Naval Warfare Movies

U-47: Kapitänleutnant Prien

Director: Harald Reinl
Starring: Dieter Eppleff, Sabine Susselmann, Dieter Barsche

Published: 1958
Country: Germany
Length: 86 min.
Keywords: WWII, Feature

This is the VHS release (see more).


This feature depicts the adventures of Günther Prien, one of Germany's top U-boat aces. His daring foray into Scapa Flow, Britain's most important naval base, to sink the HMS Royal Oak was followed by a string of successes. In the end he could claim thirty sinkings before his own boat went to the bottom with all hands in March, 1941. This film concentrates on a dramatic rather than a historically accurate approach; for example, the doubt surrounding Prien's actual last moments provides scope for the scriptwriter to imagine a complicated and ironic fate for Prien and his pursuers.


This film presents a revisionist view of Prien and brings up some hard philosophical questions. For example, the film challenges the notion of the "Nur Soldat" ("just a soldier"), the idea that the soldier is only obeying orders, and should not trouble himself with moral, ethical or political questions. The movie Prien feels doubt about his own actions and the war in general, wondering how a soldier can really be "just a soldier" without losing his claim to humanity. For a more complete discussion of this film and how it reflected contemporary ideas in Germany, see Michael L. Hadley's Count Not The Dead: The Popular Image of the German Submarine.

This film is also called U-47: Lieutenant Commander Prien.