Film / U-571

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"They did get one thing right: there were U-boats in the North Atlantic during the war."
— A former German U-boat commander's reaction to the film

Released in 2000, this World War II movie Very Loosely Based on a True Story is about a submarine crew who board a disabled German sub to steal an Enigma Machine, a secret German encryption device used to send coded messages. Caused a degree of controversy as the film places the Americans in center role as the heroes... except that in real life, the first to capture the submarine-based ENIGMA machine was the British. Although the film is also partly based on the American action that led to the capture of the U-Boat now on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.


This film provides examples of:

  • America Won World War II: invoked Infamously so. In Real Life, the Enigma Machine was stolen from a German submarine... by the British.
    • As can be expected, this did cause one hell of an uproar in the UK, to the point it was called "An Affront to British Sailors" during Prime Ministers Question Time upon release!
    • The Enigma was cracked as early as 1928 by the Polish.
    • Germany exported civilian versions of the Enigma machine in 1930s. British government had a few of these even before the war began.
  • Artistic License History: The real U-571 and S-33 didn't even operate in the same ocean as each other. In addition, the Germans never sent their destroyers that far west.
  • Artistic License Military: There's more examples of this than you can shake a stick at, but one stands out to those familiar with military history. The cook on board the sub is a black man. This would not have occurred during World War II, as the armed forces were not desegregated until 1947. However, the filmmakers may have been aware of this and simply chose to ignore it. Extra credit has to be given to them for portraying him as a intelligent and capable individual, who takes over the sub's helm when the regular helmsman is killed, and never gives in to panic or fear. Also, he's treated as an equal by everyone on board, with absolutely no hint of racism from anyone.
    • When captured U-Boat is being buzzed by a German plane, the order is given for everyone to act like they are the German crew and not raise any suspicion. The sailor manning the deck gun decides he is going to shoot the plane down and has to be physically restrained from doing so. A submarine crew, especially during WWII, are highly trained and disciplined to remain calm under fire and to immediately follow orders (think of Das Boot with the depth charges exploding around them). There is no way in hell a crewman would even think of disobeying orders in such a situation.
  • Banging for Help: A captured prisoner uses a wrench to knock out a message in Morse Code for other German ships to hear on Sonar: I am U-571... destroy me!
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Rather early in the film, Lieutenant Tyler gets this from Chief Gunner Klough, for admitting to his crew that he didn't know what to do next, thus undermining his own crew's confidence in his leadership.
    • Also, the beginning of the film: Tyler is itching for a command of his own, and knows that the only thing that could stop him from being promoted and getting it is if his current CO doesn't recommend him. When he is passed over he seeks his CO out and demands to know why.
  • The Chains of Commanding: The reason Lt. Tyler doesn't get his first command is that his commander doesn't think he's ready for the burdens of that responsibility. Of course, Tyler ends up bearing that responsibility unexpectedly.
  • Chief Obvious: "Everything's in German!"
  • Cunning Linguist: Two of them in this film, including a professional linguist and a sailor who is half German.
  • Dark Secret: Mild example. One of the American sailors doesn't want his crewmates to know he's half German.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: How the crew gets aboard the U-571.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Justified. On a WWII warship, everyone did.
  • False Flag Operation: In addition to boarding the ship, they have to pretend to be Germans in order to avoid being attacked by German forces in the area. At one point this involves cheerfully waving at a Messerschmitt fighter that spots them and makes a low pass.
  • Hollywood History: Very, very much so.
  • Hot Sub-on-Sub Action: Of a preposterous nature. The German boat that sinks the American sub is stated as being a resupply boat. The Type XIV "Milchkuh" (or "milk cow") did not even have torpedo tubes.
    • Which can also imply, conversely, that it wasn't a resupply boat to begin with, and was instead sent to destroy U-571 in the first place rather than help it. The crew could've just been told it was a resupply boat to prevent them from surrendering or defecting to the Allies.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Generally, a submarine could not be within short range of a destroyer without getting ripped to shreds.
  • Old Soldier: Chief Gunner Klough, who served on submarines during World War I.
  • Reading the Enemy's Mail
  • Sink The Life Boats: To prove how evil the German U-boat crew is. In reality, out of the tens of thousands of hours logged by the U-boat Force, there is only one recorded incident of a crew attacking survivors. It was much more common for German submariners to provide aide to the crews they sank.
  • You Are in Command Now: Lieutenant Tyler, when his submarine is torpedoed and sunk, while he is leading a boarding party on the U-571.

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