"The Finest Hours" depicts the events of Feb. 18, 1952, when a horrendous winter storm broke two large tankers in half. Coast Guardsmen operating out of the Chatham, Massachusetts lifeboat station managed to save 70 of the men from death by hypothermia or drowning.


The two tankers, both 520 feet long and carrying kerosene and heating oil, were called the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer. The Pendleton broke first, cracking in half near dawn in the middle of a nor'easter that created 60-foot waves and 70-knot winds.

Photo: Cape Cod Community College via U.S. Coast Guard

Other Coast Guardsmen and civilians from Chatham came out to meet the heroes and help the survivors. The next day, Coast Guard Rear Admiral H. G. Bradbury wrote a letter thanking the men for their heroism. Each member of the crew later received Gold Lifesaving Medals from the Treasury Department for their efforts.

(h/t to the U.S. Coast Guard for their articles "The Fort Mercer and Pendleton Rescues" and "The Pendleton Rescue," which provided most of the information for this article. Click on the linked articles for even more information and additional photos from the rescues.)

Disney's "The Finest Hours" hits theaters on Jan. 29.