Going Down with the Ship
To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too!
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill
is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies -- 'Er Majesty's Jollies --
soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps
an' bein' mopped by the screw,
—Soldier an' Sailor Too by Rudyard Kipling
A maritime tradition that if a ship is sinking, the Captain should remain aboard it, or at least be the last one to escape. This can also extend to other crewmen, usually so they can oversee and direct passengers onto the lifeboats first. The latter often goes hand in hand with "Women and children first" (leading to jokes where adult men dress in drag or like children). A common twist in comedic works is for the captain to appoint someone else captain and let them go down with the ship. Sometimes the new captain then uses the "promotion" to reassign the old captain as captain, often going back and forth repeatedly.
Originally came about because of maritime salvage laws - if the ship was abandoned by all the crew but didn't sink, anyone who got on board could claim the ship and contents as salvage. So a senior officer had to remain until it was clear that the ship really was going to sink (or at least be the last to leave) to prevent embarrassing losses of cargo and/or repairable ships.
In many cases, the captain goes down with the ship because he would face major disgrace if he didn't—for example, if he'd royally screwed up.
- Clyde Harlaown in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, who remained in the Hestia when the Book of Darkness started taking control of the ship's systems so that he can ensure that all of his surviving crew members escape. Once he was sure that everyone else had evacuated, he asked for the ship accompanying them to open fire on the Hestia, as the Book of Darkness had already taken over the Hestia's weapon systems by that time and was going to fire first if they don't.
- Brutally averted in Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Christina tricks Feldt into joining Sumeragi and Ian Vashti in a support craft moments before the Ptolemaios is destroyed.
- Played straight in Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny by Natarle, who goes down with the Dominion in a case of Taking You with Me, and Captain Todaka, who goes down with ORB's flagship carrier when he (deliberately) leads it to ruin and is killed by Shinn in the Impulse.
- The French-Belgian comic Les Tuniques Bleues has an album containing two subversions to this:
- First, when a boat Chesterfield and Blutch are sailors on gets sunk, they are outraced by the captain swiming to the safety of a lifeboat.
- When a later ship gets sunk, the captain stayed on board till the end, and the sailors all salute their captain's bravery... Only for the following shot showing the captain sitting at the bottom of the sea, sighing: "I couldn't tell them I can't swim!"
- Used as part of the ruse in The Hunt for Red October: Ramius fakes a reactor meltdown to get the men off his ship, telling them that he will scuttle the ship before the Americans can get it. Ironically, this is the complete opposite of his actual intentions.
- Played with in Spaceballs. When Dark Helmet, Colonel Sandurz and President Skroob are standing in front of the last escape pod, President Skroob says: "Well boys, it's a beautiful ship. I think you should go down with it."
- Titanic is full of this. Apart from the captain himself there's the band who remain on deck (which actually happened in Real Life) and anyone who took the orders of "women and children first out" to heart.
- A Night to Remember showed this as well. Captain Smith himself is last seen walking onto the bridge (presumably deciding to go down with the ship). Both films also showed the band which played as the ship sank, and a few passengers who intentionally stay aboard for one reason or another. There's even a sub-plot about a young married couple who initially want to stay behind just so they can remain together, but are talked out of it by Thomas Andrews, the architect who ironically went down with the ship himself.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. The Kraken destroys the Black Pearl with Captain Jack Sparrow handcuffed aboard.
Palifico: The captain goes down with his ship.
- Used in Kind Hearts and Coronets: "...all hands were saved, save one. Admiral Lord Horatio D'Ascoyne, obstinate to the last, insisted on going down with his ship."
- The ship sank because he didn't know starboard from port.
- In Star Trek, newly-promoted Captain George Kirk goes down with his ship. He uses his last words to tell his wife he loves her.
- In The Perfect Storm, this happens with Captain Billy Tyne, when the Andrea Gail is capsized by a giant wave the crew had tried to drive over. Most of the crew are trapped in the lower deck, and have no choice but to go down with the ship. Tyne and Bobby are able to escape, but only Bobby gets out, while Tyne remains behind and goes down. Of course, seeing as there were no survivors among the crew of the real-life Andrea Gail this is all conjecture, drama and fiction.
- To be fair, the boat was sinking and they were trapped in open water during the worst recorded storm in history. Tyne might not have gone down with the ship out of honour so much as he felt there was no point, as there was no chance of survival either way. This is evidenced by Bobby, who makes it out of the boat, but drowns sometime later.
