Das Boot

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Template:Infobox Movie

Das Boot (German for The Boat and pronounced "dus bought") is a movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen, adapted from a novel of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on U-219, served as a consultant.

The movie strongly conveys an anti-war message. One of Petersen's stated goals was to guide the audience through a "journey into madness," showing "what war is all about." Petersen heightened suspense by very rarely showing any external views of the submarine unless it is running on the surface and relying on sounds to convey action outside the boat, thus showing the audience only what the crew would see. Many critics consider Das Boot one of the best submarine movies ever made.

The original 1981 version cost DM25 million ($40 million in 1997 dollars) to make; it was the most expensive movie in the history of German film. The director's meticulous attention to detail resulted in the most realistic submarine movie, and one of the most historically accurate war movies, ever made.


The Movie


The movie is the story of a single mission of one U-boat and its crew, following U-96 from its departure from La Rochelle, France, through its patrols in the North Atlantic and an attempted penetration of the Mediterranean, until its return to La Rochelle. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and portrays the men serving aboard U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. The story is based, loosely, on an amalgamation of the exploits of the real U-96, a Type VIIC-class U-boat commanded by Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, one of Germany's top U-boat "tonnage aces" during the war.

Detailed Plot

The story is told from the viewpoint of war correspondent Lt. Werner (Herbert Grönemeyer), who has signed up to write a report on the U-96. He joins its captain, Lt. Lehmann-Willenbrock (Jürgen Prochnow), and drives to La Rochelle, where he is disturbed to see most of the crew, including the "2WO" (the Second Lieutenant, played by Martin Semmelrogge) drunk in a sleazy caberet. There, he also meets the "1WO" (the First Lieutenant, played by Hubertus Bengsch), an ardent Nazi, and the "LI", the quiet, old Chief Engineer (Klaus Wennemann).

When the U-96 launches into the sea, Werner is in awe and makes a lot of photos of the submarine and its crew. He gets to know the rest of the crew, like Johann, the Mechanic (Erwin Leder), Chief Bosun, and some crewmen like Ullmann, Pilgrim, Frenssen, Dufte or Schwalle. He marvels when the submarine makes its first dive to 150 metres. But time passes, and he begins to realize the routine of being crammed together with 40 people in a small confine with no windows or air conditioning. There is an unhealthy undercurrent of sweat, filth and boredom, fueled by the fact that there is nobody to fight against. Werner has no one to talk to. He can neither relate to the battle-hardened Captain, nor to the quiet LI, the Nazi 1WO, the cynical 2WO or the tough, macho-like crew.

Life becomes crushingly boring when the U-96 fails to make contact with the enemy. But then, the U-96 stumbles upon a British destroyer and attempts to attack it. But their periscope is spotted, and they barely escape being rammed. The U-96 dives, but is hit by depth charges and takes damage, most notably in form of water leaks, the nightmare of every submarine sailor. But the crew quickly patches it up and resurfaces safely.

Then, there is a big storm which reduces the U-96 to a bit of driftwood. Towering waves hit the submarine and send it reeling. Werner is ridiculed for his fear of the elements, but after a week of relentless storm (i.e. almost no resting or sleeping), even the sea-hardened crew gets pushed to its limits. Then, the U-96 sees a friendly German submarine. The Captain is irate, because two submarines in such a close vicinity mean that a huge part of the sea is unguarded, and safe for enemy ships. The misfortune of the U-96 - no kills, totally out of position, horrible weather - sends the crew's morale to a nadir.

After 23 days, the storm finally ends. The U-96 spots a British tanker convoy and launches a successful torpedo attack which sinks two ships. But then, two destroyers attack the submarine. The Captain decides to dive to 250 metres, 50 metres beyond the safety threshold. But then, the destroyers use their secret weapon, ASDIC detection. They hit the U-96 with depth charges, and the submarine buckles under this strain. The submarine takes heavy damage and is nearly crushed by the water pressure. Johann, the Mechanic panics and loses his sanity. But despite heavy damage, the crew manages to patch up enough to make a safe resurface. They see the wreckage of the tankers and celebrate, but then everything turns into horror when they see burning British sailors dying in the sea. For some reason, the destroyer captains were unscrupulous enough to leave their landsmen dying. The Captain orders to fall back, leaving the sailors to die.

