‘Greyhound’—The Importance of Knowing History

By Diane Howard, Ph.D.

The powerfully riveting new movie, “Greyhound, “ features Tom Hanks as leading actor and screenwriter. It is based on WWII history and the ensuing novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester.  It is an Apple Original Film produced by Sony Pictures.

In the winter of 1942, Nazi forces march across Europe towards Great Britain, while thousands of ships from North America are transporting men and material across the Atlantic.  Having been passed over for promotion for years, longtime U.S. Navy officer Ernest Krause receives at last his first command leading the destroyer Keeling (code-named “Greyhound”) and three other escort ships with the mission of protecting a convoy of 37 merchant vessels carrying much-needed supplies and troops to England.

Fast-moving German U-boat submarines patrol the waters to create and enforce a brutal German blockade. During a terrifying five-day stretch known as the “Black Pit,” Krause and his men are on their own against U-boats determined to sink the destroyer and the ships it is assigned to protect. Two days into their crossing, with 50 hours to go until British air cover takes over, the convoy finds itself hunted by a vicious pack of U-boats.

During intense ongoing threats, Krause battles a wily and vicious Nazi sub commander. But the U.S. Captain Krause is a man of faith who prays on his knees and reads his Bible as God directs him to protect all those in his care.  There is only one foul word uttered by a member of Krause’s team who then apologizes to the captain.  Captain Krause not only displays faith and courage but humility, regard for others, undistracted concentration, restraint, and internal locus of control. He keeps his “eye on the ball,” not allowing himself to be distracted by external fearful factors. Krause and his men are heroes who must be remembered. They are role models. We must not forget or ever deny our history of fighting and defeating totalitarianism.

This movie has had a profound, personal, inspirational effect on me concerning how we can’t let our history be destroyed! Stories like this need to be told! My father served as a military leader in WWII under General Patton, in Korea under Douglass MacArthur, and Viet Nam under General Westmoreland. In WWII, my dad was the first with his men to liberate a concentration camp, Ohrdruf Camp. When I was a child, my mother and I were on the last boat out of China during the Communist take-over. Having lived in Europe with my husband as an Army chaplain, we have also seen the devastation of the concentration camps and the Berlin Wall that was toppled.  I have experienced first-hand the threats of totalitarians and have also seen them brought down as good men and women of faith, courage, and skill, especially in the military, have prevailed. I am thankful for the legacies such as we see in this movie and want to promote them.

We patriotic Americans need to promote this fine movie, as well as other good movies like this that tell true stories of American history that we must never forget!

No person or history is without flaws. Even the Biblical leaders, except for Christ Jesus Himself, had flaws. But with our Lord, Biblical, American, and other men and women around the world have overcome their own flaws and those of others to better and eternal Good.

“Greyhound” focuses on the Battle of the Atlantic, which saw the U.S. send thousands of ships full of troops and supplies to its allies in Great Britain in defiance of a brutally enforced German blockade. The longest continuous military campaign of World War II, the Battle of the Atlantic stretched from 1939, long before America’s official involvement in the war, until Germany’s defeat in 1945. “From the moment the war began,” says Hanks, who stars in and wrote “Greyhound,” “Great Britain began relying on ships carrying material: arms, war goods, cotton, iron, steel, food, people, bayonets, cans of tuna — everything that was keeping it afloat when the Nazis essentially had taken over all of Europe.”

The Allies suffered staggering losses during this campaign: 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships sunk, as well as more than 72,000 crew members and troops killed. Without the naval escorts assigned to protect the convoys, however, the toll would have been far greater and the outcome of the war might have been altered.

Tom Hanks wrote the “Greyhound” screenplay based on the novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester. Forester had personal experience with the Battle of the Atlantic, because he served as one of the Royal Navy’s envoys to Washington coordinating the war effort. Forester, a prolific author, is well known for his Horatio Hornblower seafaring adventures and “The African Queen.”

