The Thirty-Fathom Grave

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"The Thirty-Fathom Grave"
The Twilight Zone episode
Episode no. Season 4
Episode 104
Directed by Perry Lafferty
Written by Rod Serling
Featured music Stock; most cues from "The Invaders"
Production code 4857
Original air date January 10, 1963
Guest actors

Mike Kellin: Chief Bell
Simon Oakland: Captain Beecham
David Sheiner: Doc
John Considine: McClure
Bill Bixby: OOD
Conlan Carter: Ensign
Vincent Baggetta: Crewman

Episode chronology
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"In His Image"
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"Valley of the Shadow"
List of Twilight Zone episodes

"The Thirty-Fathom Grave" is an episode of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone.


In 1963, a U.S. Navy destroyer is on a routine patrol off Guadalcanal when sonar picks up the sound of metallic clanging beneath the waves; the crew speculates that it sounds like a hammer.

It's soon discovered that a submarine is on the ocean floor, but inquiries to naval command reveal no recent sinkings or incidents of any kind in the area. A joking suggestion from some of the crew that the sub may be haunted sends an anxious and bewildered Chief Bell, who had been feeling unwell for a couple of days before, into a frenzy of bizarre behavior, including fainting spells. The destroyer's commander, Captain Beecham, orders the ship's diver, McClure, to investigate. They find out that it's an American submarine, and there is definite hammering coming from inside. "Who could be inside that sub?" wonders a crewman. Beecham replies, "Somebody who dies damn hard!" The revelation that the submarine is American sends Chief Bell into an even greater neurosis, who begins to see apparitions of dead sailors beckoning him to come to them. The ship's doctor unsuccessfully tries to convince Bell that he is just having nightmares, and reports to the captain that Bell is experiencing effects of psychological trauma usually caused by wartime experiences.

McClure later discovers the number of the submarine, "714", which Beecham is able to identify as belonging to a submarine that was sunk during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, almost 21 years ago. Although stunned at the idea that someone inside the submarine could still be alive, Beecham asks naval command for a submarine rescue operation. Upon returning to the ship, the diver gives Beecham a dog tag he recovered from the ship, which is revealed to have belonged to Chief Bell.

When Beecham shows the dog tag to Bell, he begins to recollect that he was indeed on that same submarine 21 years before during the battle, when it was surrounded by enemy Japanese ships. Bell recalls that he had been a signalman, and had dropped a signal light while attempting to change the infrared filter in the middle of night, causing the filter to fall off. As a result, Japanese ships were able to see the submarine and attack it mercilessly. Bell fell off the submarine amidst the shelling, and although the captain took the submarine underwater, it sank due to the Japanese attack. Bell was later rescued by an American destroyer that came into the area. Bell tells Beecham that he now understands that the clanging noise is being made by the dead crew underwater, who know he is above them right now and are demanding that he join them in death. Bell is overcome by survivor guilt and feels responsible for sinking the submarine, as well as for being the only one of the crew to escape. Despite Beecham's efforts to explain to Bell that he wasn't guilty of cowardice or responsible for the sinking of a submarine already surrounded by enemy ships, Bell races to the deck and jumps overboard. The ship's crew are unable to save Bell or recover his body from the water.

Later, McClure accompanies the rescue mission into the drowned submarine. Upon returning to the ship, he reports to Beecham that he had found the periscope shears cut in half, with one swinging back and forth. When Beecham asks him to confirm that this was the clanging noise they had heard, McClure agrees, but adds that he had also seen the remains of eight dead sailors, one of whom was holding a hammer in his hand.


The ship's hull number in the opening, exterior shot is different from the one shown immediately thereafter in the opening scene. The opening shot is stock footage of the U.S.S. Mullinnix, but in the very next shot, the ship number on the wall-mounted life preserver designates the ship as the U.S.S. Edson. Both ships were Forrest Sherman-class destroyers. Also, while the episode was mostly accurate in terms of military customs and courtesies, a scene depicts a diver saluting his captain uncovered, upon meeting and leaving. This confuses Army customs and courtesies with Naval tradition, wherein saluting is only appropriate when covered (unless in a joint service capacity) and upon meeting. The doctor of the ship is also depicted as a Navy Chief. This may appear to be in error, in that enlisted sailors only qualify for the Corpsman rating. Independent duty corpsmen, however, are often addressed as "doc."


  • DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
  • Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0

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