Das Boot

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Alaaaaarm!!!

Captain of the "Weser": So, what's it like down there, in a submarine?
Der Leitende: It's... quiet.
Captain of the "Weser": Quiet? Hmm.

Das Boot is a 1981 German movie about the German submersible U-96. It is directed by Wolfgang Petersen and stars, among very good German stage actors, Jürgen Prochnow as The Captain (commonly called Kaleun, short for Kapitänleutnant, or der Alte / the Old Man). The events portrayed in the movie are based on a book by Lothar G. Buchheim, which was based on his own experiences aboard a German sub during World War II. The movie is generally praised for its realistic portrayal of the claustrophobic atmosphere in a WWII sub. As noted by many visitors to Bavaria Studios, the interior set of the sub is actually even more claustrophobic than comes across on the screen.

By now you may wonder why nothing has been said about the plot so far. That is because the plot is quite simple. The U-96 sets sail. They then spend weeks trudging around the mid-Atlantic dealing with boredom, bad weather and a complete absence of Allied targets. They manage to attack one convoy and sink two ships, and get almost killed by the Allied navy. They then get ordered into a near-suicidal situation and are only spared from death pretty much by chance. They escape after a horrendous, odds-defying ordeal and limp home. The ship is then sunk the instant it docks by an Allied air raid. That's pretty much it.

Fun Fact: When the movie premiered in the United States, the audience cheered at the caption at the very beginning that says that 30,000 of 40,000 German submariners died. The makers of the movie were really afraid at that moment, because that was supposed to be a tragic fact. By the end of the movie, however, the audience was also sympathetic to the submariners and, as said in the director's commentary, gave a standing ovation to the film.


