Released in 2020, Greyhound was written by Tom Hanks, who also starred in the lead role. The movie was based on a novel by C.S. Forester called The Good Shepherd. Today, we’ll be joined by the Naval Consultant on the film, Gordon Laco, to discuss its historical accuracy.
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Dan LeFebvre 01:48
The movie starts by setting up something called the Black Pit. According to the movie, that’s the nickname given to an area in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that’s beyond the range of air cover, making the convoys most vulnerable. And the specific convoy that the movie focuses on is convoy HX25, which is destined for Liverpool, England in February of 1942. With according to the movie 37 troop and supply ships escorted by four light warships named Eagle, Harry Dickey and Greyhound the man in command of those escort ships is Tom Hanks, his character Captain Ernie Kraus, who was given command of Greyhound just a couple months earlier right after the attack on Pearl Harbor. So how does the movie do setting up the time place and main character the film?
Gordon Laco 02:30
I think pretty well as you know, the film was based on C.S. Foresters The Good Shepherd, I wish we could have used that name. The dramatic tension and what was going on in World War Two then was the war had been raging for nearly three years. And the Canadians, the British, the poles and other surviving Allies had been fighting the Germans for several seasons, and they were getting good at it. And the people alive then didn’t know. But the worst of the Battle of the Atlantic was over the entrance of the US forces to the war as a fully participating ally was a big thing. And strangely enough, it was called by the Germans the second half of the time. The reason was, the US forces did not understand yet the value of moving merchant vessels in convoys. So with the US eastern seaboard opened up as a hunting ground, virtually undefended, because they weren’t selling in convoy, there was a slaughter. When we were working to convert the film, the book rather to a screenplay, we had to solve a problem that another director I worked for described, where he said when you pick up a book, all the words followed, and literally what he meant was you lose all the descriptive in the background. So what we had to do was try to help the audience understand that Hanks, his character, Commander Kraus, he wasn’t a captain. He was a commander, which figures large thing the story later, Commander Krauss was green as grass. He had been basically served a competent, but undistinguished career for his whole 25 years in the service. When war comes for the US, and 42, or 41, and 241. He’s too old to go to see really, but there’s a war emergency on. So he’s dragged back from the brink of retirement and thrown into a ship. I had to come up with a date for the movie to take place and an old forester described was winter of 1942. So I imagined that the US fully declares war after Pearl Harbor that’s before Christmas. It would take about two and a half to three months to work up as we call it, the Americans would call that Shakedown, a warship under new commission. That would bring us to February. And because I needed to write dates on charts for the dead reckoning plots, where you see glimpses of the charts in the film, I chose my wife’s birthday February 12. So I guess I’m around about answering your question that was the setup beforehand. There’s also hints into what was described in greater detail in the book in the opening scenes of the film, when Hanks his character kind of crows comes onto his bridge and asks what’s happening basically, he’s told by his junior watch officer, that the Polish and the British destroyer have broken way have gone hunting on their own. And in the book, it’s more apparent that they’re flatly ignoring his instructions. And the behind the scenes story there is the British Captain because he is a lieutenant commanders that say in the States, so is the pole. The Canadian captain is also a lieutenant commander in the in the Corvette hmcs dodge. They know that Hanks doesn’t know what he’s doing. And because of the accident of promotion to commander, which exceeded exceeds their rank, he’s in charge. But I’ll say again, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And the tension in the book, which we tried to translate into the film, is that he’s got to lead these three other worship captains who are very good at their jobs, while he learns himself how to do it. And he’s making he makes mistakes. But by the end of the story, he’s starting to hit the two and then learn his lessons. The story is actually based on a real captain, there was a captain Walker in the Royal Navy, I’m sure forester based his cart, his cross counter on him, he served as a junior officer in the First World War was out of work. Basically, during the Depression, the 1930s, was dragged back and thrown into a small warship, although he was way too old, and he should have been retired. But he became history’s greatest submarine Hunter, he developed techniques under stress of war, that are still used today. And unfortunately, that man died during the war. He didn’t survive. He died of basically, he worked himself to death, he had a stroke and then died later in hospital. And if you google Captain Johnny Walker, you’ll see photos of him, including one of him on his bridge, leaning forward over it, like he’s driving a chariot screaming into a microphone. He put everything he had into hunting submarines, and he was damn good at it.
Dan LeFebvre 06:59
That had to have been so tough to convey, because the movie doesn’t really show any of the other commanders. So everything is through communication and their actions and things like that, not necessarily being able to see the other ships commanders and how they’re reacting to these orders that they’re getting.
Gordon Laco 07:16
Well, that’s correct. There’s not much of it left in the in the script. In the earlier versions, the first two or three submarine hunts are failures, and the submarine outsmarts Hanks the first times. And there are other moments in the film, which I think we may talk about later, that in the book demonstrated his inexperience, but he learns his lessons and that’s the point of the story.
Dan LeFebvre 07:38
And the movie mentions this zone between air cover being called the Black Pit. Was that real?
Gordon Laco 07:45
Yes, wasn’t just a nickname that we developed. It was a term commonly used during the war, until the development of what they called ultra long range aircraft that could cross the Atlantic and linger if they saw something to deal with. There was a an area in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean that aircraft allied aircraft couldn’t reach. And we didn’t have light aircraft carriers, yet they could accompany the convoys. So from about 800 miles out from Newfoundland, and until they were about 800 miles out from Ireland, there was no air cover, and the Germans knew this. And convoys were routed very carefully trying to avoid concentrations of U boats. But the submarines would spread themselves out in patrol lines looking for the convoys. So once they found them, they could operate with more or less impunity. It’s important to remember that even a very efficient submarine like the German type seven c that we depict in the film was basically a warship that could dive. Whereas today, submarines are warships that operate underwater. The submarine of world war two of anybody’s Navy was a surface warship that was capable of diving when it had to. So while the surface range of a type seven cu boat might be 3500 or 4000 miles dove dive, as they would call it, it was only about 100 miles before it had to surface again to recharge batteries and change air. So catching submarines on the surface was the best way to sink them. And that’s why it was very dangerous for submarines to operate on the surface where there was air covered. Hence the danger in the so called Black pit. aircraft were crossing the Atlantic that early in the war, but they didn’t have means to linger to hunt something if there was a job to be done. They couldn’t accompany a convoy circling.
Dan LeFebvre 09:32
Okay, yeah, that that puts a lot more context into why the Black Pit area was such a big deal.
