SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 4: The Caine Mutiny

Mike Andrews

Bachelors in History and ongoing Masters in Teaching

The Caine Mutiny (1954)

The Caine Mutiny focuses on the events surrounding the original novel The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk in 1951. Wouk wrote the book based on his experiences aboard two United States Navy minesweepers during the Pacific War, a conflict mainly between the Japanese Empire and the United States of American during WWII. After serving aboard the USS Zane and the USS Southard, Wouk created the fictional USS Caine to serve as a single vessel with which to tell his story.

  1. General Overview of Naval Actions in the Pacific Theater, with a Focus on Minesweepers

General Overview

  • 30.5% of the Earth's surface is entirely water from the Pacific Ocean - meaning, that naval engagements, marine amphibious assaults, and island hopping were the most frequent kind of militant action seen in the Theater during WWII.

  • There were around 32 surface naval battles recorded during WWII in the Pacific, with a sharp drop off in frequency in 1944 because of the almost complete and total defeat of the Japanese Navy by that time.

  • December 7th, 1941 saw Japan launch a surprise attack on the US Naval Base of Pearl Harbor. Their goal was to cripple the Pacific Fleet so totally that the United States would either severely delay its movements into the Pacific War or negotiate for a peaceful solution. That did not happen. The Japanese attack, while somewhat effective, failed to cripple or destroy any aircraft carriers nor large groups of submarines. The United States then began a steep learning curve of naval warfare against the Imperial Japanese fleet in several major engagements.

  • The Japanese boasted an expansive Pacific defensive perimeter from Western Alaska to the Solomon Islands. But at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Japan faced its first troubled encounter and stunted its attack plans. Midway in the following month saw four Japanese aircraft carriers destroyed - a stunning blow and a much-spoken about turning point in the Pacific War. This also marked the turn from naval actions to naval actions in service of combined amphibious landings. Guadalcanal and New Guinea would be the first targets.

  • The 'island-hopping' that the United States engaged in involved Allied planes and ships would isolate heavily fortified strongholds while amphibious troops hopped around to more lightly defended islands. This would essentially win the day against a much more fortified enemy without a major engagement, Of course, the Japanese proved to be masters at digging in, even on the smallest, most insignificant pieces of land like Tarawa and Iwo Jima.

  • Toward the end of the war, around October 1944, the Japanese decided that suicidal planes loaded up with explosives were superior to conventual aerial attacks. These Kamikaze pilots would succeed 19% of the time and kill over 7,000 naval personnel. Besides Kamikaze pilots, the Japanese also considered or made plans for suicidal submarines, human torpedo's, speedboats, and divers. The tradition of death before defeat was entrenched within old Japanese custom - and relates to the Bushido code of loyalty and honor until death. With the crippling of their fleet, being outpaced in creating aircraft and out of skilled pilots, the Japanese saw little alternative t these suicidal plans late in the war.

  • The Battle of Kwajalein, depicted in the novel, used hard-won lessons from invading Tarawa and successfully saw US forces penetrate the outer ring of Japanese island defenses - and saw Japanese defenders become far more determined, creative, and deadly in their defense of the Marianas, Peleliu, and Guam.

The Destroyer Minesweepers

  • The "Destroyer Minesweeper" ended up as repurposed US navy destroyers-turned minesweepers for service during the Second World War. Forty-two of such ships were converted between 1940-1945 - since, they have been decommissioned with purpose-built ships replacing them to this day.

  • These repurposed ships were obsolete WWI four-stack destroyers built in 1918 with usable power plants. The number 4 boiler and torpedo tubes were removed. Depth charge racks were repositioned forward from the stern and angled outboard, and the stern was modified to be able to retain sweep gear like winches and paravanes. 17 of these ships saw action during the war. A further 10 more destroyers were converted from Clemson class ships, and a newer model Gleaves class were used to create 24 more.

  • These particular sweepers in the Pacific Theater would use sweep wires suspended between paravanes and kites.

  • Herman Wouk worked on the USS Zane from 1943-1945. From May-October of 1945, late in the war, he worked on the Southard and based much of his work on the effects of typhoon Louise, particularly when he was run aground in Okinawa.

  • The USS Wasmuth, seeing most of her action in the Aleutians, was sunk when a gale dislodged two of her depth charges and exploded the hull in December 1942.

  • Minesweepers were tempting targets for Japanese pilots and kamikazes because they were known to have significantly less powerful anti-aircraft capabilities compared to other naval vessels. Without the proper screening, they could be pickled off. Remarkably, only one minesweeper was downed by kamikazes, occurring during the Battle of Okinawa, and it took five to bring her down.

