The Mystery of Indy's Sub Ride Solved

The Mystery of Indy’s Sub Ride Solved

So waaaay back in February, I mused over the scene in Raiders where Indy apparently stows away on a Nazi submarine. What is going on here? Are we meant to believe that Dr. Jones somehow snuck onto the sub, found … Continued

So waaaay back in February, I mused over the scene in Raiders where Indy apparently stows away on a Nazi submarine.

What is going on here? Are we meant to believe that Dr. Jones somehow snuck onto the sub, found a hiding place, and stayed unnoticed for however long the trip to Secret Nazi Island was? In the comments of the original post, some people assumed that the u-boat just cruised on the surface the whole time. It’s true that we never actually see the thing go underwater. However, in my sub movie experience, the only time you hear that klaxon is when you’re preparing to dive.

At the time, the Sub Controversy remained unresolved. But part of Overthinking™ is continuing to think about something well beyond the point at which any reasonable person has moved on. And recently, I had an epiphany: what the hell are those guys saying?

I contacted several German speakers and had them watch the clip above, to translate what the Nazis are talking about. They agreed on two things:

  1. The actors playing the Germans have thick American accents.
  2. A repeated word is “Tauchen,” which means “dive.”

Just to make sure, I checked out Cswap, a website which archives movie captions. Here’s their subtitles for the sub scene:

Tauchen, tauchen das uboot. (My source’s translation: “Dive, dive the submarine.”)
Tauchen das uboot! (“Dive the submarine!”)
Wier hören das periskop nach oben, Herr Oberst. (Actually, my source tells me this is most likely a mistake, since “hören” means “hear.” But basically, “We’re putting up the periscope, Mr. Oberst.”)

I have no clue how SHE makes the trip. Shoved in a torpedo tube?

I have no clue how SHE makes the trip. Shoved in a torpedo tube?

Okay, so that solves the mystery of whether the sub goes underwater – it does. But we still have no idea how Indy manages to make the trip undetected. The only logical explanation is that he stows away inside the sub, even though this approaches “nuking the fridge” levels of implausibility.

And then, another epiphany: why not just consult the actual script for Raiders, which is conveniently available online?

This is a shooting script, and it actually differs quite a bit from the finished film. For instance, in this screenplay, after the Nazis open the ark, it doesn’t kill all of them on the entire island. Indy and Marion have to grab the ark and make their escape via… a crazy minecar chase.

So according to the script, how does the sub scene unfold? Well, the boat starts going under, but stops when just the top of its periscope is breaking the waves. Indy clings to the scope and gets dragged along. He then uses his whip to actually tie himself to the periscope, where he dangles for the entire trip, watching as shark fins circle him. Finally…


The submarine has stopped. The water is calm. The moon
is bright. A gentle swell splashes Indy awake. He blinks,
tries to regain his senses. He makes an inventory of his
body. Surprised to find himself intact, his spirits lift.
Some hidden reserve of energy flows through him. He frees
his aching arms from the wet leather of his whip, leaving
only one loop around his waist to hold him to the sub. He
rubs his hands and stretches. Once again, he has survived.
To fight again.

There are actually a couple photos that prove this sequence was at least partially shot.

Now, one could argue that since the periscope ride never made it into the film, it isn’t really “canon.” For all we know, it was left out of the final cut because Spielberg and Lucas decided it was too silly, and would rather you imagine something else. But this is probably as close to an explanation as we’re gonna get.

By the way, it turns out that someone else on the internet has already been overthinking this scene. In fact, he’s scanned the official comic book, which depicts the whole periscope riding caper as it was originally scripted. Go to the above link and scroll halfway down for a nice little nugget of hardcore geekiness.

BONUS OVERTHINKINGIT: The IMDB “Goofs” page for this movie has an excellent point – there is probably no way they could have fit the ark onto a WWII-era sub. Have you seen those hatches? Maybe if they’d taken the ark out of its crate and turned it on its side. Maybe.

27 Comments on “The Mystery of Indy’s Sub Ride Solved”

  1. lee OTI Staff #

    My first thought was that holding onto the periscope while the sub is under water also approaches “nuking the fridge” levels of implausibility.

