Gift horse (Glory at Sea) (1952)




Director:     Compton Bennett.

Starring:     Trevor Howard (Lt. Cmdr Hugh Alginon Fraser),  Richard Attenborough (Dripper Daniels),  James Donald (Lt. Richard Jennings, No. 1),  Sonny Tufts (Yank Flanagan),  Bernard Lee (A.S. 'Stripey' Wood),  Dora Bryan (Glad Flanagan),  Hugh Williams (Captain David G. Wilson, Division Commander),  Robin Bailey (Lt. Michael Grant, Pilot),  Meredith Edwards (Jones),  John Forrest (Appleby the Captain's Steward),  Patric Doonan (Petty Officer Martin),  Sid James (Ned Hardy, Owner Golden Bull),  Tony Quinn (McConalog the Bartender),  James Kenney (John A. Fraser, Hugh's Son),  George Street (Court Member).

the USA gives Great Britain 3 ageing battleships; one of them is named "The Gift Horse" and proves very useful in a sea battle



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.


"In 1940 when Britain was fighting alone for her life, the United States transferred fifty of her destroyers to the Royal Navy. This picture is respectfully dedicated to their exploits and is very broadly based on the adventures of one of these destroyers."

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The new crew for the once American destroyer march out on the dock to the gangway. One of the guys, nicknamed Fanny, asks his buddy, Dripper Daniels: "You call that a destroyer? Looks more like Battersea Power Station."

Lt. Cmdr Hugh Alginon Fraser stands on the gangway to speak to his men. He tells them that their ship is the U.S. Navy destroyer Whittier. The ship is no longer young, but one should never look a gift horse in the mouth. The ship was finished being built in 1915.

The captain tells Lt. Richard Jennings, No. 1, to make sure that next time the men be properly dressed. The crew consists of 100 men, but only four officers and fourteen ratings have been to sea before. The British Navy is scraping the bottom of the barrel for crewmen. And the captain considers that he himself came from the same place.

Ordinary seaman Glad Flanagan reports to the captain that the chief said he should report to the captain for duties as captainís servant. The American commander figures that Flanagan is a Yank, but Flanagan insists heís from Ireland. The American says yeah, heís Irish via Chicago, Illinois.

The ship is renamed the H.M.S. Ballantrae. The ship sets out on its mission.

The captain is a bit hard on some of the officers. The pilot and Number 1 both complain that the captain doesnít think much of them as seamen.

The destroyer finds the convoy and takes its proper place. The chief engineer complains about the old engines on the destroyer. He goes up on deck to tell the captain that the joint in the main steam pipe burst. The ship will not move until itís repaired.

Orders for the captain are that if there is major trouble with the destroyer, it should head to Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The chief says he can fix the joint.

Many of the crew are suffering from sea sickness.

As the voyage continues the chief reports that new leaks keep showing up as the ship rolls with the waves. The captain tells him to put extra hands on the bailing detail.

Finally, the engines start working. The captain orders the crew to action stations.

The ship has to put into Londonderry. In port the men receive mail.

Flanagan tells Stripey that his girl from Plymouth had written to him to say that she will marry him. He shows the fellows a picture of his fiancť.

The captain takes a tour of the ship and finds that the men are not keeping it in tip-top shape. So he cancels their leaves. This really makes the crew upset as now they have to clean the ship on a Saturday afternoon.

Number 1 complains that the skipper is being too strict. He wonders what his wife must think of him? Number 1 is informed that the skipper lost his wife two years ago. Number 1 apologizes but adds: "I still donít see the point in running everyone ragged the first day in harbor." A fellow officer speaks up for the captain saying the old man is right. The ship is dirty.

In port the captain goes to see a fellow captain of another ship. The other captain says that he was diverted from the convoy to go look for the Ballantrae. He tells Fraser that heís glad to see him back in uniform. Yes, itís been eight years since Fraserís court martial. The two captains share a drink and toast to their being able to get along with each other.

The officers go to a restaurant and start drinking at the bar. A cute female sailor comes into the restaurant and orders a gin. The officers bet Number 1 that he canít get the woman to go on a date with him. Number 1 accepts the challenge.

Number 1 is not doing too well, largely because his buddies keep snickering over his conversation with the lady. She figures that he is trying to win a bet and is she is the pawn in the operation. So Number 1 has to change tactics quickly. He says he knows a place where they serve the thickest steaks this side of Montreal. So now she decides she will go out on a date with him to get the steak.

In a bar the Ballantrae crew are having drinks. Members of another crew come inside and start ragging on the Ballantrae, its captain and crew. This starts a riot in the place.

