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View Full Version : 'Das Boot' - the book: observations and questions



VikingGrandad
08-05-2006, 07:05 PM
I mentioned a while ago that I had some stuff I wanted to share after reading 'Das Boot'. So here it is:

If you've not read the book yet, don't worry - the following are mostly small details, so there's no 'spoilers' here. Believe me, there are some important events in the book (not mentioned here) that weren't in the film at all and will come as a surprise to you if you ever read it.

Some of you old-timers here may remember this thread (http://forums.ubi.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/857101043/m/5821021243/p/1) about the Das Boot film.

Originally posted by aaronblood:
I also noticed when they were haulin butt at flank they (the diesel guys) were venting (could see flames) some valves. Any idea what that was all about?

I've wanted to know this since I first saw the film. The answer is in the book:


"An hour later, the diesel mechanic leaves the control room and comes along the gangway between the two engine blocks. One after another, he opens the inspection petcocks* on the side of the diesel that's in use. Each belches a stream of fire. Johann nods, reassured: ignition in all cylinders, everything in perfect running order. Funny, I think to myself, smoking is forbidden, but this flame-throwing is all right.

The story contains many details about how the U-boat worked and was operated by the crew - details you can't possibly get from the film. Another reason for fans of the film to read the book.

* 'petcock' - definition: "regulator consisting of a small faucet or valve for letting out air or releasing compression or draining."

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Later in the same chapter, Buchheim describes how the diesel exhaust doors have to be opened and closed several times every four hours when cruising on the surface. This stops the exhaust doors clogging up with deposits, which would otherwise prevent the doors from being closed when diving, resulting in the engine room being completely flooded.

Apparently, this exercise was learned the hard way - several U-boats were lost at the beginning of the war because the exhaust doors were jammed open when the boat dived.

That's the first time I've heard about U-boats being lost in that way.

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Other U-boat commanders are mentioned in the story. Some of them are well known (e.g. Prien, Schepke, Kretschmer), but there are many who don't even appear in uboat.net's complete list of WW2 commanders - namely Trumann, Kortmann, Kallmann, Saemich, Flechsig, Bechtel, Marten, Ramlow, Meinig, Bertold...

I just wondered why Buchheim used a few real commanders' names and some (apparently) fictitious names?

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Buchheim mentions a decoded radio message with information about an enemy convoy in square XY, and later squares 'Bruno Karl' (presumably 'BK'), XW and others, all of which (as far as I know), do not exist on the Kreigsmarine grid map - at least not in the Atlantic (please correct me if I'm wrong).

I can't think of a reason why Buchheim would use non-existent grid squares.

I know that 'Das Boot' is a fictional work, but it is based on the author's real experiences on U-boat patrols, so even if he couldn't remember any grid squares of his encounters with convoys, why didn't he make them up using historically-authentic grid references?

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There have been quite a few posts in the forum regarding the use of the periscope in SH3 to observe and evade enemy depth charges, which I think most of us consider as cheating. However, in 'Das Boot', Buchheim describes something that reminded me of this.

On a previous patrol, the Old Man had apparently evaded an attacking destroyer, by tricking the enemy commander into thinking the U-boat was in a different location a safe distance away. The boat was lying on the sea floor, motors off, and the Old Man was using the periscope to observe the destroyer's depth charges exploding! OK, so he probably wouldn't have seen the depth charges as they descended, but I imagine he would have been able to see flashes of light from the explosions, if they were just a few hundred metres away?

I know it's fiction, but you have to wonder if Buchheim based this on something he was told? It sounds improbable, but not impossible!

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During a surface attack on a convoy at night, three enemy merchants are targeted - one torp each for the two smaller ships and two for a larger ship. I thought it was standard practice to attack each ship with at least two torps?

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A nice description of evasion tactics (the boat is being pursued and depth-charged by a destroyer):

"Despite the urgency in the operator's voice the Old Man gives no new orders to the helmsman. I know: he's postponing any change in course until the last moment, so the destroyer that's speeding after us won't have time to copy our manoeuvre. Hare and hound! Only when the dog is about to snap - when he's sure the hare is already in his jaws - does the hare swerve, but the dog can't make the turn: his own momentum is too great."
In U-boat vs. destroyer terms, I guess that means making your turn just in time before the charges are dropped... Not an easy thing to calculate.

