Saturday, September 24, 2016

Above Us the Waves

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

April 1957 (US)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


The Royal Navy is concerned about constant attacks on convoys by Germansubmarines and having to keep "half the fleet" watching for the German battleship Tirpitz. The Tirpitz is 60 miles from the sea inside a Norwegian fjord and attempts by the Royal Air Force to sink her have failed. Commander Fraser (Mills) is determined to prove that an attack by human torpedoes is practical, despite scepticism from the higher echelons that such an operation would be feasible.
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 receiving a refusal to allow the operation to go ahead from an admiral, the team use dummy mines to attack the admiral's own ship using the Chariots.
An attack is authorised on the 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 three small X-Craft submarines: X1, X2 and X3. They are initially towed by conventional submarines and are then left to penetrate the area where the Tirpitz is anchored.They manage to approach the ship under their own power to lay their "side-cargoes", each containing 2 tons of amatol, under the ship's hull undetected. Two crews then scuttle the submarines and are picked up by the crew of Tirpitz, to be taken away as prisoners of war. The third (X2) is too badly damaged to re-surface and the crew decide to stay on board to prevent "giving the game away".
The mines explode as planned, badly damaging the Tirpitz. Meanwhile, X2's side cargoes have flooded. The flooding causes them to spontaneously explode, destroying X2 and killing her crew.

Production notes[edit]

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 Organisationunder 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 namedIngebord 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 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.

Main cast[edit]

Above Us the Waves is a 1955 British war film directed by Ralph Thomas, about human torpedo and midget submarine attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz. It is based on two true-life attacks on the Tirpitz 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. Some of the original equipment was used in the film.

Ralph Philip Thomas MC (10 August 1915 – 17 March 2001) was an English film director, born in HullEast Riding of Yorkshire. He is perhaps best known for directing the Doctor series of films.

Post War Career[edit]


Early Career[edit]

Born in HullEast Riding of Yorkshire, Thomas studied law at Middlesex University College. He entered the film business as aclapper boy at Shepperton Studios in 1932 during his summer vacation while at college. Following graduation, instead of becoming a lawyer he decided to enter the film industry, and became an apprentice at Shepperton Studios, working as a clapper boy and then in the editing room, the sound department and art department. From 1932-34 Thomas worked predominantly on "quota quickies". He discovered he loved editing the most and worked predominantly as an editor for the next few years, including a stint working alongside David Lean. When his employer, Premiere Stafford, went broke he worked for a while as a journalist at the Bristol Evening Post for over a year. He returned to editing before joining the army in 1939.[1]
Thomas left the army in 1945 and re-entered the industry, although he could only get work as an assistant editor. He assisted editing Odd Man Out then began making film trailers for the Rank Organisation. He worked his way up to becoming head of Rank's trailer department as well as writing films. Thomas later said making trailers was "enormously useful" because he "learned a lot of the technique of how the varying directors whose pictures I had worked on operated. Also, it teachers one a great deal of discipline about brevity in story telling."[3]



Sub-Lieutenant Robert Aitken: Diver and navigator who narrowly escaped death in midget submarine and helped wreck the mighty Tirpitz

Aitken made an escape within a hair's breadth of death from 120ft under water where he was almost trapped with two comrades
Robert Aitken was one of the handful of men who on 22 September 1943 with midget submarines disabled the German battleship Tirpitz, mightiest vessel of the Nazi Reich. Aitken also made an escape within a hair's breadth of death from 120ft under water where he was almost trapped with two comrades who had already suffocated after the craft sank following the attack. The tiny 40ft submarine, too small for a man to stand up in, penetrated multiple layers of defences to get at the monster in her lair, a hideaway decreed by Hitler himself, in the narrow finger of Ka Fjord in occupied Norway, 60 miles inland from the coast.

Tirpitz had lurked for two years, catastrophically disrupting supply convoys to Russia. At 40,000 tons she was one of the most powerful battleships afloat. A desperate attempt with a fishing-smack to smuggle in attackers, who would have sat astride their warhead-loaded craft, had failed, these "chariots" having tumbled adrift and vanished at sea.
But this time the raiders overcame all, crouched amid their instruments, observing through periscopes slim as fountain pens. Two of the three "X-craft" placed their explosive charges and blasted her six feet out of the water at her stern. X-5 was lost, but the four two-ton saddle-charges carried by X-6 and X-7 exploded, stopping her setting sail again: the following year the RAF caught her under tow during repairs and finished her off.
Twenty-year-old Sub-Lieutenant Aitken was X-7's diver and navigator in a crew of four commanded by Lieutenant Godfrey Place. They had been towed 1,000 miles, then under their own diesel and electric power they traversed a minefield and scrambled through layers of entangling steel mesh anti-submarine nets to place the charges under the shadow of the great ship. There was one hour to get away.
But X-7 was forced to expend air-creating buoyancy to help extricate herself from the nets. She managed to slide over the nets' top at 7.40am, with minutes to go until the expected blast. As she surfaced machine-gun bullets pinged off her casing: glimpsing what they first thought was a porpoise, the Germans were alerted and she had to dive again. But damaged by the nets she was no longer manoeuvrable and impossible to keep submerged. She got stuck in the mesh again, then at 8.12am the blast blew her free, and she resurfaced.
Place thought he would be shot when, to safeguard his crew, he emerged from X-7's hatch. But the firing ceased, and the others would have followed him had X-7 not begun to founder. Place stepped on to a gunnery practice target afloat near by. His men, having shut the hatch to avert an inrush of water, were carried yet again to the bottom of the fjord.
They donned escape apparatus and started to flood the craft to release the hatches, but vents were stuck and she filled too slowly; fumes released from fused circuits poisoned what air was left and the cramped space impeded movement. After two and a half hours, Aitken felt his comrades, Lieutenant Bill Whittam and ship's engineer Bill Whitley, slump down and die.
During his own last supreme effort to get the hatch open, he blacked out, having wrenched the tops from his only remaining two small steel oxygen canisters, and finding that at that pressure they yielded no more than one breath each: he had no air but what was in his lungs.
Yet his fumbling must have succeeded: bubbles streamed past as he regained his senses, and soon he joined his skipper and the crew of X-6 as a prisoner on board the badly damaged Tirpitz. The enemy, full of admiration despite their fury, gave them hot drinks and Schnaps.
The attack, which Winston Churchill praised as "audacious and heroic", was described in an official report as one that "will surely go down in history as one of the most courageous acts of all time." It would be immortalised on film in Above Us The Waves (1955), starring John Mills and with Donald Sinden playing Aitken.

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