    However, according to Wikipedia, “Because speed and range were severely limited underwater while running on battery power, U-boats were required to spend most of their time surfaced running on diesel engines, diving only when attacked or for rare daytime torpedo strikes. The most common U-boat attack during the early years of the war was conducted on the surface and at night”

    Okay, I buy that, but as you pointed out at the beginning of article, the dialogue clearly states that the boat is diving. So I guess it dives just below the surface, and that allows the boat to run on diesel engines?


    • Joe Finch #

      When a diesel sub ran on the surface a watch would be on deck of the conning tower looking out for any contacts and in particular aircraft so being tied to the periscope makes no sense.


  2. Topher #

    So does this long forgotten goof of the submarine ride make up for the nuked fridge in Crystal Skull? Or does it pave the way for even more implausibility?

    As for fitting the Ark on the sub… head hurts… feel an aneurism coming on!


    • Shane Wolfe #

      They could have loaded the Ark using the torpedo loading hatchs; way big enough to accept a crate.


  3. Sean S. #

    As an ex submariner (USS Bancroft) I never thought there was a mystery; there’s no way that U-Boat ever submerged: they could not have gotten the crate inside!

    On my first patrol, we had a vending machine installed. We literally had to cut the machine into pieces to get it down through the hatches. Once we had it “inside” we welded/glued it back together.

    This was on a fairly modern nuclear sub, can you imagine how small the hatches were on a pre-WWII German U-Boat? What? Did they cut the Ark into pieces to get it below decks? I think not. They lashed it to the deck and sailed on the surface to their island. Indiana Jones just had to hide behind the crate. During normal surface ops the crew would not have been out on the deck, it’s too dangerous and completely unnecessary.

    Regardless of the comix or the script, they never could have submerged. What’s the German for “Belay that Order”?


  4. lee OTI Staff #

    We should also consider the length of the ride. From what I can tell in the video clip, Indy starts in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Sicily. He then heads towards some islands in the Aegean Sea, between Greece and Turkey.

    Using Google Maps (, I estimated the length of the ride to be about 530 miles. If U-Boat’s average surface speed is 12 knots (13.81 mph), then the journey would have taken about 38 hours, which is a long time to hang onto a periscope with sharks snapping around you. With no food or fresh water.


  5. Matt #

    Sean –
    First of all, thank you for your service! At first I was amused by the idea of a vending machine on a submarine. Where do you go to get change? Then again, maybe it’s a good solution to the problem of letting the boys have the occasional Snickers. So what kind of things were in the vending machine? Just candy?

    Lee –
    That is some very clever Overthinking. 38 hours is a rather long time to be dragged through the ocean.

    I wonder if we could pinpoint exactly WHERE Secret Nazi Island is? Remind me to do that sometime.


  6. Trevor #

    The minute I saw the title for this article, I thought “I’ve come home.” ;-p

    Considering Lucas and Spielberg’s fondness for going back and digitally ruining their previous masterworks (i.e, Greedo shooting first), wouldn’t it be possible that they decide for “Raiders” 30th anniversary to add something in which Indy’s sub ride is plausible and therefore ruined? I think it’s a very entertaining gap in narrative development and a perfect homage in a way to the implausibility of the serial movies that Lucas and Spielberg were using as inspiration.


  7. Mads #

    Well it’s an old trick to just cut to a new location and just let the imagination of the audience work out the connection. Reminds me of something i heard in a Pod-cast from Creative Screenwriting the writer of Jumper (That silly boring film about Hayden Christensen film). There is a scene i the beginning after the hero has made a bank robbery without leaving any trace the bad guy just pops up at the hero’s apartment. The interviewer asked the writer how the bad guy found the hero and the writer said that they wrote it like that because then they didn’t have to worry about how he did it and i that way just making the villain seem more frightening,


  8. Sean S. #

    The vending machine had sodas; a quarter each as I recall. Most folks don’t need change for a quarter. The money was used for various off-patrol crew-entertainment activities. Not surprisingly, when you spend 105 days underwater, you gotta have a marketplace for guys to spend their money. At patrol’s end, cigarettes were WAY pricey.


