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In 1953, the worldwide scientific community is stunned when French scientist Prof. Montel goes missing, and after four weeks, the authorities believe that he voluntarily traveled behind the Iron Curtain, as four other scientists are suspected of having done recently. Meanwhile, former U.S. Navy commander Adam Jones arrives in Tokyo after receiving a mysterious package containing $5,000. Jones is taken to meet Hokado Fujimori, who ushers him into a secret room buzzing with activity. There, Jones meets Montel and a consortium of international scientists, businessmen and statesmen, who explain they suspect that Communist forces are building an atomic base on an island somewhere between Japan and the Arctic Circle. Montel states that as private citizens, they can conduct their investigation without political interference. Montel then offers Jones another $45,000 if he will head a submarine expedition, during which the sub is to follow a Chinese freighter, the Kiang Ching , that has been making deliveries to the area under observation. Although he is reluctant to use the Japanese submarine that the consortium is overhauling, Jones agrees, providing that he can hire his former crew. Soon after, Jones and his men, plus an international group comprising the rest of the crew, labor to refit the Japanese submarine. The day before Jones is to make a running test, however, Fujimori insists that they leave, as the freighter has just departed. Jones protests, asserting that they have not tested the torpedo tubes, but Fujimori prevails, and Montel boards with his assistant, the multilingual and beautiful Prof. Denise Gerard. The crew is outraged, as they were unaware that Montel's assistant was a woman, but her earnestness and Jones's insistence that women are not bad luck persuade the crew to accept her. The voyage is uneventful, despite a fight between "Ski" Brodski and a drunken crew member over Denise, until Jones realizes that they are being tracked by another submarine. They contact the sub, which is Chinese, and are fired upon when the Chinese are unsatisfied by their explanation that they are on a scientific expedition. Jones orders their sub to dive, and during the confusion, Montel's hand is caught in the hatch, and Jones is forced to amputate his thumb. The Chinese sub also dives to the bottom, and the subs "run quiet" in order to avoid detection. During the following hours, as the heat builds and the oxygen runs out, the crew grows sluggish and Montel becomes weak from shock and loss of blood. Unwilling to lose his fee for returning Montel to Tokyo, Jones decides to risk surfacing, even though the Chinese sub will be able to shoot torpedoes at them and they will be unable to retaliate. After blowing off the accumulated hydrogen, which could have caused a massive explosion, the sub begins to surface, and the Chinese pursue it. Jones decides to ram the other sub, and after two attempts, manages to cripple the enemy and escape. Later, while Montel is recuperating and Jones and Denise are falling in love, the sub follows the Kiang Ching to an island, onto which Jones and Montel lead a patrol. Montel is puzzled to find relatively low levels of radioactivity, and suspects that they are on the wrong island. There are many soldiers and gas tanks, however, and during a gun battle, one of Jones's shots ignites the tanks. After capturing a Chinese soldier, the patrol reaches the sub, and Jones determines to return to Tokyo. Montel vetoes his decision, however, and orders him to continue to Kevlock Island, where the Chinese soldier, who is a pilot named Ho-Sin, was headed. Montel and Denise are disgusted by Jones's mercenary declaration that he is only interested in the $50,000, but he nonetheless follows Montel's orders. On the way to Kevlock, the sub is tossed by a storm and Montel is injured during a fall, then, because he cannot accompany Jones on a patrol of Kevlock, Montel insists that he take Denise to gather data. Jones reluctantly agrees, and Denise records an astonishing level of radioactivity. While they are hiding from Chinese soldiers, Denise is forced to shoot and kill one of them, and Jones drags her safety. Aboard the sub, Jones reveals that he saw an American B-29 bomber on the island's airstrip, and, needing to obtain more information, sends cook Chin Lee, dressed as a prisoner, to question Ho-Sin. Ho-Sin reveals that the Communists intend to drop an atomic bomb on either Korea or Manchuria and blame the United States, but before Chin Lee can escape, Ho-Sin deduces that he is a "plant" and beats him to death. Although Montel wants to return to Tokyo with the information, Jones refuses to allow the Communists to "pin the rap" of the bomb explosion on the U.S., and plans to go alone to the island, from which he will signal the sub when the B-29 takes off. The sub will then surface and shoot all available guns at the plane in the hope of destroying it. The next morning, before Jones can leave, Montel sneaks onto the island, where he assumes the lookout position. When Jones yells at Denise for allowing the elderly man to go, she tearfully reveals that Montel is her father. Upon receiving the signal from Montel, the sub surfaces and blows up the airplane, although the plane crashes into the island, rather than the ocean, and the island is destroyed. Knowing that her father died for the cause he believed in, Denise holds her head high, and Jones remembers Montel's remark that "each man has his own reason for living and his own price for dying."