The men caught fighting now have to face the captain. Flanagan started the trouble by throwing a beer into the face of a crewman from another ship. His punishment is 14 daysí leave stopped. The others are similarly punished.

A thick fog hangs around the Ballantrae. The crew is watching for two ships that are stragglers. They find one of the merchant ships, but the other one was torpedoed with the loss of the captain and nineteen crew members. The still intact merchant ship says they have eight men onboard from the sunken merchant ship and require the assistance of a doctor.

Captain Fraser sends the shipís doctor over to the merchant ship.

Number 1 criticizes the captain again, this time for the loss of the merchant ship, the Bostonian. This is overheard by a sailor and rumors start flying. Captain Fraser has to report to his superior officer and he readily admits he made the wrong decision about what course to follow to find the ships.

Flanagan goes into a diner and asks about Marge, his fiancť. The waitress on duty doesnít know what to tell him. Evidently, Marge must have had a change of mind. Flanagan can see she is holding something back from him, so he tells her just to tell him. "Sheís gone off with someone in the black market." Flanagan says heís through with women, but then asks the waitress to go out with him.

Captain Fraser gets to speak with his son. The young man wants to join the navy at the age of 16. Dad doesnít want his son joining at such a young age. So his son asks him about a man named Dave Wilson. Dad is shocked a little that his son even knew the name. He answers: "I was held responsible for a collision in which we were both involved. And then I resigned from the service." And, as a matter of fact, Dave Wilson is dadís boss now for the man is the captain of the flotilla.

Back on the job a U-boat surfaces very close to the Ballantrae. Men go to their action stations, but the engines of the British ship now quit on them. So they have to watch the U-boat disappear under the water.

Five German bombers attack the convoy. The guns of the Ballantrae are fired at the bombers. Flanagan actually destroys one of the bombers. The captain tells his men that they have brought down their first aircraft and they will have a celebration for that accomplishment.

The Ballantrae has to wait ten days just to get into dry dock. Number 1 says heís had enough of this ship and is putting in for a transfer. But he also says that he wonít do it right away because he doesnít want to kick a man when heís down.

Number 1 goes into the Cypher Office to complain about a mistake made in a request for divers. He asks one of the office workers for a date. At this point, Joan walks into the office where she works. She hears Number 1 use the same exact speech about the biggest steak this side of Montreal. She says: "This is where I came in."

Seeing Joan Number 1 goes over to speak to her. He asks her to go out with him again. After all, Joan was in another office far away. Number 1 now apologizes to the other woman and returns to talk to Joan.

Fanny comes into a bar and the bartender tells his friend to go over and see whatís wrong with that fellow Dripper Daniels. He says that the guy has been brooding over some letter for two hours and heís bringing down the nice atmosphere of the bar.

So Fanny goes over to Daniels. He finds out that Danielsí mother is sick with cancer. Fanny tells the younger sailor to ask for a compassionate leave. Daniels says he not asking any stinking officer for a favor. Fanny tells him itís not a favor, but a right. He now looks over at the bartender and gives him a wink that itís going to be alright.

Flanagan speaks with the waitress from the diner. He wants to propose to her, but she says that he just feels good about her because she keeps him laughing and forgetting about Marge. She also says thereís the problem of him being an American.

Wouldnít you know it! The two people get married in a nice wedding ceremony. And Dripper returns from his compassionate leave (for which Fanny asked the captain).

Dave Wilson tells Captain Fraser that he can arrange a new start for Fraser in a decent ship with a decent crew. Fraser says he wants to stay where he is for now. Wilson says he thinks Fraserís making a mistake, but he will see what he can do for him with Admiral Barret.

Captain Fraser gets a surprise. He is told of a new sailor who wants to speak with him. The new sailor is his own son. Dad is happy to see him and invites him out for a drink.

Back at sea the officers hear the sonar beeping off an object that whose nature cannot be determined. Whatever it is, the ship runs into it.

The pilot re-looks over his work and finds a notice that he had not seen. It states: "Submerged wreck dangerous to navigation exists position 168 degrees Lizard Light 1.7 miles."

Pilot Grant comes over to tell the captain that he should have had that wreck marked that on the chart. He also apologizes to the captain. At this time the captain receives a notice that he is to appear before a board of inquiry to investigate the circumstances of damages obtained by the captainís ship.

Grant has to appear before the board of inquiry too. He takes the responsibility for not marking the wreck on the chart. But Fraser steps forward and says that he takes full responsibility for the incident. This gets Grant out of trouble, but puts Fraser himself in deeper trouble.

Wilson is on the board of inquiry and he says he thinks Fraser is covering up for his navigational officer. Wilson says Fraser is innocent, the other officer says heís guilty and so now it will be decided by the leader of the board.

