Das Boot (1981)
Film and Plot Synopsis
It is 1942 and the German submarine fleet is heavily engaged in the so called “Battle of the Atlantic” to harass and destroy English shipping. With better escorts of the Destroyer Class, however, German U-Boats have begun to take heavy losses. Das Boot is the story of one such U-Boat crew, with the film examining how these submariners maintained their professionalism as soldiers, attempted to accomplish impossible missions, while all the time attempting to understand and obey the ideology of the government under which they served.
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‘Das Boot’ Movie Summary
The next day, the U-96 sails out of the La Rochelle harbor and begins its mission. Werner is given a tour of the sub, and is shocked at how close quarters life is on a submarine. He soon discovers that the ideological differences of the crew vary greatly. The hardened veterans, like the captain and the chief engineer, are embittered and cynical about the war. However, some of the younger men, like the sub’s first officer (Hubertus Bengsch) are very much for the war and believe in Hitler’s goals.
Days pass on the boat without much excitement. The crew becomes excited when they are informed of another U-boat’s spotting of an enemy convoy. The U-96 rushes to join the attack, but they are spotted by a British destroyer in rough seas. The U-96 is forced to dive deep under the water and are bombarded with depth charges by the destroyer. The sub escapes with only light damage, but without being able to sink any ships in the convoy.
The U-96 spends the next three weeks at sea with no combat action and a constant North Atlantic gale. The spirits of the crew are briefly buoyed by a chance encounter with Thomsen’s boat at sea. After the storm ends, the sub discovers a British convoy and attacks. They launch four torpedoes under the cover of darkness and sink two ships in the convoy. However, they are spotted by a destroyer and have to dive deeper than the ship is designed for to escape destruction. The chief machinist, Johann (Erwin Leder), suffers a mental breakdown during the destroyer’s attack and has to be restrained when he tries to climb out of the ship while it is submerged. The sub suffers heavy damage, but they are eventually able to safely resurface.
When the U-96 emerges, they discover a British tanker that they torpedoed still on fire and afloat. The captain orders one last torpedo to sink the ship. When the torpedo hits, the crew is shocked and appalled that there are still crew on the ship who are forced to jump into the North Atlantic to avoid sinking with the tanker. The British crewmen begin to swim towards the U-96, and the captain orders the ship to pull back, knowing that they cannot take on prisoners. The men of the U-96 are aware that the British sailors will die in the sea and are disturbed by it.
After several months at sea, the crew looks forward to returning home in time for Christmas. However, the captain receives a communique ordering him to La Spezia, Italy. The journey will require the sub to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar, a highly defended British stronghold. The sub is in desperate need for supplies and fuel, so they rendezvous with a German merchant ship that secretly provides them with munitions, fuel, and food. The captain requests from command to leave Werner and the chief engineer with the merchant ship knowing that the sub will likely not survive the trip to La Spezia. The chief engineer is concerned for his wife due to a bombing in his hometown. However, command denies the captain’s request and the two men continue on with the sub.
The crew departs for Italy undercover of night. As they approach of Gibraltar, they are attacked by a British war plane and sustain heavy damage. The chief navigator, Kriechbaum (Bernd Tauber), is severely wounded in the attack. The plane’s attack alerts the British ships to the sub’s presence, and the crew is forced to dive. The damage from the combined attacks from the air and sea causes the sub to not respond to commands and the sub continues to submerge further than the captain intends.
The crew fears that the sub will be crushed by that water pressure as it passes beyond the boat’s crush depth. The sub crashes onto the sea bottom and begins to take on water. The crew works frantically to repair the ship before they drown or they run out of oxygen. After 16 uncertain hours, the sub’s systems begin to come back on line and the captain is able to resurface the boat and slowly make its way back to La Rochelle, its mission to travel to Italy failing.
U-96 arrives back at La Rochelle on Christmas Eve. The crew disembarks and Kriechbaum is taken away in an ambulance. Allied planes attack the submarine base with bombs and bullets while the U-96 crew is still on the dock. The crew runs for cover in all directions. Many of the crew are injured. The U-96 is hit by a bomb and begins to sink in the harbor. Werner leaves the safety of the U-boat bunker and observes the captain, who is severely wounded by shrapnel, watch his ship sink from sight. Once the sub disappears from view, the captain collapses on the dock and dies.
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Triumph Films released Das Boot on September 17, 1981. Wolfgang Petersen directed the film starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, and Klaus Wennemann.