The demoralized U-96 crew looks forward returning home to La Rochelle. But then, the High Command orders that their new destination is La Spezia in Italy, meaning the U-96 must cross the Gibraltar bottleneck, which is crawling with British ships. Obviously, this is a suicide mission.

The U-96 secretly meets a covert supply ship at night — a ship operating under the cover of a civilian liner — in a port of neutral Spain.

The Captain orders Lt. Werner and the LI to leave ship in Vigo (Spain) to spare their lives, but this request is overruled by the High Command. In Gibraltar, the U-96 attempts to break through the British barrier, but is shot at by British forces and is forced to dive and damaged, is sinking to its doom. The U-96 falls to 290 metres depth, but just before the hull breaks, the submarine hits the ocean floor. Numerous hull breaches occur, water floods in with full force, and the battery cells and the water pumps are broken, but the crew miraculously manages to repair everything and to resurface just before they would have suffocated. In the safe of the dark, the U-96 escapes back to La Rochelle.

The crew gets a heroes' welcome in La Rochelle, but during their reception, allied fighter planes gun, bomb and strafe the facilities. Several crew members are killed, among them Johann and the 2W0. Werner finds the Captain, who sees his U-96 sinking to the dock's bottom. When the submarine disappears, the Captain dies, too.


Debating with the 1WO about Nazi propaganda
The Captain: "Our patrol planes! Where are they? Answer that one, Herr Göring!"

Officers, being bored to death
The Captain: "Not bad in here, is it? No mail, no telephone. Solid wood paneling. Well-ventilated boat. Free food, too."
LI: "Like fresh horse-droppings. They have no need to make a living. They're even allowed to smoke!"

Crew, being bored to death
Pilgrim: "Do you have hairs up your nose?"
Frenssen: "Why?"
Pilgrim: "I have some in my ass. Maybe we can tie them together?"
(Frenssen shows him the middle finger)

Crew is celebrating after escaping a destroyer attack. The officers are listening to the radio, swearing violently at the transmission. Bosun enters the crew quarters, his face red with rage.
Crew: "What is wrong?"
Bosun: "Schalke has lost the game."
Crew (falling into despair): "NO! NO!"

In the storm
The Captain: "The sea cannot claim us, Henrich. No ship is as seaworthy as ours."

Slowly suffocating in 290m depth
Werner: "'To be fearless and proud and alone. To need no one, just sacrifice. All for the Fatherland.' Oh God, all just empty words."

NOTE: In the German version, Werner's words at this place were: "I wanted to stand before something relentless. Where no woman crosses our path, and no mother looks after us. Where only the reality reigns, cruel and large. I was drunk of this prospect. (sobs) Now this is the reality."

Escaping from the British
The Captain: "Not yet, comerades! Not yet!"


The action-packed, psychologically deep and emotionally draining movie drew highest critical acclaim and is seen as the premier German movie, along with Metropolis by Fritz Lang and Der Blaue Engel with Marlene Dietrich. It is regarded as being virtually peerless in the subgenre of submarine movies, rivalled only by Hunt for Red October (which arguably focuses more on action than on authenticity).

However, critics remarked that the role of Nazism was underplayed. In the movie, there is only one ardent Nazi in the crew of 40, namely the First Lieutenant (1WO), and the rest of the crew remains either indifferent or openly anti-Nazi (the Captain). This scenario is quite unlikely.

Ethnic German accents

The movie features characters who speak German with a regional dialect. The character Johann speaks with a strong accent from Rhineland-Palatinate (South-West Germany), and Pilgrim talks with the dialect of Hamburg. In addition, one sailor speaks with a heavy Bavarian dialect (the one who gets his crotch examined for lice) and another who speaks with an accent from Cologne.


The characteristic lead melody of the soundtrack, written by composer Klaus Doldinger, took a life of its own after German rave producer Alex Christensen created a remixed rave-version under the moniker U96 in 1991. The song Das Boot later became an international hit.