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In the film, Buchheim is portrayed as quite inexperienced and somewhat overwhelmed by the veteran crewmen of U-96. You could imagine that his previous role was more desk-based, rather than front-line (I don't know why, but I just get that impression from the film).

In contrast, the book mentions Buchheim's training as a naval gunner. More interestingly, he also describes his experiences aboard a destroyer (the Karl Galster (http://www.german-navy.de/kriegsmarine/ships/destroyer/zerstorer1936/z20karlgalster/index.html)) when it attacked a British submarine with depth charges. He reflects on this experience whilst U-96 is being depth-charged - his fears being all the more intense because he knows what it's like to be the hunter.

He also mentions anecdotes of his experiences with former German girlfriends, French prostitutes and his beloved girlfriend at the time, a French café owner called Simone, who he misses very much http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/16x16_smiley-wink.gif

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Buchheim ponders on their boat's maximum depth, which he says is calculated as "Three times r plus sixty." Assuming r is the radius of the pressure hull, that would make the max depth of a Type-VII to be only 187m (614 ft), when it should be 220m (722 ft). Or does r refer to something else?

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Before the attempt at passing Gibraltar:


"The enemy has the advantage of a number of nearby land bases, which means that its aerial surveillance over the Mediterranean is incomparably tighter than over the Atlantic. Can boats operate there at all during the daytime? Given really good lighting conditions and angle of vision, they say a plane can spot a U-boat as much as two hundred feet down - as a kind of shadow."

Do you think that's an exaggeration?

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The supply vessel that U-96 meets in the port of Vigo is called 'Weser'. A WW2 German supply ship of the same name actually existed.

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There is mention of the ammo stores for the deck gun, which refers to high explosive and incendiary shells. Were incendiary shells available for U-boat deck guns?

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That's it!

If you love film, you will love the book too. It's much more intense and detailed, with more events and dialogue too - and very well written. I will certainly read it again one day.

http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c188/VikingG/165k.jpg
Lothar-Günther Buchheim is decorated by D¶nitz.

http://i27.photobucket.com/albums/c188/VikingG/buchheim_07.jpg
Lothar-Günther Buchheim, 2002 (I think)

Goose_Green
08-06-2006, 05:22 AM
Originally posted by VikingGrandad:

Other U-boat commanders are mentioned in the story. Some of them are well known (e.g. Prien, Schepke, Kretschmer), but there are many who don't even appear in uboat.net's complete list of WW2 commanders - namely Trumann, Kortmann, Kallmann, Saemich, Flechsig, Bechtel, Marten, Ramlow, Meinig, Bertold...

I just wondered why Buchheim used a few real commanders' names and some (apparently) fictitious names?

He does make reference to the chap who died at sea while making a very risky high dive off the conning tower while on a swimming break in the air gap. His name was changed, but the real fellow was Rolf Mützelburg. That small story of how he did it is very accurate.

Taken from Uboat.net

Kptlt. Rolf Mützelburg died on 11 September, 1942 in a freak accident. Taking the opportunity to go swimming in the Atlantic southwest of the Azores, he dived from the conning tower and struck the deck with his head and shoulder when the boat lurched suddenly in the swell. The doctor from the Milk Cow U-462 arrived the next day, but too late, and Rolf Mützelburg was buried at sea on 12 September, 1942 in position 36.14N, 31.21W.



Buchheim ponders on their boat's maximum depth, which he says is calculated as "Three times r plus sixty." Assuming r is the radius of the pressure hull, that would make the max depth of a Type-VII to be only 187m (614 ft), when it should be 220m (722 ft). Or does r refer to something else?

I may have this totally wrong, but didn't the Germans have a set depth that was related to a letter, which I think is the letter "r"? I also think the depth was about 60 meters. I read this somewhere but for the life of me I cannot recall where, I think the Germans used it as a code or something.

I have started reading the book at last, and is a very good read, it was quite awkward to read at first (opening chapter) but once they get going on their patrol it gets easier - it's very captivating, I'm having trouble putting the book down.

VikingGrandad
08-06-2006, 05:31 AM
I forgot about the reference to Mützelburg. Again, I wonder why he changed his name, when it's historical fact?

Thanks for the suggestion about the depth formula - it sounds more probable. I'll try and find some more info in my 'U-boat library'...

