Associate Editor, History
Despite the fact that it was the longest military campaign of World War II, the Battle of the Atlantic—a six-year fight for control of the eponymous ocean—is often overshadowed by other clashes in the European and Pacific theaters.
“It’s not the most glamorous campaign,” says Frank Blazich, lead curator of military history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Put simply, he adds, “The Battle of the Atlantic is cold, grey, monotonous and miserable.”
Tom Hanks’ latest film, Greyhound, spotlights this much-overlooked chapter in naval history, building on the World War II buff’s previous credits (most prominently, Saving Private Ryan, “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”) to offer a claustrophobia-inducing dramatization of the battle between Allied ships and German submarines, or U-boats.
Here’s what you need to know to separate fact from fiction ahead of the movie’s July 10 premiere on Apple TV+.
Is Greyhound based on a true story?
In short, no. As the film’s trailer states, Greyhound is “inspired by,” rather than directly based on, actual events. Hanks, who stars as United States Navy Commander Ernest Krause, adapted the screenplay from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel, The Good Shepherd (not to be confused with the 2006 film The Good Shepherd about the founding of the CIA). Though fictional, the Forester book is deeply researched and noted for its accurate depiction of naval warfare.
Set in the winter of 1942, Greyhound—a nod to the nickname of the U.S.S. Keeling, a destroyer under Krause’s command—features Hanks as a newly promoted officer tasked with leading his first transatlantic convoy through a swath of water known as the “Black Pit.” Per the movie’s official description, Krause must protect his fleet from Nazi U-boats over a five-day period without air cover. In true cinematic fashion, the captain ultimately battles not only a military enemy, but his own personal demons and self-doubt.
“What you did yesterday got us to today,” a crew member tells Krause in the trailer.
“It’s not enough,” The captain replies. “Not nearly enough.”
What events does Greyhound dramatize?
Greyhound takes place at a critical moment in the Battle of the Atlantic, which began in September 1939 and only ended with the Germans’ surrender on May 8, 1945. As Blazich explains, the conflict was centered chiefly on supplies: An island nation, the United Kingdom required a steady flow of imported goods and raw materials, many of which originated in the U.S. The Soviet Union, besieged by the Nazis’ Operation Barbarossa, was also in dire need of food, oil and other essential supplies, which arrived via seaports on the Arctic Ocean.
“Had the Atlantic been lost, so too would have Britain,” writes historian James Holland for History Extra. “There would have been no Mediterranean campaign, no D-Day, no VE or VJ Days. The vast, global supply chain upon which the Allies depended … would have been cut, and with it the lifeline.”
Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Battle of the Atlantic” in March 1941, “deliberately echoing the Battle of Britain to emphasize its importance,” according to the Imperial War Museum. Later in life, the prime minister famously claimed that the “only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” (It’s worth noting, however, that modern historians have since questioned Churchill’s handling of the Atlantic campaign.)
The Allies’ main strategy for ensuring cargo’s safe arrival in Europe was sending merchant ships in convoys, or groups escorted by warships and, if possible, aircraft. Though this approach saved many Allied vessels from destruction, the logistical nightmare of moving 40 ships as a cohesive unit greatly reduced individual units’ efficiency, leaving them vulnerable to U-boat hunting squads known as wolf packs.
In the early years of the battle, Germany held the naval advantage, easily picking off weakly defended merchant ships, albeit while sustaining heavy losses of its own. After the U.S. entered the conflict in December 1941, U-boats enjoyed great success off the East Coast: Between January and July 1942, 90 ships (including four U-boats) sank off the coast of North Carolina, and more than 1,100 merchant seamen died, according to the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. This tenuous period serves as the backdrop to Greyhound, whose trailer declares, “The only thing more dangerous than the front lines was the fight to get there.”
