in Exeter where it will be safer than staying in Plymouth, which is a target for enemy bombing. Grant, the Navigating Officer hears that Fraser has been cleared of blame, but now thinks that he himself will get sent away for his failure. The Captain returns to the ship and tells him he can stay. However in a pub there is a fight between the crew of another ship in the flotilla and the crew of Ballantrae. The damage to the pub is considerable and the publican is suing the crew for damage afterwards. Back at Ballantrae the Captain is going ashore; in fact he is ashore all day and returns clearly drunk. It emerges he has been with the publican and persuaded him not to press the charges for the fight. At the defaulters' parade the next day Fraser is lenient with the men, as the publican has evidently explained that the men were defending the name of the ship, and of Fraser himself. Back at sea they are wit ha convoy and a U-boat surfaces nearby. Fraser makes for it and rams it, sinking it. Back ashore, Wilson offers Fraser a promotion but he refuses it; Wilson then offers Fraser a dangerous individual mission for Ballantrae, which Fraser accepts; at this stage the two men don't know what the mission is. Meanwhile some of the crew are in a pub, and an Exeter haulage driver says that there has been heavy and devastating bombing there the previous night; Flanagan thinks of his wife and child, and makes off. It's Christmas and in the wardroom the First Officer has a hangover and has ruffled the feathers of the WRNS officer June, but evidently things are really all right between them. But the Captain receives a telegram stating that his son has been killed in action. He struggles to complete the traditional Christmas Captain's rounds. Flanagan returns to the ship and is charged with going absent without leave; but he reveals that his wife Glad and their child were both killed in the bombing in Exeter. The Captain briefs the men that they are about to go on a hazardous mission, and the First Officer Lt Jennings is told that he has a command; his relief is already at Devonport; but Jennings makes it clear he intends to stay with the ship. He goes to see his WRNS fiancée, but she knows from signals she handles that he is going on a dangerous mission. The next morning a large number of commandos embark and Ballantrae sets off, with eighteen MLs in company for the commandos. The Captain briefs everyone that their mission is to damage the lock gates at St Nazaire, the only dockyard on the Atlantic that can receive enemy battleships. They have a demolition charge in the bow. The commandos will damage shore facilities, and everyone will be taken off in the MLs. As they approach St Nazaire, they are spotted by the defence forces; they hoist a German battle ensign and make a signal in German to mislead the enemy. They then strike the German flag and hoist the white ensign, and start firing. The defensive fire is heavy and Ballanatrae sustains numerous casualties. After mistaking the intended ramming point they successfully ram the lock gate and evacuate the ship after setting the demolition fuses. The wounded and most of the crew are got off in MLs but the officers are stranded in a building ashore. The demolition charges have not detonated on time. A German officer interrogates the Captain as to the purpose of their mission, but he keeps silent. Some German officers go aboard to investigate and as the remaining British are marched away as prisoners, the demolition charges finally explode. Their mission has been accomplished.

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