Goose_Green
08-06-2006, 06:45 AM
I have it all wrong. Just found the reference I was making regarding the depth rating letter from my U-564 Photographic book.

The letter is A and was used like this - 150 meters would be reffered to as A+70, hence A is rated as 80 meters.

The text reads like this;

"...slammed the hatch shut and ordered the boat taken down to 150 meters ('A+70')."

So your observation of the formulae is probably the correct thinking.

OR

The letter could of been an a instead of r, and if a is rated at 80 meters and three times that would be 240 meters plus 60 would mean a final value of 300 meters or 984.25 feet?

Or have I got it wrong again? http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_confused.gif

Baldricks_Mate
08-06-2006, 07:06 AM
3 time r (radius)+ 60is a rough conversion and fits with the quoted yard depth for the boat which was considerably less than maximum depth with is less than crush depth. (of course)

I can't recall exactly but there is also another thing called "test depth"

If I remember right that is for mild steel @ 22mm but my recall of the approximate conversion for that could be wrong.

Now I'm second guessing my memory, 26mm.

Old age is catching up with me.

Sub designers, like doctors get to bury their mistakes! http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/blush.gif

Any engineers out there?

lecek
08-06-2006, 09:15 AM
The value of A in the depth code wasn't static. Sometimes it was 50 meters, other times 20. Whatever BDU wanted for that month or time whatever.

Also grid references were coded as well so that 4th and Main might mean CE for this particular week.

Despite many assurances, Donitz didn't trust Enigma very far.

Donitz also took other steps such as formulating small message procedures for messages from U-boats so that they couldn't be DF'd for. (direction finding transmissions) It was supposedly impossible to DF HF (high frequency) transmissions anyway but donitz didn't trust that either. Of course the allies developed huff duff and were able to DF HF just fine. But unfortunatly for Donitz, they could do it almost instantly so the short message precausion was useless.

Also because they could DF so easily and read enigma, coding the grid square references wasn't very usefull either. Since when a u-boat reported in with the coded gridsquare, they could locate its exact position and know what actual gridsquare the u-boat was in. Then if a convoy was reported in such and such a coded gridsquare, they would probably know which one it was or at least know which ones it couldn't be. This can help them figure out which convoy was in danger.

VikingGrandad
08-07-2006, 06:16 AM
Thanks for the info - I couldn't find anything about the depth formula in my books.


Originally posted by lecek:
The value of A in the depth code wasn't static. Sometimes it was 50 meters, other times 20. Whatever BDU wanted for that month or time whatever.

Interesting. Do you know why BDU varied the value of 'A'?

Also, regarding the 'HF DF' stuff, at point in the war did the Allies start using this technology? Was it before or after the Enigma codes were being regularly cracked, which I think was around 1941?

Goose_Green
08-07-2006, 06:33 AM
Taken from Wikipedia

Along with ASDIC (sonar), Ultra code breaking (SIGINT) and radar, "Huff-Duff" was a valuable part of the Allies armoury in detecting German U-boats and commerce raiders during the Battle of the Atlantic.

The idea of using two or more radio receivers to find the bearings of a radio transmitter and with the use of simple triangulation find the approximate position of the transmitter had been known and used for years. The Royal Navy was the first to design an apparatus that could take bearings on the high frequency radio transmitters employed by the German Kriegsmarine in World War II.

Many shore based installations were constructed around the North Atlantic and when ever a U-boat transmitted a message "Huff-Duff" could get bearings on the approximate position of the boat. Because it worked on the electronic emission and not the content of the message it did not matter that the content was encrypted using an Enigma machine.

In 1942 the allies began to install Huff-Duff on convoy escort ships, enabling them to get much more accurate triangulation fixes on U-boats transmitting from over the horizon, beyond the range of radar. This allowed hunter-killer ships and aircraft to be dispatched at high speed in the direction of the U-boat, which could be illuminated by radar if still on the surface and ASDIC if it had dived.

In my opinion, with all of the technologial advances made for the Battle of the Atlantic Huff-Duff would be top of the list (along with pioneering miniturisation of centrimetric radar) in turning points. The moment HF-DF equipment was made available on escort and rescue ships and later cargo ships the wolfpack technique was rendered useless.

