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Das Boot : a historian’s view

Bernadette Angell (TV critic of the Rust) asked me to appraise the historical  accuracy of Das Boot.     

I have seen the much-acclaimed 1981 film which Neil Rosen rates as one of the best war films ever.

Aside from the accusation levelled by a New York Nazi, which may have been propaganda, that President Roosevelt was aware in advance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour I could see no inaccuracies.

However, the polarity between the SS officers and decent Germans in the Wehrmacht and Kriegmarin (Navy) I would question as there was a degree of gradation.

We got closest to this when Forster, the Gestapo man in La Rochelle, clearly in his face abhors the ruthless extermination of the Jews by concentration camps in which he is promoted to administer.

Nonetheless he takes the job and attends to the deportation of Jews to Drancy in cattle trucks from la Rochelle.

It would have made for better drama and accuracy if these nuances were more apparent. Equally the French – through Nurse Bostal who aids a Jewish father at enormous personal risk – are painted in a glowing light thought the reality was the Resistance was quite small in numbers, possibly as little as 250,000 and De Gaulle was regarded and tried as a traitor.

The Germans normally of aristocratic background like the U-boat skipper Von Reinhartz, the naval commander Gluck played by that great German actor Rainer Bock and Hoffmann over in New York playing both sides of the street with arms manufacturer Jack Greenwood and Nazi spies and sympathisers whilst in a relationship with Jack ‘s son Sam Greenword’s black girl are all portrayed sympathetically.

Conversely the U-boat commander Wrangel and the SS officers are all ruthless to the point of deranged.

Noticeably every German subordinate obeys orders – The  defence at the Nuremberg Trials.  Its always interesting to cross compare dramas. Arthur Lowe as thr bumbling Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army  as a symbol of authority is mocked for his pompousity whilst the German Officer class is venerated and their efficiency borders on ruthlessness .