It is November 1941, just before the tide of the war turned in favour of the Allies due to failure of Operation Barbarossa to deliver the killer blow to the Soviet Union, and the Japanese fatal decision to drag the USA into the conflict.
A U boat crew are about to set sail, accompanied by a young journalist whose job is to record the voyage as part of the propaganda blitz for German audiences keen for heroes.
There are two main reasons why Das Boot is the greatest of novels about World War Two. Firstly the men are not portrayed as heroes, there is no discussion of dying for a noble cause, it’s all about the crushingly dangerous and oppressive atmosphere aboard the vessel as it navigates the brutal and unforgiving North Atlantic in search of vulnerable merchant shipping. Secondly, there is little or no Nazi narrative in the book. It is all about a group of men just trying their best to get by in the most frightening situations any person could ever face.
The loyalty of the crew lies only with each other. This is important. It shows just how war works. It’s the capitalists sitting in safety sending out working class people to kill each other to maintain the status quo. World War Two was the result of the failure of capitalism to solve the problems of Society in the early 20th century.
Thus we saw the mindless slaughter on the Western Front, the total failure of the Allies to see the defeat of Germany other than in terms of crushing a rival economy, and the rise of the Far Right in Europe as the working class looked in vain for an alternative to a thoroughly busted and discredited capitalist system.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the subsequent world wide depression meant the only way Capitalism could re boot itself and create an artificial control economy was through world wide war. An echo from history which resonates in our era.
The writer was a journalist on U boats so his observations are based on facts, even though it is a novel.
The interactions between the crew are fascinating and show existential human nature laid bare. His insights are truly amazing and in some way wonderfully optimistic as to what depths of mental strength people can drag up to survive.
The Commander (the Old Man) is a fascinating, multi faceted character and his often languid style of leadership in the most deadly scenarios is what inspires the loyalty of his men is diametrically opposed to the rantings of the majority of war leaders, past and present who send working class people to their deaths without a second thought.
For once the film is as good as the book, although the endings are tantalising different, or are they? YouTube provides the film in it’s four hour entirety and is amongst my all time favourite pictues. It came recommended by my inspirational and life changing history teacher John Oxley. Great stuff.