A submarine-versus-destroyer duel hinted at in the clip and depicted in The Good Shepherd shares similarities with a real-life clash between the U.S.S. Borie and U-boat U-405. On November 1, 1943, the American destroyer was attempting to ram the German submarine when a wave sent its bow crashing down on top of the submarine, trapping the ships in a “lethal embrace,” wrote Howard R. Simkin for Naval History magazine in 2019. For the next ten minutes, crew members unable to properly aim the destroyer’s guns at such close proximity barraged the U-boat with “every rifle, submachine gun [and] machine gun they could find,” says Blazich. U-405 sank that night; the badly damaged Borie was scuttled the following day.
Such close encounters were rare during the Battle of the Atlantic, which was more often fought with torpedoes and depth charges. Still, Blazich notes, “There were one or two of these freak incidents where the hunter and the hunted were [so] close that they could literally see each other.”
Advances in Allied technology—juxtaposed with the “increasing obsolescence” of standard U-boat designs, in the words of historian G.H. Bennett—shifted the tide of battle as the conflict stretched on, and by May 1943, victory was all but guaranteed.
Though the Germans were losing the Battle of the Atlantic, they still managed to stop a sizable amount of supplies from reaching the Allies, says Blazich. “It gives Hitler time, if nothing else,” he adds. “It becomes a delaying action for the Germans, as they essentially fight the Soviet Union, and then later the American and British forces.”
Over the course of the six-year battle, as many as 80,000 Allied sailors, merchant mariners and airmen were killed. An estimated 28,000 to 30,000 U-boat crewmen died—a staggering rate amounting to roughly 70 percent of the 41,000 German sailors who fought in the campaign.
In addition to the high cost in human lives, both sides suffered significant material losses. Between 1939 and 1945, the Allies lost more than 2,700 merchant ships; in that same time, around 800 of Germany’s 1,100 U-boats sank.
The Battle of the Atlantic wasn’t the most “glamorous” campaign, says Blazich. Instead, it was “a very complicated battle that require[d] massive amounts of coordination, the development of new weapons technologies, tactics [and] science.” Among other tasks, crew members worked to improve radar and sonar, finetune the use of explosives, and intercept enemy intelligence.
“Logistics,” notes the curator, “are one of the most critical components of war.”
What was life at sea like during the Battle of the Atlantic?
Allied and Axis sailors had divergent experiences at sea, with the latter facing especially precarious conditions. U-boats offered little in the way of comfort and accommodation. Most had just two toilets, one of which was almost always filled with extra provisions, food supplies and spare parts, leaving one working bathroom shared among 50 men. The submarines lacked air conditioning and heating, sanitation measures, and even adequate refrigeration.
“It’s very hard, rough work,” says Blazich, “and it can be very boring. U-boats can go on entire patrols and never see another ship.”
On the flip side, U-boat missions could be incredibly dangerous, particularly toward the end of the war as Allied equipment improved: “These men that have gone through months and months, maybe years, of training, their first attempt to go to sea, they’ll get sunk literally within sight of land in some cases, maybe no more than a day out of port.”
Forester’s novel is told from its protagonist’s point of view, meaning that readers never see what life is like on the other side of the battle. If Greyhound adopts the same storytelling approach, consider watching Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 film Das Boot, which captures the “boredom, filth and sheer terror” experienced by U-boat crews.
U.S. Navy sailors enjoyed more “crude comforts” than their German counterparts, but destroyer duty was “equally cold, wet and nauseating,” according to Blazich. Crew members had to balance long periods of monotony with the constant need to stay alert. When traveling in a convoy, for instance, sudden orders to change direction meant upward of 40 ships had to coordinate their movements simultaneously. For captains like Hanks’ fictional Krause, leading a fleet to safety meant processing incomplete information quickly and making decisions in a matter of seconds.
Uncertainty dominated sailors’ days, as the enemy could strike at any time. U-boats survived through stealth, traveling on the surface by night and submerging during the day. Allied ships strove to not only cross the ocean by successfully thwarting German attacks, but also actively track down and destroy enemy submarines.
