We Dive at Dawn

We Dive at Dawn is a 1943 war film directed by Anthony Asquith and starring John Mills and Eric Portman as Royal Navy submariners in the Second World War. It was written by Val Valentine and J. B. Williams with uncredited assistance from Frank Launder. It was produced by Edward Black. The film's sets were designed by Walter Murton.

We Dive at Dawn
We Dive at Dawn title.jpg
Title card
Directed byAnthony Asquith
Produced byEdward Black
Written byStory and screenplay:
Val Valentine
J. B. Williams
Frank Launder
StarringJohn Mills
Eric Portman
Music byLouis Levy
CinematographyJack E. Cox
Edited byR.E. Dearing
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
15 April 1943
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom


It is April, 1942. Lieutenant Freddie Taylor (John Mills) and some crew of the submarine Sea Tiger (pennant number P61) are given a week's leave after an unsuccessful patrol. Leading Seaman Hobson (Eric Portman) goes home to save his marriage, while a reluctant Torpedo Gunner's Mate Corrigan (Niall MacGinnis) departs for his wedding in London. When the crew are recalled early Corrigan is relieved, though later regrets not completing his marriage. Sea Tiger has been assigned the top secret mission to sink Nazi Germany's new battleship, the Brandenburg, before she transits the Kiel Canal for sea trials in the Baltic Sea. Sea Tiger must put to sea immediately.

Crossing the North Sea, the submarine picks up three shot-down Luftwaffe pilots from a rescue buoy, and prevents their radio alert to German forces. When the submarine enters a minefield, an airman panics and reveals the Brandenburg is further ahead than thought. The German airman is attacked by another airman and subsequently dies. Taylor decides on a desperate gamble to pursue the Brandenburg into the German-controlled Baltic Sea.

When the Brandenburg is spotted, Sea Tiger fires all its torpedoes, but dives before assessing their impact due to German destroyers dropping depth charges. By expelling oil and other debris including the body of the German airman, Taylor deceives the Germans into believing that the submarine has sunk. Although successfully escaped Sea Tiger no longer has enough oil to reach Britain.

Taylor decides to have his crew abandon ship on a Danish island. Hobson, a former merchant seaman who speaks German and knows the port on the island, persuades Taylor to let him go ashore and search for oil. He succeeds and Sea Tiger enters the harbour under cover of darkness, using Hobson's intelligence about the harbour depth. Aided by friendly Danish sailors they refuel while Hobson and other crewmen hold off the German garrison. Although Pincher (the cook) is killed and Oxford and Lieutenant Johnson are wounded, they get back to the re-fuelled submarine and flee the port.

On returning to Britain the crew learn they sank the Brandenburg, and are elated at the Admiralty's welcoming pennant: "Well done, P61". Waiting for them are Corrigan's fiancée and Hobson's wife and son.


John Mills as Lieutenant Taylor


We Dive at Dawn was filmed at Gaumont-British Studios in London,[1] with the co-operation of the British Admiralty. John Mills prepared for his role as the captain of Sea Tiger by sailing in a submarine on a training mission down the Clyde. He recalled a crash dive:

The ship then seemed to stand on her nose and I felt her speeding like an arrow towards the sea bed; charts and crockery went flying in all directions; I hung on to a rail near the periscope trying to look heroic and totally unconcerned; the only thing that concerned me was the fact that I was sure that my face had turned a pale shade of pea-green.[2]

Exterior shots of the submarines P614 and P615 were used for Sea Tiger (with the final number painted over to make "P61").[3] The vessels were a Turkish S-class submarine that had been part of a consignment ordered by the Turkish Navy from the British company Vickers in 1939. But with the outbreak of World War II, the four boats were requisitioned by the Royal Navy and designated the P611 class in the British Fleet. They were similar in design but slightly smaller than the British S class, although with a higher conning tower.[3] The S-class boat HMS Safari also appears in the film.


The film has been issued on VHS by Madacy Records and Timeless Multimedia among others, and on DVD by ITV DVD and Carlton.


  1. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  2. ^ Steinberg, Jay "We Dive at Dawn" (TCM article)
  3. ^ a b Mackenzie, S. P. (2001). British War Films 1939 - 45. A&C Black. p. 84. ISBN 9781852852580.

While this is a WWII plot featuring a fictional German battleship named Brandenburg (and based heavily on the 'pocket battleships' of the Deutschland-class), the last German battleship to bear this name had been the pre-dreadnought SMS Brandenburg, which was in reserve status throughout WW1 and was broken up for scrap in 1919-1920. The name was used simply because it was, at the time of filming, an unused name appropriate for the fictional warship.

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