Above Us the Waves (film)

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Above Us the Waves
Above Us the Waves (film).jpg
Original UK poster
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Produced by William MacQuitty
Screenplay by Robin Estridge
Based on Above Us the Waves 
by C. E. T. Warren
& James Benson
Starring John Mills
John Gregson
Donald Sinden
Music by Arthur Benjamin
Cinematography Ernest Steward
Edited by Gerald Thomas
London Independent Producers
Distributed by GFD (UK)
Release dates
  • 29 March 1955 (1955-03-29) (UK)
Running time 99 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Above Us the Waves is a 1955 British war film directed by Ralph Thomas, about human torpedo and midget submarine attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz. It is based on two true-life attacks on the Tirpitz by British commando frogmen, first using Chariot manned torpedoes in Operation Title in 1942, and then X-Craft midget submarines in Operation Source in 1943. Some of the original equipment was used in the film.


The Royal Navy is concerned about constant attacks on convoys by German submarines and having to keep "half the fleet" watching for the German battleship Tirpitz. The Tirpitz is 60 miles from the sea inside a Norwegian fjord and attempts by the Royal Air Force to sink her have failed. Commander Fraser (Mills) is determined to prove that an attack by human torpedoes is practical, despite scepticism from the higher echelons that such an operation would be feasible.

Fraser assembles and trains a force of British commando frogmen officers and ratings to use the Mk I Human Torpedo manned torpedoes (Chariots) at their Scottish base. After receiving a refusal to allow the operation to go ahead from an admiral, the team use dummy mines to attack the admiral's own ship using the Chariots.

An attack is authorised on the Tirpitz with the initial operation using the Chariots. The attack fails and the crew are forced to abandon ship and land in Norway. They walk to neutral Sweden from where they are returned to Scotland.

For the next operation the crews are trained to use three small X-Craft submarines: X1, X2 and X3. They are initially towed by conventional submarines and are then left to penetrate the area where the Tirpitz is anchored.

They manage to approach the ship under their own power to lay their "side-cargoes", each containing 2 tons of amatol, under the ship's hull undetected. Two crews then scuttle the submarines and are picked up by the crew of Tirpitz, to be taken away as prisoners of war. The third (X2) is too badly damaged to re-surface and the crew decide to stay on board to prevent "giving the game away".

The mines explode as planned, badly damaging the Tirpitz. Meanwhile, X2's side cargoes have flooded. The flooding causes them to spontaneously explode, destroying X2 and killing her crew.

Main cast[edit]

Production notes[edit]

The screenplay was based on the book Above Us the Waves by C. E. T. Warren and James Benson. Events in the film had minor differences, for example, the boat Arthur that carried the Chariot human torpedoes was named Ingebord in the film, and the X class submarines used in Operation Source in 1943 were numbered X-5, X-6 and X-7, and X-5 was the craft that was lost.

The score was by Arthur Benjamin and performed under the direction of Muir Mathieson.

Commander Donald Cameron, who commanded X-6 as a lieutenant and won the Victoria Cross during the operation, was an adviser to the film.

Donald Sinden's character was based on the true-life exploits of Sub-Lieutenant Robert Aitken, who died a few weeks after Sinden.[1] In his first autobiography, A Touch of the Memoirs, Sinden said "I had to re-enact a deed originally performed by Commander Donald Cameron. While his X Craft was being towed across the North Sea, the cable picked up a floating mine which then moved along the cable and made straight for his midget. Cameron rushed forward and, lowering himself over the prow of his craft, managed gingerly to push the mine clear with his feet. Donald was our advisor on the film and told me modestly, "I couldn't think of anything else to do." He was awarded the VC. I wasn't because we used a dummy. But Donald could swim!"[2]


The film was the sixth most popular movie at the British box office that year.[3]


  1. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/sublieutenant-robert-aitken-diver-and-navigator-who-narrowly-escaped-death-in-midget-submarine-and-helped-wreck-the-mighty-tirpitz-9842223.html
  2. ^ A Touch Of The Memoirs by Donald Sinden. Hodder & Stoughton Publ. (1982), pp. 209-10
  3. ^ 'Dirk Bogarde favourite film actor', The Irish Times (1921-Current File) [Dublin, Ireland] 29 Dec 1955: 9.

External links[edit]