U-571 (film)

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U-571 movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Martha De Laurentiis
Screenplay by Jonathan Mostow
Sam Montgomery
David Ayer
Story by Jonathan Mostow
Music by Richard Marvin
Cinematography Oliver Wood
Edited by Wayne Wahrman
Distributed by Universal Pictures
BAC Films
Entertainment Film Distributors
Release date
  • April 21, 2000 (2000-04-21)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $62 million
Box office $127 million

U-571 is a 2000 French-American war film directed by Jonathan Mostow and starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Thomas Kretschmann, Jon Bon Jovi, Jack Noseworthy, Will Estes and Tom Guiry. In the film, a World War II German submarine is boarded in 1942 by disguised United States Navy submariners seeking to capture her Enigma cipher machine.

The film was financially successful and generally well-received by critics,[1] and won an Academy Award for sound editing.[2] The fictitious plot attracted substantial criticism; in reality, it was British personnel from HMS Bulldog who first captured a naval Enigma machine (from U-110 in the North Atlantic in May 1941), months before the United States had even entered the war. The anger over the inaccuracies even reached the British Parliament, where Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that the film was an "affront" to British sailors.[3] The film was also criticized for portraying German U-boat crews in a negative light.


After sinking a merchant ship from an Allied convoy, German U-boat U-571 has her engines badly damaged by depth charges from a British destroyer. U-571's skipper Kapitänleutnant Gunther Wassner makes a distress call that is intercepted by American intelligence, so the US Navy has submarine S-33 modified to resemble a German resupply U-boat to steal the Enigma coding device and sink the U-571. As the crew of S-33 receive their assignment, the submarine's executive officer Lieutenant Tyler is unhappy about his promotion being blocked by commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Dahlgren.

During a storm, S-33's boarding party surprises and overwhelms the crew of U-571. After securing U-571, the American S-33 is torpedoed by the German resupply sub that was sent to aid U-571. Lieutenant Commander Dahlgren is blown off the deck of S-33 and seriously wounded, while struggling to stay afloat he refuses rescue and orders the boarding party on the captured U-boat to submerge. Lieutenant Tyler takes command of U-571 and dives below the surface where they engage and sink the resupply sub in an underwater battle.

After making repairs and restoring power Tyler decides to route the disabled submarine to Land's End in Cornwall, England. They are spotted by a German reconnaissance plane which is unaware that U-571 has been commandeered by Americans; a nearby German destroyer sends over a small contingent but right before boarders arrive, Tyler gives orders to fire a shot from the deck gun, destroying the German destroyer's radio room, and preventing it from reporting the capture of a German sub and its Enigma machine and code books. The sub dives underneath the German destroyer, which then begins to drop depth charges to sink U-571. U-571's original master Kapitänleutnant Wassner escapes captivity and kills one of Tyler's crew but he is subdued before he can sabotage the boat's engines.

Tyler attempts to trick the destroyer into stopping its attack by ejecting debris and a corpse out of a torpedo tube, faking their own destruction, however the German destroyer continues dropping depth charges. The crew then realizes that Kapitänleutnant Wassner, despite being shackled, is using Morse Code tapping to signal to the destroyer that the submarine was captured and knock him out. U-571, hiding at below 600 feet (180 m), is damaged by the high water pressure. Control of the main ballast tanks is lost and the ship ascends uncontrollably. Tyler orders crewman Trigger to submerse himself in the bilge underwater to repressurize the torpedo tubes.

Trigger uses an air hose to enter the flooded compartment. He closes the air valve to the torpedo tubes, but a second leak and broken valve are found, which Trigger can't reach. U-571 surfaces heavily damaged and begins to flood, unable to fire its last torpedo from its stern tubes. The destroyer gives chase and fires upon U-571 with its main guns; the first hit causes pipes to collapse, pinning Trigger's leg, after he has left the air hose behind. Unable to turn back, he reaches for the valve and closes it before he dies. The second the pressure is available, Tyler orders Tank to fire the final torpedo. The German destroyer is unable to take evasive action and is sunk. As the crew sigh in relief, Tank reports Trigger's death. U-571 has taken severe damage and will not remain afloat for long. The crew abandons the submarine with the Enigma in their possession. The crew watch U-571 as she slips beneath the waves. Floating aboard an inflatable lifeboat, they are eventually rescued by a US Navy PBY Catalina flying boat.



