"Using Abusive Or Domineering Language"
How times have changed. The Royal Navy of legend was known for strict discipline -- the recent movie "Master and Commander" highlighted this. In the past, if a British warship crew felt they were being abused by their Captain, their only recourse was to do what the officers and crew of HMS Bounty did to Captain Bligh... cast him adrift.
Not anymore -- now they can have him brought up on charges. According to this story from TimesOnline, a former CO of the attack submarine HMS Talent is being court martialed under the Naval Discipline Act for verbally abusing his crew during a recent "highly sensitive secret mission" (here in the U.S., we'd say "mission vital to national security"). Excerpts:
"Defence sources said that the allegations did not involve physical abuse. It is understood that up to five crew members have accused Captain Tarrant of abusive treatment, and that he has been charged under the Naval Discipline Act. Captain Tarrant is no longer the submarine’s commander, and now has a senior Navy appointment at the MoD’s head office in London.
"Naval sources said that for commanding officers in a surface ship or submarine, there had to be a careful line between running a tight regime and using abusive or domineering language. It was also true, they said, that Armed Forces personnel were now more aware of their rights, and more likely to make allegations against senior officers if they felt that the line had been overstepped.
"Legal sources with knowledge of the case said that the alleged incidents had occurred during a period of high tension on board the submarine while it was engaged in a sensitive mission. One of the reasons for the application for the court martial to be held in camera is the MoD’s reluctance to make public either the nature of the mission or the location of the submarine at the time of the allegations."
The article goes on to discuss earlier cases of abusive COs in the Royal Navy, as well as other submarine-related discipline problems (including the story of a CPO on HMS Talent showing up drunk for duty on Christmas Day).
Abusive COs, of course, are not limited to the Royal Navy, but they seem to be a dying breed. Less than 10 years ago in the U.S Sub Force, the CO of USS Florida (SSBN 728) was relieved for abusive treatement of the crew. (Interestingly, this story, about CDR Michael Alfonso being mean to his crew on a normal Trident patrol, seems to have essentially disappeared from the 'net: you can read one vignette on this page, if you scroll down to the November 24 entry; it's also about 3/4 of the way down this Russian page.) Here's how one leadership book describes what went on aboard USS Florida during this time:
"The atmosphere in a Trident nuclear submarine is generally calm and quiet. Even pipe joints are cushioned to prevent noise that might tip off a pursuer. The Trident ranks among the world’s most dangerous weapons—swift, silent, armed with 24 long-range missiles carrying 192 nuclear warheads. Trident crews are the cream of the Navy crop, and even the sailors who fix the plumbing exhibit a white-collar decorum. The culture aboard ship is a low-key, collegial one in which sailors learn to speak softly and share close quarters with an ever-changing roster of shipmates. Being subject to strict security restrictions enhances a sense of elitism and pride. To move up and take charge of a Trident submarine is an extraordinary feat in the Navy—fewer than half the officers qualified for such commands ever get them. When Michael Alfonso took charge of the USS Florida, the crew welcomed his arrival. They knew he was one of them—a career Navy man who joined up as a teenager and moved up through the ranks. Past shipmates remembered him as basically a loner, who could be brusque but generally pleasant enough. Neighbors on shore found Alfonso to be an unfailingly polite man who kept mostly to himself.
"The crew’s delight in their new captain was short-lived. Commander Alfonso moved swiftly to assume command, admonishing his sailors that he would push them hard. He wasn’t joking—soon after the Florida slipped into deep waters to begin a postoverhaul shakedown cruise, the new captain loudly and publicly reprimanded those whose performance he considered lacking. Chief Petty Officer Donald MacArthur, chief of the navigation division, was only one of those who suffered Alfonso’s anger personally. During training exercises, MacArthur was having trouble keeping the boat at periscope depth because of rough seas. Alfonso announced loudly, “You’re disqualified.” He then precipitously relieved him of his diving duty until he could be recertified by extra practice. Word of the incident spread quickly. The crew, accustomed to the Navy’s adage of “praise in public, penalize in private,” were shocked. It didn’t take long for this type of behavior to have an impact on the crew, according to Petty Officer Aaron Carmody: “People didn’t tell him when something was wrong. You’renot supposed to be afraid of your captain, to tell him stuff. But nobody wanted to.”
"The captain’s outbursts weren’t always connected with job performance. He bawled out the supply officer, the executive officer, and the chief of the boat because the soda dispenser he used to pour himself a glass of Coke one day contained Mr. Pibb instead. He exploded when he arrived unexpected at a late-night meal and found the fork at his place setting missing. Soon, a newsletter titled The Underground was being circulated by the boat’s plumbers, who used sophomoric humor to spread the word about the captain’s outbursts over such petty matters. By the time the sub reached Hawaii for its “Tactical Readiness Evaluation,” an intense week-long series of inspections by staff officers, the crew was almost completely alienated. Although the ship tested well, inspectors sent word to Rear Admiral Paul Sullivan that something seemed to be wrong on board, with severely strained relations between captain and crew.
"On the Trident’s last evening of patrol, much of the crew celebrated with a film night—they chose The Caine Mutiny and Crimson Tide, both movies about Navy skippers who face mutinies and are relieved of command at sea. When Humphrey Bogart, playing the captain of the fictional USS Caine, exploded over a missing quart of strawberries, someone shouted, “Hey, sound familiar?”
"When they reached home port, the sailors slumped ashore. “Physically and mentally, we were just beat into the ground,” recalls one. Concerned about reports that the crew seemed “despondent,” Admiral Sullivan launched an informal inquiry that eventually led him to relieve Alfonso of his command. It was the first-ever firing of a Trident submarine commander. “He had the chance of a lifetime to experience the magic of command, and he squandered it,” Sullivan said. “Fear and intimidation lead to certain ruin.” Alfonso himself seemed dumbfounded by Admiral Sullivan’s actions, pointing out that the USS Florida under his command posted “the best-ever grades assigned for certifications and inspections for a postoverhaul Trident submarine.”
Now I'm not sure if the crew of HMS Talent underwent similar "abuse", but I do know that in the last 10 years, all Western navies have seemed to go more in the direction of not letting senior officers get away with being abusive jerks. Before that, they might give the CO a talking to, but he wouldn't normally get fired. My shipmates on USS Topeka (SSN 754) during the '91-'93 period, under He Who Must Not Be Named, know what I'm talking about.