Gordon Laco 09:38
Yeah, that’s a good thing to keep in mind because, well, a type seven c. u boat or submarine was capable on the surface of doing 17 knots, which was actually faster than an anti submarine Corvette dived they could do nine knots as a maximum maximum speed, but driving their electric motors that hard they could only do it for less than an hour before the batteries were depleted, and they’d be thrashing and propellers so hard, they’d be making enough noise, they’d be committing suicide. So when operating in the vicinity of enemy warships, it was common for submarines of any nationality in those days to be moving underwater at speeds of less than five knots, probably one and a half, two or three knots creeping along very quietly. Because to go fast with suicide, I had to choose a speed for our convoy. And in order to help the animations work, I decided this was going to be a fast convoy, and a fast convoy in 1942. Steamed at eight knots. Well, that’s not very fast by our standards. But it was fast for a collection of merchant ships then, that had to plod along at the speed of the slowest ship that was qualified to join them. So if the convoy is doing eight knots, and an aircraft comes along and forces the submarine to dive to protect itself, well, that’s submarine now has to go slower than the convoy and the convoy cannot run it. So if the escorts can force a submarine to dive, they’ve done 80% of their job, sinking the submarines, but of course, because then it’s not coming back. But forcing it to dive dramatically limits its capabilities. Hence, the again the danger of the area in the middle of the North Atlantic, where, at midpoint in the war in 1942, there was no air cover.
Dan LeFebvre 11:16
Speaking of the U boats, the first sign that we see in the movie for them is there’s the convoy flagship sends a signal to Greyhound that the half Darfur high frequency direction finding reports of Germans transmission, at most likely from a u boat, and then we see Greyhound run it down, there’s this intense hunt, depth charges are dropped. And then after a moment of searching for indications of the hits, they do see some oil and debris indicates that the U boat has been destroyed, then, almost immediately seems like there’s no time at all passing. There’s another distress signal shot into the air, we see the Greek mark and the despotic bow on fire. The movie suggests that all of this is happening what’s called the four noon watch. So from 100 to 1200 hours. But we don’t get a lot of other indicators as far as the timeline other than that. So can you give us a little more historical context? Around this first contact with u-boats happening?
Gordon Laco 12:11
Yes, we were very careful in the action sequences to try to avoid compressing time as far as possible. So from the huffduffed report coming in, we show the reaction to that in real time. And the time it takes the story to run down the bearing at 36 knots. we compress that a little bit, but only only five minutes. That sequence is pretty much in real time except we did compress the length of time that they ran down the bearing. Do you mind if I talked about huff stuff a bit?
Dan LeFebvre 12:41
Yeah, the movie did kind of make a point to explain what that was, which I thought was interesting.
Gordon Laco 12:47
Yeah. And did you notice we had the signaler, the young sailor, he didn’t know what half tough was he was sounding out the words, he thought he must have made a mistake and his decoding hopped off was a British invention. One of those very British things that the Polish Canadian and Royal Navy, British Royal Navy vessels had but the Americans didn’t yet. That was one of those built in the garage, brilliant inventions. That was a war winning weapon. In England in the late 1930s. There was a meteorologist who noticed when he was driving home in his car. If there was a thunderstorm happening somewhere is am radio crackles when there were lightning bolts even if he couldn’t see them, he’d hear the crackling. So it occurred to him that if he could develop a device that would snap a radio bearing on the transmission of the lightning burst, and grab that bearing in that brief instant that it went, he could track thunderstorms he couldn’t even see. And it worked. He did it. World War Two came along in 1939. It occurred to him I think maybe the Navy could use this. So he gave it to them. He gave it to them. And 800 words means high frequency direction finding. So if every British and Canadian and some Polish warships had a huffduffed set on board and you can recognize the antennas on their mass, they look like a TV antenna. say there’s a at any given moment. 30 warships at sea spread all over the North Atlantic Ocean. There’s a huffduffed station in Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, the Azores, Ireland in various parts of England. And a u boat makes a sighting signal saying I see a convoy Come on gather invoice, let’s get it. And they could do that with just a few letters and code instantly, even if it was just one beep of a key on his Morse set. Maybe 20 huffduffed stations would pick that beep up and within half an hour. The Admiralty in London in England would be transmitting the probable source of that beep. And if there were seven those that recognize the sighting report, and they’d know the Wolfpack was gathering, so they might be able to tell the convoy ultra course 40 degrees north and do try to avoid it just like a guy carrying a football would avoid a tackler coming towards him. The US forces didn’t have that yet then and in the book, the fact that the other escorts did was one of the indications of the position that Kruase is in, Hanks’s character, he’s got to lead these people that are more experienced than him have better weapons than him have better sensing instruments than him, and have been fighting the Germans for two and a half years and are good at it. He’s got to lead them when he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And that’s the drama in the book. Aside from the fact that he’s just too old to be out there.
Dan LeFebvre 15:26
Did the Germans have any sort of indication that the Allies had that technology?
Gordon Laco 15:30
None. And I’m delighted, as a historian to look back and say, they never quite figured out that we were snapping bearings on them so quickly. huffduffed was a was a secret, war winning secret and they they never quite understood. And they, they continued right to the end of the war to try to operate their ships at sea, from Carnival, Admiral donuts is based in France, where he could like a chess player and he could move his pieces around the North Atlantic battlefields. Personal initiative did matter for a lot for the Germans as they did for us too. But they never stopped trying to play the game from home. And that necessitated radio signaling. And that radio signaling, let us hunt them down. And by the last third of the war, we were actually chasing them running convoys towards known concentrations of U boats, because men like Captain Walker realized that’s the way to get them is to draw them convoy.
Dan LeFebvre 16:25
One thing that the movie implies, almost right after they lose their air cover, they start to encounter the U boat. So you know, obviously, that you mentioned that the Germans knew this range there, but how much time would have passed between losing air support and getting attacked by by u boats?
Gordon Laco 16:44
Well, conceivably, they could have been attacked as soon as they left Halifax. And that did happen right through the war. The Germans, however, had their intelligence services just just like we did, and they had a pretty good idea of the range of the the Catalina, or the short Sunderland and the other aircraft use the long range patrolling, we said and know the screen the three days to I think to goodness, I forget two or three days past since they since they lost their era score. So we tried to create a situation of two or three days of waiting for something to happen. And it had it didn’t happen yet until that huffed up signal came in. It’s important to note that despite the carnage and the savagery with which the Battle of the Atlantic was fought, the truth is the most convoys got through unmolested, didn’t see anything. And that was a crushing thing to the Germans and I have a family story that relates to that of my dad’s personal experience, is that there’s two parts to the story, one, the Canadian point of view and one the German point of view. In 1942, the Germans leading you Lotus was captured alive through a happy set of circumstances for him although he lost most of his men. His submarine was blown to the surface and sunk by gunfire rammed and he was plucked out of the water, apparently almost dry. Otto Kretschmer was his name. And he survived to the 1980s and wrote an autobiography. He describes his capture he described as having his binoculars taken from him by the captain that captured him. Apparently, that man gave them back to later after the war, being brought to Halifax where he was absolutely horrified to see convoys coming and going completely unmolested by the German Navy. And Halifax, itself a busy port completely beyond their reach. He was put on a train and sent to what he described as the interior of North America through one large industrialized city after another, till he finally got to Toronto, where he thought he was only going to find, I think he called it log cabins and bears in the interior of North America. But here was yet another large industrial city, completely out of their reach. He wrote in his autobiography, he said that at that moment, he realized in 1942, we can’t win this war. They had no idea of the resources in North America. And so roll the camera to the other side. My father in 1942, was 14 years old. His brother Henry, who carry his middle name was on leave before going out going away to the war overseas. And he came home to Toronto’s Union Station and he arranged to meet my dad at the clock tower with it’s still there on the sidewalk. So there’s my 14 year old dad 1942, standing on the sidewalk. through the crowd came striding a senior German naval officer that described him wearing his leather seat coat over his shoulders, like a cape with his arms, not in the sleeves. His officers cap on slightly askew, striding through the crowd, parting them less dead put it like the Red Sea, being followed by two Canadian infantry men carrying stun guns, his guards but clearly there’s no question who was in charge. That’s the guy who’s just oozing arrogance and self confidence. He stopped about 20 feet in front of my father put his hands on his hips that said spreading his coat like Batman. Looked at the Royal York hotel across Front Street. Look back at the train station. He just come out of look His feet, shook his head and walked east. That had to be on a crutch at that moment. Isn’t that something?
