In Star Trek Discovery S1:E4 - Choose Your Pain - we learn that Captain Lorca lost his whole ship - and destroyed them rather than leave them to the Klingons.

Ordinarily, losing your ship would be subject to Court-Martial and losing the rank of Captain.

Indeed -the following commentator writes:

Why wasn't Captain Lorca court martialed for losing his ship and entire crew? It's a serious offence even in Star Trek.

My question is: Why does Captain Lorca still have his rank and commission after losing his ship, prior to being Captain of Discovery?

  • 8
    A court-martial is the military equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the civilian world. Just as a jury may find a defendant not guilty, so too may the court-martial board. If Lorca faced a board, and was found not guilty - that is, his losing his ship was not attributable to misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, or just plain incompetence - then he might very well not have suffered loss of rank.The argument that "he should have gone down with his ship" might be counterable with an implied duty to preserve what assets - including skilled personnel - he could. Oct 27, 2017 at 11:39
  • 6
    Small point - Unless Lorca was charged with an offense against the UCMJ (or the future equivalent), he would not be court martialed. The ship loss would be a Board/Court of Inquiry instead. In "Court Martial", Kirk was charged with murder, (deliberate negligence resulting in the death of a crewmember) which is an offense against UCMJ. You'd have to have Lorca's charges explained first. I don't think this question is answerable yet.
    – JohnP
    Oct 27, 2017 at 19:40
  • 1
    @JohnP Not true I'm afraid. Losing a ship is a reason for court martial, see my answer.
    – Hans Olo
    Oct 27, 2017 at 19:50
  • 2
    I saw your "Imma gonna guess" :). While they call it a court martial, (As shown by the memalpha page), that's TV handwaving.
    – JohnP
    Oct 27, 2017 at 19:53
  • 1
    I've not seen the TOS episode "Court Martial", but Memory Alpha says that Kirk's trial "marked the first time a Starfleet starship captain stood trial in a court martial." Not sure if this statement is canon or not; if it is, then it implies that Lorca was never court-martialed, since Discovery precedes TOS. (Or the writers goofed, but how often does that happen?) Oct 27, 2017 at 20:05

2 Answers 2


As we learned in the TNG episode "The Measure of a Man", Picard was court martialed for losing his first ship, the USS Stargazer, but was acquitted. Something similar probably happened to Lorca.

  • this doesn't answer the question, Picard's situation is the exact opposite of what we know of Lorca's situation. Picard was court-martialed for losing his ship, Lorca was not. The question is...why?
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 27, 2017 at 20:43
  • 6
    @NKCampbell we know he wasn't found guilty, not that he wasn't on trial. He very well may have been.
    – Petersaber
    Oct 27, 2017 at 23:05
  • @Petersaber - the question (as originally asked) was 'why wasn't lorca court-martialed', not, why wasn't he found guilty
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 28, 2017 at 2:59
  • 2
    @NKCampbell we don't know if he was or wasn't court-martialed! All we know for sure is that IF he was, he was found not guilty, because he's a captain and not a prisoner. Your question is "why is Lorca a cap" - Loki's answer answers that question. "Because in the event of being court-martialed he may have been found not guilty".
    – Petersaber
    Oct 28, 2017 at 12:24
  • 1
    Starfleet's primary goal is go explore peacefully. Just because a ship is unknown and uncommunicative, you don't raise shields immediately. When the Enterprise D encountered Tin Man, for example, they didn't raise shields immediately. It is true that some research had been done on it, but they didn't know whether it had hostile intentions or not. Apr 16, 2020 at 21:44

About 380 US Navy ships were sunk in combat during World War II. Only one of their captains, Charles B. McVey III of the USS Indianapolis, was court martialed for losing his ship and convicted - a very controversial action. McVey retained his rank of captain but lost his seniority, and was promoted to rear admiral when he retired in 1949. McVey was apparently the first captain of a US Navy ship to be courtmartialed for losing his ship in wartime.

So if the US Navy is a good example, Starfleet probably doesn't court martial captains for losing their ships in battle, considering enemy actions sufficient explanation, (they did court martial Picard for losing his ship in battle but that was a sneak attack by an unknown enemy during time of peace, so maybe that makes a difference). And if the US Navy is a good example, a captain convicted of losing his ship might not be punished by imprisonment, dishonorable discharge, or losing his rank - McVey lost his seniority as a captain.

On 29 August 1916 the US Navy cruiser Memphis was anchored in the harbor of Santo Domingo when the waves got rough. Captain Edward L. Beach Sr. ordered the hours-long process of firing up the boilers so the ship could steam out to deeper waters. Before the ship could get underway giant waves struck it and smashed into rocks at the edge of the harbor. 43 sailors were dead or missing and 204 seriously injured.

Captain Beach was convicted of not having enough steam to get his ship underway at short notice. Because of the theory that the giant waves were an unpredictable tsunami, Captain Beach's punishment was restricted to being moved 20 places back on the seniority list, which the secretary of the Navy reduced to being moved back 5 places.

Captain Beach later commanded the naval torpedo squadron at Newport Rhode Island, the battleship New York and the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

Modern oceanographers believe the giant waves that destroyed the Memphis were waves from a passing hurricane and thus more predicable.

In any case, captain Beach was convicted of losing his ship in peacetime but retain his rank of captain and continued to command ships.

So it is possible for a captain to be coutmartialed for the loss of his ship and to be acquitted, and as these examples from the US Navy show, it is possible for a convicted captain to retain his rank and even to command a ship again.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.