- A tragic version of this happens in a flashback scene in Pandorum, describing the greatest disaster in space (before Earth itself is destroyed) due to the titular syndrome. A spaceship captain goes insane and ejects all 5000 sleeping pods into space. Presumably, they all suffocated before he died, the last person aboard.
- The Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "World War 1" has a ship captain announcing "women and children first!", then we see that the captain and crew are all dressed as women and children... and other costumes, which forces the captain to change the announcement to "women, children, Red Indians, spacemen, and a sort of idealized version of complete Renaissance Men first!"
- Battlestar Galactica invokes this trope a few times in S3. I'm not sure whether this falls squarely under this trope since no immediate crisis is involved—Adama simply kicks (almost) everybody off the ship when it's not in active duty, but refuses to leave with them. The other IS this trope, though. Lee Adama, Commander of the Pegasus, is the last to leave the ship (and says the customary good-bye) before it takes off on a collision course with the Cylon Baseships. Also in S4, Adama is the last to leave the Galactica, except for Sam who is now more part of the ship than part of the crew.
- In the Pilot Movie of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine a Flash Back shows us Lt. Commander Sisko and crew abandoning ship during the battle of Wolf 359; Sisko is the last to board an escape shuttle (the captain had been killed; Sisko as first officer was now in command). He had to be dragged aboard, not because he felt he should go down with the ship but because his wife was killed and he was in despair.
- Happens to Sisko again with the U.S.S. Defiant as it's being blasted to scrap. He's the last one on the bridge after calling for the crew to abandon ship, and probably the last one off before the Dominion finish the job.
- Subverted hard in The Original Series episode "The Doomsday Machine". Commodore Decker evacuates all of the crew of the U.S.S. Constellation, remaining aboard because the captain is the "last man to leave the ship". The planet killer knocks out the Constellation transporters, then begins devouring the planet her crew had taken refuge on.
Decker: They called me, they begged me for help! Four hundred of them! I couldn't...I just couldn't...
- In Firefly when Serenity is crippled Mal sends the rest of the crew off in the shuttles and stays on board. He claims this is because someone might hear their distress signal, but Inara at least assumes that he's doing this. In the end the crew, who had little better chances of survival in the shuttles in any case, come back to join him.
- Discussed in the Babylon 5 episode Babylon Squared. The last remaining crew members of Babylon 4 are being evacuated before the it gets drawn back into a Negative Space Wedgie. As it is unclear if Babylon 4 will survive the transition, Commander Sinclair compares it to a great old ship sinking. Garibaldi reminds his commander that he is emphatically not The Captain there and he is not Going Down with the Ship.
- Shortly before that, in the same episode, the man who is in command there had just taken off to get to the shuttles himself, but only after seeing the rest of his crew off and imploring Sinclair and Garibaldi to get going rather than staying behind to try and save Zathras, who had appeared shortly before all of their problems began.
- In Stargate Atlantis, in "The Last Man", an alternate reality Carter rams a Wraith Hiveship with the Phoenix, a much smaller 304 Battlecruiser. The Phoenix not only destroys the Hiveship, but two more are destroyed when they get caught in the blast of the first. It is unknown whether Carter meant to go down with the ship, or whether she intended to beam down to the planet below but couldn't because the transporters were knocked out.
- It may be relevant, however, that yet another alternate reality Carter blew herself and the Jaffa who'd just captured her "straight to hell" with a grenade.
- This almost happens to Captain Jack Harkness at the end of the two-part episode of Doctor Who that introduced him. He uses his ship to capture a German bomb about to kills the Doctor and Rose. Unfortunately, the bomb has already started the explosion sequence, and the only thing keeping it from exploding is a stasis field. However, the bomb is exploding slowly. Already in space, Jack orders the ship to jettison the bomb, only to receive the reply that this will cause the bomb to explode while inside the ship. Realizing it's over, he pours himself a glass of champagne and prepares to die in style. Then the Doctor shows up in the TARDIS to ruin the moment and saving the Lovable Rogue.
- This happens with the captain of the space cruiser liner Titanic in "Voyage of the Damned". However, in this case, the captain is the one who causes its collision with meteors, having been paid to do so to care for his family. He stays on the bridge and dies during the impact. However, the Doctor manages to save the ship (but not the girl).
- In The Muppet Show, Statler mentions that he was on the Titanic, to which Waldorf remarks that he still has the dress he (Statler) wore to get off.