Dan LeFebvre 20:07
That’s amazing Wow.
Gordon Laco 20:09
Kretschmer ended the war in prison camp and became a.an Admiral in the peacetime German Navy, serving in NATO at the end of his career.
Dan LeFebvre 20:19
Speaking of the different perspectives, in the movie, we don’t really see anything from the perspective of the U boats. And we start to get an idea of how many are out there as the allies are discovering them. I think at one point, there was someone who mentioned there are six German subs, how many subs would actually stalk a convoy in a wolf pack?
Gordon Laco 20:41
It’s important to remember that a wolf pack is not a thing, like a regiment, or a division ashore, or a squadron or a wolf pack are the submarines who happened to be near enough to get into the game. The Germans learned early in the war, to spread themselves out in lines in the Atlantic hoping convoy would come inside of one of them. If that happened, they learned it was better for that submarine not to attack immediately, but to follow it while sending off sighting reports. And that’s where a half Duff comes in. So an attack might be one u-boat, well, that would only be if there were others who couldn’t catch up. So that when you vote who made the first sighting, and that’s the one we see at the beginning of the film, or hear about, we get, would send sighting reports out and hope to gather his mates, and they’d be up to 200 miles away, and they’d come at their best speed to join the party. But the convoy is advancing at eight knots, so it’s not easy to catch up. So the convoy might elude most of them. We have seven submarines in the film at the peak, there were stories during the war of as many as 14 and sometimes they were able to elude them all. So a wolf pack was not a thing. It was a colloquial term for a gathering. And it could be any number that you get together.
Dan LeFebvre 21:54
Okay, and from what you were saying earlier, it sounds like they would almost have to travel on the surface in order to be able to catch up, which would only make it even more dangerous and difficult for this, you know, line line of subs to converge on a convoy.
Gordon Laco 22:10
The U boats at that point of the war did not have radar. So they relied completely on visual sightings. And of course, the conning tower is not very high. I think Winston Churchill commented once, that the area of sea that a submarine can see from his conning tower is like the head of a pin stuck in a large map of the North Atlantic, they can’t see much. And they were chronically plagued with failures in their intelligence service, because they didn’t get along well with the earth force on their side. And the Germans, luckily for us, never did get as good at tracking convoys, and intercepting radio and so forth as we got, which is a good thing for us. So the submarines were basically blundering around looking for convoys, and often the convoys got through, you’ve probably seen Das Boot a superb film, Germans point of view about the Battle of the Atlantic. And at one point, they meet Thompson. And there’s that fantastic scene when they’re on the surface and heavy seas, shouting to each other to old friends who are still alive. And then afterwards, the captain is furious because he realizes they’re supposed to be spread out 50 miles apart, looking for convoys, and here they are bumped into each other. And what that highlights is the difficulty of navigation. Then in earlier versions of the script, we went into that in the film in more depth. Navigation was purely by dead reckoning, which is keeping track of your speed and course. And by celestial navigation, which is by sun, moon and star observations are quite prone to error. And if the weather’s bad, you might not see the sun for a week or more or the whole time you’re out there. So position is only guessing. So the convoy doesn’t know where it really is. They know where they think they are. And the same thing was happening to the U boats, they would try to spread out on the line, they were ordered staying apart from the convoy wouldn’t slip between them. But they were suffering from the same things in the weather, two separate things routine, daily routine figures in the story, because when they were leaving their ports in France, or Norway, they had to travel on the surface at night to cover ground, but died during the day. So when they’re dying to during the day doing four or five, six, seven knots, they’re not going to cover much ground, whereas at night, they could do 15, 16, 17 knots and really get out to the to the hunting areas. And the Allies got very, very good at hunting them even at night. And much effort was put into developing radars that could pick up small objects and surprise them while they were traveling on the surface. Again, the name of the game for the Allies was keep them dived, because they couldn’t see anything when they were down. They could hear but not so well as they could see. And they were slow. We didn’t shoot anything. The submarines point of view, because a big part of our story in the film as it is in the book is how difficult it is for Hanks’s character to hold in his head what’s happening around him underwater. He’s got to have what they call situational awareness and the Navy still. And he’s got to make guesses all the time about what he thinks is probably happening from the clues and indications that he gets. So we didn’t want the audience to have the metaphor of seeing where the submarines were going and what their strategy was. We only see that based on what Hanks knows.
Dan LeFebvre 25:19
I did like that perspective of that too, because it does give you that idea of, there’s this vast ocean around you. And the enemy could be anywhere.
Gordon Laco 25:29
That’s right. If you and I were sitting, having coffee in the wardroom of a destroyer or merchant ship right now, the torpedo could come now, or it might not come for four days, or it might never come. And that was part of the terror of battle.
Dan LeFebvre 25:45
You mentioned the weather and I wanted to ask you about that because in the movie, we see the convoy having to deal with really bad weather. There are scenes where it crosses asking for clothes from his cabin, The wipers on the windows freeze up, and there’s some external shots of Greyhound or a sea ice building up on the ship. And of course, there’s massive waves that just crashing against the ship and spraying must be freezing water everywhere. Did weather cause a problem for convoys and their escort ships like that?
Gordon Laco 26:18
Absolutely, with bad weather came bad visibility. And imagine 37 merchant ships ranging from five to 10,000 tons, plodding along in lines together in peacetime for a merchant ship to see another ship means you’re a little closer than you like. But here they are going sailing along a few 100 yards apart. So that was dangerous and difficult for them in bad weather. It was also dangerous and difficult for them escorts to keep track of them. Basically, they were like sheep dogs darting around the herd, as they referred to it, trying to keep them information of really bad storm could cause ships to fall out of line, and either by mechanical breakdown, or sometimes just by terror of a collision. And while he was getting out of his position, that’s very dangerous. And then of course, he’s alone. In a ship alone was easy meet for a submarine. The weather was actually worse for the submarines, they had to come up to look for their prey, and they had to come up to recharge the batteries and change their air. So if things are bad for destroyer, like you see in our film, a Fletcher clock class destroyers bridge structure is about 35 or 40 feet above the waterline. Well imagine eight feet above the waterline like in a submarine, you’re underwater every second or third wave. And that dramatically inhibited their ability to cope. submarines have in those days often had debt guns. Later in the war, most Atlantic operational submarines have their decades removed. They just couldn’t use them in the North Atlantic, it was rough usually. And they decided to try to do without the weight and the resistance in the water. So the weather affected them all.
