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Operation Pacific is a 1951 black-and-white World War II submarine film drama from Warner Bros. Pictures, produced by Louis Edelman, directed by George Waggner, that stars John Wayne and Patricia Neal, and co-stars Ward Bond and Philip Carey. The technical advisor for this film was Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, the actual Commander, Submarine Forces, Pacific (COMSUBPAC) during World War II.

Operation Pacific
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 date
  • January 27, 1951 (1951-01-27)
Running time
111 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,465,000[1]
Box office $3,863,000[1]
$2.45 million (US rentals)[2]



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 malfunction, exploding halfway to the target. 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's younger brother. Duke pursues Mary anyway, but is sent to sea 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. The freighter turns out to be a Q-ship that opens fire on the American sub. Mortally wounded, Captain Perry orders the boat to dive, knowing that he will not be able to get below before she does. With the sub now under Duke's command, the freighter is rammed and sunk. The Thunderfish, with her bow damaged as a result of ramming the Q-ship, limps home to Pearl Harbor.

Back at Pearl, Bob Perry believes that the order Duke gave to dive the boat killed his brother, and won't listen to Duke's explanation. Mary tries to comfort Duke, but he rejects her attempts, declaring he only did his duty, and feels no regret.

Working with the base's torpedo specialists, Duke and the crew of the Thunderfish undertake an investigation to find out why their 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 finds 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 salvoes all his torpedoes and runs for it, throwing the attacking Japanese ships into chaos. Though she has been knocked about by Japanese depth charges, the sub manages to sink a damaged Japanese aircraft carrier.

In the next phase of the battle American carrier planes arrive to attack the Japanese fleet. The Thunderfish, now assigned to lifeguard duty, helps to rescue shot down American flyers, and does so while under attack from Japanese planes. While rescuing Lt. Bob Perry, the Chief of the Boat, and Junior, a seaman from a Navy family, are killed and Duke is wounded by a strafing Japanese fighter.

When the Thunderfish returns to Pearl Harbor after this patrol, Mary is waiting for Duke. The two, reconciled, head to the hospital, intending to adopt 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 film 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 actually did occur in a similar manner after 20 months of repeated failures in combat. Submarine crews were involved in the testing, although not in the capacity shown in the film.

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.

During Operation Pacific's action sequences, for the film's music score, composer Max Steiner incorporates dramatic music stances from his classic score for RKO's King Kong.

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.

Two previous Warner Brothers features are cited within this film: "George Washington Slept Here" (1942) is traded to another submarine in exchange for "Destination Tokyo" (1943), of which a few seconds of footage is seen as the crewmen watch it.

Although Ward Bond's character is presented as an elder to John Wayne's, in actuality Bond was only four years older than Wayne. Longtime friends, this was the 12th film they had done together.


According to Warner Bros' accounts the film earned $2,563,000 domestically and $1,300,000 foreign.[1]

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  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 31 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952

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