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In the South Atlantic during World War II, Lt. Ware, the second-in-command of the U.S.S. Haynes , a U.S. Navy destroyer escort, speculates with several crew members about the competency of their new commander, Capt. Murrell. Murrel, who has sequestered himself in his cabin, finally emerges when the ship's radar displays a mysterious shadow on its screen. Sensing the enemy, Murrell steadies his nerves and authoritatively assumes command. Meanwhile, in a German submarine cruising the heavy seas nearby, Comdr. Von Stolberg voices to his second-in-command, Schwaffer, his abhorrence of the "new Germany" and its tyrannical leader. Although committed to his mission of securing a British code book, Von Stolberg finds no honor in this particular war. On the American boat, meanwhile, Murrell and "Doc," the ship's dispirited physician, discuss their lives before the war. Murrell, a freighter captain in his civilian life, relates that he prefers the struggle of man against sea to man against man, but adds that he opted for the "shooting end of the war" after watching his wife drown when their freighter was torpedoed by a German submarine. In the morning, the Americans assume their battle stations, and Von Stolberg orders his submarine to submerge when he sees the ship approaching. As Murrell baits the Germans into firing a torpedo, the crew, skeptical of his strategy, anxiously awaits the outcome. When the Germans release their torpedoes, Murrell turns his ship in time, thus avoiding the missiles and winning the respect of his crew. After the German boat dives deeper, the Americans fire their depth charges, rattling the submarine. By reversing course, Von Stolberg loses his pursuers, but Murrell relocates the Germans and pummels them with depth charges. Von Stolberg responds by ordering his ship to dive to the ocean bottom, and the boat creaks and groans from the intense pressure. Deducing that the submarine is resting at the bottom of the sea, Murrell decides to wait in silence until it resurfaces. Sensing that the Americans are lying in wait, Von Stolberg feels that he is being tracked by the devil. Up above, meanwhile, Murrell awaits the arrival of approaching American ships and formulates a new tactic of attacking and then dropping back, hoping to force the submarine to surrender. At the bottom of the ocean, the Germans are beginning to crack under the strain and Von Stolberg rallies their morale by leading them in defiant song. When the American sonar picks up their static, Murrell feels sympathy for the trapped Germans but attacks anyway. Finally discerning the American's strategy, Von Stolberg pinpoints their ship's vulnerable spot and then orders a torpedo attack. Severely hit by the German torpedoes, the American ship starts to sink and Murrell orders the crew to torch some mattresses to make it seem as if the ship is on fire, hoping to entice the submarine to the surface. When the Germans emerge and signal that they will torpedo the American ship again in five minutes, Murrell feigns gratitude for the warning, plotting to lure the Germans close enough to attack. As the Germans approach, the Americans open fire with their artillery and then ram the submarine. While his crew abandons ship, Von Stolberg goes below deck to save the gravely injured Schwaffer. Back on deck, the opposing captains salute each other, and then Murrell throws Von Stolberg a rope so that he can construct a pulley to transport Schwaffer to the safety of the American boat. Manning the lifeboat, Ware spots Murrell and the two Germans aboard the destroyer. Aware that a detonator has been set on the submarine, Ware risks his life and the life of his crew to maneuver the lifeboat toward the destroyer. After the Americans convey the three to safety and clear the area, the detonator explodes, encompassing both ships in flames. Once they are rescued, the Americans and Germans hold a funeral at sea for Schwaffer, causing Doc to find new inspiration in their unification. Afterward, Murrell offers Von Stolberg a cigarette.