If a U-boat spotted a convoy and escaped unscathed, it could radio the vessels’ location to headquarters or collaborate with a “wolf pack of colleagues to intercept and to launch a mass attack,” observes Krause in The Good Shepherd. If, however, the U-boat was destroyed, none “of this could happen; if she were even kept down for an hour or two while the convoy again made good its escape, the business of finding the convoy again would be made much more difficult for the Germans, much more prolonged, possibly too difficult altogether.”
Overall, says Blazich, “It’s stressful. Out in the cold and the salt spray and the bouncing movement of the destroyer and everything else, it just makes for a very less than ideal experience.”
He concludes, “If you’re a merchant sailor, you don’t know if the ship you’re on at any moment will suddenly explode. You don’t know if it is hit and you have to go in the water, will you be found? … If you’re a survivor, you hope to God you get in a lifeboat, and then you hope that somebody picks you up. Otherwise, you’re done.”
Editor’s Note, June 11, 2020: This piece originally stated that Greyhound would premiere June 12 on Apple TV+. On June 11, Apple announced a release date of July 10.
How many ships were sunk in Greyhound? ›
The attack commences that evening with five merchant ships being torpedoed and sunk. One U-boat torpedoes an oil tanker and escapes Greyhound by using an underwater decoy device, tricking the crew into wasting most of their remaining depth charges.Was Ernest Krause a real person? ›
Ernest Krause (July 3, 1866 – unknown) was an American coxswain serving in the United States Navy during the Spanish–American War who received the Medal of Honor for his bravery.Why did the captain's feet bleed in Greyhound? ›
Greyhound is arguably more accurate in this regard; in one scene, it reveals Krause's feet are actually bleeding from wearing his shoes and pacing so much while he's captaining for hours on-end (before he slips into more comfortable footwear).Was Greyhound filmed on a real ship? ›
Fun fact—for authenticity the film crew shot many scenes on location at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial and Museum on the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. It is home to the only Fletcher-class destroyer ship restored to its World War II configuration, which is the exact ship featured as the USS Greyhound.Is the movie Greyhound accurate? ›
Is Greyhound Based on a True Story? No, not exactly. Despite being rooted in World War II history, the Tom Hanks movie is not directly based on a true story.Will there be a sequel to Greyhound? ›
According to The Wrap, a Greyhound sequel is in the works as part of an overall deal signed this week between Apple TV+ and Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's production company Playtone.What happened to the captain of Greyhound? ›
As it turns out, Captain Krause has been passed over for command several times before Greyhound's course of events, which makes him very much a man of self-doubt. We see hints of this in the film, but apparently C.S.Where is the USS Greyhound now? ›
It is the only surviving Second World War destroyer still in her wartime configuration, and is docked in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.How many U-boats were sunk in the Atlantic? ›
Over 30,000 merchant seamen had died, as well as thousands of men from Allied navies and air forces. Many civilian passengers had also died. On the German side, of the 830 operational U-boats, at least 750 saw service in the Atlantic and in UK waters outside the North Sea. Of these, 510 (or 2 out of 3) were lost.What does meet her mean in Greyhound? ›
“Meet her” is used when the Conning Officer is steering in a general direction based on a visual reference (like another ship or a surfaced U-Boat) or for such a brief period that stating a course is not particularly useful. In this case, order a course to steer is optional.
