Above Us the Waves
Above Us the Waves (film).jpg
Original UK poster
Directed byRalph Thomas
Screenplay byRobin Estridge
Based onAbove Us the Waves
by C. E. T. Warren
& James Benson
Produced byWilliam MacQuitty (executive), Earl St John
StarringJohn Mills
John Gregson
Donald Sinden
CinematographyErnest Steward
Edited byGerald Thomas
Music byArthur Benjamin
Production
company
Distributed byGFD (UK)
Republic Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 29 March 1955 (1955-03-29) (UK)

April 1957 (US)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

Above Us the Waves is a 1955 British war film about human torpedo and midget submarine attacks in Norwegian fjords against the German battleship Tirpitz. Directed by Ralph Thomas, it is based on two true-life attacks by British commando frogmen, first using Chariot manned torpedoes in Operation Title in 1942, and then X-Craft midget submarines in Operation Source in 1943. Filmed at Pinewood Studios, England, with outdoor scenes in Guernsey, some of the original war equipment was used in the film.

Plot

The Royal Navy (RN) is concerned about attacks on convoys by German submarines while having to keep "half the fleet" guarding against the German battleship Tirpitz. Tirpitz is 60 miles from the sea inside a Norwegian fjord, and attempts by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to sink her have failed. Commander Fraser (Mills) is determined to prove that attack by human torpedoes is practical, despite scepticism from RN higher echelons.

Fraser assembles and trains a force of British commando frogmen officers and ratings to use the Mk I Human Torpedo manned torpedoes (Chariots) at their Scottish base. After being refused permission to attack Tirpitz, due to the RN policy of avoiding unproven weaponry, the team manage to attach dummy limpet mines to the admiral's own ship.

Their success results in Fraser's force being authorised to attack Tirpitz with the initial operation using the Chariots. The attack fails and the crew are forced to abandon ship and land in Norway. They walk to neutral Sweden from where they are returned to Scotland.

For the next operation, the crews are trained to use small X-Craft submarines: X1, X2 and X3. The three craft are initially towed over the North Sea by conventional submarines and then left to penetrate the fjord where Tirpitz is anchored.

They manage to approach undetected to lay their "side-cargoes" under the ship's hull, each containing two tons of explosive amatol. X2 is badly damaged and cannot re-surface, but the crew decide to stay on board to prevent "giving the game away". The other two submarines succeed in laying their mines before the crews scuttle them. They are captured by the crew of Tirpitz, to be taken away as prisoners of war. While some German crew are aggressive, attempting to machine gun the men in the water, the captain of Tirpitz salutes them as "brave men", providing them blankets and schnapps.

The mines explode as planned, badly damaging Tirpitz. The crew of the stranded X2, hearing the explosions, attempt to escape. However, X2's side cargoes have flooded, which causes them to spontaneously explode, destroying X2 and killing her crew.

Main cast

Production notes

The screenplay was based on the book Above Us the Waves by C. E. T. Warren and James Benson, which had been published in 1953.[1][2]

Director Ralph Thomas says the film was made because producer William MacQuitty "was very involved with the Navy and he loved submarines."[3] MacQuitty had a production company in partnership with Sydney Box called London Independent Producers, which tended to use the same core creative personnel.[4] They purchased film rights in 1952, before the book had been published.[5]

The book became a best seller, selling over 350,000 copies[6] and MacQuitty obtained finance from the Rank Organisation under Earl St. John. The British admiralty provided full co-operation.[7] Thomas was given the job of directing after his tremendous success with Doctor in the House. Several of the cast from that film would appear in Above Us the Waves.[8]

Shooting began on 20 September 1954 in Guernsey. Commander Donald Cameron, who commanded X-6 as a lieutenant and won the Victoria Cross during the operation, was an adviser to the film.[9][10]

MacQuitty was an experienced diver, having spent over 500 hours under water. He personally supervised many of the underwater sequences.[11]

Events in the film had minor differences, for example, the boat Arthur that carried the Chariot human torpedoes was named Ingebord in the film, and the X-class submarines used in Operation Source in 1943 were numbered X-5, X-6 and X-7, and X-5 was the craft that was lost. The real X-3 was lost in an earlier training exercise although the crew escaped using Davis escape apparatus.

