In certain war films, Germans are shown shouting "Feuer!" to give the order to open fire. However, during the movie U-571, the German U-boat commander (Thomas Kretschmann) shouted something that sounded like "lawss!" to fire a torpedo. Subtitles showed "Fire!" as he said that.

What's the exact word? I could find a similar word in German "los", which according to Google translate, it means "off". Could that be the word?

  • 4
    Before "fire" was used in terms of muskets there was "loose" to let arrows fly. It seems like a good word to use to open "open fire". You really don't want to confuse it with the panic word for open combustion on a submersible. "Did you say you wanted us to shoot these things or that you've spotted a fire and you want us to come put it out?" – Mikey Mouse Sep 17 at 8:29
  • Indeed, los and loose are cognates. – Carsten S Sep 17 at 8:52
up vote 47 down vote accepted

"Los" is the German equivalent of English "Go" - as in "Ready, set, go" which is "Auf die Plätze, fertig, los" in German.

Thus it's a frequent choice when something is launched or set off.

  • 3
    Yep also to release / let something free. As when something is let loose, on the hunt et.c. "die Wachthunde loslassen". – mathreadler Sep 17 at 9:46
  • In this context, this is the correct answer. – AnoE Sep 17 at 13:23

"Fire" isn't really a very logical way to command the release of a torpedo - unlike Firearms and cannons, there isn't really a lot of fire involved underwater.

This is why the standard command to release a torpedo is, even today, in German "Torpedo los". In the movie, that was apparently shortened to "los". "los" is a prefix for a lot of verbs that denotes release actions, like

  • loslassen
  • loslaufen
  • ...
  • 3
    basically like "release"? – RealCheeseLord Sep 17 at 11:11
  • 3
    @RealCheeseLord basically "release", but it is better translated as "go!" – rexkogitans Sep 17 at 11:44
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    “los” is more than a prefix; it’s a self-contained adverb or interjection with a similar meaning as “weg” and cognate to the English “loose”. Another common nautical command is “Leinen los!” (“Cast off!”). – David Foerster Sep 17 at 11:56
  • 2
    also as in ready-set-go, *Achtung, fertig, los!" – dlatikay Sep 17 at 13:18

Submarine warfare uses different wording for firing a torpedo. The command "fire" is only used for declaring an emergency: something in the submarine is burning.

In order not to confuse the command to fire a torpedo with that emergency, a different command "Torpedo los!" is used.

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