U571 Lies, Dam Lies, Hollywood!

( These are the comments James Follett makes about the above film as of 10.06.2000

this is also one of the most looked at pages on the site!)

 

Lies! Damn Lies & Hollywood!

I'd like to add my own rider to Tony Blair's tribute in the House of Commons today (10th June 2000) to the two British servicemen who died in the capture of U-110 and its Enigma machine. His comments were a result of the justified furore surrounding this just-released travesty of a movie "U- 571" -- a film that makes a mockery of, not only British history, which has received widespread publicity, but also German history.

In 1974 I wrote a 90 minute radio play for BBC Radio 4 called "The U- Boat that Lost its Nerve." It was the story of the surrender off Iceland in August 1941 of U-570 to an RAF Coastal Command Hudson. The Hudson lobbed an anti-submarine bomb at the U-boat, damaging its hydroplanes so that it was unable to dive. The play told the story of the U-boat's first officer, Bernhardt Berndt, who was put on "trial" for cowardice by his fellow PoW officers at No. 1 (Officers) POW camp at Grizedale Hall in the Lake District. The senior German officer in the camp at the time was U-boat "ace" (U-99) Otto Kretschmer. Such a kangaroo court was illegal therefore it was called a "Council of Honour".

Berndt was found guilty. When it was learned that U-570 was on show to the public at the Vickers yard at nearby Barrow-in-Furness, Berndt was given the chance to redeem himself by escaping and sabotaging the U-boat with a home-made bomb. He managed to escape but was shot dead while evading recapture by the Home Guard. He was buried with full military honours in the churchyard at Hawkshead. His body dis-interred after the war and re-interred in the German War Cemetery at Cannock Chase in the presence of his family.

The captured U-570 went into service with the Royal Navy as HMS Graph. Its Enigma machine was not recovered from the U-boat because its captain, Hans Ramhlow, had plenty of time to dump it over the side. What U-570 did provide were some G7e magnetic pistol torpedoes -- still far from reliable but a big improvement on those issued to Gunter Prien that nearly screwed-up his sinking of the Royal Oak at the beginning of the war.

Those are the bald facts concerning the U-boat that lost its nerve.

 

These are the Hollywood Gross Distortions:

 

The U-boat that was captured was U-570 and not U-571. In fact U-571 served with distinction in the German navy until 1944 -- a remarkable achievement for a 500 series Type VIIC U-boat -- and therefore the movie is a gross insult to its surviving crewmen and their families.

It is unfortunate that Universal had to pick a long-lived U-boat which had many changes of crew. There is little doubt that those still alive have a strong case for damages in the US courts. August 1941, the time of the capture of U-570, was before the entry of USA into the war. So was the capture of U-110 for that matter.

An Enigma machine was not recovered from U-571. In 1976 I was commissioned by Roy Skeggs and Brian Lawrence of Cinema Arts International LTD at Elstree to write a screenplay based on my radio play. It was called "U-570" and, like many film projects, was stillborn.

Weidenfeld and Nicolson liked the story and commissioned a novel. There were legal problems because Otto Kretschmer was still alive (he's still enjoying a well-earned retirement in Spain after becoming an admiral in Germany's post war navy). I did not know the extent that Kretschmer organized the illegal "trial" of Berndt and whether or not it was held to protect Berndt from his fellow officers. To satisfy myself and the publisher's lawyers, I changed the title to "U-700" and changed Kretschmer's name to Kruger.

The main point is that I used an unassigned U-boat number -- the Bundesarchive in Freiberg informed me that U-700 had never been issued. The novel went into much greater detail than the radio play. The action of the U-boat's officers in their prompt surrender of U-570 was to save the lives of the crew. A motive that was questionable in 1941 but laudatory by today's standards. I willingly made the changes because I didn't wish to level false accusations or besmirch reputations.

It is shocking that a major Hollywood studio, with all its resources, did not employ similar safeguards. Publication of "U-700" resulted in my receiving several statements from eyewitnesses -- all of which convinced me that my action was correct. Some of the eyewitnesses are now dead but their accounts could provide substantive corroborative evidence against the makers of "U-571" should any survivors of the real "U-571" require them.