Dan LeFebvre 27:56
That’s fascinating to see it from that perspective, because my initial thought would be, it would not affect the submarines as much as the surface ships because they’re underwater. So I just would assume that the weather wouldn’t affect them at as much but your explanation there makes perfect sense that it would actually affect them more.
Gordon Laco 28:15
All harken back to Das Boot, again. The both the film and the book are superb descriptions of the the Battle of the Atlantic from the Germans point of view, they would dive sometimes just for relief from the tossing and the motion. And the captain of the boat in that the journalist accompanied that became the film das boat described that 190 feet down that could still feel some gentle movement. On the surface, there were 4050 foot waves. And it was pretty difficult to operate in those when I was watching Greyhound. And just seeing those massive waves. I couldn’t help but think of like the reality TV shows that we see these days on the ocean and they’re just having to deal with the intense cold and this horrible weather. They don’t have to deal with the fact that there might be a torpedo coming on top of that as well. When we were in pre production for the film, we had long discussions about how to depict the weather. As I put it in one of the meetings I was attending, the weather is one of the characters in the film just as much as the the enemy is there or any of the merchant ships or warships and we wondered how to accurately show what bow waves and stern leaks and what worships look like when they’re moving fast. And we realized pretty quickly. It’s pretty tough to find a large ship that can do 30 knots. They just don’t exist outside the military. So one thing I was able to do to help the production as a retired roken new Navy officer, I found our national defense headquarters described what we were doing and coincidentally one of our frigates hmcs Montreal was finishing her midlife refit, it was going out in the North Atlantic for workups Shakedown as the Americans would say. So I got permission to put a film crew on board. So in the movie when you see bow waves and stern waves and ships moving fast and turning, and so forth, even the tracer bullets firing at night, those were all shot aboard HMCS Montreal. I have to laugh to my wife afterwards, when I was a left handed serving in the Navy, I couldn’t phone national defense headquarters up and say, Hey guys, I need to ship can have one. But as a consultant on a Tom Hanks movie, telling our story, basically, the Battle of the Atlantic they said sure, we’ll we can help. The Navy can’t invoice for services, they can cooperate. And they often do willingly, but they can’t charge for the services because it’s the military. So what the production did, which I think is something that everybody’s intensely proud of, is make a fairly substantial, quite substantial donation to the Children’s Hospital in Montreal, Canada, in the name of hmcs. Montreal to thank them. And that I think, is an indication of Tom Hanks, his character and the people that worked for him. They didn’t have to do that. But they did.
Dan LeFebvre 30:58
That’s fantastic. Yeah, yeah. One thing I wanted to ask about, that we see throughout the movie is one of the German u boat commanders simply refers to himself as Grey Wolf keeps taunting Krause throughout the whole movie, there’s this radio communication that goes on and then of course, you know, cost goes to the other escorts, oh, we, you know, change channels and then comes back later on and starts talking, you begin. That sort of communication between allies and Germans actually happened that taunting actually actually happened?
Gordon Laco 31:32
Yes, and no. It happened ashore or in the air rather, but it did not happen at sea, and it just could not happen on the radio set that Hanks is speaking to his fellow naval officers on was called TBS, which meant talk between ships. Modern boaters call it VHF very high frequency radio, radio telephone. It was an invention of the Royal Air Force that was put into service just before the Battle of Britain in 1940. That allowed fighter pilots and their ground controllers to talk to each other with voice rather than Morse code. All other ships at sea. Like all the merchant ships, and certainly all German ships, merchant or naval could only communicate by radio using Morse. And rather than plain language letters, they might use codes. But it was beeps and dashes only the Allies had a war winning weapon. And to talk between ships. It meant that someone like Krause in his position would be like the quarterback on a football team shouting, you hook around to the left or whatever, in real time and just talk captains at the time described it as utterly intoxicating, just to be able to talk to each other that well to coordinate combat, it was a new thing. The Germans didn’t have it, it was possible for the Germans to find a duplex frequency being used by patient tuning of their receiver. But they would have to understand English if they had someone on board, who could then have to understand the jargon that was used specifically to throw off people who didn’t speak English well. And of course, they changed the frequencies constantly. And just because you had the receiving frequency of a particular channel, that means you have the transmitting frequency, it was called duplex, it still is. So for every channel, there’s two frequencies, and you would need them both. So for you both to do what we showed in the film, the radio operator would have to build a radio in the submarine with a microphone, which of course he wouldn’t have, you’d have to build it out of something on board. And then he’d have to understand the concept of duplex radio transmission and find those frequencies. So well, he might use dropped by finding the frequency to be able to talk like that is problematic.
Dan LeFebvre 33:45
Okay, yeah, probably not gonna happen.
Gordon Laco 33:48
It did happen in the air, though. It did happen in the air. Later in the war, the Germans got better at it. But they never did put voice radios in their submarines that could transmit on allied TBS frequencies.
Dan LeFebvre 34:02
That also explains why in the movie they’re talking between the ships, but then there’s a point where Krause has to decide if he’s going to break radio silence, even though they’ve been talking between the ships the entire time.
Gordon Laco 34:15
That’s a good point. And thank you for bringing that up. It’s one of the good things about VHF transmission or TBS, as they call it in World War Two, it’s only line of sight. And so if you’re 18 miles west of Ireland, and you’ve got a radio transmitter transmitting voice, that’s good for 30 or 40 miles, you can talk on that to your mates giving instructions or coordinating attacks. And the chances of a German hearing it aside for the ones that are already know where you are, is nil. They just can’t do it. The radio that Hanks is discussing using the giveaways position is long distance shortwave radio, and that would be transmission by Morse to the Admiralty and the Germans could certainly hear that. And if they gave any sort of long signal, the Germans would be able to eventually catch a bearing on. If we could on short bearings, although thank goodness, they didn’t have enough stuff.
Dan LeFebvre 35:04
That makes sense.
Gordon Laco 35:05
You see what I mean about opening a book up, all the words fall out? Forester in four pages describing how that works in the book and then go back to the action. We had to do that by having with lighting and sound. And having the best actor in the world Tom Hanks frown, and then give us next orders, he would help the audience understand what he was dealing with.
Dan LeFebvre 35:26
There was a scene where we see the rescue happens with it with a Cadena going to rescue that spot to go they got fired on and then Greyhound fires on on the boat. They don’t hit them, but then they receive word that there’s more targets at the front of the convoy. So they break off to engage those new threats. And before leaving, Kraus sends a message to Cadena saying, you know, I’m confident you’ll be able to outrun the boat. But as I was watching that, I got the sense that okay, there’s more targets over here. So it’s higher priority than defending this ship over here. Was there this sort of priority level to you know, they came down to the decisions of if you’re going to if they have the choice between protecting ship A and ship B, protect ship A?
