Gift Horse (film)

Gift Horse (released in the United States as Glory at Sea) is a 1952 British black-and-white World War II drama, produced by George Pitcher, directed by Compton Bennett, that stars Trevor Howard, Richard Attenborough, James Donald, Sonny Tufts, and Bernard Lee.

Gift Horse
UK DVD cover
Directed byCompton Bennett
Produced byGeorge Pitcher
StarringTrevor Howard
Richard Attenborough
James Donald
Sonny Tufts
Bernard Lee
Music byClifton Parker
CinematographyHarry Waxman
Molton Films
Distributed byIFD (UK)
Release date
  • 16 July 1952 (1952-07-16) (UK)
Running time
100 min
CountryUnited Kingdom

The film follows the story of the fictional ship HMS Ballantrae and her crew from the time they come together in 1940 until they go on a one-way mission to destroy a German-held dry dock in France. The title is a reference to the old proverb "Never look a gift horse in the mouth".


A disgraced former commander re-enlists in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and is put in command of the antiquated "four pipe" World War I ship, HMS Ballantrae, formerly USS Whittier, one of the Town-class destroyers from the Destroyers for Bases Agreement. He and his crew become an efficient fighting force in the process, prior to being sent on Operation Boadicea, a daring suicide mission against a Nazi submarine base on the coast of France.

Historical basis

The first half of the film depicts an overview of the ex-American Town-class destroyers, from their handing over to the Royal Navy, their working-up into fighting units despite their old age and limitations, and their dangerous work as convoy escorts during the Battle of the Atlantic. The latter part of the film is clearly based on HMS Campbeltown and the St Nazaire Raid.



The real-life ship used in the film was HMS Leamington. Built in 1919 as the USS Twiggs, a Wickes-class destroyer, she was one of the very last post-war survivors of the 50 elderly four-funnelled destroyers provided in 1940 by the USA as part of the "Destroyers for Bases Agreement": (also known as "The Fifty Ships that Saved the World"). She served on convoy duties, including as an escort for the ill-fated Convoy PQ 17. In 1943 she was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy as HMCS Leamington. After a short period in reserve in 1944, she was one of seven sisters transferred to the Soviet Navy, and there became the Zguchij ("Firebrand"). Returned to the Royal Navy in 1950, the ship was listed for disposal in 1951, but before being broken up she was hired for the Gift Horse film. For the final scenes of the film, based on her sister-ship Campbeltown's daring St Nazaire Raid, her four funnels were reduced to two, and cut down at an angle to resemble the funnels of a German torpedo boat, just as Campbeltown's had been. She was finally broken up in December 1951.[1]


  1. "HMS Leamington (G 19)". Retrieved 13 January 2011.
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