7 April 2012 | charles-338-262574
Thinly Disguised Memoir Which Gives Even Greater Credability
I researched German U-Boats for many years, interviewed surviving crew as well as current day German naval officers. I read at least 100 books on U-Boats. I did this to research my novel, An Honorable German, a World War Two naval epic told from the point of view of a heroic yet deeply conflicted German naval officer, published in 2009. I say this to establish my credibility to write the following review.
Das Boot is based on the novel of the same name which is a thinly disguised memoir by the author, Lothar Gunther Buchheim. This imparts an authenticity to the film often lacking in many war films. The author of the novel was actually aboard the U-Boat on several war patrols. The IMDb lists the German actor Jürgen Prochnow as playing Capt.-Lt. Henrich Lehmann- Willenbrock, the actual commander of U- 96 and 6th highest scoring U-Boat ace of the war when Buchheim was aboard and not the fictitious commander of the U-boat always referred to as the "Old Man."
I would strongly recommend that you watch the movie in the original German with English subtitles rather than the version dubbed into English. You get a far better feel for life aboard a German U-Boat when the men are speaking in German and you hear the urgency in the voices of the actors as it would have been in real life.
Buchheim was a war correspondent working for the German Propaganda Ministry (all war correspondents in the Third Reich worked for the Propaganda Ministry) and in that capacity he went on two war patrols
aboard the actual German U-Boat, U-96.
I can say with every assurance that this film is an accurate description of daily life aboard a German U-Boat in World War Two we will ever see. But even more important, this film depicts the horror and terror of war in the most compelling way possible. To me, no other war film comes as close to Das Boot in depicting both the boredom and terror of war.
The film is extremely accurate in its depiction of the foulness of everyday life aboard a German U-Boat. None of the boats had bathing facilities so the men could never clean themselves except with a bucket of salt water from the ocean. Nor could they wash their uniforms, of which they were only allowed two while on board.They had special salt water soap but all that did was irritate the skin.
Boils, rashes and skin infections of all kinds were common among U- Boat crews. Fresh water was strictly rationed and none could be spared for bathing. The men did receive a cup of water each day for brushing their teeth and cleaning their face etc but most were so thirsty from strict water rationing that they just drank the cup of water.
Food grew slimy and green with mold as shown in the movie and there was such limited storage space that sausages really did hang down in the compartments as shown in the film. Fresh food only lasted a few days and the rest of their food came from cans.Because of the rocking of the boat and monotonous diet, the men developed constipation.
Unlike American submarines in World War Two, German submarines had no air conditioning or heat (except for so small portable heaters). The boat took on the temperature of the water outside the hull so you can imagine how uncomfortable this must have been. Ventilating the boat was very difficult and many crewmen developed lung problems.
When the movie first appeared in Germany in 1981, it was vilified by many surviving U-boat crewmen. Small details were pounced on and men said "we didn't have that on my U-Boat" which is sort of meaningless since no U-Boats were equipped exactly the same. What is more interesting about the vilification of the movie, which gave it immense publicity in Germany, is that the former commander of U-96, Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, was on the set everyday advising the actors and the director. The "old man" had survived the war and in what must have been a surrealistic experience, he later helped put the movie together and coached Jürgen Prochnow how to play Lehmann-Willenbrock, that is, himself.
Another high scoring U-boat ace, Erich Topp, advised on the movie as well. Those who criticize the film usually fail to point this out. This was one of the first movies to use the technique of hand-held cameras to give the viewer a sense of the movement of the boat and the men. This technique had become ubiquitous today and in my opinion overdone.
This film is an incredible work of art and is, in my opinion, the greatest war film ever made. There is no "sugar coating". The brutality and randomness of war are shown without any attempt to make them "pretty." If you are only going to watch one war movie in your life, then watch this one.