U-571 was filmed in the Mediterranean, near Rome and Malta.[4] Footage, sets and models from the movie have been reused for other productions, including 'Submerged,' depicting the loss of USS Sailfish, and the fictional Ghostboat. A non-diving replica of the US submarine S-33 is located in Grand Harbour, Valletta.[citation needed]

The film was originally (in the United States) rated "R" because of a scene where Lt. Pete Emmett (Jon Bon Jovi) is decapitated by flying debris. To get a "PG-13", the shot was redone with Emmett this time knocked overboard by flying debris. This left many audience members not knowing what happened to his character. A death scene was also filmed for Maj. Matthew Coonan (David Keith), but the effect did not work well so it was cut from the film.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

The film was generally well received by critics, with 78 out of the 115 critics tallied by review aggregating website Rotten Tomatoes giving the film positive reviews, resulting in a 68%, and the critical consensus "Excellent cinematography and an interesting plot accompanied by a talented cast and crew make U-571 a tense thriller."[1] The movie performed well at the box office.[6]

The film's depth charge sequences, which produce rumbling bass tones below 25 Hz, are widely cited as a way of testing subwoofers in a home theater set up.[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for two awards at the 73rd Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing (Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Rick Kline and Ivan Sharrock). It won the sound editing award.[2]

Controversies regarding content[edit]

Historical events[edit]

The capture of U-570 in August 1941

The film's depiction of American heroics in capturing an Enigma machine angered Britons. The Allies captured Enigma-related codebooks and machines about 15 times during the Second World War. All but two of these actions were by British forces. The Royal Canadian Navy captured U-774 and the U.S. Navy seized U-505 in June 1944. By this time the Allies were already routinely decoding German naval Enigma traffic.

While the United States' direct participation in the Second World War commenced in mid-1941 with Lend-Lease, tactical involvement did not commence until after the Attack on Pearl Harbor, by which time the history of capturing Enigma machines and breaking their codes had already begun in Europe.

An earlier military Enigma machine had been stolen by Polish Intelligence in 1928; the Polish Cipher Bureau broke the Enigma code in 1932 and gave their findings to Britain and France in 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland.[8]

The first capture of a naval Enigma machine and associated cipher keys from a U-boat were made on 9 May 1941 by HMS Bulldog of Britain's Royal Navy, commanded by Captain Joe Baker-Cresswell. The U-boat was U-110. In 1942, the British seized U-559, capturing additional Enigma codebooks. According to Britain's Channel 4, "The captured codebooks provided vital assistance to British cryptographers such as Alan Turing, at the code-breaking facility of Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire."[8]

During Prime Minister's Questions, Tony Blair agreed with questioner Brian Jenkins MP that the film was "an affront" to British sailors.[3] In response to a letter from Paul Truswell, MP for the Pudsey constituency (which includes Horsforth, a town proud of its connection with HMS Aubretia), U.S. president Bill Clinton wrote assuring that the film's plot was only a work of fiction.[9]

David Balme, the British naval officer who led the boarding party aboard U-110, called U-571, "a great film"[10] and said that the film would not have been financially viable without being "Americanised". The film's producers did not agree to his request for a statement that the film was a work of fiction, but[9] the end credits dedicate the film to the "Allied sailors and officers who risked their lives capturing Enigma materials" during the Second World War. The credits acknowledge the Royal Navy's role in capturing Enigma machines and code documents from U-110, U-559 and the U.S. Navy's capture of U-505.[10]

In 2006, screenwriter David Ayer admitted that U-571 distorted history and stated that he would not do it again.[11] Ayer told BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme that he "did not feel good" about suggesting Americans, rather than the British, captured the naval Enigma cipher: "It was a distortion...a mercenary decision...to create this parallel history in order to drive the film for an American audience. Both my grandparents [sic] were officers in the Second World War, and I would be personally offended if somebody distorted their achievements."[11]

Factual errors[edit]

The Kriegsmarine's destroyers never ventured out into the open Atlantic Ocean and stayed in European coastal waters. During the destroyer's depth charge attack more than 80 depth charges are detonated in the film, despite the fact that German destroyers rarely carried more than 30 depth charges during the war.[12]

The German resupply U-boat would most likely not have been sunk by U-571. This would have been difficult for a German U-boat to achieve, as German sonar was not as advanced as British sonar at any time during the war. The only instance of a submerged submarine sinking another submerged vessel was in February 1945 when HMS Venturer sank the U-864 with torpedoes.[13]