Because of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war celebrated this year, Hanks says he was inspired by the chance to bring to audiences a largely untold story, and at the same time, make a unique contribution to the World War II movie genre. “With a couple of the projects like ‘Band of Brothers,’ we were able to go back and expand on the well-established mythology of the war while really embracing the details — because the details are fascinating.”

Director Aaron Schneider says “Greyhound is a unique screenplay in that there’s plenty of drama in the battles and the decisions the captain has to make, but it’s all told through the procedural language of running a warship, which comes from the book. We were able to get down to what you see in the finished film — a terrific character study set within a really intense three-day period, presented with an incredible sense of verisimilitude.”

Schneider says he was excited by the idea of creating an experiential film that captures the tension of a high-stakes battle on the open sea. “This is not the kind of war movie where people pull out photographs and talk about their girl or their kids back home,” he says. “It throws the audience into the pilothouse of a World War II destroyer on day one of a three-day nightmare and follows it through all the danger and apprehension — and lets the audience experience it.”

In an exclusive interview I had with Director Aaron Schneider, he shared the following significant insights about the importance of knowing our history.

DH:  What do you think are some of Krause’s outstanding character qualities?

AS: At the beginning of the movie we see him on his knees praying. He is a principled man. His principles come from his religious faith. We watch him as a principled man through horrible events and how he is navigated by his principles. At the end of the movie we see a “book end” that reflects back to the beginning that shows how he gets through everything with his principles and sense of self still in tack.

DH: How is he a universal role model?

AS: Anyone in history who serves for the greater purpose is a hero. That is why we call this generation “the greatest generation.”  Krause serves the greater good, but also stays true to himself.

DH: Why must we know history like this movie presents?

AS: We must know history so that we do not let the errors and atrocities happen again.

DH: Why must we know about historic role models?

AS: Historic role models remind us that we are not the first to struggle with the problems with which we struggle. We can find comfort with this. When we see the larger context and how history repeats itself, we can find a sense of hope and purpose. We are assured that we can be victorious again like those before us. In our American history we gain confidence that American system works and that our framers set it up so we would not burn down our own house.

DH: Why is it dangerous to not know our history?

AS: Past is prologue. We need to learn what to watch out for. Everyone is the world needs to learn what to watch out for and what not to do. This is true is all aspects of our cultures, professions, and spheres of history. We need a sense of communion with those who have gone before us.

DH: What kinds of universal evil tactics and strategies repeat themselves through history?

AS: The primary lesson we learn about universal evil is that it seeks to rule with fear. However, we learn that it is best to lead with inspiration.

DH: How does the scene at the beginning of the movie with Krause and his girlfriend serve the movie?

AS: They provide a personal story of hope with the midst of chaos.

Krause’s girlfriend is Evelyn, a beautiful woman (played by Elisabeth Shue) with whom he has found a late-in-life romance,  “It’s obvious that Krause and Evie have a mutual interest,” Hanks says, “But they’re too mature to get married just as the war is beginning. They think, the world’s gone crazy, let’s wait until this is all over and we know what we’re signing up for. They have a very adult, ongoing relationship.” They are role models in their relationship of maturity, patience, and restraint.

From my own many years of qualitative and quantitative research, I have produced significant new evidence based on the whole body of scholarship before me that supports the idea that performing autobiographical stories provides a role modeling effect, which can influences achievement motivation and internal locus of control in audiences. This role modeling effect, especially on internal locus of control, is particularly significant in marginalized groups. Individuals with external locus of control have a “victim complex,” which marginalizes them further. Audiences who see and identify with role models with internal locus of control who accept responsibility, can be positively affected and inspired by role models with internal locus of control. This is another significant reason why telling autobiographical stories of role models with internal locus of control is so important!

Throughout his illustrious career, Hanks has demonstrated an affinity for stories about World War II. Working both in front of and behind the camera, he has been integral to award-winning feature films and television projects that examine the WWII conflict in innovative and deeply compelling ways. He has provided many stories in film that present valuable role models for audiences.

