In the battle front of espionage and code cracking of World War II, there remains but one task on the Allied agenda: the capture of a German "Enigma" machine which will allow the Allied naval forces to locate and track submerged German U-Boat submarines. When one such German vessel breaks down after a battle with British forces, a secret mission is dispatched to take over the U-Boat by commando American forces and retrieve an Enigma machine intact. The raid goes well, at first, yet following the destruction of the American mothership and the arrival of reinforcement German ships, the Americans trapped on the U-Boat must use their training and wits to pilot U-571 in order to save their lives. Written by Anthony Hughes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Errors and Explanations
Internet Movie Database
- When S-33 first dives Chief Klough gives three dive alarms saying "Dive! Dive! Dive!". Actual diving procedure requires two alarms sounded accompanied by "Dive! Dive! The Chief probably wanted to make sure the crew understood the dive order.
- In the scene in which the men are in bunks and Mazzola is talking about a girl he met, he says when he's not "getting anywhere" with her, he uses his secret weapon: the story of the S-26. He then says, "She was running a test dive down off Norfolk. Shaft seal failed. She sunk to 400 feet." This is incorrect. The S-26 was accidentally struck by PC-460 (USS Sturdy) and sank during night patrol maneuvers in the Gulf of Panama in January of 1942. Either the true story was classified at this point in time, or Mazzola deliberately hides the truth, in case it puts the girl off.
Errors in geography
- The S-33 starts from Kittery, Maine ("PORTSMOUTH NAVAL SHIPYARD" on building behind welders), but in Lt. Hirsch's briefing, the map clearly shows the U-571's triangulated position at 52°N, 29°W. This is over 2,000 miles from Portsmouth, NH, but only about 1,200 miles from Lorient, France. The resupply sub left Lorient before the S-33 left Portsmouth (known from the times of day and also because Hirsch knows about it), and the U-571 is drifting east, too, so how could the S-33 possibly get there first? The resupply sub could have been delayed for some reason.
- After Tyler decides to head for Lands End (England) the next morning shows an exterior surface shot of U-571 running on the surface at dawn. The sun was rising a few degrees forward of their port beam, indicating that U-571 was heading south, not NNE as they would if heading to Land's End from their Mid-Atlantic position. Maybe they are travelling on an indirect course?
Incorrectly regarded as goofs
- A black character has a prominent place in the movie, from the crew of the U.S. sub. (IMDB) While sub crews were not fully integrated at the time, African-Americans did serve, as shown here, as messmen and stewards.
- While testing the German of the soldier, the officer refers to the German town of "Koblenz" at the river Rhine. The name of that town is written "Koblentz" in the English subtitles. (IMDB) This is a common alternate spelling and helps emphasize the pronunciation issues.
- As shown in the movie, the code book which cracked Enigma during the Battle of the Atlantic was the long weather code book. This was only captured once - by the British. Subsequent attempts by the US failed as the book would dissolve on contact with water. (IMDB) The film does not purport to be telling a true story; a notice at the end acknowledges the real-life ships whose crews captured Enigmas.
- It was the British who managed to get hold of the machine in May 1941, not the US Navy crew capturing it by boarding a U-boat. (IMDB) While the US Navy probably would not have boarded a U-boat before they joined WWII, the title card at the beginning explicitly states that the film takes place in May 1942, six months after the US became involved. Furthermore, the film acknowledges the successful British attempt a year earlier and, once again, is depicting a fictional operation, not a factual one.
- It is claimed that the U-571 is meeting a supply U-boat. It supposedly is this supply submarine which sinks the S-33. At the time of the movie the German supply submarine was the Type XIV, commonly known in English as the "Milk Cow". Such a submarine could not possibly sink the S-33, since the Type XIV was not equipped with torpedo tubes. Maybe the supply boat had an escort?
- The language the American soldier and the secret-service officer use is grammatically correct German, but the pronunciation is very bad. No born German would ever be fooled by it. Perhaps the German is surprised.
- In the film U-751 the torpedoes were shown leaving a trail of bubbles behind them. The type of torpedo which did that was the G7a 'T1' torpedo - which was pre-war issue. At the time of the film the standard torpedo of the Ubootwaffe was the improved G7e 'T2' torpedo which did not leave a trail of bubbles due to a different motor design. The T1 torpedo was used alongside the T2 for a long time, because it was more reliable, had better range and speed than the T2. In fact, several U-Boot captains preferred the T1 for those reasons. In 1942 the improved T3 debuted, but availability kept the T1 in use for some time.