The score was by Arthur Benjamin and performed under the direction of Muir Mathieson.

John Gregson played an Australian.[12] "Australians are husky types", said producer McQuitty. "Gregson has made his part of Alec Duffy, midget submarine commander, good and husky."[13]

"I am proud to be playing the part of an Australian", said Gregson. "During the war, when I was in the Royal Navy, I met many Australian fighting men. They were good fellows."[13]

Donald Sinden's character was based on the true-life exploits of Sub-Lieutenant Robert Aitken, who died a few weeks after Sinden.[14] In his first autobiography, A Touch of the Memoirs, Sinden said "I had to re-enact a deed originally performed by Commander Donald Cameron. While his X Craft was being towed across the North Sea, the cable picked up a floating mine which then moved along the cable and made straight for his midget. Cameron rushed forward and, lowering himself over the prow of his craft, managed gingerly to push the mine clear with his feet. Donald was our advisor on the film and told me modestly, "I couldn't think of anything else to do." He was awarded the VC. I wasn't because we used a dummy. But Donald could swim!"[15]

The cast also included Anthony Wager, who had played a young Pip in Great Expectations (1946). John Mills, who played the older Pip, appeared opposite him.

Reception

Box office

Above Us the Waves was the sixth most popular film at the British box office that year, after The Dam Busters, White Christmas, Doctor at Sea, The Colditz Story and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It helped John Mills to be voted the fifth most popular star in the country.[16]

According to the National Film Finance Corporation, the film made a comfortable profit.[17]

References

  1. ^ "The News BOOK REVIEWS". The News. Vol. 61, no. 9, 448. Adelaide. 20 November 1953. p. 23. Retrieved 21 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ "MIDGET SUBMARINES and HUMAN TORPEDOES". The Age. No. 30, 787. Victoria, Australia. 2 January 1954. p. 14. Retrieved 21 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ Brian McFarlane, An Autobiography of British Cinema 1997 p 558
  4. ^ Spicer, Andrew (2006). Sydney Box. Manchester University Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-7190-5999-5.
  5. ^ HOWARD THOMPSON (7 September 1952). "News notes on pictures and people". The New York Times. p. X5.
  6. ^ "LONDON LETTER: 59 FLEET STREET". The Irish Times. Dublin, Ireland. 21 March 1956. p. 7.
  7. ^ "British to make submarine epic". Sunday Mail. Queensland. 21 November 1954. p. 28. Retrieved 21 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ STEPHEN WATTS, LONDON.. (19 December 1954). "NOTED ON THE LONDON SCREEN SCENE: 'Doctor' Proves to Be A Bonanza – Command Film Show Panned". The New York Times. p. X7.
  9. ^ "FILM OF MIDGET SUBMARINES: Attacks on the Tirpitz". The Manchester Guardian. Manchester (UK). 20 September 1954. p. 9.
  10. ^ "BRITAIN LAUNCHES MORE SEA FILMS". The Mail. Vol. 44, no. 2, 209. Adelaide. 9 October 1954. p. 56. Retrieved 21 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ "HE IS NO ARMCHAIR PRODUCER". Times Pictorial. Dublin, Ireland. 1 January 1955. p. 18.
  12. ^ "Had To Learn Our Accent". The Mirror. Vol. 35, no. 1769. Western Australia. 23 April 1955. p. 11. Retrieved 21 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  13. ^ a b "F. KEITH MANZIE reviews this week's films TRACY TRIUMPHS IN 'BLACK ROCK'". The Argus. Melbourne. 28 May 1955. p. 43. Retrieved 21 May 2016 – via National Library of Australia.
  14. ^ "Sub-Lieutenant Robert Aitken: Diver and navigator who narrowly escaped". The Independent. 6 November 2014. Archived from the original on 7 March 2016.
  15. ^ A Touch of the Memoirs by Donald Sinden. Hodder & Stoughton Publ. (1982), pp. 209–10
  16. ^ 'Dirk Bogarde favourite film actor', The Irish Times [Dublin, Ireland] 29 December 1955: 9.
  17. ^ "U.S. MONEY BEHIND 30% OF BRITISH FILMS: Problems for the Board of Trade". The Manchester Guardian. Manchester (UK). 4 May 1956. p. 7.