The Uboat films

Die versunkene Flotte and U9 Weddigen

Die versunkene Flotte premiered on 8 December 1926 in Berlin, exactly two weeks before Unsere Emden. It was brought into circulation in no less than fifteen Berlin cinemas, showing the kind of enthusiasm that the producers expected the film to generate with the general public.80 Judging from reviews, the screenings were indeed a success. The Tägliche Rundschau had serialised the book with the same title on which the film was based in June of the same year.81 This book by retired Lieutenant-Commander Helmut Lorenz was a heavily romanticised account of his wartime experiences in the Battle of Skagerrak, ex-

Captain Von Liers and two of his men in their submarine (Morgenrot)

pressed in an exciting narrative.82 The form in which Lorenz cast this historic event may have inspired part of his readership to go and see the film as well. Besides, Lorenz joined the film's director, Manfred Noa, in the capacity of a technical adviser in navy matters.83 This was not the first time Noa directed a war film, having earlier made the strongly romanticised Feldgrau.84

A film similar to Die versunkene Flotte, at least as far as its theme was concerned, was U9 Weddigen. This first war film by the then unknown director, Heinz Paul, was premiered one year later on 5 May 1927. The film also marked the debut of the production company Jofa-Produktion.85 The Berliner Tageblatt reacted to the arrival of the new firm with a sarcastic yet telling comment:

Womit könnte eine neue Produktion besser und segensreicher beginnen als mit einem Kriegsfilm? Und als die 'Jofa' sich auf die Stoffsuche begab, da entdeckte sie, dass 'U9' dem Kino noch unerschlossen ist.86

Despite its strongly romanticised character, U9 Weddigen did refer to the historical figure of Lieutenant-Commander Otto Weddigen (1882-1915). This hero fell in a sea battle against the British on 18 March 1915, when he was commander of the U29. He commanded the U9 for some time and was responsible for sinking the British armour-clad cruisers 'Hogue', 'Cressy', and 'Aboukir' in September 1914, off Hook of Holland.87 Though this act is depicted in the film, the figure of Weddigen as such is not central to the film. The narrative centres around the adventures of one of the protagonists who was 'on the bridge' under Weddigen's command. Nevertheless, Weddigen must have been the drawing factor, as is also indicated by the title. It is also the reason why the cover of the Illustrierter Film-Kurier shows an image of Weddigen as portrayed by actor Carl de Vogt.88

The narratives of Die versunkene Flotte and U9 Weddigen begin before the war. Both films refer to historical characters or facts. Both of them feature personal relationships between the British and the Germans, rivalry plays an important role in both films, and neither one has a happy ending. Nothing has remained of the silent movies except a few written sources from which an outline of the narrative can be derived. The censorship reports are again important as sources for all the intervening titles in the film, giving information about such aspects as structure, 'dialogue' and characterisation. Though both films begin at the same moment, just before the war, Die versunkene Flotte ends in 1919 with a reference to the scuttling of the fleet at Scapa Flow, while U9 Weddigen ends in 1915, when the ship under Weddigen's command, the U29, is sunk by the British. Both films are chronological in structure and their first scenes, about the short period before the outbreak of war, serve as an introduction of the protagonists and the way they relate to each other. After this, the sea battles are shown, while the films come to a close when one or more characters lose their lives in the fighting. To illustrate this, a brief outline is given of the narrative of Die versunkene Flotte, the first war film to feature the navy, and one that covers the entire war.

In the first scene of Die versunkene Flotte, main characters captain Barnow (Bernhard Goetzke) and torpedo-officer Adenried (Nils Asther) prepare to meet the British fleet during the Kieler Woche festivities. Barnow is looking forward to seeing his British comrade Norton (Henry Stuart) again. In this scene, however, several of the complications that are yet to come are already suggested. The very conscientious Barnow neglects his wife Erika (Agnes Esterhazy) - 'Erika Barnow, seine Gattin (...) im Eifer des Dienstes auch oft vergessen'89 - and is not aware of the developing relationship between her and his torpedo-officer Adenried. Much the same complications are developing between some lower-ranking members of Barnow's crew. Petty officer Röwer (Heinrich George) and first engineer Kreuger (Hans Albers) are quite openly fighting for the love of Anna (Käthe Haack). She promises each of them, separately, to marry them if they leave the navy. Apart from being rivals in love, the men also have entirely different views on politics: Röwer is a communist. One of the texts in a scene depicting the Jutland sea battle between the British and the Germans, probably spoken by Kreuger, says: 'Siehst Du, das ist Deine internationale Solidarität! - Der Engländer hustet Dir was!'9° Anna's seeming freedom of choice is ultimately destroyed by the war when a fatally wounded Kreuger asks Röwer to take good care of her. However, Röwer does not come out of the war unscathed either. He loses both legs.