Friends of Flanagan wish him and his wife Gladys good luck because Gladys is pregnant. Gladys thanks them for the nice party. Flanagan is sending her up to Exeter to get her away from the present hotspot she is in. The men also worry about what will happen to their captain.

The verdict is no negligence. Pilot Grant is happy for the captain but sad because he thinks the captain will sack him. Grants tells Number 1: "What you donít know is, Iíve flopped at every single job Iíve ever tried so far."

The captain is coming on board. Grant goes out to meet him. Fraser says something to cheer up Pilot Grant.

In another bar, another brawl starts between the crew of Ballantrae and the "enemy" crew. The crew is assembled in front of the captain, but he tells his officers that this will have to wait because heís going ashore.

The captain is very late returning aboard ship. He is also drunk. He has another drink with his officers and calls it a night.

The next day the captain goes very easy on the punishment for the bar fighters.

The Ballantrae is dropping depth charges into the ocean. A U-boat surfaces. The destroyer guns open up on the U-boat. The guns are ineffective so Captain Fraser prepares the crew for the ramming of the U-boat.

When the Ballantrae returns to port the crew is given a heroís welcome.

Wilson tells Fraser that the Ballantrae is being schedule to accomplish a special mission, but he doesnít know the details.

The crew gets its Christmas leave.

June comes onboard to surprise Number 1. Heís still sore about getting a non-answer for his proposal of marriage. June says he was totally drunk and a marriage proposal given like that is not likely to bode well for a happy marriage. But now that heís sober, she will marry him.

They tell Capt. Fraser about it. He is happy for them. Fraser gets a telegram saying that his son Midshipman J.A. Fraser has been killed in active service. He says nothing about this to his crew.

The crew has its Christmas dinner. The captain keeps his grief private.

Flanagan returns late from his leave. The captain tells Flanagan how irresponsible he has been. And this hurts his family especially, because Flanagan will be receiving less pay for awhile. Now the captain asks how are his wife and child. Flanagan says they both were killed in the bombings. The captain excuses everyone from his office.

The captain tells the crew that their next mission will be a lot more exciting than any of their previous missions. Therefore, he only wants volunteers for the mission. The chief then takes over. He shouts to the men that any man who does not want to volunteer must come see him personally. Dismissed.

The Captain tells Number 1 that his transfer has come through. His relief has arrived at Devonport Barracks and he should take over today. Number 1 crumbles up the transfer and says his replacement is going to be disappointed.

June, Mrs. Number 1 now, is told of the new mission and she is very upset about it. Itís Operation Boadicea. Number 1 comes into the office and gives his wife a big hug and a kiss. She pretends she doesnít know where he is going.

A large group of commandos now boards the Ballantrae. The ship leaves port. And now the captain can tell the crew where theyíre going. Their mission is to destroy the gate of the only dock on the Atlantic coast of France that is large enough to dock a German battleship.

The ship will be rammed into the gate. In the bow will be five tons of high explosives timed for two hours after they ram the gate. The removal of the shipís two extra smoke stacks was done to make the ship look like a German gunboat.

The commandos put on their camouflage paint.

When they get into the estuary, the Germans start bombarding the ships. The captain tells his signal man to tell the Germans that they are firing on their own ships. The enemy ceases firing. The Nazi flag is brought down and the British flag goes up. The British ships open fire on the docks.

Stripey gets hit and goes down. The ship is rammed into the docks as planned. The commandoes rush ashore. The fuses are set for 0300 hours. As soon as all the wounded are cleared from the ship, the ship is to be totally abandoned.

The shipís personnel gather into a building. The captain arrives later. He finds out that the doctor has been killed. And then the ship does not explode on time.

The captain is being questioned by a German officer. He says that by now they have destroyed all the British ships and killed or captured almost all of the captainís men. The captain remains silent.

The Germans start crawling all over the British destroyer. The British captives are being moved when the ship finally explodes with a tremendous bang. The British now put on some big smiles at what they have accomplished.


The Yanks helped the Brits in different ways before the USA got fully involved in WWII.  This film tells the story of one of the fifty destroyers the Americans gave the British.  This was part of a deal in September of 1940 where the British got the destroyers and the Americans got the use of eight British Atlantic bases.  The U.S. was granted land in various British possessions for the establishment of naval or air bases, on ninety-nine-year rent-free leases. The destroyers were old, many being built around 1915.  As the film shows, some of the destroyers accomplished quite a bit with their British crews.  The ship goes through a lot of adventures with many breakdowns.  And it saw some action before leading to the climactic scene where the ship performs admirably. 

Trevor Howard was very good as Captain Fraser.  I also liked Sonny Tufts (as Yank Flanagan).

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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