Phillip Queeg and Stephen Maryk: The Real Inspiration Behind the Naval Officers and USS Caine

Showtime’s legal drama, ‘The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,’ delivers a gripping narrative, which unfolds in one location over the course of a day, as the witness testimonies unfold, giving the audience a subjective view of the fateful day Lt. Stephen Maryk mutinied against Lt. Commander Phillip Queeg of the USS Caine. With just one setting and accounts of different characters, it is difficult to pinpoint whether the accused really is guilty or if Queeg was unfit to captain the ship and was rightfully relieved of his duties.

Much like the jury, the audience has to rely on the evidence in front of them and pass a verdict on Maryk. The film is presented with a realistic lens, which is meant to make the audience reflect upon things and decide who the guilty party is. It might also make you wonder if the movie has real people as the inspiration for its characters and whether there really is a ship where the mutiny took place. Here’s what you need to know about it. SPOILERS AHEAD

Are Phillip Queeg and Stephen Maryk Based on Real US Navy Officers?

‘The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial’ is not based on a true story but on the play of the same name by Herman Wouk. He’d first penned the story as a novel in 1951, which was also adapted into Humphrey Bogart’s 1954 Academy-Award nominated film, ‘The Caine Mutiny.’ Wouk wrote the war novel based on his experiences in the Second World War and looked towards real-life people to craft the characters and the situations in which they landed. However, the central plot, about the mutiny and the court-martial, remains fictional.

While it cannot be confirmed if Wouk used specific people as inspiration for the characters in the movie, there is an incident that he seems to have been inspired by. In 1944, the American Third Fleet suffered a lot of damage from Typhoon Cobra, much like the storm puts the fleet of USS Caine in danger in the movie. Reportedly, there was an incident on one of the ships, named Hull, where the officers briefly considered removing the captain from command. Lt. Cmdr James A. Marks was in charge when the ship found itself stuck in the storm.

Allegedly, some officers believed that Marks wasn’t handling things well and encouraged the executive officer, Greil Gerstley, to relieve him of his duty and take charge to lead the ship to safety. In the movie, Maryk goes forward with this idea, but in real life, Gerstley decided not to. He didn’t like the idea of mutiny, which had never happened on a US Naval ship before. Eventually, the ship suffered severe damage, with 11 officers, including the XO, and 191 enlisted sailors losing their lives. It is believed that Wouk used this incident as an inspiration, imagining a different outcome in the story.

Another officer who could have inspired Kiefer Sutherland’s Phillip Queeg is the US Navy Admiral William Halsey, who served during WWII and whose orders for the Third Fleet are considered one of the reasons why the fleet suffered so much damage. According to the alleged version of events, when the storm hit, Halsey had received conflicting information, due to which he decided to remain on station for another day. By the time he got a better sense of the situation, it was too late.

Halsey tried to keep the fleet in formation, but as the storm got worse, things started to look bleak for his men. Eventually, he let the ships take their own best course, but a lot of damage had already been inflicted by that time. After this, the Navy set up an inquiry to decide whether Halsey needed to be reprimanded for his lapse in decision and found that it was “an error of judgment.” Possibly, Wouk got the idea of the trial from what happened with Halsey.

Clearly, Maryk and Queeg are not based on real people, but what about USS Caine? The ship is also fictional and is either a play on USS Kane or was entirely made up by the author to serve the story’s purpose. Because the story is fictional, even though with real-life elements woven into it, he wouldn’t have wanted to set it on a real ship, lest people mistake the events in the story for reality.

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