James Follett 10.06.2000

From the book cover to U700

 

One of the most remarkable stories to come out of W.W.II. Based on the remarkable story of `The U-boat that lost its Nerve' (formerly a radio play by James Follett) , U-700 is an account of the surrender of a U-boat (actually U-570) to an RAF Hudson during World War II and the subsequent illegal court martial of the U-boat's first officer by his fellow officers in a POW camp.

or

A James Follett thriller set in World War II. The Royal Navy's secret weapon is pin-point accurate radio direction-finding, but the German U-boats have an even deadlier weapon - the magnetic torpedo armed with the Wotan warhead. Such a weapon could change the outcome of the war.

or

One of the most remarkable stories to come out of W.W.II. Based on the remarkable story of `The U-boat that lost its Nerve'(formerly a radio play by James Follett) , U-700 is an account of the surrender of a U-boat (actually U-570) to an RAF Hudson during World War II and the subsequent illegal court martial of the U-boat's first officer by his fellow officers in a POW camp. Based on James Follett's BBC Radio 4 play: 'The U-boat that lost its Nerve'.

Author James Follett comments about his book U700

 

" U700 hinges around one of those extraordinary coincidences that would be deemed implausible in fiction. The U-boat was taken to the Vickers submarine yard at Barrow-in-Furness and put on public show for a few days before being commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Graph.

Barrow was only a few miles from the POW camp holding the first officer. The inmates learned of the U-boat's whereabouts from local newspaper reports and gave its former first officer the chance to redeem himself by escaping and sabotaging the U-boat at its mooring.

After the broadcast of the radio play I was inundated with information from people involved in the U-boat's capture --information that I could have done with when writing the play. Writing the novel was a chance to put those accounts to good use.

I wanted to call the novel `The U-boat that Lost its Nerve' but the 1970s was a time of big, bold snappy titles that didn't look too busy on front covers.

The US title was The Wotan Warhead. " James Follett

 

Information on U570

Picture of the real submarine U570

U570

 

U570 information

Type VIIC Laid down 21 May, 1940

Blohm & Voss, Hamburg Commissioned 15 May, 1941

Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Rahmlow Commanders May 1941 - August 1941

Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Rahmlow Career 1 patrol 15 May, 1941 - 1 August 1941.

Flottille (training) August 1941 - 27 August 1941.

Flottille (front boat)

Successes

No successes recorded

Fate

Captured by Britain on 27th August 1941 in the North Atlantic south of Iceland, in position 62.15N, 18.35W, after being damaged by a British Hudson aircraft (Sqdn. 269/S). Towed to Thorlaks-hafn, Iceland and salvaged. 44 survivors (No casualties).

The boat became the British submarine HMS Graph on 19 September, 1941. Taken out of service in February 1944. Stricken from records on 20 March, 1944 after running aground near Islay. Broken up in 1961. Men lost from U-boats Unlike many other U-boats, which during their service lost men due to accidents and various other causes, U-570 did not suffer any casualties (that I know of) until the time of her loss.

 

HMS Graph Type Information VIIC U-boat

Royal Navy pennant number N46.

Previously called P715.

German number U-570.

Built by Blohm & Voss, Hamburg.

Captured 28th August 1941 after being damaged by depth charges dropped from an RAF Hudson of 269 squadron and unable to dive. Pilot was Sqn Ldr Thompson. Towed to Iceland and commissioned into Royal Navy for evaluation. Broke her tow and was wrecked on the west coast of Islay 20th March 1944. Salvaged and scraped in 1947.

 

Details about type VIIC U-boats

Displacement surfaced : 769 tons

Displacement dived : 1070 tons

Dimensions : 67.1 meters x 6.2 meters x 4.74 meters

Complement : 44 - 52 men

Speed surfaced : 17 knots

Speed dived : 7.6 knots

Fuel Capacity : 113.5 tons

Torpedo tubes : 4 bow, 1 stern Torpedoes : 14 Mines : 26

 

Notes :

The VIIC was the workhorse of the German U-boat force in World War Two from 1941 onwards and boats of this type were being built throughout the war.The first VIIC boat was commissioned in 1940 which was called U-69. The VIIC/41 was a slightly modified version of the VIIC and had basically the same engine layout & power.

The biggest difference was that these boats had a stronger pressure hull (maximum operating depth 120 meters and crush depth at 250 meters against VIIC's 100 meters/200 meters). They also had lighter machinery to compensate for the added steel in the hull making them actually slightly lighter than the VIIC Boats:

VIICN65 (U-776) N86 (U-249) U-712U-926U-953U-1023U-1057U-1058U-1202

Graph (U-570) VIIC/41N16 (U-1105) N19 (U-1171) U-1064

 

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