Gordon Laco 36:09
Well, that sort of question came up. Of course, that was the sort of heart rending decision that officers had to make. But in that situation, there was no priority being made. Hanks does have to get back and plug the hole that is screening position in the convoy. But once he’s forced that submarine to dive, it’s not fast anymore. It’s slow, and Kadena can crank itself up to 12 knots to catch up. I think we had her say that. And at 12 knots she’ll run the submarine it can’t catch them. Again, there’s a dynamic going if you if you can force the submarine to dive you’ve you’ve basically one part of the battle. So he was he wasn’t leaving to her fate, although we might certainly hope that things would work out well for them. That’s an interesting topic because in the escort Squadron, Hanks has got three destroyers and a Corvette and the Corvette is the smallest of the ships. It’s also the slowest. The flower class Corvette could only do 16 knots under the best of conditions in similar worships today in our Navy, we say yes, 16 knots with the divers sitting on the steering kicking their slippers to give an extra boost. And that’s not good because of the convoy is doing eight knots and the Corvette lingers back behind. To finish off we’re thoroughly hunting you boat. While the convoy is marching away. It may take her a day or a day and a half to catch up again. Whereas the destroyer can scoot up to 30-36 knots and catch up quickly. But when those tribal class and Fletcher cross class destroyers and lightning class destroyers were being designed in the late 1930s. Nobody thought that their primary job would be to hunt submarines. They were designed to go very fast in straight lines and accompany battleships into fleet actions. They thought their torpedoes were their main weapon. And they put some depth charges on them because they thought maybe they might be necessary. But they were really not very good for hunting submarines, because submarines could turn them at three, four or five knots, which is the normal or 12 knots, which is the normal speed in a hunt. The destroyer was quite clumsy, they couldn’t turn very sharply. In this, the submarine couldn’t maneuver them. So what I’m getting around to is, although the Corvette is the smallest ship in the escort Squadron, it’s the only one that’s a good submarine Hunter. And that figure is largely in the story, it comes up more in the book. And it comes up in the book of the Croesus relations with the captain of that ship, because he would be in command, if not for the accident that Chris was promoted just before he joined his ship. And now the expert submarine hunters subordinate under a man who’s just learning his job that can add some extra tension there.
Dan LeFebvre 38:50
You’ve talked about this a little bit briefly before but I wanted to ask him more about it. There’s in the movie, it’s between 16 120 100 hours the Greyhound is firing on a u boat. And all of a sudden there’s a merchant ship that had there’s urgent order ceasefire, hard left rudder, super close call with every such close calls like that, or is that just build some action in the movie?
Gordon Laco 39:13
Good thing you brought that up. Because, yes, they did happen. And we took that incident directly from the book. And yes, there are real instances of close calls like that at sea. And actually, escorting warships were sunk several times by the vessels they were trying to protect accidentally running them down. But in the book, that incident is used to demonstrate cross as inexperienced as a ship handler. If you watch that part of the film again, you’ll see that he’s coming in he’s trying to cross your bow. Everybody knows who’s handle the ship, like I was at sea a long time myself. You don’t cross the bow to go around the Sturm, but gross was going after that you vote he tried to cross the bow and he almost didn’t make it. So in the novel, it was a demonstration that Krause is learning his lesson still. The movie it just became an exciting incident and, and we tuned it up a little bit to, to have actually made contact like that the destroyer would have lost her boats and all their weapons off that side. And she might have been sunk actually, because of the stories plating is quite thin. They didn’t call them tin cans for nothing. But it did really happened. The famous Queen Mary, cut a British cruiser and half, it was zigzagging in front of her hunting a submarine. And she cut her in half. And because she had more than 10,000 soldiers on board, she couldn’t stop. So they had to watch the two halves of the ship and run over sinking behind them. Hundreds of sailors died because of a young officers error in a home command. What a horrible thing. When I was in the service, I had a number of colleagues who went to Afghanistan. In our service, the specialists are often naval officers. And when I was talking with one of them who came home, he told me, there will be he said he knew there’d be bad things and hard decisions. He said, but really what gets you afterwards is the incident where you have a split second to make a decision. And then you spend the rest of your life thinking about what you should have done. He said, that’s what gets you. And that very same officer told me you know, I’m not I guess I’m boasting about the quality of the team that I worked with. He thought we had got we were reaching that feeling in the tension on the bridge of that ship, or Hanks is making decisions. He doesn’t know if he’s right. He knows he’s making mistakes sometimes. But he’s got to keep going. Can i describe a moment that was my favorite in the film? We were shooting a scene where Hanks is looking at a burning tanker, and 40 men are burning to death, just a few 100 yards away, and he’s watching them burn. And he stopped to pick up some men from the water. And there was only a few. And he stopped to pick up a few I think it was three and put 40 men burn to death because he got out of position and let the ubo come in again. In the novel, they spend two pages two full pages describing his sense of failure and his terror that everyone’s gonna know he’s a failure because he made them he made a mistake again. And he’s watching young men die because of it. What we did in the film was, we were standing on a set actually, with a red light blinking and Mr. Hanks is faced with that would later become the burning tanker. We just had screens all around, and people standing with clipboards and everything. So it was not very much like the North Atlantic Ocean at night in the midst of battle. But Hanks looked on the bearing and part of my job was tell him which bearing to look on because we were dropping the ships and electronically afterwards, looked on the bearing. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then look to his left and started giving him orders again. And when I watched that, I saw two pages of description cross his face in a few seconds. And sometimes acting doesn’t look like acting because it looks so natural. But he looked to me like a man who realized he’d made a terrible, terrible mistake, that maybe when he was dying, he might think about again later as an old man. And I have a story about that too. But he, he did it. And he did it in the most artificial environment you can possibly imagine standing on a set with a bunch of people standing around and a camera in his face. I think that was my favorite moment in the film.
Dan LeFebvre 43:20
That’s why he’s one of the best actors out there, to be able to do something like that. You mentioned that you had another story?
Gordon Laco 43:28
Yeah, if when you’re watching the film, you look at the chart table in the wheelhouse you will see the brass circular protractor with a compass scale on it. This belongs to a friend of mine who has since passed away who served in the Battle of the Atlantic. And when I’m working with actors on historical films, which is my job, what I often do is try to find a real artifact from the time and they give it to them and tell a story about it. And what I did with Mr. Hanks was I showed him a picture of my late friend Bill and described how he’d been a gunnery officer aboard a Canadian warship that sank A u boat south of Greenland in August of 1942. And after that hard, hard fight, Bill, who was 20 years old, then realized he’d lived through history. And he took this instrument that he used in the on the bridge of his destroyer in the battle and put it in his pocket. And when he passed away, he left it to me. And Bill remembered that fight with no pleasure whatsoever. And his comment to me was as he was dying, he didn’t talk about the war much until the last week of his life. He’s told me he hated the war for having robbed him of the carefree youth he should have had. And then he said I hate it, killing witnessed and participated in and then he got a hard look on his face with his head on his pillow when he kind of squinted one eye. And he said to me but Gordy. Nothing in my life ever matched being officer the watch and a well armed Canadian destroyer doing 30 seconds knots off the coast of France, looking for trouble. And then his head went back on the pillow. And that was one of the last things he said to me. I used to quote Bill when I did talks on Remembrance Day or about Atlantic Sunday, and so on. And I told Mr. Hanks that story too. And I described that the Spanish have a word for what I what was in Bill’s words, and that is doing it My, my accent is bad. But it’s duality. There are terrible moments in war that crush people afterwards when they’re doing what they have to do. But there’s also excitement. And if I’m ever accused of glorifying war in my films, I tell them Bill’s wines that he told me when he’s in his life, and then I comment, but the exciting part is not the reason to go. Because ultimately, it’s not exciting, and it’s just killing. Anyway, I guess I got off on a tangent there. But you’ll see this in the film, hey, took this and put it on the chart table, and you’ll see it on the chart table in the, in the wheelhouse of the store.
