I recently perked some interest here in a comment when I mentioned how my dad, who taught various forms of weapon use while a trainer in the Infantry, railed at every example of a “Mexican stand-off” represented in a movie or TV show. “First one to shoot wins, or both quickly realize that there’s a mistake, and put down the guns,” he said. I was inspired by the Netflix Western “The Ballad of Lefty Brown,” which is very good, but the writer really liked Mexican stand-offs.
Another example is the old, dusty street showdowns Westerns have featured for a hundred years. They just didn’t happen, except for a few anomalies. One of them occurred this date in 1865, when Wild Bill Hickok faced off in the Springfield, Missouri city square against a former Confederate soldier named Davis Tutt in a dispute over a watch. Wild Bill won—his skill with a pistol was no myth—but the dime novel writers used the episode and Hickok’s colorful persona to create the impression back East that Wild West gun fighters were having quick draw showdowns daily. In fact, the Hickok-Tuttle affair was the first one documented.
The classic western showdown, also called a walkdown, was far rarer than drunken men shooting at each other spontaneously, ambushes and sneak attacks. The showdowns aren’t even as common in the movies as some people think who should know better. One article on the History Channel site talks about showdowns “like in ‘High Noon.'” Despite the title, there is no classic showdown in “High Noon.” And once he stopped making two-reelers as a B-movie star, John Wayne’s characters were never in any “middle of the street” duels either.
Here is another example of a type of imaginary but exciting showdown that almost never happened: How many undersea submarine vs. submarine duels have there been, like in “The Hunt For The Red October”?
[W]hile hunting undersea enemies is one of the primary jobs of modern attack submarines, only one undersea sub engagement has ever taken place, under decidedly unique circumstances.
This is not to say that submarines have not sunk other submarines. Indeed, the first such kill occurred in World War I, when U-27 sank the British E3. Dozens other such engagements occurred in the two world wars. However, in all but one case, the victims were surfaced, not underwater.
This was foremost because the submarines of the era needed to spend most of their time on the surface to run their air-breathing diesel engines; they could only remain underwater for hours at a time with the power they could store on batteries, moving at roughly one-third their surface speed. Therefore, submerged action was reserved for ambushing enemy ships and evading attackers.
There were additional problems intrinsic to having one submarine hunt another underwater in an era that predated advanced sensors and guided torpedoes: how could submerged subs detect each other’s position? During World War II, submarines came to make greater use of hydrophones as well as active sonar; however, the latter models could only plot out a submarine’s location on a two-dimensional plane, not reveal its depth. Furthermore, the torpedoes of the time were designed to float up to near the surface of the water to strike the keel of enemy ships. Although the “tin fish” could be reprogrammed to an extent, it was not standard to adjust for depth, and guessing the azimuth of an enemy submarine with the limited targeting information available posed an immense challenge.
The rest of the article relates the story of the one sub battle that did take place.