We Dive at Dawn (1943)




Director:     Anthony Asquith.

Starring:     John Mills (Captain - Lt. Taylor, R.N.),  Louis Bradfield (First Officer - Lt. Brace, R.N.R.),  Ronald Millar (Third Officer - Lt. Johnson, RNVR),  Jack Watling (Navigating Officer - Lt. Gordon, R.N.),  Reginald Purdell (Coxwain - C / P.O. Dabbs),  Caven Watson (Chief Engine Room Artificer - C / P.O. Duncan),  Niall MacGinnis (Torpedo Gunner's Mate - C / P.O. Mike Corrigan),  Eric Portman (On Hydrophones - L / S. Hobson),  Leslie Weston (Leading Torpedo Operator - L / S Tug Wilson),  Norman Williams (Periscope Operator - 'Canada'),  Lionel Grose (Torpedo Operator - 'Spud'),  David Peel (Helmsman - 'Oxford'),  Philip Godfrey (Steward - 'Flunkey'),  Robb Wilton (Cook - 'Pincher').

British submariners go after the German ship the Brandenburg



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

The P61 British submarine Sea Tiger is up on the surface of the water.  Coxswain Dabbs is going on leave to attend the marriage of fellow sub-mate Mike, who is getting married to the coxswain's sister. 

The captain sends for hydrophone operator Hobson.  He has received a letter saying that Hobson's wife wants a separation.  Hobson tells the captain that if his wife wants a separation, she can have it.  

Mike is on the list of those submariners who are supposed to stay behind.  Sub-mate Dicky says they will have to change that, but Mike says if he is ordered to stay behind, he will stay behind.  "We're powerless, Dicky."  Mike just doesn't want to get married.  Dicky doesn't know that and says he is going to fix it so Mike can go on leave. 

In the engine room Jock says a 48 hour leave isn't worth going ashore for.  (He doesn't realize that the leave is actually for seven days.)  He's staying on the sub.  So Dicky gets him to agree to take over for Mike.  Dicky now tells Mike that he fixed it up with Jock.  Mike makes up another excuse, but Dicky's got that one covered too.  The men going on leave get on a boat that takes them to the shore line.

Dicky greets his sister Ethel.  Behind him is Mike.  Ethel is especially glad to see Mike.

Hobson goes to see his wife, but the neighbor Mrs. Metcalfe tells him that his wife has been gone over a week now.  So he gives the present he carries to Mrs. Metcalfe and the soccer ball to a boy of the neighborhood.

Freddie is looking forward to his big date with a Miss Lake.  He, however, receives a telephone call from Browning, depot ship.  He says that the men of submarine P61 have to report back at once.  Freddie is really upset that his leave has been canceled on the very first day.  He will miss all his arranged dates with various women. 

Dusty is in a bar and needs some money.  He tells his shipmate that he is going to get some money from Slim, the postman.  But the only thing that Slim gives him is the bad news that he and his buddy must report back for duty. 

Hobson goes to see his rival running a small restaurant and says that he has come for his wife.  The rival says that his wife is out.  Hobson says he will wait and while he's waiting he will help serve the customers. He starts giving them too much food for too little money.  He makes so much noise talking with the customers that his wife opens a back door to see what's going on.  Her son Pete runs over to say hello to his father.  Hobson tells his wife Alice that he's on leave for seven days and thought that . . . He is interrupted by his wife asking him:  "Oh, Jim, couldn't you have come home sober just for once?"  He tells Alice that she and Pete are coming home with him.  His rival tells Hobson that Alice will not be going with him and Hobson looks like he's going to punch the man, saying that the guy has always tried to break them up.  A policeman comes into the restaurant and stops the row.  He also tells Hobson that he has to go back on board his submarine. It looks like Alice wants to say something to her husband, but he leaves with the policeman. 

In the home the bride makes her entrance.  Ethel tells Mike she is very nervous.  Two telegrams of congratulations arrive for the couple.  A third telegram tells the submariners that they have all been recalled from their leave.  Mike looks so relieved that Ethel cancels any wedding with Mike. 

When everyone is aboard the submarine, the captain speaks over loudspeakers to all the men.   He says the new German ship, the Brandenburg, is about to leave Bremerhaven.  Her trials will be in the Baltic Sea.  To get there, the German ship will have to hug the coast until it has passed Cuxhaven (just south of western Denmark) and then pass into the River Elbe. She then will pass through the Kiel Canal (that is, a 61 mile long canal in the German Bundesland Schleswig-Holstein that links the North Sea at Brunsbttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau).  At the Elbe, P61 will sink the German ship.  He tells the engine room chief that they have to be in the Heligoland Bight within less than 48 hours.  And to accomplish this, the ship will be on the water's surface both night and day. 

April 16, 1942.  "Uneventful passage through home waters."

Diving stations.  The lookouts see Germans on a rescue buoy.  The captain has the machine gunner knock out the aerial equipment near the flags on the buoy.  The three Germans jump into the water and swim to the British submarine. They hear an airplane approaching overhead and so they dive.  The captain says:  "Probably one of our Brylcreem Boys." 

