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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, though by “partly,” we mean “altered so much as to be unrecognizable.”


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.
    • Enigma machines were actually captured multiple times from U-Boats during the war, and one such action was accomplished by the US Navy, but the real event was nothing at all like the movie.
    • 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!
      • For what it's worth, American veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic who saw the movie generally agreed with the British.
    • An 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.
  • Anyone Can Die: And almost everybody does. Seven men survive to the end, that's it.
  • 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.
    • Most of the German surface fleet was destroyed early on, this was why the Germans sunk most of their naval resources into their U-Boats.
  • 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.
    • Messmen (later stewards) were the only black sailors allowed to serve on U.S. submarines during the war. Seventy-four black messmen/stewards went on "eternal patrol." Executive Order 9981, desegregating the U.S. military, was issued in 1948.
  • 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.
  • Dead Star Walking: A number of American submariners, including Bill Paxton (who's set up to be one of the main characters), are killed a quarter of the way through the film during a disastrous escape from a German U-boat.
  • 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.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Generally, a submarine could not be within short range of a destroyer without getting ripped to shreds.
  • Oh, Crap!: Emmett when the the German resupply submarine launches a torpedo at the S-33.
  • Old Soldier: Chief Gunner Klough, who served on submarines during World War I.
  • Reading the Enemy's Mail
  • Refuge in Audacity: When the captured U-571 is spotted by a German patrol plane, the Americans wave at it, just as German sailors would to friendly flyers. Since the Germans don't know the sub has been captured yet, it works.
  • 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 aid 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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