Operation Pacific

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Operation Pacific
original theatrical poster
Directed by George Waggner
Produced by Louis Edelman
Written by George Waggner
Starring John Wayne
Patricia Neal
Ward Bond
Philip Carey
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Edited by Alan Crosland, Jr.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • January 27, 1951 (1951-01-27)
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.45 million (US rentals)[1]

Operation Pacific is a 1951 World War II submarine film starring John Wayne and Patricia Neal, featuring Ward Bond and Philip Carey and directed by George Waggner. The technical advisor for this film was Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, the actual Commander, Submarine Forces, Pacific (COMSUBPAC) during World War II.


During World War II, an American submarine, the Thunderfish, under the command of Cmdr. John T. "Pop" Perry (Ward Bond), takes on a group of children and nuns to transport them to Pearl Harbor. including a newborn infant nicknamed "Butch". The sub sights a Japanese aircraft carrier and attacks, but its torpedoes fail to explode. Pursued by the carrier's escorts, the sub manages to escape.

While in Pearl Harbor, the ship's Executive Officer, Lt Cmdr. Duke E. Gifford (John Wayne) goes to visit Butch at the base hospital, and runs into his ex-wife, Mary Stuart (Patricia Neal), a Navy nurse, and they kiss passionately. Unfortunately, Mary is now romantically involved with Navy pilot Lt. (j.g.) Bob Perry (Philip Carey), "Pop" Perry's brother. Duke pursues Mary anyway, but is soon sent out on patrol again before anything is settled.

As the sub returns from the patrol, they spot a Japanese freighter, but, again, their torpedoes fail to explode. The enemy ship raises the white flag, and the Thunderfish surfaces and approaches it, but it turns out to be a Q-ship, and it opens fire on the American sub. Wounded, "Pop" Perry is stuck on deck, but he orders the ship to dive anyway, knowing that he will not be able to get below in time. With the sub now under Duke's command, the freighter is rammed and sunk.

Back at Pearl, Bob Perry believes that Duke gave the order to submerge which killed his brother, and won't listen to Duke's explanation. Mary tries to comfort Duke, but he rejects her attempts.

Working with the base's torpedo specialists, Duke and the crew of the Thunderfish undertake an investigation to find out why the new torpedoes are not exploding. When they finally discover the answer, Duke goes to Mary to celebrate, but she rejects him: since he wouldn't let her into his life when he was at his lowest, she feels that they cannot have a real relationship. Her superior, Cmdr. Steele (Kathryn Givney) overhears the conversation and castigates Mary for throwing away her chance for happiness with Duke.

Once again, the Thunderfish heads out to sea, and happens to find a Japanese fleet heading for Leyte. Even though it will reveal their position to the enemy, the sub broadcasts the fleet's position. Once Pearl Harbor acknowledges receipt of the message, Duke has the sub fire all torpedoes and dive. Knocked about by Japanese depth charges, the sub still manages to destroy a Japanese aircraft carrier. American planes arrive to attack the fleet, and the Thurderfish helps to rescues American flyers, and does so while under attack from Japanese planes. While rescuing Bob Perry, the Chief and Junior are killed and Duke is wounded and knocked out.

When they arrive at Pearl Harbor, Mary is waiting for Duke, and the two head to the hospital, intending to take care of Butch.



John Wayne and Patricia Neal did not get along during filming. Nearly fourteen years later, however, they worked together on In Harm's Way (1965) where she noted that he had mellowed a lot, possibly because he was seriously ill with lung cancer at the time.

The film's opening foreword and dedication states: "When the Pacific Fleet was destroyed by the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, it remained for the submarines to carry the war to the enemy. In the four years that followed, our undersea craft sank six million tons of Japanese shipping including some of the proudest ships of the Imperial Navy. Fifty-two of our submarines and thirty-five hundred officers and men were lost. It is to these men and the entire silent service that this picture is humbly dedicated."

The numerous problems with the Mark 14 torpedo and its Mark VI exploder depicted in the movie are accurate. A poorly designed and tested firing pin could malfunction on a good hit (that is, a torpedo striking within about 45 degrees of perpendicular to the side of the target). Poor hits (at a very sharp angle to the side of the ship) could often produce more reliable explosions. Diagnosing the problem, while not performed by the submarine crews as shown, actually did occur in a similar manner after 20 months of repeated failures in combat.

The scene where Commander Perry (Bond) is killed in a surface action is a combination of two incidents involving Commander Howard W. Gilmore, captain of USS Growler. Mortally wounded on the bridge, Gilmore gave the order "Take her down!", sacrificing himself to save his boat and crew, for which he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The ramming and sinking of the armed freighter depicted in the scene occurred in the same action, just prior to Gilmore's death.

The sequence where the Thunderfish discovers the Imperial Japanese fleet of carriers, battleships and cruisers steaming through Suriago Strait was inspired by the actions of the USS Darter and USS Dace in the opening phase of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952

External links[edit]