An Historical Fabrication U-571

For accuracy, I must present this detailed preface.

The main reason I have gone to these lengths is that this entire story is a fiction.

At the start of WWII we were woefully unprepared.  FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] had to navigate both Congress, and isolationist policies:

“Since the end of World War I, America had adopted an isolationist policy in foreign affairs.  In the early 1930s, Congress passed the Neutrality Acts to prevent the United States from becoming entangled in foreign conflicts.  In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt stepped away from the unilateral principle of the Monroe Doctrine and established the Good Neighbor Policy with Latin America.  However, as military conflicts emerged in Asia and Europe, Roosevelt sought ways to assist China in its war with Japan and declared that France and Great Britain were America’s “first line of defense” against Nazi Germany.  In 1940, Roosevelt began a series of measures to help defend France and Britain from Nazi aggression, including the the Lend-Lease agreement which Congress later passed as the Lend-Lease Act in 1941.”  (source –

“FDR was keen for America to become a good citizen of the world and fight for certain freedoms. However, in the early 1940s, America still retained a very strong isolationist approach and he campaigned for re-election promising to stay out of World War Two – despite his own dislike of Nazi Germany.”  (source –

Revisionist history won’t come clean about how divided we were.   I’m grateful for Wikipedia as their synopsis is largely accurate. Though long, this is an excerpt; Unneeded links disabled:

German American Bund

In March 1936, the German American Bund was established as a follow-up organization for the Friends of New Germany in Buffalo, New York. The Bund elected a German-born American citizen Fritz Julius Kuhn as its leader (Bundesführer).  Kuhn was a veteran of the Bavarian infantry during World War I and an Alter Kämpfer (old fighter) of the Nazi Party, who in 1934 was granted American citizenship.

The administrative structure of the Bund mimicked the regional administrative subdivision of the Nazi Party. The United States was divided into three Gaue: Gau Ost (East), Gau West and Gau Midwest.  Together the three Gaue comprised 69 Ortsgruppen (local groups): 40 in Gau Ost (17 in New York), 10 in Gau West and 19 in Gau Midwest.  Each Gau had its own Gauleiter and staff to direct the Bund operations in the region in accordance with the führerprinzip. (German for “leader principle”)  prescribed the fundamental basis of political authority in the governmental structures of the Third Reich. The Bund’s national headquarters was located at 178 East 85th Street in the New York City borough of Manhattan.

The Bund established a number of training camps, including Camp Nordland in Sussex County, New Jersey, Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, New York, Camp Hindenburg in Grafton, Wisconsin, Deutschhorst Country Club in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, Camp Bergwald in Bloomingdale, NJ,  and Camp Highland in New York state. The Bund held rallies with Nazi insignia and procedures such as the Hitler salute and attacked the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jewish groups, Communism, “Moscow-directed” trade unions and American boycotts of German goods.  The organization claimed to show its loyalty to America by displaying the flag of the United States at Bund meetings, and declared that George Washington was “the first Fascist” who did not believe democracy would work.

  The organization received no financial or verbal support from Germany.  In response to the outrage of Jewish war veterans, Congress in 1938 passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act requiring foreign agents to register with the State Department.  On March 1, 1938 the Nazi government decreed that no Reichsdeutsche [German nationals] could be a member of the Bund, and that no Nazi emblems were to be used by the organization.  This was done both to appease the U.S. and to distance Germany from the Bund, which was increasingly a cause of embarrassment with its rhetoric and actions. Click on photo to enlarge.

German American Bund parade on East 86th St., New York City, October 30, 1939

Arguably, the zenith of the Bund’s activities was the rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 20, 1939.  Some 20,000 people attended and heard Kuhn criticize President Roosevelt by repeatedly referring to him as “Frank D. Rosenfeld”, calling his New Deal the “Jew Deal” and denouncing what he believed to be Bolshevik-Jewish American leadership. Most shocking to American sensibilities was the outbreak of violence between protesters and Bund storm troopers.

This gives you a more complete picture of the political climate within the U.S. at the outbreak of WW II in 1939.  As previously mentioned, we were woefully unprepared.  Our submarine fleet was mostly post WW I submarines, many called “S” boats.  (also excerpted form Wiki):

The United States Navy commissioned 51 S-class submarines from 1920 to 1925. Of the four different designs, only the ones used are referenced:

The Electric Boat designs (Groups I and III) were single-hulled, the others were double-hulled.  All S-boats had a 4-inch (102 mm)/50 caliber deck gun, a significant increase over the 3-inch gun of previous US submarines.  This was due to observations that the German U-boats frequently used their deck guns, and many U-boats were equipped with 105 mm (4.1-inch) deck guns.  Another improvement was the conning tower fairwater.  Previous US submarines had small fairwaters to reduce drag and improve submerged speed.  Experience gained on North Atlantic patrols during WWI showed that the boats would be spending considerable time on the surface and thus needed better protection for the bridge watchstanders.  Examination of captured U-boats after the Armistice also showed that a larger fairwater with permanent grab rails was preferable when surfaced in the North Atlantic, so S-boats were built or backfitted with an improved and much larger fairwater.

Future admiral Hyman G. Rickover was assigned to USS S-48 (SS-159). He later credited the “faulty, sooty, dangerous and repellent engineering” of the S-class boats with inspiring his obsession for high engineering standards.

These boats saw service in World War II in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  Smaller and slower than the later fleet submarines produced for war service, and lacking the range for Pacific Ocean patrols (as well as being 20 years old), they were used in reconnaissance and supply roles, as well as for coastal defense.  S-boats operated in the Alaska theater during the aftermath of the Battle of the Aleutian Islands, based out of Dutch Harbor.  Some also operated out of Australia in the Southwest Pacific Area.  They were withdrawn from front-line service by late 1943 as more Gato-class fleet submarines became available, and were relegated to ASW (Anti submarine Warfare) training.  Most of the surviving boats were scrapped in 1946.

Many other classes of pre WWII subs found HERE

SO- The movie U-571 was in many ways very accurate; the type of boat, the historical context of black servicemen being relegated to stewards, cooks, and other non combat duties, and other nuances; but tactics?  From what I read of many accounts during WW II, the last thing a skipper would want to attempt against an enemy destroyer was a “down the throat” shot, because of their speed and maneuverability.  The likelihood of success was minimal and the greatest risk to the sub.

The first capture of an Enigma machine was achieved on May 9, 1941:

The boarding party led by David Balme approaches U-110

One of the outstanding intelligence break-throughs of the war came on 9th May with the capture of an intact Enigma machine, the German encoding device that they believed to be impossible to break. The British had assembled a team of brilliant academics at Bletchley Park who were making steady progress with the task of deciphering German messages encoded with ‘Enigma’ machines. They already possessed one Enigma machine, passed on by Polish Intelligence before the war. What was needed were the internal rotors in the machines that were currently being used. A number of schemes had been devised to capture these but the boarding of U-110 came as an unexpected bonus.

The U-boat had been forced to surface after depth charging, the crew had abandoned ship believing that the U-boat was already sinking. The surviving crew were rescued and quickly taken below decks so that they would not be aware that the boat was to be boarded. The commander of the boat Lemp died, possibly shot as he attempted to swim back to the boat to sink her.  Note – RED date is a link to complete article.

So as far as a “good yarn” goes, U-571 is entertaining; but forget any semblance of truth.






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