Furthermore German Type XIV supply U-boats or "Milchkuh/Milchkühe" (milk cows) didn't have torpedo tubes or deck guns , being armed only with anti-aircraft guns for defense, and thus could not have attacked other vessels.[14]

The real S-33 was stationed in the Pacific Ocean from June 1942 till the end of the war. She was not sunk during World War II and was sold for scrap in 1946.[15] The S-26 did not sink in a test dive, instead sinking in a collision with a patrol combatant, PC-460, in January 1942.[15]

Negative portrayal of U-boat sailors[edit]

Three-quarter front view over the bow from a submarine conning tower of another submarine with numerous people standing on both submarines, at sea.
U-156 (foreground) and U-507 (background) on 15 September 1942

The film portrays a scene in which the U-boat sailors machine gun Allied merchant crewmen who have survived their ship's sinking, in compliance with naval policy so that the survivors do not report the U-boat position. In contrast to the negative depiction of U-boat men in the movie as well as wartime propaganda, U-boat crewmen in reality were known to assist survivors with food, directions and occasionally medical aid.[16] it was common for U-boats to assist torpedoed survivors with food, water, simple medical care for the wounded, and a compass bearing to the nearest landmass.Assistance to survivors only stopped after Admiral Karl Dönitz issued the "Laconia order" following a U.S. air attack on U-boats transporting injured survivors under a Red Cross flag in 1942. German U-boat crews were under War Order No. 154 not to rescue survivors, which parallelled Allied policy. Even afterwards, U-boats still occasionally provided aid for survivors. In fact, out of several thousand sinkings of merchant ships in World War II, there is only one case of a U-boat crew's deliberately attacking the survivors of a sinking: that of the U-852, whose crew attacked survivors of the Greek ship Peleus.[17]

Historical fates of U-571 and S-33[edit]

The real U-571, captained by Oberleutnant zur See Gustav Lüssow, was lost with all hands on January 28, 1944, west of Ireland.[18] She was hit by depth charges, dropped from a Short Sunderland Mk III flying boat, EK577, callsign "D for Dog", belonging to No. 461 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The aircraft's commander, Flt Lt Richard Lucas, reported that most of the U-boat's 52 crew managed to abandon ship, but all died from hypothermia. "D for Dog", which was crewed partly by Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel, was based at RAF Pembroke Dock in Wales.

The real USS S-33 was stationed in the Pacific Ocean from June 1942 until the end of the war. She was not sunk during World War II and was sold for scrap in 1946.[15] The USS S-26 did not sink in a test dive; she instead sank in a collision with a patrol combatant, USS PC-460, in January 1942.[15]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b "U-571 (2000)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 11, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "The 73rd Academy Awards (2001) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved November 19, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "U-boat film an 'affront', says Blair". BBC News. June 7, 2000. Retrieved August 18, 2006. 
  4. ^ "U-571 (2000) Filming Locations". imdb.com. Retrieved October 11, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Salon interview with Jonathan Mostow". Salon.com. May 4, 2000. 
  6. ^ "'U-571' Runs Noisy, Runs Strong". The Los Angeles Times. May 2, 2000. Retrieved November 10, 2010. 
  7. ^ http://www.pinnaclespeakers.com/revu_subsonic_soundnvision.html
  8. ^ a b "History". Channel 4. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Storm over U-boat film". BBC News. June 2, 2000. Retrieved August 18, 2006. 
  10. ^ a b "Capturing the real U-571". BBC News. June 2, 2000. Retrieved August 18, 2006. 
  11. ^ a b "U-571 writer regrets 'distortion'". BBC News. August 18, 2006. Retrieved August 18, 2006. 
  12. ^ Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Destroyers 1939-45. Osprey Publishing. p. 6. 
  13. ^ uboat.net - Boats - U-864
  14. ^ uboat.net - U-boat Types - Type XIV
  15. ^ a b c d "SS-105 S-1". Globalsecurity.org. 30 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  16. ^ Blair, Clay (1996). Hitler's U-Boat War - The Hunters, 1939-1942. Modern Library. pp. 81, 85–86, 144. ISBN 0-679-64032-0. 
  17. ^ "NOVA Online: Hitler's Lost Sub". PBS. December 16, 2006. Retrieved December 16, 2006. 
  18. ^ "uboat.net, "''U-571''"". Uboat.net. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 


  • Kahn, David (1991). Seizing the Enigma: the Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939-1943. Boston, Houghton Mifflin. 
  • Sebag-Montefiore, Hugh (2001). Enigma: the Battle for the Code. Phoenix. 

External links[edit]