How many German ships were sunk in ww2? ›
By war's end in mid 1945, German U-Boats had sunk ≈3000 Allied ships, less than 5% of the ships built during the war, only one of them a loaded troop transport.Is the captain based on a true story? ›
The Captain is based on a true set of events which happened in Germany towards the end of the war. The real Willi Herold was executed for his crimes on November 14, 1946. The Captain is not a pleasant movie to watch and is very disturbing.How long did it take to cross the Atlantic in WWII? ›
Convoy steaming time across the Atlantic would vary with the speed of the slowest ship. At just over Eight knots that would take around 17 days. Hope that helps.How many ships were sunk by U-boats? ›
For British merchant vessels operating during World War I, few things were so terrifying as the submarine. The German navy used the Unterseeboot, or U-boat, to sink 5,000 ships measuring more than 13 million gross register tons during the war.How many U-boats did Germany have? ›
In World War II Germany built 1,162 U-boats, of which 785 were destroyed and the remainder surrendered (or were scuttled to avoid surrender) at the capitulation. Of the 632 U-boats sunk at sea, Allied surface ships and shore-based aircraft accounted for the great majority (246 and 245 respectively).Which ship sank the most U-boats? ›
|1.||U-48||51 ships sunk (306,874 tons) 3 ships damaged (20,480 tons)|
|2.||U-103||45 ships sunk (237,596 tons) 3 ships damaged (28,158 tons)|
|3.||U-124||46 ships sunk (219,862 tons) 4 ships damaged (30,067 tons)|
|4.||U-123||42 ships sunk (218,813 tons) 6 ships damaged (53,568 tons)|
The outcome of the battle was a strategic victory for the Allies—the German blockade failed—but at great cost: 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships were sunk in the Atlantic for the loss of 783 U-boats (the majority of them Type VII submarines) and 47 German surface warships, including 4 battleships (Bismarck, ...How long was the Battle of the Atlantic? ›
The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous battle of the Second World War and one in which Canada played a central role. The battle began on the opening day of the war in September 1939 and ended almost six years later with Germany's surrender in May 1945.Is Greyhound a movie or series? ›
Greyhound was originally slated to open in theaters by Sony Pictures on March 22, 2020, but was delayed due to the coronavirus. It was eventually sold to Apple for distribution for $70 million. In addition to starring in the film, Hanks adapted the screenplay himself from the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C. S.What is the new war movie with Tom Hanks? ›
Tom Hanks will star in a sequel to the World War II movie "Greyhound" and executive produce a new World War II series "Masters of the Air," about the air campaign against Nazi Germany for Apple TV+. It's part of a new deal between the streaming service and Hanks and partner Gary Goetzman's Playtone Pictures.
What were Tom Hanks first movies? ›
Tom HanksWhere was Greyhound filmed? ›
Starring Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Rob Morgan, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Karl Glusman, and Elisabeth Shue, the film follows a US Navy Commander who must lead an Allied convoy in the Battle of the Atlantic. Greyhound was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.Who was Bushnell in Greyhound? ›
Greyhound (2020) - Chet Hanks as Bushnell - IMDb.What was the captains name in Greyhound? ›
They are at the mercy of the German submarine wolfpack. Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) captains the American destroyer USS Keeling, codenamed Greyhound, on his first convoy leading three other warships and many slow moving transport ships.What hotel was used in the Greyhound? ›
Pickwick Hotel with Greyhound Bus Terminal, Kansas City, Missouri, circa 1931.How long was the black pit in ww2? ›
However, Forester, best known for his "Horatio Hornblower" book series, was fastidious in his quest to detail the 1942 crossing of the perilous five-day "Black Pit" stretch of the Atlantic, where the Navy convoy was too far from land for valuable air support.Did ww2 ships have air conditioning? ›
To celebrate the rapid production of new naval and merchant vessels, September 27, 1941, was designated "Liberty Fleet Day" by the U.S. Maritime Commission. Carrier provided air conditioning or refrigeration for 11 of the 14 new vessels launched that day, and 258 of the sister ships that followed.How close did German subs get to USA? ›
So the two Bremen submarines are united 3,000 miles away at one of the United States' great forts of WWII. Their story is told to thousands of visitors to the Fort Miles museum as part of the German attack on the American homeland in World War II.How did US defeat German U-boats? ›
Improving spring weather by April, modern radar equipment, repenetration of the U-boat codes, new escort aircraft carriers, very-long-range patrol aircraft, and aggressive tactics had resulted in a major defeat of Germany's submarine fleet by May.Why did Germany lose the Battle of the Atlantic? ›
Hitler had lost the Battle of the Atlantic, due the perseverance of individual sailors and merchant seamen who kept the ships moving no matter what, along with improved coordination between the British Navy and Air Force, and technological developments that tipped the scales in favor of the Allies.