They are heading into mined waters.  The prisoners talk about the mines.  Hobson understands German and he tells the captain that the German pilots saw the Brandenburg before they were shot down.  One of the prisoners is very scared of the Brandenburg.  He tries to warn of the dangers the submarine faces, because he doesn't want to die along with the British.  The leader of the prisoners almost kills the young German before the British submariners pull him off.  The third German says that they saw the Brandenburg early this morning and it must be in the Kiel Canal right now.  The leader says to the third man:  "Du feiger Hund."  ("You cowardly dog.")

The captain says it looks like they missed the Brandenburg.  He thinks about it some more and says they are going into the Baltic Sea after the German ship.  The sub will have to ride on the surface again. 

It looks like the beaten German prisoner is not going to make it.  Mike writes a letter to his girl Ethel.  He mentions they will be going under netting in the area on their way into the Baltic Sea.  The sub knocks into the netting and the sub has to back up a little.  They have to keep ramming the netting, weakening it each time. The sub cutst a hole through the netting and the sub goes through. 

The sub emerges out of the water and proceeds on the water surface.  But they see no sign of the Brandenburg.  And now they are running low on fuel.  They just may have to give up the search for the German ship.  The crew has now been put on emergency rations.

They see the lights of what they think is a ship.  They bring the periscope down, but a little later check again.  This time they see a ship going by them.  It might be a destroyer.  But behind the destroyer is the Brandenburg.  The torpedoes are prepared for firing.  The ship is about 7,000 yards away.  As they come closer to the target, all six torpedoes are fired.  

A German sailor spots the torpedoes coming at them.  The destroyers start launching their depth charges. And the submarine starts rocking back and forth.  The hydrophone man can't tell if any of their torpedoes have hit their target because of the sound of the depth charges exploding.  More depth charges are exploded and the submarines springs a few leaks.  The young German POW dies.  The depth charges keep exploding.  The submarine develops a fuel leak and the captain figures that will leave an oil slick on the surface of the water. 

They send up a lot of material to make the Germans think they have been hit and destroyed.  They then let the back end of the sub rise above the water surface.  They they dive down again.  The German sailors think they have destroyed the submarine and cheer for their victory. 

The Germans transmit over the radio that P61, the Sea Tiger, is now a total wreck at the bottom of the sea.  The news upsets Alice and Ethel. 

The captain tells the men that they are down to their last gallons of fuel and the food will only last until tomorrow.  He says he wants to head 30 miles northwest to the Danish island of Haego.  He will drop off the submariners on the shore and then blow up the Sea Tiger.  Hobson hurries to the captain to tell him that on Haego there a port called Frihaven where they can new supplies.  And Hobson volunteers to wear a German uniform and mix in with the Germans in the port. 

On shore Hobson signals the captain via a flashlight.  A German guard sees the signals.  Hobson finishes his signaling and goes up on the dock.  He knocks over a bucket to attract the guard.  The guard checks Hobson's papers and then takes him to headquarters.  The officer at headquarters looks over Hobson's papers.  He suddenly receives a call about the message being sent from land out to sea.  As the officer hangs up the phone, Hobson knocks him over the head twice.  The man is still alive, so Hobson grabs a knife and stabs the man to death.  Hobson now goes out and knocks the guard out and drops him into the sea.  Hobson quickly moves to get a machine gun set up at headquarters.  When a group of Germans soldiers come toward him, he shoots them down. 

On the sub, the men prepare to surface and then get on land to defeat the Germans.  The captain figures that given the tremendous number of shots being fired that Hobson must be in trouble.  They grab the man in charge of the port and he turns out to be a very friendly Dane indeed.  He will provide all the supplies that the British need.

Some of the navy men reach Hobson.  One of them discovers that oil is spilling out onto the floor of the warehouse.  He says to his comrades:  "We won't half cop it if that lots goes up."  A number of the sailors are wounded or killed.  They have to get out of there fast.  They start moving out and then a flare gun is used to ignite the fuel on the floor.  The men make their way back to the submarine and it pulls out of the port. 

One of the headlines in the papers is about the Sea Tiger not being lost after all.  It has been sighted in the North Sea.  And now the submarine is on its way home.  As the sailors proceed to home port, they are signaled congratulations on sinking the Brandenburg. The crew is delighted to hear the news.  When the submarine comes into port, there is a hero's reception for the men. Thousands of sailors on other ships are screaming out their congratulations for the Sea Tiger.  The men are taken into port.  Ethel welcomes Mike back.  Shaken from his lethargy, Mike now gives her a big kiss.  Hobson's son Pete greets his father.  Alice is also there to welcome her husband home.


Since I had a German submarine film (Das Boot) in the table of contents, I thought I may as well put a British submarine film in.  I don't like to choose war films that are not traceable to a specific date and location.  That's not really history.  I guess I could add an American submarine film, but I'll have to think about that.  The British film has an ensemble cast with plenty of actors receiving face time.  Except for Hobson, no one is shown to be a hero, but they all did their share on their mission to sink the German ship Brandenburg.  This British film is more like the American war films that introduce the audience to various characters in the film (except that the Americans have a lot more racial and ethnic diversity in their population). 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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