- German torpedoes had two types of detonators. The primary was a magnetic pistol which was triggered by the presence of a large metallic object like a ship or submarine. The second was through mechanical 'feelers' in the event that the pistol failed and the torpedo contacted the target ship. Thus, the grazing 'miss' where the German torpedo scrapes along the hull of the U-571 could not have happened. The torpedo would have detonated. Torpedo detonators at the time could be quite unreliable, and duds, where torpedo failed to explode were common. In addition, magnetic detonators worked well only on ships weighing 2000 tonnes or more - almost three times more than a type VII submarine.
- U-571 was sunk on January 8, 1944, by an Australian Sunderland. She was previously damaged by an Allied destroyer on March 22, 1943, but managed to come back to the base. All supply submarines (Type XIV or Type VIIF) were actually sunk by Allied planes or surface ships. The movie is entertaining rather than historical, but why didn't the movie makers choose boats that disappeared without a trace instead? As stated, it's entertaining, not historical, as such, the facts and events don't have to be 100% accurate. Not really a mistake.
- After the American crew takes control of the U-571, it is approached by a German destroyer. The Americans decide to destroy the radio on the German ship with their deck gun. The gun was completely exposed to the destroyer; there is no way to hide anywhere or to work it in secret. How did they manage to get several men out of the submarine to unlock and prepare the gun for firing, load the shell, aim the gun and fire at the destroyer to destroy their radio, completely unnoticed and unmolested by the Germans? This wasn't a task that could be done in a matter of seconds; a minute or two would be needed for the best of crews, let alone for a group of people who'd probably just seen that sort of gun for the first time. The German officers are even shown watching the sub intensely at the start. It's one of their own subs, they have no reason to suspect a thing. They might have seen it only as a drill, hence why they took no action. Corrected by GalahadFairlight
- Near the beginning of the film, when Tyler calls the crew of the S-33 to quarters, look at the guy two back from Mazzola, on the far right. He has his hands clasped behind his back while he's supposed to be at attention. When Tyler says "At ease," he realizes his mistake, drops his hands to his sides where they're supposed to be, then clasps them behind his back again as he stands at ease. That's a character mistake, not a movie mistake.
- At the end of the film, when the torpedo hits the German destroyer, the explosion is totally out of proportion. No matter how strategic the position it hit, no torpedo of that era would be powerful enough to cause an entire ship to explode. (It's true that this did occasionally happen to tankers, but that was due to the large amounts of oil being carried – not the case with a destroyer.) The destroyer may have carrying additional ammunition magazines that could have been hit, which would be enough to amplify the explosion.
- The scene where the German commander orders the survivors in the lifeboat to be shot is based on an allied myth. It is well documented that U-boat crews treated survivors gallantly - even giving them medical help, provisions, cigarettes and bearings to land. LATER (after the time this film supposedly takes place) in the war, Grossadmiral Karl Donitz even placed his own life on the line when he refused an order directly from Hitler that U-boat crews should execute survivors. He won on that issue and the order was rescinded, with only the comment that he should at least order his crews to STOP rendering assistance to the survivors. This 'mistake' is debatable at best. UBoat commander Heinz Wilhelm Eck and two of the crew of the U852 were executed in 1947 for killing survivors of a ship they had sunk, in precisely the manner represented in this film. Reports of much the same thing happening were pretty common and there is good evidence that the US and Britain were similarly cavalier about survivors - look up the service records of the USS Wahoo and HMS Torbay for confirmation. In this case, the film deserves the benefit of dramatic licence.
- In the scene where the torpedo is running in the tube of the U-571 and could not be launched, reference was made to getting the fish launched before it detonated. That could not have happened. While it is true that the torpedoes did have a 'counter' of sorts to ensure a certain number or prop revolutions (distance) before the warhead would arm, that system was subordinate to another safety in the form of a 'tube feeler' which would not allow the counter to begin until the torpedo had actually cleared the tube. There was never any danger that the torpedo would detonate in the tube. The worst thing that could have happened was the fish would exhaust its fuel and be rendered useless. These are Americans on a German boat. Do the Americans KNOW that the Germans use the same safety systems on their torpedoes as the Americans do? This may not be a mistake.
- In reality the U-boat would never have been left without anyone on board capable of making repairs to critical systems like the diesel engines. Everyone on a U-boat crew had extensive training regarding all critical systems as well as access to a full set of blueprints that were carried onboard for just such events. While there is extensive cross-training, not everyone would be a certified engine mechanic. Looking at technical prints and knowing what to do with them is two very different things. Their mechanics were killed and that left them without anyone with expert knowledge of the engine, which was required for this level of repair.