What does the helm order ease the 5 mean? ›
OOW: “Ease to five,” HELMSMAN: “Ease to Five,” Slowly turns the wheel to 5o of port helm, once the rudder angle indicator displays the ordered helm then reports. HELMSMAN: “Five of Port wheel on Sir/Ma'am,”What does hard right rudder hard over mean? ›
"Hard over" in control surfaces usually means that it was an uncommanded situation. In that the rudder was thrown to is travel limits but a force external to the command inputs.What does rudder amidships mean? ›
RUDDER AMIDSHIPS Means to put the rudder on the centerline; no rudder angle. As a rule, this order is merely "RUDDER AMIDSHIPS!" MEET HER Means to check the swing by putting on opposite rudder. STEADY AS YOU GO Means to steady the ship on the course it is heading at the time the order is given.What was the best battleship ever built? ›
The result was the Iowa class, the most powerful and best-designed battleships ever built. USS Missouri, the third laid down but last completed of the Iowa class, carried a slightly heavier main armament than the South Dakotas and could make five extra knots.Who had the most powerful navy in WW2? ›
The largest naval fleet of all time belonged to the United States during World War II. At its peak, the U.S. Navy consisted of 6,768 vessels. Since that peak, most countries around the world have reduced the size of their navies, investing in fewer, but more capable ships or other assets entirely.How many American submarines were lost in WW2? ›
In World War II, 52 US submarines were lost, with a total of 3,506 officers and enlisted men killed. The US Navy Submarine Service had the highest casualty percentage of any American forces in the War: about 20%.What is The Captain in bed? ›
captain's bed in American English
noun. a bed consisting of a shallow box with drawers in the side and a mattress on top.
TXH Pantcheff: The Executioner of the Emsland. Willi Herold, 19 years old.What is The Captain movie based on? ›
The film is based on the real accident of the Sichuan Airlines Flight 8633 from Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport to Lhasa Gonggar Airport on 14 May 2018, which was forced to make an emergency landing at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport after the cockpit windshield failed.Are there still passenger ships that cross the Atlantic? ›
Cunard Line's RMS Queen Mary 2 is the only ship currently making regular transatlantic crossings throughout the year, usually between Southampton and New York. For this reason it has been designed as a proper ocean liner, not as a cruise ship.
How many US troop ships were sunk in ww2? ›
According to the War Shipping Administration, the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service in World War II. Officially, a total of 1,554 ships were sunk due to war conditions, including 733 ships of over 1,000 gross tons.How long did it take the Titanic to cross the Atlantic? ›
137 hours – the anticipated journey time sailing from Queenstown to New York City.How many U-boats are still missing? ›
A U-boat of this type, listed for decades as being sunk off Gibraltar, was found on the sea bottom about 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey in 1991. According to the definitive website Uboat.org, a total of 50 German U-boats remained unaccounted for after the end of World War II.Are U-boats still used today? ›
Despite their prevalence during WWI and WWII, only four U-boats exist today. Preserved as museum vessels, these “undersea boats” are the last reminders of the Battle of the Atlantic, and the thousands of men who died in these “Iron Coffins.” The USS Chatelain made sonar contact with the U-505 on June 4, 1944.How long did U-boats stay at sea? ›
Concluding its fourth patrol, U-576 reached its home port in St. Lazare, France, in May 1942, after a long 49 days out at sea.How many submarines does Russia have? ›
|Country||# Submarines (GFP)||# Submarines (Al Jazeera)|
Two 126-cell battery groups gave her a submerged top speed of 8.75 knots (16.2 km/hr); holding her speed to 2 knots (4 km/hr), she could remain submerged for 48 hours. Before sonar became dependable, most submarine combat took place during the day, for the advantage of sunlight (depending on depths).Has a submarine ever sunk another submarine? ›
German submarine U-864 was a Type IXD2 U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine in World War II. On 9 February 1945, it became the only submarine in history to be sunk by an enemy submarine while both were submerged.How many US troop ships were sunk in ww2? ›
According to the War Shipping Administration, the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service in World War II. Officially, a total of 1,554 ships were sunk due to war conditions, including 733 ships of over 1,000 gross tons.How many ships did the US submarines sink? ›
Overall, U.S. Navy submarines sank around 1,300 Japanese merchant ships, as well as roughly 200 warships.
