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Besatzung Dora


Here is the intended, but never printed or distributed, Kleinplakat, for the film, taken from our cinema owners' guide/Werberatschlag for the forbidden film.


Dora kleinplakat.jpg


The fate of Karl Ritter’s last war film,  Besatzung Dora (1942/43).


The Reichsminister for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, Dr Joseph Goebbels, wrote in his private diaries on 29 March 1943: In the evening the new Ritter film “Besatzung Dora” was previewed for me…handling of the film very attractive. Admittedly, more suitable for the second than for the fourth war year.


This film is a good example of Ritter’s Zeitfilmapproach to feature filmmaking. Historian Jay Baird, in his book To Die for Germany‘s  chapter on Ritter, explains that a Zeitfilmis a ‘film that attains coherence through a cinematic telegram style, resulting in theatrical documentary film. Episodic in nature, the plots do not employ individual character development; instead, they deliver an ideological message through a series of fast-moving action scenes.’ [1]


Besatzung Dorais the story of a survey plane during WWII and its young crew – considered a sort of sequel to Stukas with many of the same young actors cast.  Led by Lt. Cranes (Hannes Stelzer), the Air Crew "Dora" suffers a crash landing, and after rescue its four crew travel to Berlin to take charge of their replacement aircraft. But the new plane will not be ready for eight days and in the meantime the men have official leave in Berlin with their girlfriends. The film has comedy of error and mistaken identity moments, with the obviously mismatched girlfriends and their pilot boyfriends eventually swapping partners in a comradely and sensible way before the film’s happy ending. In the film’s press-book Ritter commented, Our film served two purposes: to provide the homeland an idea of the experiences of our pilots at the front, and, alongside, an hour of cheerful contemplation to entertain and relax. [2]


The script, written by Ritter and Fred Hildebrandt, was finished on 19 June 1942. The start of filming followed on 8 August in Paris, then in Dieppe, in Berlin, then on the Russian front (Leningrad front), and in Rome. The film uniquely was filmed entirely on location – including active war zones - excepting for one studio shot at the Rome Cinecitta studio representing the Arab street scene in Tobruk. (North Africa was no longer accessible to Ritter and his crew; as Rommel's Afrikakorp had been sabotaged and defeated by the breaking of the German cipher codes.) Even all of the Berlin scenes were all filmed outdoors on location.   


The Third Reich’s extensive film media commenced publicity three full months before the film finished production.  The 7 October ’42 issue of Filmwoche magazine had a two – page spread with four stills promoting the forthcoming film. The official Reichsfilmkammer’s organ Der Deutsche Filmhad nearly a full page devoted to the film with four more film stills in its November ’42 issue. The monthly Viennese publication Tonfilm – Theater – Tanzhad an article on Dorain its December ’42 issue, which was illustrated with five stills. Besatzung Dora was announced in the film industry’s ‘Deutsche Filmkunst 1942/43’ promotion booklet sent out to cinema owners on 7 December ’42 by the Deutsche Filmvertriebs–Gesellschaft, Berlin. 


BELOW, the 2 alternative "Das Programm von Heute" tri-fold film brochures for German cinema audiences printed in 1943 to promote the film, which was banned and never released (these DPvHs from our Collection.)



Production shooting finished on 1 January '43.  Publicity continued with Der Deutsche Filmin its January ’43 issue having a photo of Major Karl Ritter in his Luftwaffe uniform during the filming of Dora The 3 February ‘43 issue of Filmwelt then had a two page spread on the film with no fewer than nine stills, entitled ‘’Kameradschaft über alles’ in preparation for the general release.  The Ufa film studio produced a twenty-page press–book for publicity purposes.  A poster design was drawn up, glossy film stills shot, small window posters designed, newspaper bromide ads circulated…everything was ready for the highly anticipated new Ritter war film. The Nazi propaganda machine was in full readiness.


On 31 January 1943 the Battle of Stalingrad ended with massive German losses and marked the turning point in the war against Nazi Germany.  Film historian Ritter’s use of contemporary story–telling through his Zeitfilmsworked while the war was being won by Germany, but was unable to assist Goebbels when the tide turned. Dorothea Hollstein states Ritter’s inclination for contemporary (film-making) was dangerous – as long as the general public held to the possibility that the argument of film propaganda was testing reality, other conclusions could be reached and propaganda rejected lock, stock and barrel.[3]


Ritter edited Besatzung Dora in January and February ’43.  On 18 February '43 Ritter attended the famous 'Total War' speech of Joseph Goebbels at the Berliner Sportpalast. [4]   Ironically, that very day he had been suddenly informed that due to 'developments in the war situation'Besatzung Dora was to be banned, just before its intended premiere. But also – unbeknownst to Ritter – because Nazi Party ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, as confirmed in his diaries, had told Hitler that Ritter’s films were ‘generally patriotic but on no account National Socialist.’[5]

The film indeed could not be released because it had key scenes taking place in North Africa and by early ’43 Rommel had been defeated and the Germans had withdrawn from Africa. Also, in a Berlin café scene, one of the pilots talks with his girlfriend about the future – living on a farming estate in Russia after the war is won.  These scenes simply not be edited out without destroying the film’s plot. Besatzung Dora was no longer useful to Dr Goebbels.


On 12 March 1943 Ritter was informed in a letter from Ufa that he was being assigned to help oversee the development of newly recruited young actors and actresses. [6]  This task in the middle of the critical year of WWII for Germany indicates how far Ritter had fallen in estimation by Joseph Goebbels.


Ritter campaigned to have Besatzung Dorareleased, even as the war situation further deterioratedOn 19 January 1944, eleven full months after the film’s ban, Major General of the Luftwaffe Kreipe wrote to Ufa Chief Frowein to state that Feldmarshall Göring had ‘no grounds’ to oppose Ritter’s film Besatzung Dorabeing released to the general public, that the film had a ‘special worth,’ and he urged Ufa to release it.[7]  The film remained banned, and was only ever shown to a private invited Luftwaffe audience on 2 February 1945.  Besatzung Dorais one of ten Karl Ritter films that remain banned from public viewing in Germany and Austria to this day.  


--- William Gillespie, author of Karl Ritter, 2ndedition ©2014and The Making of the Crew of the Dora, ©2016. 




[1]  Baird, Jay; To Die for Germany, (Bloomington, Indiana Univ. Press, 1990), p.174

[2] Ufa Bild und Textinformationen, Besatzung Dora, (Berlin, Deutschen Filmvertriebsgesellschaft, 1943) p.3

[3]  Hollstein, D; Antisemitische Filmpropaganda, p. 160

[4] Ritter’s Sportpalast  ticket stub for Parkett 2278, Ritter, K;  Tagebuch,  18 Februar 1943  

[5]  Wetzel, K. & Hagemann, P; Zensur – Verbotene deutsche Films 1933-1945; (Berlin, Verlag Volker Spiess, 1978), pp.61f.

[6]  BA-FA N2241/5.

[7]  BA-FA N2241/4.