The Bedford Incident

The Bedford Incident (aka Aux Postes De Combat) is a 1965 British-American Cold War film starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier and co-produced by Widmark. The cast also features Eric Portman, James MacArthur, Martin Balsam and Wally Cox, as well as early appearances by Donald Sutherland and Ed Bishop. The screenplay by James Poe is based on the 1963 book by Mark Rascovich, which borrowed from the plot of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; at one point in the film, the captain is advised he is "not chasing whales now".[1][2][3][4][5] The film was directed by James B. Harris, who, until then, had been best known as Stanley Kubrick's producer.

The Bedford Incident
theatrical poster
Directed byJames B. Harris
Produced byJames B. Harris
Richard Widmark
Screenplay byJames Poe
Based onThe Bedford Incident
1963 novel
by Mark Rascovich
StarringRichard Widmark
Sidney Poitier
James MacArthur
Donald Sutherland
Martin Balsam
Music byGerard Schurmann
CinematographyGilbert Taylor
Edited byJohn Jympson
Bedford Productions Ltd.
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 11 October 1965 (1965-10-11)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States


The American destroyer USS Bedford (DLG-113) detects a Soviet submarine in the GIUK gap near the coast of Greenland.[6] Although the U.S. and the Soviet Union are not at war, Captain Eric Finlander mercilessly harries his prey while civilian photojournalist Ben Munceford and NATO naval advisor Commodore (and ex-Second World War U-boat captain) Wolfgang Schrepke look on with mounting alarm. Finlander exploits the fact that the Russian sub has to surface periodically to replenish air and recharge batteries because it is not nuclear powered; knowing full well it will make the Soviets more desperate.

Also aboard the Bedford are Ensign Ralston, an inexperienced young officer constantly being criticised by his captain for small errors and Lieutenant Commander Chester Potter, USNR, the ship's new doctor, who is a recently recalled reservist.

Munceford is aboard to photograph life on a Navy destroyer but his real interest is Finlander who recently was passed over for promotion to rear admiral. Munceford is curious whether a comment made by Finlander regarding the American intervention in Cuba is the reason for his lack of promotion. This prompts the captain to become openly hostile to Munceford, who he sees as a civilian who is interfering into military matters for questioning the risks involved in continually harrying the Soviet submarine.

The crew becomes increasingly fatigued by the unrelenting pursuit as the captain continually demands full attention to the instruments. At the same time, Finlander becomes intolerant of anyone who questions his tactics including the ship's doctor who advises him that crew are feeling the pressure but the captain will not relent.

When the submarine is found, it ignores Finlander's order to surface and identify itself. The captain, angered by this defiant act, orders the Bedford to run over its snorkel, ordering that it be logged as an "unidentified floating object". He then orders the Bedford to arm weapons and withdraw to a distance to wait for the submerged sub to run out of air and be forced to surface. Confidently he reassures Munceford and Schrepke that he is in command of the situation and that he will not fire first but "If he fires one, I'll FIRE ONE".

A tired Ensign Ralston mistakes Finlander's remark as a command to "fire one". He launches an anti-submarine rocket which destroys the submarine. Sonar then detects four Soviet nuclear-armed torpedoes targeting the destroyer. Finlander initially gives basic orders to evade but then silently steps outside the bridge. Munceford follows frantically pleading with the him to do something. But the captain has realised his actions have sealed the fate of everyone on board as the ship cannot evade the nuclear torpedoes. The film ends with still shots of various crewmen "melting" as if the celluloid film were burning as the Bedford and her crew are vaporised in an atomic blast. The film's final image is a mushroom cloud.


