DVD43 - Die Kriegsmarine
Contains 2 Kriegsmarine films. The first is "Battleship on a Voyage" it is about the Scharnhorst & Gneisenau in 1939 and the second is "All the Sears of the World" about the Kormoran a surface raider hunting Allied shipping on the high seas.
The battle-cruisers and auxiliary cruiser presented in these two featurettes are both of particular historic interest. Christened after a pair of Prussian military heroes in the Napoleonic Wars, “Scharnhorst” and “Gneisenau” were the deadly duo of the high seas during the early years of World War Two. In February, 1941, they accounted for 115,000 tons of enemy shipping sunk, disrupting Britain’s entire convoy system in the process. Five months later, they sank the Royal Navy’s premiere aircraft-carrier, H.M.S. “Glorious”, and two destroyers trying to save her. All that and more were to come in the months after they appeared in “Battleship on a Voyage”. It is less a documentary than the sort of “art film” favored by Third Reich cinematographers, who stressed the self-evident realism of unstaged events supported by a musical soundtrack replacing narration. Their style is best known in Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia”, where the material is allowed to speak for itself, minus off-screen explanation or a reliance on actors.
“Battleship on a Voyage” is an evocative example of the genre, in that it depicts life aboard these floating cities as a kind of spiritual experience. Sailors going about their daily tasks and training assume an almost monastic zeal when undercut by the magnificent musical score, heroic camera angles, and artistic editing. Remarkably, the composition for this film bears a striking resemblance to the soundtrack of Walt Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, produced fourteen years later. Apparently, composers for either movie shared a common inspiration, as they both skillfully portrayed a magnificent vessel moving through the ocean like some immense mystery.
Of greater irony is the wintry setting for “Battleship on a Voyage”, in which the 31,000-ton “Scharnhorst” is shown gracefully performing her maneuvers. Four years later, she would go down under a hail of British shell-fire a day after Christmas, 1943. Of the 1,900 men on board, all but 36 perished in the dark, ice-strewn waters during the Battle of North Cape. Viewers should think of that when they see the smiling young men doing their duty aboard “Scharnhorst”, in late December, 1939.
An utterly different film about a completely different warship is “All the Seas of the World”. More familiar as a narrated documentary, it followers the early career of the “Kormoran”, an auxiliary cruiser, who ended her life in one of the greatest sea-fights of all time. Disguised as a harmless, neutral freighter, below decks she concealed four, 5.9-inch guns and torpedo tubes, her upper decks bristling with heavy machine-guns under tarpaulins. Her purpose was to lure enemy commerce vessels close enough to capture or sink them before they suspected her real identity.
At sea for 352 consecutive days, beginning in late December, 1940, “Kormoran” sank nine ships, taking two more as prizes, for a total of 68,274 enemy tons --- not bad for a lone auxiliary cruiser with neither armored bulkheads nor back-up support. But her last battle was her most extraordinary. On 19 November 1941, she was hailed by H.M.S. “Sydney”, the Royal Navy’s foremost light cruiser, which had wrecked special havoc on the Italian fleet, one year previous. Perhaps this success had gone to her captain’s head, because he foolishly allowed her to drift dangerously near the disguised German raider, which opened fire when the range was too close to miss. The “Sydney” was blasted from stem to stern. Her return fire was belated and wide of the mark, but she managed to get off a lucky shot that set the enemy’s engine-room ablaze. The conflagration spread, could not be contained, and Captain Theodor Detmers ordered “abandon ship!” Of the 400 men aboard his “Kormoran”, 80 were lost.
The “Sydney” was far less lucky. Adrift and totally bathed in flames, she erupted in a terrific explosion that killed all hands.
Knowing the ultimate fate of these two vessels makes “All the Seas of the World” particularly fascinating. It is as though the piratical auxiliary cruiser has risen from her watery grave, so we can see what life --- and death --- must have been like when walking the decks of this doughty, old warship.
- Marc Roland
DVD 43 - Die Kriegsmarine
Details: Original German 1930's films, Running time 45 minutes, English subtitles.
DVD 43 =