In “Greyhound,” Hanks has also addressed the U-boats. The word “U-boat” was short for “Unterseeboot,” a German word meaning literally “undersea boat,” which referred to German submarines of the era that were terrifyingly effective at sinking Allied vessels. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles limited the size and scope of the German navy, specifically prohibited it from deploying submarines. But, in the 1930s, Germany violated the treaty and ramped up its fleet. By 1939, when the war started, they embarked on a crash course in submarine-building. “The U-boats gave them a lot of bang for the Deutsche Mark,” says Hanks. “They were relatively cheap. They were fast when they were on the surface, and they were hard to detect when underwater. So it was one way Germany could quickly gain an advantage on the sea over the Allies, who had much bigger naval fleets.”

To avoid the U-boats, convoys leaving from various ports in the U.S. and Canada took long zigzagging routes, Hanks recounts. “But once they were spotted, the U-boats would form wolf packs and just start picking them off. It was an ongoing technological challenge for the Allies to figure out how to get ships across the ocean safely with minimal loss of lives and equipment. Eventually they developed the tactic of sending convoys of merchant ships protected by faster destroyers that could detect the presence of U-boats and engage them in battle.”

In “Greyhound,” Hanks’ character Capt. Ernest Krause is a long-time naval officer with no combat experience who finds himself in command of one such destroyer, the fictional USS Keeling (code-named Greyhound), along with three Canadian and British warships escorting a 37-ship convoy bound for England.  In addition to the unrelenting U-boats, Krause is battling his own challenges, protecting the lives of thousands of men and hundreds of thousands of tons of supplies crucial to the war effort. Beyond capturing the military aspects, Hanks also says “Greyhound” tells a story about ordinary people rising to the occasion of extraordinary circumstances. Although the story focuses on Krause’s decision-making as he strives to outmaneuver a crafty and bloodthirsty adversary, it is the captain’s personal journey that gives the film its heart and soul.

Hanks notes that, according to Forester’s novel, Krause was a career officer who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy near Annapolis, Maryland, in the 1920s. “But because there was no war going on, he spent 20 years of his career essentially as a staff officer. He was always somebody’s aide, or he was at a desk in San Diego or at a base somewhere keeping track of things. He had been on some ships, but he had never been in command.”

After nearly two decades in uniform, with his career seemingly at a dead end, Krause would have likely been thinking about retirement before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything, according to Hanks. “There was a generation of these fellows in the Navy, who in 1936, ’37, ’38 were at or near the 20-year mark and ready to retire,” he says. “And then lo and behold, in December 1941, America is suddenly in the war. All these ships are now necessary and what they need more than anything else is officers in the Navy.”

After the U.S. declared war on Japan, most of the major naval battles it participated in took place in the Pacific Theater. So, the elite Navy officers were sent to that region, according to Hanks. “But the Atlantic has its own needs and an opportunity lands in Krause’s lap. He’s someone who has had the training and knows how to do everything required to command a ship. But while he knows the procedures — which he’s very good at — at, some point, training is hypothetical. You’ve got to deal with the realities when you’re out at sea.”

Although Krause is careful to try to conceal his anxiety from his crew, being responsible for the fate of so many lives puts him under tremendous stress. “I read of one actual commander who ran a successful fleet of sub chasers,” says Hanks. “The pressure on him was so great that, before the war was over, his brain exploded in a stress-induced hemorrhage. Krause is a version of that guy. The only thing he has as a bulkhead against the stresses of the job is his religious faith.”

Krause has devoted his life to the Navy, forgoing family life for a career that has been steady but, until now, not that exciting. “Every morning of his life, he’s gotten up and put on a uniform and gone to work either with a briefcase or with deck shoes,” says Hanks.