  9. Jim #

    I don’t speak German, but I know that “Oberst” is German for “Colonel.” But of course, Colonel is an Army/Air Force rank, the equivalent of “Captain” in the navy. The writers probably also didn’t know that the rank most u-boats captains had was Kapitänleutnant. (Notice in Das-Boot the captain is referred to as “Herr Kaleun.” Short for Kapitänleutnant) To rack is up as a double fail when it comes to military ranks.


  10. Umbriel #

    Jim — I thought Oberst/Colonel was the wrong rank at first too, but I think the sailor might have been speaking to Colonel Dietrich (Wolf Kahler), a passenger on the sub at the time, rather than the sub’s commander.

    Sean — I’ve visited the U-505 – the German U-boat on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago – and its hatches are indeed narrower than those of WWII-era US subs I’ve visited around the country, which themselves were probably narrower than those of the nuclear sub you served on. I’d guess the U-boat’s hatches were about 24″ across, tops. A U-boat might have room for cargo the size of the Ark crate, though, in the space between the deck and the pressure hull. I believe there were storage spaces there for liferafts and such, accessible by lifting up sections of the deck, and not requiring a squeeze through a watertight hatch.


    • John Rackham #

      The sub shown would have been a Type VIIB which did not have the storage lockers for life rafts that the VIIC/41 did. However there was a compartment for keeping a spare torpedo and components between the top of the pressure hull in the forward torpedo room and the deck. Since the sub wasn’t at war there would be no need to worry about having to go deep and get attacked.

      U boats were notoriously slow underwater so I don’t see why they would dive at all. Why switch from diesel to electric and drain the batteries to go slower than just running on the surface? Also Nazi boats didn’t have a klaxon, usually a guy just yelled down the hatch.


  11. EG #

    The german captain shouts the command “Tauchen!” very clearly at the beginning of the scene, indeed several times. That means “Dive!” so you don’t need to rely on having heard that klaxon or whatever, to know that the submarine does the trip under water.


    • EG #

      Oops, I should have read the whole text before answering.


  12. Michael Nørr #

    The German crew member is not saying: “Wier hören das periskop nach oben, Herr Oberst.
    …He says: “Wir erhöhen das Periskop nach oben, Herr Oberst”….erhöhen means ‘to raise’, which makes perfect sense.


  13. Thanatos343 #

    Is there really only one hatch in the top of that tower? I’d always thought there must have been an inner and outer hatch. With no reason to open the hatches while submrged, Indi say between the 2 for the duration of the trip.


    • Thanatos343 #



      • Angry Dad #

        I’ve never been on a German U-boat, but did spend a summer on a US Guppy-class WWII sub as an officer candidate in the summer of 1970, and there is indeed an upper hatch, the main hatch for the conning tower, and at the bottom of a tube with a ladder about 6-7 feet tall, another hatch, below which is the boat’s quartermaster station, where the QM, a senior enlisted person, does his work, spreads out his papers, etc. During practice dives where we were allowed to have the conn for the dive, ring the klaxon, announce “Dive, dive”, etc., which sent the lookouts scurrying through the main hatch opening and down the tube into the boat so that you were the last one on the conning tower watching the sub’s bow disappear into the water as the crew opened the forward tanks to take in water and commence the dive, it was made very clear that should you fail to latch the main hatch in time to avoid water coming in, and thus flooding the QM’s station, he would literally close the lower hatch on your feet if necessary and they might or might not belay the dive and surface and check to see if you were still there and still alive. I did indeed have more trouble than the much heavier Chief of the Boat when he demonstrated how one goes down the hatch and uses bodyweight to overcome the strong spring and latch holding the hatch open, he outweighing me by about 80 pounds, and when I then looked down the tube I saw the QM looking up at me and grinning as he reached for the release for the lower hatch. Happily, I did manage to pull the top hatch down to where I could just catch the turning lock, and so he waited and I secured the hatch and went on down the tube and the second hatch was closed, with no water problems. What fun! A true sea story. Probably the best time I had in the USN.


