There’s no shortage of World War II heroes whose stories will make you feel like a full-blown chump. You’ll shift awkwardly in your hand-me-down couch—toppling the pile of Frito shavings that have gathered on your gut—to look at your unearned spoils and become suddenly aware of your impotence. For me, it was the PlayStation controller lodged into the couch cushion that really drove it home. Fearless Freddie is another one of those stories.
Rear Admiral Frederick Burdett Warder fought in the Pacific as the commanding officer of a submarine, which he used to destroy 190,000 tons of enemy ships. In one of his more impressive feats, his crew singlehandedly took on four Japanese battleships and sunk each one. Their submarine would fire torpedoes then quickly disappear, only to reappear again, just long enough to sink another ship. Rinse and repeat. At one point, one of the Japanese ships dropped depth charges—bombs set to go off when reaching a certain depth in the ocean—on top of Warder’s sub for nine hours straight. With no more torpedoes left, Warder called it a day and came back with a new nickname. That nickname was, of course, Fearless Freddie.
The best fighters know when the fight’s over, and Warder was no different. According to those interviewed in the documentary, he was known to attempt to rescue any Japanese soldiers who survived the sinking of their ship. However, given the Japanese warrior culture at the time, they would often choose death, either by remaining stranded at sea or by blowing themselves up with a grenade. Nonetheless, Warder would throw them a life preserver and a bottle of whisky, just to soften up those final hours.
“Rear Admiral Frederick Burdett Warder…commanding officer of a submarine…singlehandedly took on four Japanese battleships and sunk each one.”
Fitting for its subject, Fearless Freddie takes a straightforward, meat-and-potatoes approach in telling Warder’s story. There aren’t fancy tricks or techniques. You get the straight facts served to you by historians, enthusiasts, and those who knew Warder personally. This isn’t quite a three-dimensional character study, though, as it leans more into the legend than the man. You get more Fearless Freddie than Fred Warder.
Still, it always manages to be fairly exciting, and it shifts perspectives on a regular basis, keeping the info intake fresh. In addition to Warder’s story, there’s some setting of the scene, particularly in regard to the claustrophobic horror of submarine warfare. Apparently, when the men ran out of cigarettes, they would often roll coffee grounds in toilet paper and smoke those. One shudders at the thought of what they did when they ran out of coffee.
Interestingly, the only time you see the crack in the Fearless Freddie legend is by way of Warder himself. In an old taped interview, Warder is asked about his nickname. He laughs it off and states the obvious: that he was always afraid. Of course, this only makes his feats more admirable. Any fearless idiot can throw himself at danger and hope for the best, but it takes a rare human being to listen to his fear and—when necessary—trudge through it. Fearless Freddie proudly tells the tale of one such man.
"…manages to be fairly exciting, and it shifts perspectives on a regular basis, keeping the info intake fresh."