Much of the film was shot on the USS Kidd, a decommissioned WWII-era Fletcher-class destroyer that now serves as a museum on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “The USS Kidd is the best-preserved World War II-era U.S. destroyer in the world,” says Schneider. “There are a lot of museum ships, and there are some Fletcher-class destroyers around the world, but the only one that has been restored back to her World War II configuration is the Kidd.”

The filmmakers hired military, historical, and technical advisors to ensure they got everything right.

To ensure accuracy in the film’s depiction of the destroyer’s cat-and-mouse battle with a pack of German U-boats, the filmmakers relied primarily on two technical advisors: former Marine Capt. Dale Dye and naval consultant Gordon Laco. “Gordon is a naval historian and has a grand understanding of how all of this stuff worked,” says Hanks. “He was the guy who made sure we were talking about things that really happened in terms of these Atlantic convoys.”

Laco says he was impressed by the filmmakers’ determination to be as faithful to the reality of World War II naval operations as possible. “One of the great pleasures of this particular project is that from the top down, everybody wanted to get it right,” says Laco, a former Canadian naval officer who has served as lead technical adviser on over 60 films and documentaries, including “Master and Commander.”

Dye is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and one of the best-known film and television consultants on military matters. He previously advised Hanks on his roles in “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan,” as well as on the productions of “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.” “I spent 22 years in the United States Marine Corps, and I’ve studied military history all my life,” says Dye.

Dye says he was excited to be involved with GREYHOUND because it focused on one of the most important but lesser-known aspects of the war. “The Battle of the Atlantic is not as famous as the invasion of Normandy in Europe or Iwo Jima or Okinawa in the Pacific. But it was vital. Had we not sent destroyers and warships to escort those convoys full of material for Great Britain, Hitler might well have crossed the English Channel and changed the course of the war.”

One of Dye’s most important contributions to the production was enrolling the key cast members in his famous boot camp — a rigorous three-day training session where actors learn military codes and procedures while also developing a cohesive bond. In the case of GREYHOUND, the boot camp was conducted on board the Kidd, which would become their set shortly afterward.

“I gave the actors an experience where they had to rely on the next guy and he had to rely on them,” says Dye. “You’re in tight quarters — your face is right up against his when you’re in those racks — you eat what he eats. Each man’s survival becomes paramount, so you naturally develop close relationships.”

As they prepared for the shoot, the filmmaking crew helped complete ongoing restorations of the vessel, according to the museum’s executive director, David Beard. He said, “We were already planning to restore some of the rooms to their original states as they would have been in the 1940s, so it was great to have production come in and assist in that process.”

The production also brought the ship’s massive naval artillery up to fighting condition — or at least a facsimile of it. The Kidd’s Oerlikon 20 mm cannons were inoperable, so the filmmakers, with the permission of the museum, sent the guns to Armament Technologies in Paris, Tennessee, which not only restored the exterior of the weapon to pristine condition but also added pneumatics so that when the trigger is pulled, the gun barrels recoil back and forth at over 100 times a minute to simulate firing.

Other weapons were also modified for the shoot. The huge five-inch/38-caliber guns were rigged to fire blanks and the Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft guns were made to recoil, says special effects supervisor Yves De Bono. The K-guns are located toward the stern of the ship and launch depth charges used to attack submarines. For these, De Bono’s team created lightweight instruments that fit inside the real thing.

Hanks says what he looks for in any movie is to be entertained, educated, and enlightened. “No matter what a movie is about, no matter where it takes place, no matter what language it’s in, I want to find out something new about the human condition. I want to see myself up there — experiencing stuff I have dealt with or I’m still dealing with. But I also want to be educated about something I didn’t know.

“My hope for Greyhound is that the audience participates in it from the perspective of, ‘Gee, what would I do if I was in this situation?’ And then when it’s over, the audience has a shared experience the leaves them saying, ‘Man, I didn’t know it was that tough!’”


Diane Howard, Ph.D. is a diologue, dialect and voice-over coach, as well as a journalist who writes about the role of faith in movies and in the entertainment field. Her website is dianehoward.com.