        • Angry Dad #

          But back to the comment about Indy hiding out in the tube, if there was one, between the two hatches, extremely unlikely , as he’d make noise at some point, you can’t be sure the sub will not surface if only to charge its batteries (don’t know if that class of U-boat had snorkels), you’ve got to pee, etc. All of that would be easier to do tied to the periscope, apart from becoming shark bait, but that’s just so ridiculous too. And no submarine ever, whether WWI, WWII or later, would raise its periscope while submerged except for specific purposes, to maintain stealth, and would never go long with it in the up position. A raised scope requires constant correction on the bow planes to maintain periscope depth (close enough to the surface to be useable, without breaking the surface with any part of the ship but the scope), so it would be a ridiculous effort, for nothing. Subs don’t need to see through the scope to navigate and be underway submerged. And a raised scope does leave a small wake which surface lookouts can spot. It’s much more plausible that the entire trip to the secret island was made on the surface, but the conning tower would have had round the clock, day and night, three or four lookouts watching for planes and ships as well as one or two officers, so Indy had better have a snug place to hide in between the hulls, like another commentor suggested, where they store the rafts, whatever, or he’s spotted almost instantly. All in all, I noticed this discrepancy long ago, and it is a weakness in an otherwise taut tale. Pity.


  14. Avram #

    At 138:20 into the movie the scene transitions to a view of the sub approaching the island. The sub is traveling on the surface and you can clearly see Indy still on the conning tower. I think it’s more likely that (lucky for Indy) the sub either traveled on the surface or just below the surface with the mast above water than that Indy hid inside of the sub and then somehow managed to climb back out as the sub surfaced on approach to the island.


  15. Eil #

    Okay, this is an entirely different take…

    What I always assumed since I first saw the movie was this. You see Indiana Jones on top of the submarine. Then you see a few shots of the sailors inside the submarine. One of them is dressed as an officer, standing apart from the others, not saying anything. I always assumed this was Indiana Jones.

    It’s such a well-used movie trope that I assumed Lucas and Spielberg didn’t think it needed an explanation. “Hero slips his way onto the ship, incapacitates an enemy by a miraculously expert punch to the head, switches clothes, and doesn’t have to reveal his American accent because officers can give commands with a nod or a shrug.” That’s literally what I believed.

    Based on the conversations here, I am guessing that officer was not played by Harrison Ford. Deserves another viewing. But I’m actually interested to hear that my interpretation might not have been correct, because I thought that whole idea seemed farfetched even for Indiana Jones. Not that using a submarine like a skateboard is that much better…


  16. Michael M #

    It was not wartime, but presumably considered a secret mission, so a desire for stealth would suggest that for at least a significant part of the last stage of the journey the U-boat would be submerged.
    Even so, a submerged U-boat would not have had its periscope raised for all that stage, let alone the entire journey, as it would have slowed it even further.
    While surfaced, the U-boat would have had a watch of more than one crewman on the conning tower.
    Indianna would not have been able to do what the movie or comic implies.
    Still, the whole movie requires a suspension of belief, like the matinees to which it pays a respectful and wonderful homage.


  17. Scott Pendleton #

    Way too over thinking it. If the BV-38 “wing” is a fictitous aircraft and the tank in TLC is a made up WWI tank class built on a bulldozer, why can’t the submarine be a fictitous U-boat class that has a water tight cargo bay that is compartmented off from the rest of the sub The only access is via the deck. He simply opens the hatch, climbs in with the Ark and then seals the hatch.


  18. Robert P. Wills #

    As a German speaker (Thanks DLIFLI!) I hear ‘Wir erhohen das periskop nach oben…”

    Hohen is high. Erhohen is to ‘make high’ or to raise. So they are raising the periscope up.


  19. Ron #

    If one watches carefully, when you see a sub officer hunched over the map table with dividers in hand…clunk two feet hit the deck to the right, camera pans up – IT’S INDY IN AN OFFICER UNIFORM! – switch to freighter captain peering around for Jones only to find him swimming on to the tail of the sub looking around like he’s lost something. I have seen Raiders at least 100 times – why the close up of Indy in disguise in the sub?


  20. Joe McGuan #

    I’ve seen a great deal of WWII submarine movies and been on the German U505 in Chicago. The accomodations are tight and very cramped for the regular crew.
    Which leads to my question regarding the use of a submarine to transport additional army troops as well a large crate with the Ark of the Covenant. Where do do they fit these guys and how do you fit a 6x4x4 crate into a sub hatchway?


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