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David Sanders
David Sanders

The Wackiest Ship In The Army

The story is a dramatized, fictionalized account of a real ship known as the USS Echo. It was a sailing vessel that originated in New Zealand and became part of the United States Navy during World War II.

The Wackiest Ship in the Army

In 1943, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Rip Crandall, an expert yachtsman in civilian life, is based at Townsville, in Australia. He is surprised to be assigned command of a sailing ship, the USS Echo, a unique ship in the Pacific Fleet. The only crew member who knows how to work a ship with sails is eager young Ensign Tommy Hanson, who cost Crandall a yacht race with a mistake before the war.

The Echo barely makes it out of the harbor, sailing straight into a storm. It arrives at Port Moresby, New Guinea, after accidentally sailing into a minefield. Crandall is supposed to train a replacement to deliver a coastwatcher named Patterson to a location only a shallow-draft vessel can reach. However, the replacement strikes Crandall as stiff-necked and unqualified to handle this kind of mission, so he takes the ship out under his own command.

Making the crossing with both ship and crew disguised as a native trading vessel, Crandall and his crew are spotted and photographed by a Japanese spotter plane. While most of the men are ashore escorting Patterson, a Japanese force from a passing warship boards the boat, capturing Crandall and the skeleton crew; when the landing party returns, they are also apprehended.

Crandall manages to rally his men to take the ship back. He is wounded and Hanson is faced with the decision of whether to radio a warning about the fleet, even though that will give away their position to guns on shore. He sends the warning and the decision is made to abandon ship, as the guns open fire on the Echo and destroy her.

Columbia Pictures acquired the rights to a story in the July 1956 issue of Argosy titled Big Fella Wash Wash, inspired by reminisces from former Echo skipper Meredith "Rip" Riddle.[2] The story was advertised on the cover of the magazine as "The Wackiest Ship in the Army", because the naval vessel had been under Army command while in port, and Columbia used that title when purchasing the story in 1957. The movie never explained any connection between the ship and the Army, puzzling some viewers. (The later television series spelled out the link.)

The real USS Echo was returned to the New Zealand government in 1944 and was subsequently used for the conveyance of food and supplies. It was unavailable for either the film or the later television series. The ship eventually served as a bar, but was poorly maintained over the years. In 2015, it was determined to be too derelict to preserve, and was broken up for scrap.

However, the story takes a turn from happy-go-lucky musical to wartime tale when the enemy attacks the sailors and their ship. Real footage of air raids supplements the staged shoot-out between the two World War II combatants when the men are ambushed by a group of Japanese.

Navy Officer Rip Crandall (Jack Lemmon) ships out on a leaky schooner with a bad winch motor, after being tricked into the command by old buddy Lt. Commander Vanderwater (John Lund) with the knowledge that he's the only one with the needed sailing experience - next best is Tommy Hanson (Ricky Nelson), a kid with minimal training. They skip northward to Borneo from Australia, and then find out that the real mission is to drop a spotter-spy (Chips Rafferty) on a remote island held by the Japanese. Crandall reluctantly elects to continue rather than let his new crew do the job under an unfriendly officer.

That leaves Lemmon to carry the film alone, which he almost does. He's a convincing sailor, as the rather good water-based scenes show him doing well on deck and in the rigging of his ship. And it's the only movie where you'll see Lemmon get run through with a samurai sword, which of course only adds up to a momentary inconvenience.

Once, after a hurricane hit the Pacific islands, the Echo rescued several fishermen whose canoes were blown more than 100 miles away from their villages and had been given up for dead by their families. On their return, the ship was met by the ecstatic villagers who almost all paddled out in their canoes.

Like Rip Riddle transforming into Rip Crandall, the USS Echo originally underwent a name change to the USS Fiesta for the movie version. Fortunately, the ship was rechristened the Echo before filming started.

Lt. Rip Crandall is assigned to the USS Echo, an aging ship that should have made its last run long ago. Unbeknownst to him, he and his crew of misfit soldiers are responsible for secretly transporting an Australian double agent into enemy territory.

World War II buffs know that the war was largely won because of superior military intelligence. We broke both the Japanese and German codes and could read their communications. Part of this effort was to place coast watchers on South Pacific islands to observe Japanese ships and radio their whereabouts.

In the spring of 1942, the New Zealand government presents the U.S. a 70-year-old wooden twin-masted schooner. The US military decides to use the ship to place spies ashore behind Japanese lines. While underway, the ship is commanded by Lieutenant Rip Riddle of the US Navy; while in port, the ship is commanded by Major Simon Butcher of the US Army which leads to many disputes between the two men. 041b061a72


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