- In the scene where they took the Germans captive after assaulting the U-Boat, the black cook tells one of the Nazi's, "I bet you never seen a black man before, have you." At this time of history, the term "black" was never used, even by blacks themselves. They called themselves "negroes" or "colored". Simply not true. People of colour had referred to themselves as "Black" for many many years prior to the Second World War. It may not have be a generally accepted term or even widely used on world scale but it was used. Victorians often called Africans "Blacks" in literature. Corrected by Mad Ade
- Depth charges explode at a distance of some 10 meters from the boat without any fatal effect. In reality fatal (i.e. destroying) distance was some 50 meters. The second sentence is in error. Hull-rupture maximum distance is approximately FIVE meters. K-gun DISPERSION range was selectable from the attacking DD or DE: (1) Mk-6 at 50, 75, and 120 yards, (2) Mk-9 at 60, 90, and 150 yards. Citation: http://uboat.net/allies/technical/depth_charges.htm states "The pressure hull of the U-boat was strong enough to withstand anything but a charge exploding 10 or 20 feet from its hull.", and http://www.math.iitb.ac.in/~manishk/msc_project/OR-Notes-Mirror/OR-Notes/mscmga.ms.ic.ac.uk/jeb/or/intro.html states "As mentioned above the standard 250lb depth charge was believed to have a lethal radius of only 5-6 metres."
- In the last battle scene when you see shots of the German destroyer through the periscope the last one shot before it's blown up is really bad angling. The ship is far away but in the scope it's very close and the periscope (in order to get that camera angle) is 100 ft in the air. There's no error here. The point of a periscope is to magnify the target and due to the fact that the sub was running on the surface in the final battle I see no reason why the periscope couldn't be 100 ft. in the air. After all, the periscope is designed to be used when the sub is 20 meters below the surface. Corrected by AdmRose
- If a real 'S' boat had been hit by a torpedo it would have sunk immediately. It did sink immediately.
- The American sub, while commandeering the disabled U-571, would not have left itself with no watch to be blindsided by the approaching German rescue sub, especially having the knowledge that it was very close and closing fast. During this scene, it is dark, raining heavily, and there are many people on the deck guiding the prisoners, so if there is a watch, he may not be visible. Even if there was a watch, because of the darkness, the rain, and the fact that the enemy sub was submerged, it would be nearly impossible to see the German rescue sub until it fired a torpedo or surfaced.
- In this film it is the Americans who capture the enigma coding machine. However,in WWII it was a British submarine crew who eventually captured the device. There were several enigma captures during the war. One notable American capture was the U-505. The Americans weren't the first to capture an Enigma, but they did capture some. The Germans were continually modifying their machine and the codes made by the machines. Each capture of the machine and it's supporting documents helped allies to continue to be able to decode German messages.
- When the Americans first board the U-571, they are looking for the "Christmas Tree" which is a series of red and white lights. When they first see it there is a red light on, however when they turn back to it seconds later all the lights are white, or clear. Since they were preparing the boat for dive, the light could have cleared between shots.
- The old U.S. 'S'-type submarine could never have been converted to resemble a German type VII or IX (Atlantic fleet boats) without drydocking and major work - which certainly could not have caught the crew by surprise. It wouldn't have been difficult to make the S boat look like the U boat from the waterline up. The above-water profiles are very similar and would only require a few modifications. Throw enough metal workers at the task and it could be done in a night, easily. The S boat captain makes a point of running the disguised S boat low in the water to hide more of it's profile.
- The depth the U-571 is depicted as achieving was beyond 'crush depth' even considering the 2.5 safety factor all u-boats were designed to. There is no way the boat would have survived that depth. The max depth depicted on the gauge is just beyond 200 meters. The maximum depth of the VIIC U-boat (which U-571 was) is 220 meters.
- An additional torpedo-related mistake: U-boat torpedoes were launched with a ram, which pushed the fish out of the tube. The motor of an armed torpedo did not start until after the fish had left the tube. They were not propelled out of the tube by their own motors as shown in the film. Where does the film show the torpedo leaving the tube under its own power?
- A German U-boat could dive in less than 30 seconds. By the time the boarding party even got to the conning tower the boat would already have been submerged. Just because it can, doesn't mean it has to. Not a mistake.