Tropes used in Das Boot include:
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted, as befits a film made by Germans, for Germans. Only the 1WO has any faith in Hitler's program. Historically accurate, too: of all the services, the German navy was the least Nazi (heck, it had started the democratic revolution at the end of World War I).
    • One of Hitler's ideas was that after Britain was beaten into submission, it wouldn't be conquered, but would replace the German Navy as the sea arm of an Aryan empire. Yes, the Nazis really hated the Kriegsmarine that much.
  • Anyone Can Die: The text at the top of the page suggesting a 75% mortality rate for German submariners? It's not an exaggeration. No other branch of any armed service suffered such a high casualty rate and continued to function.
  • Beard of Sorrow: After weeks of being stuck on the u-boat, the 1WO is pretty much the only one who still bothers to shave.
    • And nicely foreshadowed, when the Captain advises Werner to save some pictures for when they return, as the whole crew of mostly young new recruits will have beards by then.
  • Death From Above: The crew are menaced by allied aircraft several times. The first time (shown only in the uncut edition) takes place right after they leave their port with minor equipment damage. The second time, Krichbaum is badly wounded. The third...well...
  • Determinator: The chief engineer.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina: Technically not an example because the ending is justified by the premise and the aerial menace has been foreshadowed and shown, but the Downer Ending does come suddenly out of nowhere and is guaranteed to shock a first time viewer.
  • Dive Dive Dive
  • Downer Ending: A pretty extreme example - there really wasn't a much stronger way for the efforts of the submarine's crew (and the entire German navy really) to be rendered totally useless.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: The film starts with sub crews getting obnoxiously, paralytically drunk on shore leave. Given what they've just come from and are about to go back to you can't really blame them.
  • Ear Worm: Both in-universe and out-example. The crew of the U-96 are fond of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", a World War I British soldier song, and audiences of the film will likely not forget the song in a hurry.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Only a few of the enlisted crewmen have their names provided. Everyone else is "The Captain", "The 1WO" etc.
  • Fatal Family Photo: On two occasions Werner gets shown pictures of crew's family: The chief engineer shows him pictures of his wife and cadet Ullman shows him a picture of his (pregnant) French girlfriend who wants to marry him. The end of the film sees Ullman die in the air raid, but the engineer subverts it by staying alive.
    • In the uncut edition, Navigator Kriechbaum shows Werner a picture of his four sons, and says he has a fifth on the way. He gets wounded by a British fighter and is last seen being loaded onto an ambulance at the base, being driven away seconds before the air strike.
  • A Father to His Men: The Captain feels too old among his young children.
  • Gratuitous English: Aside from the aforementioned Ear Worm, the Captain is fond of defiantly stating "Not yet!" Justified Trope in that he's directing his comments at the Royal Navy that's trying to sink his boat and kill his crew.
    • Also Thomsen's "I am not in the condition to fuck."
  • Hell Is That Noise: The sonar pings.
    • Not to mention the sound of the hull creaking as the sub dives below maximum safe depth.
  • Heroic BSOD: Justified given the circumstances, but still... poor Johann.
  • Hero of Another Story: Thomsen, awarded with the Knight's Cross.
  • Hope Spot
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: A normal submarine patrol consists in sinking merchants and usually involves being chased by destroyers if the submarine can't stay undetected. The trope is used as the Tagline in the English box art.
  • If We Get Through This: The Captain tells the crew "it's half a bottle of beer for each" if they can make it safely back to La Rochelle.
  • It Got Worse: First they hit a three-week storm. Then they fall afoul of a destroyer. Then destroyers with ASDIC. Then aircraft with radar. Then their hydroplanes break, nearly sinking them. Then, after frantic repairs and just managing to resurface the boat before they are crushed/drowned/suffocated, they are sunk in port by an air-raid.
    • On the bright side, the journey home went pretty smoothly compared to the novel version. Along with the above, U-96 in the novel spent their return journey without periscopes, without radio, without sleep, with the entire hull shuddering and twisting around with every wave (they spent most of the return trip in escape gear, in case a large wave snapped the pressure hull open), without working torpedoes (they tried to sink a neutral liner with them and failed thanks to the first officer's incompetence), with engine fumes venting into the boat and only one intermittently working engine. Then upon coming in sight of the shore, they found themselves in a minefield (as they discovered when a friendly U-boat a few hundred meters away ran into one), were forced to stay perfectly still on the surface in full view of any passing enemy aircraft (due to risk of hitting said mines) and then were subject to an air raid that destroyed the nearby friendly U-boat, leaving U-96 to return to port with two dozen traumatized and hideously wounded sailors from another boat on their already ruined deck. It was only at that point that the full air raid occurred and sank U-96 in port.
  • Kill'Em All: The bombing of the sub at the end. Also an excellent example of Irony.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Everybody aboard U-96 except the 1WO.
  • Naive Newcomer: Werner.
  • The Narrator: Acts as both The Watson and Mr. Exposition. He's on board as a journalist, thus it's his job to be inquisitive about everything, and pass on his knowledge. He has naval experience on surface ships but this is his first voyage on a submarine. The crew and officers sometimes pause to explain what they're doing to him but he often has to figure it out by observation
  • Nazis With Gnarly Weapons: Well, yes, except that (again) only the 1WO is really a Nazi...
  • Putting on the Reich: 1WO.
  • Recut: Originally produced as a five-hour Miniseries for German television, Das Boot was edited down to 150 minutes for its original theatrical release. In 1997 Wolfgang Petersen made a new Director's Cut edit for a theatrical reissue, which clocks in at just under 210 minutes. Both the miniseries and 1997 versions have been released on DVD.
  • Redemption in the Rain: Sort of. Johann makes up for his earlier breakdown by working tirelessly to repair a number of life-threatening leaks, and of course gets extremely wet in the process.
  • Refuge in Vulgarity: Pilgrim, in-universe.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After all they've suffered and survived through the entire film, most of the crew die or get injured suddenly in an air raid the moment they get back home.
  • Shown Their Work: Every single detail of the internal construction of a VIIC U-Boat was painstakingly researched and included on the set. Literally the only difference between the internals of the set and the internals of a real U-Boat was that the set could have the side removed to allow for effective filming, though they only did that for one scene. A pretty short scene. The rest of the movie used a novel hand-held gyroscope equipped camera, as Steadicam was not available then. The camera was specially designed and made to facilitate filming of this movie.
    • In addition to this, for the bridge of the U-Boat (where the lookouts stood, mostly exposed to the ocean), rather than stick with the then-standard method of throwing buckets of water at the actors to simulate waves hitting the ship in a storm, the crew built a specialist rig that would throw realistic amounts of water at the bridge at realistic pressure - this led to the previously noted incident where the amount of water caused an actor to lose his footing and threw him into a railing, breaking one of his ribs. The setup was realistic enough that when a shot called for a wave to come down the hatch into the control room (extremely common and not at all a problem for the bilge pump), the exact same system in the exact same setup provided what could only perhaps be described as a 'column of furious water' - more than 4 meters and two hatchways down from the bridge.
    • The director's meticulous attention to detail resulted in a historically accurate depiction. In the film, there is only one ardent Nazi in the crew of 40, namely the First Watch Officer (referred to comically in one scene as Unser Hitlerjugendführer or "Our Hitler Youth Leader"). The rest of the officers are either indifferent or openly anti-Nazi (the Captain). The enlisted sailors and NCO are portrayed as apolitical. In his book Iron Coffins, former U-boat commander Herbert A. Werner states that the selection of naval personnel based on their loyalty to the party only occurred later in the war (from 1943 onward) when the U-boats were suffering high casualties and when morale was declining. Such a degree of skepticism may or may not have occurred. In support of Das Boot on this subject, U-Boat historian Michael Gannon maintains that the U-boat navy was one of the least pro-Nazi branches of the German armed forces.
  • Silent Running Mode
  • Stock Sound Effects: Ping... Ping... Ping.... Unlike most examples of the trope, only used when appropriate (i.e. when the U-Boat is in deep trouble).
  • The Stoic: The 1WO is all about this in the initial stages of the film, being new to the war effort and a dedicated Nazi. He remains immaculately dressed and clean shaven for most of the film while the rest of the crew all become steadily filthier and more bedraggled with every scene. It is only in the latter stages of the film when even he cannot keep on top of it all and slowly becomes disheveled and unshaven too by the end of the film.
  • Sub Story: Trope Codifier
  • Suicide Mission: The U-Boat is supposed to get to Italy via the Strait of Gibraltar, one of the most heavily defended Allied naval zones in the world.
  • Toros Y Flamenco: The soundtrack plays flamenco music when the crew arrive in Spain. They dock at Vigo, a northern city where that kind of folklore has not roots in real life.
  • War Is Hell: And. How.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happened to Ullmann's French girlfriend, or 2WO's wife in Köln. Fairly justified, as the crew is not allowed to send personal messages and the movie ends just as they return home.
  • World War II