Dan LeFebvre 45:59
I’m definitely gonna have to go back and watch that again. And look for that, that’s for sure. In the movie, there, it’s kind of broken up into different watches. There’s the four noon watch from 100 to 1200. On Wednesday, there’s a dog watch from 1600 to 20 100 hours.
Gordon Laco 46:15
Oh, no. A dog watch is not four hours long. That was a mistake we made.
Dan LeFebvre 46:20
Gordon Laco 46:23
Dog watches are two hours. That’s why it’s dog. That’s short.
Dan LeFebvre 46:28
Okay, okay. Yeah, there’s that morning watch on on Thursday from over 100 to 100. First watch from 20 100 to 2400 on Thursday, and then 14 watch, again, from 100 to 1200. On Friday. So obviously, the it’s it’s obvious in the movie that, you know, there’s some time in between these different watches. And you know, obviously there’s there’s going to be stuff that’s that’s going on. But what would there? Would it kind of be broken up like that? Or would there be anything noteworthy that would happen in between those hours? Or was that just picking some times for action in the movie?
Gordon Laco 47:04
Well, we certainly picked moments when action was happening, but we hope that we got the feeling across that life carries on on the ship, a ship as a community, or a ship’s company or her crew are divided into three watches, roughly a third of the men in each watch. And when one watches on deck and normal cruising situations, the other two thirds of the crew are off watch. So you’re on duty four hours off duty eight hours. During those eight hours off, you do laundry, you eat, you do whatever cleaning duties, you have to do write letters, then you sleep. So it may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. So the daily rotation of life on the ship would continue regardless of what’s going on. And actually that brings up something I was asked in an interview when the film first came out about the the captain Stewart, a man of color, who’s trying to serve on food all the time. And somebody asked me if I thought that man was being denigrated as being in service. And I responded Absolutely not. In fact, that superb actor who also started mudbound, and he and I discussed the situation and he understood clearly that just as surely as the ship’s engineers, look after the Great turbines, the tribes, the ship, or the gunners look after their weapons. His job is to keep the ship’s greatest and most important asset. It’s Captain going. And he tries to help commander crows eat. He tries to help him rest. But an indication of his inexperience is that he doesn’t. And that’s something I noticed when I reread the book, before we started working on the film, when I was being trained as an officer of mark you got against yourself was if you’re going through a leadership trial, then they’re very good at creating scenarios that simulate warfare stress. If you don’t rest, and you don’t have the confidence and the training you’ve given your people to look after, will you grab three or four hours of sleep? That’s not good leadership. And it’s a mark of Croesus inexperienced as a captain in command. He never leaves that bridge. And yeah, sometimes that happened with good reason. But in the novel, it’s more clear that he’s working himself to death. And, of course, that’s what happened to walk into the room and he did die of the stress. But we tried to do what we could to show that every time he’s about to try to take a moment something happens and calls him back. So it’s partly his ability to manage with those moments and partly the fact that they keep coming out of it and you definitely do see that when you’re trying to feed him but also his feet are bloody because he’s been standing for so long things like that. And then of course, you know, at the very end of the movie, he finally gets some rest. As a mark of Mr. Hanks his brilliance as a writer. There’s at the end of the movie, The action is over and he’s writing his last signal on the table with that device beside him and the pencil breaks. Nothing goes easy Bernie Kratz and when he’s passing through the convoy and the the troops and the troops that are cheap are cheering him on, he’s not on the bridge to take that chair. He’s on his way to bed. And he misses the moment. He’s always just a step off and nothing is easy for that man. But he learns his lessons and he just keeps going. Wasn’t that a beautiful scene with saying his prayer at the end?
Dan LeFebvre 50:16
Oh, yes. That was beautifully done. Because he had the light streaming in and it’s Yeah, you can you can tell that he’s finally getting some rest through the entire thing. Some of the other sailors I don’t remember if it was the same, same person or not, but it would come in and be like, Okay, I’m, I’m leaving my shift. Okay, I’m on duty. Now I’m off to you know, making that point. That Kraus is still there, through all these different shifts that other people are leaving and coming back and he’s staying there.
Gordon Laco 50:44
You know, we did that purposely, you see the watch has changed on the bridge, but he’s always there. And that was not by accident. That scene at the end when he’s seeing his peers by his bed. And that is a classic Aaron Schneider direction. Aaron was our director. And what a great storyteller that man is.
Dan LeFebvre 51:03
There’s another scene in the movie I wanted to ask you about that almost seemed like a Hollywood exaggerated moment. This is when we have u-boats shooting from two different angles. And the Greyhound is against quick thinking on cross his part. He’s trying to evade multiple torpedoes at the same time. And he manages to do so but on on one of them you actually see the torpedo glancing off the hole. Was that a moment that would have been exaggerated or did that really happen?
Gordon Laco 51:33
Not at all, it really happened. Warships were very difficult to torpedo because they didn’t travel on straight courses for long periods of time. So they were tough to aim at. And if they saw a torpedo coming, if they’re going fast enough, they could dodge them. And turning to face a torpedo that’s coming was called combing the torpedo CO and big combing the torpedoes truck, basically, you’re reducing the length of your side that’s presented to its course, imagine an arrow coming out, you indeed turn sideways to it. And also presenting the bow of the ship is more able to withstand a hit forward than she is after, because you lose the propellers in there, and the rudder. So I did find an incident from the Battle of the Atlantic where a captain combs to torpedoes. And he missed the first one. But he had to wait for it to come from a stern. So we actually turned stern towards it, it had to overtake him and pass him the torpedo was doing, he figured about 40 knots. And he was doing about 28. And he said the seconds it took to pass him were terrible, because he was watching the other one come. And as soon as it crossed the first torpedo crossed as well. This is what we showed in the film, he gives us hallum order to turn and I gave the script, other orders to increase the rate of the turn by slowing the inside engine, increasing the speed on the outside engine wrote her heart over. And this captain in the diary that I was reading, described standing there holding the bridge and thought he was going to bend the metal on the bridge during to help the ship turn. And he said also twisting his hips and the shoulders and using all the well known techniques to reduce the turning circle. And watch that torpedo coming across his bow. And it didn’t strike the bow but the stern was still swinging. So it clipped the torpedo broadside. And he said it was like a hammer striking an anvil and actually popped up out of the water with its engine screaming and went away. And he said he thinks he aged about 10 years and that minute. So that really happened.