- A depth charge explodes right off the starboard bow, and the whole front end of the sub actually bends and snaps back. The force of the explosion wouldn't cause it to bend, it would either break off completely or there would be a large hole. It's very possible for the structure to distort without breaking.
- When the U-571 is being depth charged one of the men asks Chief if he has ever been depth charged before. He says "once, in World War I..." But during WWII they did not refer to the first world war as World War I. They still called it The Great War. It wasn't until after WWII that either war was referred to that way. It was commonly called "The Great War" or sometimes "the war to end all wars" until World War II, although the name "First World War" was coined as early as 1920 by Lt-Col à Court Repington in The First World War 1914–18.
- After the S-33 is torpedoed, Tyler and his men rig the U-571 for dive. Just before Wentz says "Opening midship valves; opening midship vents," someone else - I think it's the Chief - says "Opening ballast tanks." This makes no sense; the ballast tanks are the air tanks - you open them when you want to surface, not when you want to dive. Ballast tanks are opened so they can be filled with water to dive. The water is pumped out making the sub bouyant again to surface. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- When you look through a binocular it doesn't look like two joined circles, it is only one. I think this is one of the most common movie mistakes. This is a perfect example of a blatant deliberate directorial decision to indicate to the audience that the POV is through binoculars. This can't even qualify as a mistake.
- When Matthew McConaughey goes into the mess at the beginning of the film he obviously has a "number 1" haircut. By the time he has crossed the room to the bar his hair has miraculously grown by about an inch. There isn't any difference in the length of Tyler's hair.
- Throughout this movie these guys were shooting off more rounds than Rambo. In an enclosed sub, wouldn't they be concerned with getting hit by their own bullets once they ricochet off the walls? Sure they'd be concerned, but what's the difference if they get shot by their own bullets or German bullets? They're not going to run through the boat waiting to be shot, so it's an acceptable risk they are willing to take.
- Throughout the movie, when the sub is submerged, it show the submarine about 10 meters down, not 100, or 200 as the characters stated. The shots of the sub are correct. The shots looking up at a vessel's props from only a few meters below the surface are of the Nazi destroyer, not the submarine.
- For the raid on U-571, Tyler chooses to dress as a German officer, thus making himself the most likely one of the boarding party to be addressed by the German crew, even though he speaks no German (which ultimately gave the deception away early). This tactical error is inexplicable, given that there were two fluent German speakers among the Americans. As Tyler is noticeably older than other members of the crew, so it makes sense that he should be an officer. Besides, it wasn't his reluctance to talk that tipped the Germans off: one of the Germans saw Griggs pull out his machine gun, and that's what gave it away.
- Why does the German re-supply U-boat open fire on the disguised American sub when they are docked with U-571? The American Sub is disguised well enough to pass a visual inspection, and you'd think the Kriegsmarine sailors would be pleased to see some fellow Germans at sea. They certainly wouldn't simply open fire with torpedoes because they didn't recognise the other U-boat. The German resupply sub was at periscope depth and must have been watching for a few minutes before opening fire. Seeing the boarding party from the American sub whip out machine guns and shoot the Germans on the U-571 was probably a big clue that they weren't all on the same side.
- After having his language skills tested, the German speaking Seaman Wentz implores Tyler not to reveal his half-German background to the other men, even though he openly uses a German surname. Thousands of Americans have German surnames, without necessarily being 2nd generation immigrants. Open any phone book in USA and you will find people with German names, whose only connection to Germany is that their families came over more than a hundred years ago. Wentz could have claimed that his family had been in USA for generations and that he had no ties to Germany, if he was afraid of being suspected as a spy. Corrected by Twotall
- The Germans drop the bombs down on the submarine at the rate of two every 5 or so seconds. So how come there are sometimes many many explosions around the submarine within a very short space of time? I believe time was pushed ahead to skip to the explosions to make it seem like there were multiple explosions in a small period of time. Did you notice that after each explosion, the men appeared back in their seats almost instantaneously?
