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Thursday, February 25, 1999 Published at 14:05 GMT


Hollywood hijacks history

Savin Private Ryan: World War II drama - but where are the British?

Hollywood is rewriting World War II history - casting Americans and not the British as heroes.

Universal Studios is making a World War II film about a bunch of Americans who captured Hitler's Enigma machine and subsequently broke the Nazi codes.

The film has raised more than a few hackles in Britain - because the capture of the machine was in fact made by the British Navy - and it was British experts that cracked the codes at the top-secret Bletchley Park base in Buckinghamshire.

Their work led to the deciphering of German navy messages and helped to save many British convoys.

'Based on real events'

[ image: The Enigma machine was vital  cracking Hitler's secret codes]
The Enigma machine was vital cracking Hitler's secret codes
The $55m Hollywood production, expected to star Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi, is also considering switching the action from the mid-Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The studio said it won't promote the film as fact but will instead say it is based on real events.

The Royal Navy said it is not surprised by the Hollywood plans. "It is unfortunate, but it is not the first time, and I am sure it will not be the last, that Hollywood has distorted history."

The recent World War II blockbuster Saving Private Ryan angered some British veterans because the film only showed Americans in northern France.

'Typical American approach'

Captain Joe Baker-Cresswell was the wartime commander of the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Bulldog which seized the machine from a German U-boat in May 1941.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme his son Charles Baker-Cresswell said he was disappointed by the film.

"It's a typical American approach. We've seen this time and time again."

[ image: Pearl Harbour: The subject of many US World War II films]
Pearl Harbour: The subject of many US World War II films
Back in 1941 the submarine that was carrying the enigma machine had already sunk two ships from the convoy the Bulldog was accompanying, when depth charges forced it to the surface.

Luckily Captain Baker-Cresswell decided to board the submarine before sinking it - an action he later described as a "whim".

The crew found vital code books which the German crew had not had time to destroy. They listed the top secret codes the Germans were to use for the next four months of the war.

Charles Baker-Cresswell said of his father's discovery: "As soon as they got the stuff on board he realised he had something pretty rare."

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