Dan LeFebvre 53:35
I couldn’t imagine that. I mean, that’s that’s another example of how you have to wait for those few seconds to make that I think in the movie, we see Kraus, I think he initially remember the order, but he gives an order. And then he sees the other one. And he’s like I believe that, you know, we need to turn this other way. Initially because he didn’t see see both of them.
Gordon Laco 53:56
Yeah, it’s not a first pass. And the worship will have the benefit of a hydrophone operator who could listen and he would hear that singing sound in the water. When describing what a torpedo might sound like I described to the production that a certain type of German submarine German torpedo that was the type that would leave awake in the water had basically a three cylinder performance motorcycle engine in it, driven by very volatile fuel and compressed air to provide air for the combustion. So I said imagine a superbike with no muffler engine screaming at 12,000 rpm. That’s the torpedo just a wild maniac. Powerful, horrible, deadly weapon, mindless but they missed him.
Dan LeFebvre 54:41
Going back to the movie, I want to ask about kind of the the other side of the black pit because for each each block of time that we see it gives okay this is how long until air covering on 50 hours, 36 hours, 26 hours, 14 hours, three hours and when they finally get within range of air cover, it seems like it’s not a moment too soon, Greyhound is facing off with a u boat, and pvy comes over and drops depth charges on the target and almost immediately takes out the U boat. And as I was watching it, I got the sense that, okay, there’s almost like this finish line, like they got to hit the finish line in order to get to the end of the black pit. And immediately there’s going to be air cover, and they’re going to be saved as soon as as soon as they cross this is that how that would happen? Or is that, again, Hollywood’s perfect timing.
Gordon Laco 55:30
It’s a lot more complicated and a lot looser. And we had discussions when we were developing the script about how that would be portrayed. And we decided to let it be simplified. But in reality is the ability to draw a line on the chart. And by the way, those are my hands, drawing the red arcs on the chart, or you see the limit of our covers. They know where that line is. That’s the distance from the Royal Canadian Air Force Base in Northern Ireland. They know that they can’t see an aircraft sooner. They know the Admiralty in London is expecting them to cross that line at some point, but they don’t know exactly where they’ll be because the weather has been so bad, and they can’t transmit a position. And even if they could, they don’t know where to within several miles or 20 miles, exactly where they are. So they know that there will be a Coastal Command aircraft looking for them when they cross that line. But they don’t know if they’re going to find it. It may be another day before the aircraft finds them. Sometimes the aircraft never found them. And they just had to keep going on and fighting through. So that’s one side. There’s another dynamic involved there that now that they’re within aircraft range of Europe, the Germans are looking for them to. So when they first look at aircraft, it could be a fuckwad Condor for engine long distance, and he shipping aircraft looking for them. And we had a version of that scene where you craft aircraft is for seeing Hanks yells is it friendly. And they have to exchange the challenges to know that it’s friendly, because it could be a condor. And if it’s an a condor, they’re still in trouble. And added to that. Although they’re reaching what they call the month, the mid ocean meeting point where the escorts exchange duties, and the ones based in England took over. That’s not the end of the fighting, even though they’ve got air cover now, they’re actually just getting into the war zone. So the worst may be yet to come. And convoys were bombed as they were tying up in Liverpool. So it’s not the end. It’s the end for the midocean escort which is handing over duty, but it’s not the end. And it’s probably not going to be better. Well, I was going to ask about that. Because you know, the way the movie ends it is okay, we’ve reached the end of the the black pit, the diamond comes that’s gonna you know, that’s the British destroyer that comes to relieve them and it’s kind of like, okay, we’re good. Like it’s almost This is the end everything safe now. That’s a bit of movie catharsis to let the let the tension off at the end of the movie, but the fact is the convoy is just getting into the war zone. And the way escorts worked was that mid ocean escorts that Hanks his ship is part of probably came out of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and caught up with the convoy south of Newfoundland, where the Atlantic coastal warships escorting it would hand it over. And they would carry it across the middle to the mid ocean meeting point where they meet diamond and diamond takes over to bring them into England. But because it’s too far to go to go back across the surviving escorts then go to to Derry to Londonderry, Northern Ireland where there was a naval base, they refuel rearm, Requip, and usually with no no more than one night and part race back out, again to the midocean meeting point to pick up a convoy that starting back across the block pit. Of course, that crossing could be just as bad. But the Germans knew those ships were empty. So they tried to catch the fall once and I’m glad you explained that more, because I got the sense of, everything’s good, where we’re safe. we’ve, we’ve crossed the worst of it. I think the movie needed that dramatically for the what they call the story arc. But it’s just beginning.
Dan LeFebvre 59:04
One of the big challenges that you see in the movie is the depth charges or lack thereof, they start to run out of them. There’s a point where I think Kraus says get the next pattern is going to be a medium one and then, but we only have six left. Can you share a little more background on how many they would start with how many was in a medium and full pattern that some of the terminology we see in the movie?
Gordon Laco 59:27
That’s an interesting topic and an important one because there’s several levels one is tactical, and one is what’s going on in commander Chris’s mind as he’s becoming exhausted. on the technical side, a Fletcher class destroyer midpoint in the war would have about 30 depth charges. That meant she could drop a full pattern three times 10 charge three times. And that’s not a lot, but the reason is they nobody thought when she was designed that submarine hunting would be her primary job. Her job was to escort and attack battleships in the story. We there’s many of bringing an overload of charges out of the after Siemens mess, they really did that. So we had another 24 charges there. But Krause has forgotten that he already had called for those to be brought out. He’s lost track of how low his ammunition is. And that causes a hard moment among his younger and freshly arrested crewman, when they realize he’s forgetting things. And he realizes himself when he says that line about harmless as a dove, he’s caught himself that he’s, he’s made a mistake again. And that was a small mistake. And the support he has from his officers corrects it. But he’s realizing he’s running out of out of ammunition. The Corvette, for example, although she’s probably a third the size of a destroyer, carry 220 depth charges, her reason for being was none other than hunting submarines. So she had plenty. And yes, if the weather was sufficiently calm, they could have exchanged some and sent them over. Later in the war, they actually had starships that could replenish escort vessels with fuel and weapons, but not at that point in the war. So what we’re seeing, there’s two things one is yet another indication that the powerful tool in the destroyer that Hanks has, is not really designed for the job he’s using it for. And the other thing is, he’s starting to forget things because he’s tired. Mr. Hanks said in an interview, and I was delighted to see this because it gave an indication of his deep understanding of the story. He said, one of his own interviews, he wanted to do one other film, or he played a commander in war in World War Two, he’s exactly the same age I am, or birthdays are only a few weeks apart. I’m too old to go to see as a commanding officer. So is he and then somebody gave him a copy of the Good Shepherd. And Tom picked up the book and he read it, the captain has white hair, it’s about a man who’s too old to be at sea. And he was perfect for the role.
Dan LeFebvre 1:01:51
And what was what would be the age difference of Walker then versus what was, what is too old, I guess would be?