With one sole U-Boat constantly sending beacons of the convoys position, course and speed it enabled the Allies to fairly accurately pin point the U-Boat's position by the U-Boat's radio emmissions being received by the HF-DF equipment. The moment the U-Boat was forced down and delayed, BDU's job was made much more difficult.

Becuase it took longer for U-Boats to catch up and try and re-acquire the convoy's position (after the convoy had made a quick course change) the valuable data being transmitted to BDU HQ was lost and therefore lost their ability to accurately re-shuffle patrol lines and vector nearby Wolves.

Finally, once the Allies had the chance to give aerial cover for the convoy's the lead wolf's job was made even harder by having to dodge aircraft armed with airborne radar.

Sorry for the length in reply http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/blush.gif

VikingGrandad
08-07-2006, 07:40 AM
Good info Goose! http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif

I'm always fascinated by the role of technology in WW2. I had no idea how significant HF DF was before now - I thought that breaking the German codes was the one big breakthrough in hunting the U-boats. The more I learn about things like this, the more I realize how high the odds were stacked against the Uboatwaffe.

lecek
08-07-2006, 10:28 AM
Originally posted by VikingGrandad:
Thanks for the info - I couldn't find anything about the depth formula in my books.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-title">quote:</div><div class="ip-ubbcode-quote-content">Originally posted by lecek:
The value of A in the depth code wasn't static. Sometimes it was 50 meters, other times 20. Whatever BDU wanted for that month or time whatever.

Interesting. Do you know why BDU varied the value of 'A'?

Also, regarding the 'HF DF' stuff, at point in the war did the Allies start using this technology? Was it before or after the Enigma codes were being regularly cracked, which I think was around 1941? </div></BLOCKQUOTE>

The whole point to A is that if the allies did break enigma and read their code they would have a difficult time figuring out max depth. In the early part of the war the allies didn't know how deep the German subs could go and set many depth charges too shallow.

So if you are looking at the code and it has "a + 40" and you are trying to find max depth, all you know for sure is that it is more then 40 meters.

Then they just change the value of A regularly so that they could add one more layer of complexity. Donitz wanted to make things as hard as possible for the enemy.

The Kriegsmarine had the best Enigma code procedures with the most stringent security of all the branches. As a result their Enigma was the last to be broken, and it was only broken because of the capture of U-570 by the British.

It is with this capture that the British figured out the max depth of VII subs and the whole 'A + 30" idea never was actually tested. Before that the British couldn't read their enigma anyway, and after that they had other ways to find depth.

Donitz had many layers of security. He didn't trust Enigma blindly. But in the end all his procedures, though good in theory, proved useless.

I dont' know when Huff-Duff came into service and Goose_Greens post doesn't seem to have that detail. It was probably very early in the war. Perhaps even before it started. http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_confused.gif

Goose_Green
08-07-2006, 03:36 PM
As wikipedia stated, 1942 saw the introduction of HF-DF equipment on escort vessels. Land based equipment was used a bit earlier.

VikingGrandad
08-07-2006, 04:36 PM
Originally posted by lecek:
The whole point to A is that if the allies did break enigma and read their code they would have a difficult time figuring out max depth
Ah, now it makes sense, as does the context in which Buchheim mentions this http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif


Originally posted by Goose_Green:
As wikipedia stated, 1942 saw the introduction of HF-DF equipment on escort vessels
I spotted that too... http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_wink.gif


So any ideas about the underwater visibility of U-boats in the Mediterranean that Buchheim mentions, or the incendiary shells onboard? (did he mean 'star' shells?)

Goose_Green
08-07-2006, 04:43 PM
I have some issues with his book too, but I'm getting into the swing of it now. I'm at the 4th chapter, and things are getting very, very random now mind you some of the Petty Officer stories are very crude and obviously can't be repeated here http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_wink.gif

But I can see the parallels of the book and the film too.

VikingGrandad
08-07-2006, 05:03 PM
Originally posted by Goose_Green:
mind you some of the Petty Officer stories are very crude and obviously can't be repeated here http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_wink.gif

There's a reference to anchovies which made me laugh, as did the bit about the one-eyed prostitute.... Enough said on 'subject number one' I think! http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_eek.gif http://forums.ubi.com/groupee_common/emoticons/icon_wink.gif

Sgt_Hatcher
08-07-2006, 05:41 PM
I'm thinking that 'incendiary' must refer to 'illuminating' shells, otherwise known as 'star' shells.