- The poem "Soldier an' Sailor Too" written by Rudyard Kipling as noted above. Although, unlike in Kipling's account, the soldiers who died aboard Birkenhead weren't Marines, but Army troops being transported to a new assignment.
- Joseph Conrad's uber-depressing short story The End of the Tether was about a Captain who went down with his ship, but that was entirely for the life insurance.
- In Golding's To The Ends Of The Earth trilogy (a great satire, deconstructing many sea tropes) we get this for poor newly-made Commander Summers when the old ship catches fire and sinks. In the book he apparently has no time to flee, in the TV mini-series he could but he doesn't.
- A variation happens in Mikhail Akhmanov's Fighters of Danveyt, when the novel's protagonist finds himself in a no-win situation with a much more powerful enemy ship. He orders the ship's semi-sentient computer to eject the two other crewmembers (who are sealed in personal pods) and sets a collison course for the enemy's Antimatter gun. The ship decides to alter the plan slightly by ejecting the captain as well a few seconds before the collision. The collision results in the loss of containment for the Antimatter and the destruction of both ships. The protagonist wakes up a week later having barely survived the blast.
- Averted by Admiral Trigit in Wraith Squadron. His fleeing his damaged but still combat-capable Star Destroyer prompts the beginnings of Gara Petothel's Heel Face Turn. She blows the whistle on him to Wraith Squadron, and Myn Donos shoots him down.
- Invoked in Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners with Nicky Nichol's dad, who went down with his ship when it was torpedoed.
- Dale Browns Sky Masters, the Chinese Admiral fails to invade Mindanao, and his ship gets struck by the Americans satellite. With his ship sinking he decides to sink with the ship and shoot himself, because even if he lives, he'll get court martialed, and executed by his superiors.
- Played very straight by Captain Jack Aubrey of the Master and Commander saga. In the book "Desolation Island", the HMS Leopard springs a very large leak and is in danger of sinking. Captain Aubrey lets the men bring out the boats and gives his First Lieutenant dispatches for the authorities, while he himself prepares to go down with the ship. The situation eventually improves, thankfully.
- A twist in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian novels: traditionally, a (flying) ship caught in a hopeless battle can't surrender until the captain abandons ship—by jumping over the side and falling to his death. Whenever it's shown, this is explicitly noted as a Heroic Sacrifice to save the lives of his crew.
- In Tomorrow War (the first book of the series) by Alexander Zorich, the protagonist Eager Young Space Cadet volunteered into fleet sent to the joint operation with another faction against some tough aliens who dropped into human space while demonstrably unwilling to see distinction between human colonies and other surface organics and minerals. They fly by the remnants of an old dreadnought. He notes that while live of "Clones" is not nice, you got to respect their dedication:
An important detail: all life shuttles were in place.
It's unlikely that three, even if very strong, explosions destroyed all the crew of a battleship to the last man. Remembering the Concordian mores, it was easier to believe that space navy men remained at their stations and continued the battle to the end. To the last sip of air, to the last spasm of stiffening muscles.
Interesting, did they kill as much as one Jips, shot as much as one "scallop"? Would be nice if yes.
- Steeleye Span song - "Let Her Go Down".
While the Captain steered our wounded ship
To the bottom of an angry sea
And with his dying breath we all heard him say
Just the fortunes of a sailor
- Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
- Mass Effect 2 did this, right at the very beginning with Shepard wanting to get Joker off the ship before s/he him/herself got off. Shepard didn't want to go down with the ship, s/he was just ridiculously altruistic.
- Joker himself might be a better example of this; Shepard is told he won't abandon ship, though in the pilot's case it's less about dying honorably and more about trying to save the Normandy. (The fact that he probably couldn't walk on his own from the bridge to the escape pod may or may not have factored into his decision to stay.)
- Subverted by the Battlecruiser Captain in Star Craft 2. One of his (joke) quotes is "We're going down. Stay with the ship. I'm out!". Not taking heavy damage or close to death. Just as soon as they're hit.
- Recurring antagonist Admiral Amagi is assumed to go down with his ship the last time the player meets him in Warship Gunner 2.
- Occurs in Free Space when the Galatea is destroyed by the Lucifer. The Galatea launches escape pods, which you are charged with defending, but the the mission debriefing states that the Captain stayed behind and went down with his ship.
