Das Boot “Main Theme” (1981)


Before I go back to my regular series, I thought I would share with you a theme that I recently re-discovered: the main theme from Das Boot (1981), a German epic war film that recounts the (fictional) exploits of the (fictional) U-96, a German U-Boat patrolling the Atlantic during World War II. (Though *this* boat is fictional, some of the exploits were inspired by the actions of the REAL U-96).

The film shows every aspect of life in the submarine: unrelenting boredom, the sudden excitement of battle and the dangers that faced submarines at every turn. A climactic moment comes when the U-96 has been damaged by depth charges so badly that it sinks to the bottom of the ocean near Gibraltar. After a harrowing 16 hours spent making repairs, the ship is able to surface and the engines are successfully restarted.

But (MASSIVE spoilers ahead), there is no happy ending for the U-96. Despite everything they have gone through, shortly after limping into the dock at La Rochelle, the entire area is strafed by American fighters. Most of the crew is injured or killed (including the captain) and the U-96 sinks into the ocean.

The music was composed by Klaus Doldinger and his main theme for Das Boot is one of those pieces of film music that you HAVE to hear, even if you never see the film. There is a haunting quality to this piece that makes it irresistible to me. The full track actually begins with the faint sound of sonar (but most versions I find cut this moment out) and then the cello begins the main theme, starting very low and steadily rising up. It seems to me that Doldinger purposefully modeled the theme after the rising and falling swells of the ocean, where the U-Boats patrolled (and which also served as the tomb for tens of thousands of German sailors).


As sad as this music sounds, I actually find it rather soothing to listen to. The theme is very symmetrical in the way it rises and falls (it’s actually a good kind of music to get stuck in your head).

If you get the chance, I highly recommend watching this film at least once. The film was dubbed into English by the original cast so you wouldn’t have to worry about watching a subtitled film. Doldinger’s score makes the film worthwhile, along with an amazing performance by the entire cast (Jurgen Prochnow, who plays the captain, also starred as Paul’s father in Dune (1984))

I hope you enjoy this brief look at the main theme of Das Boot, and if you’ve seen the film, let me know what you thought about it in the comments below 🙂

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