Let us return to the main characters. The complications between them are certainly not just of a social or romantic nature. During the Kieler Woche festivities, Barnow greets his British friend Norton with the words 'Mein schönster Tag ist heute, Norton: ich sehe die Freundschaft zwischen unseren Ländern besiegelt.'91 After this, the war breaks out. The subsequent intervening titles report the Sarajevo assassination and its consequences. The following exchange then occurs in a dialogue between Barnow and Norton: 'Krieg!'; 'Aber doch nicht mit England?'; 'Was auch geschieht, wir beide bleiben Freunde!'92 When the British leave the port of Kiel, the text half-jokingly refers to the superiority of the German fleet: 'Trefft Ihr wirklich mit Euren neuen Geschützen auf 15 Kilometer?'; 'Wetten!'; 'Um eine Flasche Sekt, kredenzt von mir beim nächsten Wiedersehen!'93 The farewell words of the British Admiralty are: 'Friends in past and friends for ever'; 'Freunde bisher und Freunde für immer'. Immediately after this, we see the lines: 'Am 4. August erfolgte die englische Kriegserklärung.'94 The order in which these texts appear is crucial, indicating the changing attitude towards the British, who are now presented as breakers of a promise.95 The reason behind the British declaration of war is not mentioned. And anyway, the film does not pay any attention to the land war. The slogan about Anglo-German friendship runs like a thread in the story, and it is 'pledged' again in the scene in which the Germans open fire on the British ships. The meaning has then become cynical, of course.96 The next few scenes are very dramatic. Erika writes to her husband that she wants to share her life with Adenried. Though at first he considers duelling with Adenried, Barnow ultimately admits that he has indeed neglected her: '... darum wähle ich einen Weg, der Dich für immer von mir freimacht (...); Er opfert sich für mich!'97 Barnow is killed, which promps a guilt-ridden Erika to distance herself from Adenried. She advises him to report to the submarines leaving for Flanders, which he does. Meanwhile, in a Kiel military hospital, a fatally wounded Norton calls for Erika, saying he is the loser of the bet with Barnow. She nurses him back to health as a tribute to her fallen husband. Adenried and his submarine have meanwhile been interned in Spain. The war ends while revolution breaks out at the home front. The censorship text fails to report the causes and suggests that the revolution was not solely the navy men's initiative: 'Am Sonntag ist es in Kiel zu schweren Ausschreitungen gekommen, an denen leider auch Mannschaften der Flotte sich beteiligt haben'; Das ist das Ende der deutschen Flotte'.98 Subsequently, Article 23 of the Versailles Treaty requires the handover of the fleet to the enemy. Adenried, however, refuses to surrender his ship to France and scuttles it. He is killed in this action, the suggestion being that he has died as a result of a conscious choice. 'Besser Ehre ohne Schiffe, als Schiffe ohne Ehre'; Wir wollen dem Beispiel von Scapa Flow folgen, und unser Boot versenken'; (...) 'Klar zum Versenken!'; 'Alle Mann an Bord'; 'Adenried! Adenried!'99 At the end of the film, Norton tries in vain to reconcile with Erika. Again the slogan says 'Freunde bisher, Freunde für immer!'100 However, she has grown very bitter after Adenried's death, which makes reconciliation quite impossible. Norton does not abandon hope, however, and wishes her 'wohl'.

Die versunkene Flotte undoubtedly owed its success to the complexity and excitement of the story. Some reviewers said there was 'atemloser Spannung' which made 'Die Nerven des Zuschauers vibrieren', giving them 'Stunden der Erhebung, der Erschütterung und des Schmerzes.'101 Historical events and personal fortunes are always closely intertwined. First and foremost, the characters embody high-minded ideals and suffer tremendous trials and tribulations: duty, sacrifice, honour and reconciliation, patriotism, the agony of death and political struggle. The central ideals that dominate the story, however, are romantic love and friendship. The fact that these are not only shown in a positive light but go hand in hand with rivalry is one of the main ingredients of classic melodrama. It is hardly surprisingly, of course, that rivalry plays an important role in practically all war films.

Another recurring melodramatic motif is the remarkable role that women play in the male characters' death wish. It appears that the death of a male character would be more acceptable if he is a lonely, abandoned or rejected man to begin with. In Morgenrot (1933), we come across the same gesture to the audience; in that sense it is a kind of code. The so-called sacrifice for the fatherland is given an equivocal meaning. We saw this earlier in Westfront 1918 (1930).

The relationship with Great Britain is remarkable. Nowhere is the enemy portrayed with so many nuances as in the navy films. The historical ties forged by royal families and, in a negative way, by the arms race at sea, were not only determined by jealousy and rivalry with respect to the strength of the British fleet, but also by secret admiration. In Die versunkene Flotte, this admiration and the desire for reconciliation mainly come from the British side, which serves to lend the film a subtle expression of German superiority.

In U9 Weddigen, the above-mentioned themes also play an important role. Anglo-German relations are first defined in personal terms (a marriage and three sons) and then in terms of warfare. Here also, the British 'enemy' is first shown to have a friendly face, after which amorous rivalry for a woman (Hella Moja) leaves two out of three rejected men (Gerd Briese, Ernst Hoffmann, Fred Solm) dead. In the end, the woman does not choose marriage but devotes herself to the infirm. As was the case with Die versunkene Flotte, there is no happy end in U9 Weddigen.

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