- Tron 2.0 played it straight with I-No, the old Tower Guardian who chose to de-rez with the server. However, it's discussed, then averted with Alan and Jet when it comes to them crashing the F-Con server.
- A cross between this and Taking You with Me in Starlancer with the captain of your first carrier evacuating the crew and then proceeding to ram the ship into the Coalition flagship, killing the guy who orchestrated the sneak attack at Fort Kennedy at the beginning of the war. The Coalition admiral realizes what his old acquaintance is planning too late to prevent the collision.
- Bugs Bunny short "Mutiny on the Bunny". Yosemite Sam is the captain of a sailing ship. Bugs tricks him into thinking the ship is sinking and Sam jumps into a lifeboat. Bugs reminds him that "The captain goes down with his ship", so Sam resigns and makes Bugs the captain.
- An episode of Futurama parodies Titanic, using both the "adult men dressing as women and children" (specifically The Professor expressing his relief at not needing to be dressed as a child when they find that there's enough life pods) and Zap Branigan making Kif the new captain (interestingly, this leads to Kif meeting Amy for the first time and thus their romance over the series).
- A variant in the pilot episode of Galaxy Rangers. Eliza orders the escape pod with her children to blast off, stranding her on the captured ship. While her kids make it to safety and the Ambadassador family friends manage to rescue her husband, this left her to face a Fate Worse Than Death.
- HMS Birkenhead was carrying over 600 people, mostly soldiers, with a number of wives and children. When the ship ran into a dangerous reef, the Captain ordered that women and children would go in the lifeboats first. Realizing that adding extra weight to the boats would swamp and sink them, the army officers aboard then ordered that all their men were to stand at attention as the ship sank. They did so, and while some managed to survive, all of the senior officers died. This is known as the "Birkenhead Drill".
- Dick Gregory mentioned once: "When I lost my rifle, the Army charged me 85 dollars. That is why in the Navy the Captain goes down with the ship."
- Rear Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, the admiral aboard the IJN Hiryu, who chose to go down with his ship. He refused rescue and chained himself to an anchor to ensure his death. The IJN lost one of its most brilliant flag officers.
- This was especially common in Japan because they had learned their naval traditions from Britain, but through subtle translation difficulties, they believed the British tradition was that the Captain ought to insist on staying aboard and drowning if his ship is sunk. This was readily accepted because it fit the Samurai mentality and the bushido code so well.
- Famously, Captain Edward J. Smith of the RMS Titanic went down with his ship. There are dozens of differing accounts as to how he died however, with some surviors claiming he shot himself just before the final plunge while others say he saved a child by swimming over to a lifeboat and lifting him in but dying from exposure before he could be saved.
- Both James Cameron's Titanic and A Night to Remember show the Captain reluctantly accepting the nature of the disaster and retreating to the bridge, though while the former actually shows the room flooding, the latter (probably due to conflicting accounts of what happened) simply shows the Captain apparently realizing he'll have to go down and sadly walking onto the bridge.
- There was also the band that kept playing as the ship went down, and numerous passengers who chose to stay aboard.
- Admiral George Tryon, who went down with HMS Victoria in one of the worst naval accidents of the 19th Century. Due to a dreadful miscalculation on his part - his last recorded words were an admission of how he'd fucked up and "It's all my fault."
- An aviation crossover comes to us care of the immortal Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who put his crippled aircraft down on the Hudson River, deployed the rafts, got all the passengers out and walked through the cabin twice to make sure nobody was left behind.
- Averted by captain Avranas of the Oceanos, who was one of the first off the ship. He later stated that "abandon ship is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay," but many people on board said there was no alarm raised and they had no idea that the ship was sinking. To make matters worse, his crew didn't close the lower deck portholes, which made the sinking even faster. The rescue operation was carried out by two entertainers. People were furious with the captain and crew for abandoning them. Luckily, all people on board were rescued.
- Infamously averted again by Craptain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia, who not only left his ship before the evacuation was completed, but refused orders from a commander of the local Coast Guard to get back on board to supervise the search for survivors. Commander De Falco's frustrated exhortation "Vada a bordo, cazzo!" ("Get back on board, you dick!") to Schettino is adorning T-shirts not just in Italy, but around the world.
- Don't be unfair. He fell into the lifeboat.
- The captain of IJN Yamato was said to have asked two junior officers to tie him to the ship's compass as the battleship was sinking. He then ordered the two to evacuate over their desires to die with him.