  • The methods used to dislodge and disarm mines is complex: paravanes would be used to cut the mines from their moors (since WWII Japan did not develop its own magnetic ort pressure mines). Minesweepers generally towed paravanes from the stern - and rarely from amidships. The sweep line would catch the cable below the surface, sliding the paravane to the mine and cutting it from the cable. Then, the mines were disposed of by naval gunfire or sunk. Paravanes with blades were used most often, but sometimes the sweep line itself could be bladed or serrated. Acoustic mines could be destroyed by sound generators imitating a frequency of a passing ship, and a cable passing close by or electrical device could neutralize the odd Japanese electrical mine.

  1. Process and History of Court-Martials during WWII (United States)
  • The definition of a court-martial is as follows: trials conducted by the United States/Individual State military. Most often, they are convened to try members of the U.S. military in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Military tribunals and martial law in occupied territories may also warrant a court-martial. Lawyers representing the government and accused present facts, legal aspects, and arguments while a military judge determines questions of law and members of the panel, or just the judge, determine questions of fact.

  • It is difficult to boil down court-martial processes during WWII. Basically, the court-0martial is the oldest system of justice in the United States, predating our own Constitution and Declaration of independence. Military law history stretches back as far as Ancient Rome, helping to establish discipline within the ranks (particularly among varied mercenary groups). Congressional Congress at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War adopted the British military code.

  • During WWII, some 2 million people were court-martialed for a myriad of offences. 80,000 of these resulted in convicted felonies. A particularly famous case resulted in Eddie Slovik, a Michigan native, executed by firing squad for deserting his unit in France in 1944. He was the only U.S. service member to be executed tin this manner since the Civil War and he was 24 years old.

  • Although generally stricter than civilian law, military law has since come to compare to civilian law since WWII. 1950 saw Congress enact the Uniform Code of Military Justice (not used during WWII). Defendants shared many of the same rights as civilians, but the jury members are chosen by the officer convening the court-martial, and appealing a military conviction is not always possible.

  • Until 1969, in fact, there was no military trial judge to ensure the accused had their rights protected, as well as their due process. Veteran's organizations were concerned with the unlawful command influence of court-martials.

  • Recently, the Army apologized for a conviction of 28 African-American soldiers during WWII - the longest court-martial during the war. They were convicted of rioting and lynching an Italian prisoner of war in 1944 - but in 2005, a book detailed misconduct by the prosecutor and the convictions were tossed out in 2007.
    Interesting Facts? A space to provide info that isn't historical in context, such as trivia about the making of the film. This should be related to the film or the topic it's covering. (Optional)1 response

  • The Caine Mutiny novel caught flak from the US Navy because of the depiction of Capt. Queeg as a crazy madman - of which, they claim, would have seen him removed since he was so clearly deranged. The film uses PTSD/Battle fatigue to skirt around this issue.

  • Personal note: apparently, the fate of the USS Hull served as a basis for the mutiny in the story. The Hull rolled over to its side during the typhoon and 202 of the crew were lost. This ship was originally stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attack. It was cut off from the power supply of the USS Dobbins and was mostly helpless during the attack. My grandfather at age 17 was stationed on the Hull and experienced Pearl Harbor first hand. He also served aboard the Hull at Guadalcanal, and was transferred off before the Hull's fate was sealed. The Commander of the Hull was blamed by some of the Hull survivors for his apparent incompetence during the typhoon. The Commander James Marks committed suicide in 1986.

Works Cited:

“Ellyson-Class Destroyer-Minesweepers (DMS) in World War II.” Destroyer History Foundation,

James, Randy. “A Brief History of The Court-Martial.” Time, Time Inc., 18 Nov. 2009,,8599,1940201,00.html.

Meirion and Susie Harries, Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army p 413 ISBN 0-394-56935-0

Michal. “The Pacific Strategy, 1941-1944: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, The National World War II Museum, 10 July 2017,

"Mines, Mine Types, Mine Warfare, Japanese Mine Warfare". The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia, © 2007-2014, 2016 by Kent G. Budge.

Pidwirny, M. (2006). "Introduction to the Oceans". Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition. Date Viewed.

“Pacific Naval Surface Battles.” National Museum of the U.S. Navy, 14 Aug. 2020,

Rottman, G., 2004, The Marshall Islands 1944: "Operation Flintlock, the capture of Kwajalein and Eniwetok", Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-851-0