Gordon Laco 1:01:56
Well, most of the officers are in their 20s and 30s. And Hanks and I are just over 60. And Walker was in his late 50s, when he started, that’s pretty old to be awake for three days straight. It is although you made a good point that that’s an indication of his lack of experience there where he forces himself to stay awake that long. And you start to see some of those effects like with the depth charges, losing count, like we just talked about. After the funeral scene, you’ll notice he wears his number one uniform for the rest of the movie, he hasn’t taken a moment to choose clothes. And we tried to give the audience little hints like that, about how he’s absolutely stretched physically and mentally in every direction. Just trying to keep up and to cope with this terrible job is terrible responsibility he has. And I guess the good news is that he’s learning his lessons.
Dan LeFebvre 1:02:48
What’s something that, from a historical perspective, didn’t make its way into the movie that you wish you had been able to include?
Gordon Laco 1:02:55
There was one thing that I had hoped that it got in it stayed in. But in the editing process, it didn’t quite fit. At the moment when the aircraft is leaving the convoy I had a discussion with with Aaron, our director, and we decided that we want to, for just a moment, let the audience see that these aren’t just two mechanical military assets that are saying goodbye to each other. There’s a frightened 18 year old radioman in the aircraft, who’s saying goodbye, because he just can’t stay any longer. He knows the loss that his help will be. And he’s got to fly 12 hours back to Newfoundland. And he may not make it. And the 18 year old signal there in the ship is just starting off across the block pit. And he may not make up. So we wrote a couple of lines where they broke protocol. And these two young men are just flashing the signals to each other as they did and as they still do today. And I had the signal there in the aircraft saying looks bloody cold down there, mate. Good luck. And the guy in the ship signals back saying looks lonely up there. Hope you make it home. And I would have been an extra little touch of humanity if that could have survived in the film. Because in those days, you know flying at 105 knots, which is what the Catalina aircraft did going back to Gander or St. John’s, Newfoundland 12 more hours droning over the sea, they made all make up, they stayed every minute they could to protect the convoy and they just can’t stay any more we have to go. That would have to be so difficult to you stay every minute that you can, you’re going to have limited amounts of fuel, obviously, that’s you know, you’re gonna end up running running out there. So you try to use as much as you can here. Knowing that you’re going to have to use up 1212 hours worth if not more, depending on whether depending on if you run into complications challenges along the way. We had a neighbor who died a few years ago who served in Coastal Command his houses with inside of me out the window. Jim told me of flying and long distances and then seeing the fuel reserves going in the desert. He was the navigator and the distance back to land, let alone to the airfield they needed to find again. And looking at the wind, and realizing that if that wind comes up five knots, they’re not going to make it. And saying to the pilot we’ve got, we’ve got to go, we’ve got to go. And the pilot looking down at the convoy, saying they said they saw something we have to stay. And sometimes they stayed. And sometimes they didn’t make it back, actually, that was shown in the film Dunkirk. Remember the that scene when the Spitfire pilot is looking at his calculations, and he’s realizing if he goes now, he might make it back to England. But that bomber is going for the Minesweeper. And he decides to sacrifice himself. That really happened.
Dan LeFebvre 1:05:41
Wow, wow, those sort of decisions and things like that, you don’t really…it’s easy to not think about that. Because those are the not the the flashy ones, the Oh, that are going to be real obvious on on screen, like the decisions of Okay, or like, what are the decision to make to dodge these two torpedoes? Right, that’s an obvious sort of thing that you can see on screen, but those other little decisions that everybody has to make.
Gordon Laco 1:06:06
Yeah, I think in movies in good movies, when you can when you take the book for all the words, you take the book, and all the words followed, when you turn it into a screenplay. There are things in it that we as filmmakers put into them. And if you see it over and over again, you’ll start seeing more and more. That’s certainly true. But Master and commander, there’s, there’s stuff in there, that when I rewatch it, sometimes the friends to go Oh, yeah, I remember that. And then I say, Here’s why we did that. But you wouldn’t notice it normally. But it all together these things create a patina, as I think of it, a patina of realism. And you couldn’t put your finger on what most of them are. But the lack of them is obvious. Sometimes I remember watching another movie, I won’t name it because I know good people work hard on these things. My wife is not a military historian leaned over to me in the theater. And she said she whispered to me, if the Germans were that stupid, how did it take six years to defeat them? They weren’t stupid. They are they want it to go home. And I guess that leads to another thing when we were having discussions about choreographing the battle scenes, which was one of my jobs working for air and under his direction, saying well, how deep would the submarine be at this point when it’s trying to slip under them? I said, Oh, four or 500 feet, four or 500 feet? Why so deep? And I said, well, because they want to live, they want to go home. And the more distance they put between themselves vertically and horizontally from that worship that can sink them, the more likely they are to survive. And ultimately, they want to go home. There’s a military expression they used to hear sometimes when I was in the service myself, people would say, Is this the hill you want to die on? And what they mean basically is in the military, I never faced it myself. But you’re faced with the decision thing? Is this the one where I stay in the aircraft until I run out of fuel and crash doing my job? Is this the day? Is this worth it this day. And that happened a lot in the Atlantic. I think trying to get that level of serious tension into the film as a way of respecting the people whose ideals were were portraying. If we make it look easy, or make the enemy do stupid things to make it easy to get them? Well, yeah, they made mistakes sometimes as we did, but it’s not respectful, I think. And we tried to be very respectful in this one.
Dan LeFebvre 1:08:23
Well, I think you did a great job. And I really appreciate you coming on to chat about Greyhound. And I know you mentioned Master and Commander, I know you’ve offered consulting services on a lot of other movies, I’m sure we’ll be chatting again in the future. But for someone listening to this, who isn’t familiar with your company services, can you give them an overview of what you do and share your site where they want to learn more?
Gordon Laco 1:08:42
My website is Gordonlaco.com. My filmographies are there. What I and we and the people I work with do for films is help directors tell stories. And I see my job is historically is showing where the center line tracks are with regards to a common understanding of what really happened and how things worked. So when the productions have to make decisions veering left and right of the center line, they know when they’re going off course and by how much and every film has to do it to tell the story. I tell students sometimes it’s possible to be so right, you’re wrong. If you get something so perfectly authentic, that the audience doesn’t understand it. Well then you’ve lost them and that’s not good either. If you’re trying to tell a story, but brief people, my company also so we do that. We also advise on props and locations and I guess that’s more of a more production work. And just to keep the drum rolling at a steady beat for the sake of the family. I operate a business that imports and supplies rigging and fittings to historic ships, both operating ones and ones in museums. You’ll see all that on the show I’ve just completed my work on right now is a is for Netflix. It’s a an animated fantasy called Jacob and the Sea Beast. And I was laughing with friends the other day. If I need to come up with something, if I’ve given an assignment, I can just make something up. And as long as it’s in the spirit of the time and the place that the story is set in, that’s fair game. And the freedom is sometimes exhilarating. But I do like hard history very well, but that’s what I’m working on now.
Dan LeFebvre 1:10:23
I’ll make sure to add a link to your site in the show notes for this episode as well. Thanks. Thanks again so much for your time.
Gordon Laco 1:10:28
Bye bye be well.