  • Richard Widmark as Captain Eric Finlander, USN
  • Sidney Poitier as Ben Munceford
  • James MacArthur as Ensign Ralston (as James Macarthur)
  • Martin Balsam as Lt. Cmdr. Chester Potter, M.D., U.S.N.
  • Wally Cox as Seaman Merlin Queffle
  • Eric Portman as Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke Deutsche Merine
  • Michael Kane as Commander Allison Executive Officer - Bridge
  • Colin Maitland as Seaman Jones - Bridge
  • Paul Tamarin as Seaman 2nd Class - Bridge
  • Frank Lieberman as Seaman 1st Class - Bridge
  • James Caffrey as Seaman 1st Class - Bridge
  • Burnell Tucker as Seaman 1st Class - Bridge
  • Mike Lennox as Lieutenant Krindlemeyer U.S.N. - Bridge (as Michael Graham)
  • Bill Edwards as Lieutenant Hazelwood U.S.N. - Bridge
  • Stephen Schreiber as Seaman 2nd Class - Bridge (as Stephen Van Schreiber)
  • Ronald Rubin as Seaman 1st Class - Bridge
  • Eugene Leonard as Seaman 2nd Class - Bridge
  • Gary Cockrell as Lieutenant Bascombe U.S.N. - C.I.C.
  • Roy Stephens as Seaman 2nd Class - C.I.C.
  • George Roubicek as Lieutenant Berger U.S.N. - C.I.C.
  • John McCarthy as Seaman 1st Class - C.I.C.
  • Shane Rimmer as Seaman 1st Class - C.I.C.
  • Glenn Beck as Seaman 2nd Class - C.I.C. (as Glen Beck)
  • Brian Davies as Lieutenant Beckman U.S.N. - Communications
  • Ed Bishop as Lieutenant Hacker U.S.N. - Communications (as Edward Bishop)
  • Paul Carson as Seaman 1st Class - Communications
  • Laurence Herder as Petty Officer - Communications
  • Phil Brown as Chief Hospitalman McKinley - Sick Bay
  • Donald Sutherland as Hospitalman Nerney - Sick Bay
  • Warren Stanhope as Hospitalman Strauss - Sick Bay



The screenplay by James Poe follows the novel fairly closely but Poe wrote a different ending. In the novel, the Soviet submarine does not fire back at Bedford before being destroyed. The shocked Finlander then receives word of his promotion to admiral. Commodore Schrepke, realising that World War III will begin once the events are known, sabotages one of the remaining ASROCs and destroys the ship. Munceford, the sole survivor, is found by Novosibirsk, the submarine's mothership. Unlike the book, the film version ends with the vessels being destroyed by one another. The plot reflects several Cold War incidents between the NATO and Soviet navies, including one in 1957 when USS Gudgeon, a submarine, was caught in Soviet waters and chased out to sea by Soviet warships. Although none ended as catastrophically as the Bedford incident, the story illustrated many of the fears of the time.


The Bedford Incident was mostly filmed at Shepperton Studios in the UK, although some shots at sea were used. "USS Bedford" was a fictitious guided missile destroyer and the role of Bedford was mostly played by a large model of a Farragut-class destroyer. Interior scenes were filmed in the British Type 15 frigate HMS Troubridge; British military equipment can be seen in several shots, including a rack of Lee–Enfield rifles and Troubridge's novel, forward-sloping bridge windows. Sidney Poitier's initial flypast and landing from a Whirlwind helicopter were filmed aboard another Type 15 frigate, HMS Wakeful, whose F159 pennant number is clearly visible. The vessel portraying a Soviet intelligence ship has the name "Novo Sibursk", written on the hull at the bow in the Latin alphabet, not the Russian language's Cyrillic alphabet; "Novosibirsk" is a more accurate English rendering.

Actual Cold War incident

In October 1962, shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet submarine B-59 was pursued in the Atlantic Ocean by the U.S. Navy. When the Soviet vessel failed to surface, the destroyers began dropping training depth charges. Unlike in The Bedford Incident, the Americans were not aware that the B-59 was armed with a T-5 nuclear torpedo. The Soviet captain, believing that World War III might have started, wanted to launch the weapon but was over-ruled by his flotilla commander, Vasili Arkhipov, who, by coincidence, was using the boat as his command vessel. After an argument, it was agreed that the submarine would surface and await orders from Moscow. It was not until after the fall of the Soviet Union that the weapon's existence and how close the world came to nuclear conflict was made known.[7][8]

See also


  1. Crowther, Bosley. "The Bedford Incident (1965)". Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  2. Fuller, Karla Rae. "The Bedford Incident (1965)". Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  3. Freedman, Peter. "The Bedford Incident". Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  4. "The Bedford Incident | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes ." Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  5. Clark, Graeme. "Bedford Incident, The Review (1965)". Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  6. Specifically, they are in Greenland territorial waters at the entrance to the J.C. Jacobsen Fjord, which is due northwest from Iceland.
  7. Noam Chomsky (2004). Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Henry Holt. p. 74. ISBN 0-8050-7688-3.
  8. Watson, Leon, & Duell, Mark (25 September 2012). "The Man Who Saved the World". Daily Mail. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
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