Versions (contents)

Several versions of the film and video releases have been made: Das Boot was first filmed as a 150-minute (2 1/2-hour) movie, released in Germany in 1981 and in the United States in 1982. It was nominated for six Academy Awards. It was also produced as a six-hour television mini-series aired in Germany in 1981. Petersen then oversaw the editing of six hours of film, from which was distilled Das Boot: The Director's Cut, released in 1997, which combines the action sequences of the original movie with character-development scenes contained in the mini-series, 2004, On June 1, he Original Uncut DVD Version of Das Boot was released, containing 293 minutes (4 hours, 53 minutes).

Versions (dubbings and subtitles)

  • In the U.S. DVD there are no German subtitles. English speaking students of German wishing to read the German while listening in German will need to obtain an appropriate European region code DVD (such as the French version "le bateau", with subtitles and soundtracks including American english) and an appropriate DVD player, perhaps with PAL to NTSC conversion.
  • Cabaret scene: In the U.S. DVD there is a minor background comment during the drunk hero captain's speech ("He'd better watch his mouth!") that is not subtitled in English with the German sound track but which is heard in the English dubbing.

The Special Effects

Sets and models

Several different sets were used. Two full-size mock-ups of a Type VIIC boat were built, one representing the above water portion for use in outdoor scenes, and the other a cylindrical tube on a motion mount for the interior scenes. The mock-ups were built according to U-boat plans found in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The outdoor mock-up was propelled with a small engine. A mock-up of a conning tower was placed in a water tank in at Bavaria Studios in Munich for outdoor scenes not requiring a full view of the boat's exterior. When filming on the outdoor mockup or the conning tower, gouts of cold water were hosed over the actors to simulate the breaking ocean waves. A 1/3 sized full hull operating model was used for underwater shots and some surface running shots, in particular the meeting in stormy seas with another U-boat.

The interior U-boat mock-up was mounted five meters off the floor and was shaken, rocked, and tilted up to 45 degrees by means of a hydraulic apparatus, and was vigorously shaken to simulate depth charge attacks. Petersen was admittedly obsessive about the structural detail of the U-boat set, remarking that "every screw" in the set was an authentic facsimile of the kind used in a World War II U-boat.

Special camera

Most of the interior shots were filmed using a hand-held Arriflex of cinematographer Jost Vacano's design to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boat. It had a gyroscope to provide stability, a reinvention of the Steadicam on a smaller scale, so that it could be carried throughout the interior of the mock-up. Vacano wore full-body padding to minimize injury as he ran and the mock-up was rocked and shaken. Throughout the filming, the actors were forbidden to go out into the sunlight, to create the pallor of men who seldom saw the sun during their missions. The actors went through intensive training to learn how to move quickly through the narrow confines of the vessel.


Production of Das Boot took three years (1979-1981). Most of the filming was done in one year; to make the appearance of the actors as realistic as possible, scenes were filmed in sequence over the course of the year. This ensured natural growth of beards and hair, increasing skin pallor, and signs of strain on the actors, who had, just like real U-boat men, spent many months in a cramped, unhealthy atmosphere.

Production for this movie originally began in 1976. Several American directors were considered, and the Kaleun (Kapitänleutnant) was to be played by Robert Redford. Disagreements sprang up among various parties and the project was shelved. Fans of the movie would add the word "fortunately" to that statement.


Jürgen ProchnowCaptain
Herbert GrönemeyerLieutenant Werner
Klaus WennemannChief Engineer
Hubertus Bengsch1st Lieutenant
Martin Semmelrogge2nd Lieutenant
Bernd TauberChief Quartermaster
Erwin LederJohann
Martin MayUllman
Heinz HoenigHinrich
Uwe OchsenknechtChief Bosun
Claude-Oliver RudolphArio
Jan FedderPilgrim
Ralf RichterFrenssen
Joachim BernhardPreacher
Oliver StritzelSchwalle

"Das Boot" as a Career Boost

Remarkable is the fact that many actors featured in "Das Boot" has a big career afterwards.

See also


de:Das Boot fr:Le Bateau nl:Das Boot sv:Das Boot


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