U-96 departs from La Rochelle, France on a patrol.U-96 under attack by a British destroyer.

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Das Boot

Das Boot (German for The Boat. "Boot" is pronounced roughly the same as the English "boat") is a movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen, adapted from a novel of the same name by Lothar-Günther Buchheim. more...

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Hans-Joachim Krug, former first officer on U-219, served as a consultant, as well as Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the actual captain of the real U-96.

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. The original 1981 version cost DM 25 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

Story

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 (Jürgen Prochnow), who is only named as "der Alte" ("the Old") or "Kaleu" (short for his rank of Kapitänleutnant), and drives to Saint Nazaire, where he is disturbed to see most of the crew, including the "2WO" (the Second Lieutenant, played by Martin Semmelrogge) drunk in a sleazy cabaret. There, he also meets the "1WO" (the First Lieutenant, played by Hubertus Bengsch), an ardent Nazi, and the "LI", the quiet Chief Engineer (Klaus Wennemann), who is tormented by the failing health of his wife back in Cologne.

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.

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