How many cargo ships were sunk by U-boats? ›
In less than seven months, U-boat attacks would destroy 22 percent of the tanker fleet and sink 233 ships in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.Who sank the most ships? ›
Tang was credited with sinking 33 enemy ships, totaling 116,454 tons, making it the most successful US submarine in history both in number of ships sunk and total tonnage. It received four battle stars, two Presidential Unit Citations, and its commanding officer received the Medal of Honor.What was the deadliest ship in ww2? ›
Wilhelm Gustloff – The German militarized KdF flagship sank after being hit by three torpedoes fired by the Soviet submarine S-13 on 30 January 1945 in the Baltic. The official death toll is 5,348, but it is estimated that up to 9,343 were killed, making it possibly the worst single-ship loss of life in history.Who lost the most ships in ww2? ›
The US Navy lost over 350 ships during World War II, but less than 30 since then. These are the most notable losses.What is the largest ship ever sunk by a submarine? ›
USS Archerfish (SS/AGSS-311) was a Balao-class submarine. She was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the archerfish. Archerfish is best known for sinking the Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano in November 1944, the largest warship ever sunk by a submarine.How many ww2 submarines are still missing? ›
Taylor's team has found a total of seven Navy submarines — five of which disappeared during World War II — bringing a measure of closure to hundreds of family members like Helen Baldwin. Taylor was honored this week with the Navy's highest civilian award, the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award.Has a submarine ever sunk a battleship? ›
With the sinking of Kongō, Sealion became the only allied submarine to sink an enemy battleship during World War II. By the end of its third war patrol, Sealion had sunk at least 13 ships: six tankers, five freighters, one destroyer, and one battleship.How deep did US submarines go in World war 2? ›
|Country||Class||Diving depth (feet)|
So the two Bremen submarines are united 3,000 miles away at one of the United States' great forts of WWII. Their story is told to thousands of visitors to the Fort Miles museum as part of the German attack on the American homeland in World War II.How many U-boats are still missing? ›
A U-boat of this type, listed for decades as being sunk off Gibraltar, was found on the sea bottom about 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey in 1991. According to the definitive website Uboat.org, a total of 50 German U-boats remained unaccounted for after the end of World War II.
How long did U-boats stay at sea? ›
Concluding its fourth patrol, U-576 reached its home port in St. Lazare, France, in May 1942, after a long 49 days out at sea.Why did submariners eat lemons? ›
His reported experiment on board a naval ship in 1747 showed that oranges and lemons were a cure for scurvy.What was the last US warship sunk? ›
The last US Navy ship lost at sea was USS Guardian. On 17 January 2013, Guardian ran aground on Tubbataha Reef in the Phillipines. Unable to be recovered, the vessel was decommissioned and struck on 15 February 2013.How many Japanese subs were sunk in ww2? ›
The tremendous accomplishments of American submarines were achieved at the expense of 52 subs with 374 officers and 3,131 enlisted volunteers lost during combat against Japan; Japan lost 128 submarines during the Second World War in Pacific waters.