- They're actually using the U-571 to flee away from the German re-supply sub (the whole movie). Wasn't the U-571 broken? If it wasn't the German crew would have sailed to port long ago of course. The German sub was damaged and could not get much power. Tank (from the American sub) mentions that the German mechanic (who got killed so someone else was doing the repairs, someone who worked in his uncle's motorcycle garage) did not know anything. Corrected by shortdanzr
- The German commander is depicted eating a piece of fruit just prior to the depth charge attack against the U-571. No German commander would have done this. Food was strictly rationed and accounted for on the boat for various reasons - not the least of which was making sure there was enough to last for the duration of the patrol. If men were allowed to grab food and eat it as it suited them there would be no way to control its consumption. No commander would have set such a dangerous precedent by such wanton consumption. He could have saved it from his last meal. I know when I was in boot camp, I would often save an apple or orange to eat a little later. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- A grenade exploding in the control room of a U-boat would have destroyed and damaged many important controls and indicators - yet no damage appears to any of the controls in later shots. It was a tear gas grenade. They are designed more like a can of hair spray, they have no explosive, just compressed propellants to discharge the gas. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- Anybody with any mechanical knowledge seems to have been killed in the fire in the engine room, on a sub on patrol there would have been at least two watches, one working, one resting and both watches would not have been in the engine room at once. When the alarms start ringing and the engine room is sustaining heavy damage, all the mechanics would have rushed in to fix it. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- In the scene on the dock where the mess steward sees the lieutenant struggling to light a cigarette, he comes over and offers his lighter. The officer was actually facing away from the sailor, so how could the mess man even know the lieutenant could not light the cigarette?
If you look closely, the mess steward is not standing with his back to Tyler. He is walking by with Tyler on his left side. He glances over and sees Tyler having trouble lighting his cigarette. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- Non-whites were not allowed in the "Submarine Navy" until the next decade. Black men were allowed on submarines as cooks or stewards in WWII. In a sub everyone has to know two or three jobs. Often this was the only way for a black man to learn technical jobs like sonar or navigator. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- The sailors - rightly so - become very frightened when the long range plane spots them. However no sub captain in his right mind would stay on the surface if he heard the sound of an aircraft - it was one of the lookout's primary tasks: alert the captain if they heard propellers, and prepare to dive. U-571 was badly damaged. She might not be able to submerge quickly or for long periods, no matter what the lookout saw or heard. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- When the US commandos are about to board U-571, we see a cocked MP-40 gun hanging from an officer's neck, which is hidden in his jacket. You don't just let those guns hang like that, or it'll fire off at the slightest shock. Not a very smart thing to do in a stormy sea. The MP38 (which is identical to the MP40) had that defect. It was corrected in the MP40. Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- In the beginning of film, most of the welders are not wearing any goggles or helmets. That's just not healthy. OSHA didn't exist back then! Corrected by Grumpy Scot
- Once the survivors are in the U-boat the black character mans the controls. He's the cook, how does he now how to operate the controls? Every man on the submarine learns the controls since they're out at sea for so long and it is so crucial to be able to run the submarine at all times.
- Enlisted submariners of that time period wore silver dolphins on their dress white uniforms (like the officers wore their gold ones in the movie) and not black embroidered dolphins on their sleeves. WWII enlisted submariners did wear embroidered dolphins in their sleeves. In 1947 enlisted men were authorized to wear their dolphins on their breast. In 1950, the embroidered patch was replaced by a silver pin.
- When U-571 is supposedly at 200+ meters below the surface, the depth charges seem to be getting dropped into the water, as if they were 5 meters up, not sinking in the water as if they were 200+ meters down. The shot of the depth charges DOES show them being dropped in at about 5 metres deep, because the view is from the back of the destroyer just below the waterline, not the back of the sub.
- In the scene in the captain's cabin where Bill Paxton is explaining to Matthew McConaughey why he didn't recommend him for a promotion, the words on the sheets on his bed are reversed. Yes, the words are reversed, however in the DVD version the director says this was done on purpose since that's the way the sailors made their beds.
- W.W.II subs didn't have sub to sub attack capabilities and no underwater sub to sub kills were ever recorded during W.W.II. That's not true. On 9 Feb, 1945 the British submarine HMS Venturer, commanded by James S. Launders, torpedoed and sank the German boat U-864. This is the only known incident in all of naval warfare in which one submarine sinks another while both are submerged.
- When the American Navy is called to their assignment, the welders working on the submarine are welding without safety goggles. I would think that in the Navy they would teach basic safety precautions. The reason the welders weren't wearing goggles was that the effects of the damage of welding wasn't really apparent at that time and only after long term exposure did they find out the damage to the eye. Also if you look above the arc that's created when wire welding, you won't be blinded by the light and still be able to direct the welder where you need to weld.
- When the German electrician is tapping that Morse code message, how can the guy who says what it is (who doesn't speak German), understand what he is saying. The message should be "Ich bin U-571. Zerstören Sie mich," since he can't speak any English. (He didn't answer the questions because of that.) It was translated by the young sailor who could speak fluent German.