The Enemy Below

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The Enemy Below
Movie Poster
Directed by Dick Powell
Produced by Dick Powell
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes
Based on The Enemy Below
1956 novel 
by Denys Rayner
Starring Robert Mitchum
Curt Jürgens
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Stuart Gilmore
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 25, 1957 (1957-12-25) (New York City)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,910,000[1]

The Enemy Below is a 1957 war film which tells the story of the battle between the captain of an American destroyer escort and the commander of a German U-boat during World War II. The movie stars Robert Mitchum and Curt Jürgens and was directed and produced by Dick Powell. The film was based on a novel by Denys Rayner, a British naval officer involved in anti-submarine warfare throughout the Battle of the Atlantic.

Walter Rossi received the 1958 Academy Award for best Best Special Effects.[2]


The American Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Haynes detects and attacks a German U-boat that is on its way to rendezvous with a German merchant raider in the South Atlantic Ocean. Captain Murrell (Robert Mitchum), a former officer in the merchant marine now an active duty lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve, has recently taken command of the Haynes, even though he is still recovering from injuries incurred in the sinking of his previous ship. Before the U-boat is first spotted, one sailor questions the new captain's fitness and ability. However, as the battle begins, Murrell shows himself to be a match for wily U-boat Kapitän von Stolberg (Curt Jürgens) (portrayed as not being enamoured with the Nazi regime) in a prolonged and deadly battle of wits that tests both men and their crews. Each man grows to respect his opponent.

Murrell skillfully stalks the U-boat and subjects von Stolberg and his crew to multiple depth charge attacks. In the end, von Stolberg takes advantage of a moment of vulnerability in Murrell's pattern of attacks and succeeds in torpedoing the destroyer. The destroyer is mortally wounded but still battle capable. However, Murrell has one last trick up his sleeve. He orders his men to set fires on the deck to make the ship look more damaged than it actually is. Then he orders the majority of his crew to evacuate in the life boats. But he keeps a skeleton crew on board to man the bridge, engine room, and one of his ship's three-inch guns. As Murrell had hoped, von Stolberg decides to torpedo on the surface on what he perceives to be a crippled ship. Murrell orders his gun crew to fire thus knocking the U-boat's main deck gun out of action. Murrell orders his executive officer, Lt. Ware (Al Hedison), to steer the ship toward the U-boat at flank speed and ram it. With his boat crippled, Von Stolberg orders his crew to set the scuttling charges and abandon ship.

Murrell, the last man aboard, is about to join his crew in the lifeboats when he spots von Stolberg trapped on the conning tower of the U-boat with his injured executive officer, Korvettenkapitän Heini Schwaffer (Theodore Bikel). Von Stolberg salutes Murrell, who returns it. Murrell tosses a line to the submarine and pulls the injured XO on board while von Stolberg climbs hand over hand to the Haynes. Once on board, it is clear Schwaffer is dying and von Stolberg refuses to leave his friend behind. Murrell's executive officer, Lt. Ware, returns with a group of sailors in the captain's gig to the sinking destroyer in order to help the last three men off the doomed ship. They manage to clear the tangled wrecks just before the U-boat's scuttling charges detonate, sinking the boat. Later, aboard another American ship, the German crew consigns Schwaffer's remains to the deep in a traditional ceremony, as the American crew respectfully observes.

Changes from the book[edit]

The movie script differs substantially from the original book. The ship is changed from British to American. More importantly, the final scenes of mutual respect and potential friendship between the protagonists is not how the book ends. In the book the destroyer captain hates the German captain so much he takes a swing at him while they're in the lifeboat. The movie also vaguely alludes to the "enemy" being evil (or the devil), not particularly the Nazis ("You cut off one head and it grows another..."). This gives the title "The Enemy Below" a double meaning not present in the book.



The destroyer escort USS Haynes (DE-181) was portrayed by the USS Whitehurst (DE-634), filmed in the Pacific Ocean near Oahu, Hawaii. Many of the Whitehurst's crewmen acted in the film: The phone talkers, the gun and depth charge crews, the sailor fishing, and all of the men seen abandoning ship, were Whitehurst sailors. The ship's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Walter Smith, played the engineering officer. He is the man seen reading comics (Little Orphan Annie) during the lull before the action.

The lead ship of the destroyer escort class portrayed in The Enemy Below, USS Buckley (DE-51), actually rammed a U-Boat in combat and sank it on 6 May 1944, capturing many of the German crew. The actual DE-181 was a Cannon-class destroyer escort, USS Straub (DE-181).


The tune sung by the U-boat crew on the ocean floor between depth charge attacks is from an 18th-century march called "Der Dessauer Marsch". As a more popular song, it's also known by the first line of lyrics as "So leben wir" ("That's how we live").


  • The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "Killers of the Deep" was not only based on this movie, it also re-used substantial amounts of footage from it. Also David Hedison (then Al Hedison) who played Lieutenant Ware, the executive officer of the Haynes, played Commander Lee Crane.

In popular culture[edit]

At the beginning of the movie Crimson Tide (Tony Scott, 1995), the crew of the USS Alabama goes on board and talks about submarine movies, citing The Enemy Below.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p250
  2. ^ "The 30th Academy Awards (1958) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2014-03-15. 
  3. ^ Asherman, Allan (1993). The Star Trek Compendium. New York: Pocket Books. p. 40. ISBN 0-671-79612-7. 
  • Rayner, D.A., The Enemy Below, London: Collins 1956

External links[edit]