SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 – 1945; Aviation;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Leadership; Courage in War;


AGE; 10+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1949; 132 minutes; B & W. Available from


One of the Best! This movie is on TWM’s short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.

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TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

Film Study Worksheet for Social Studies Classes for a Work of Historical Fiction and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.


A new commander is posted to a WWII American heavy bomber group assigned to daylight bombing runs over targets in Germany and occupied Europe. Fighter escorts have not yet arrived from the U.S. and casualties are high. The unit is functioning poorly and morale is low. Can the new commander make the bomber group into an effective fighting unit under these conditions? The film is based on the novel by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett.


Selected Awards:

1949 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Jagger), Best Sound Recording; 1949 Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Peck); 1950 New York Film Critics Awards: Best Actor(Peck). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.


Featured Actors:

Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger, Paul Stewart.



Henry King.


This film is a study in the leadership of an organization under extreme stress. It displays one of the essential ingredients in the Allied victory during World War II, effective operation of complex organizations. This movie was used for years to teach leadership skills to business executives and U.S. Air Force Academy Cadets.


MINOR. The pilots and officers smoke and drink, sometimes to excess.


Review the Helpful Background section. Then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.


The B-17 Flying Fortress was a high-speed offensive bomber developed by Boeing in the late 1930s. It had heavy armor and 13 machine guns which were effective against enemy fighters.

In 1943 the English and the Americans disagreed about tactics for the air war against Germany. Earlier in the war, the English had suffered unacceptably high losses during daylight bombing. In response, they equipped their heavy bombers, the Lancasters and the Halifaxes, for night bombing. However, night bombing was not precise and could only target general areas. The American B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators were more heavily armored than the English planes and had bombsights that allowed them to strike specific targets during the day. The U.S. Army Air Corps wanted to conduct long-range daylight strategic bombing.

The differences in tactical views were accommodated by having the English bomb at night while the Americans tried to prove that daylight raids would not result in unacceptable losses. The odds against a crew surviving the war were daunting. The original tour of duty was 25 missions. The average survival rate was 15 missions. Sometimes the tours of duty were extended. In October 1943, the American planes suffered a 25% loss rate in the air raids against the ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt. Daylight bombing was then curtailed until 1944 when long-range fighter escorts, most often P-51 Mustangs, became available. The film shows an American bomber group during 1943, before the curtailment of daylight bombing suffering from the effects of the high casualty rates of the daylight bombing campaign.

World War II-era bombing attacks on German industry were generally not effective in stopping war production. The paragraph below was taken from the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report, made shortly after the war, in September of 1945. The results of the bombing of the German aircraft industry were similarly disappointing.


The Ball-Bearing Attack

The German anti-friction bearing industry was heavily concentrated. When the attack began, approximately half the output came from plants in the vicinity of Schweinfurt. An adequate supply of bearings was correctly assumed to be indispensable for German war production.

In a series of raids beginning on August 17, 1943, about 12,000 tons of bombs were dropped on this target — about one-half of one percent of the total tonnage delivered in the air war. In an attack on August 17 by 200 B-17’s on Schweinfurt, the plants were severely damaged. Records of the industry taken by the Survey (and supplemented and checked by interrogation) show that production of bearings at this center was reduced sharply — September production was 35% of the pre-raid level. In this attack 36 of the 200 attaching planes were lost. In the famous and much-discussed second attack on October 14, 1943, when the plants were again severely damaged, one of the decisive air battles of the war took place. The 228 bombers participating were strongly attacked by German fighters when beyond the range of their fighter escort. Losses to fighters and to flak cost the United States forces 62 planes with another 138 damaged in varying degree, some beyond repair. Repeated losses of this magnitude could not be sustained; deep penetrations without an escort, of which this was among the earliest, were suspended and attacks on Schweinfurt were not renewed for four months. The Germans made good use of the breathing spell. A czar was appointed with unlimited priority for requisitioning men and materials. Energetic steps were taken to disperse the industry. The restoration was aided by the circumstance — which Survey investigations show to have been fairly common to all such raids — that machines and machine tools were damaged far less severely than factory structures. German equipment was redesigned to substitute other types of bearings wherever possible. And the Germans drew on the substantial stocks that were on hand. Although there were further attacks, production by the autumn of 1944 was back to pre-raid levels. From the examination of the records and personalities in the ball-bearing industry, the user industries and the testimony of war production officials, there is no evidence that the attacks on the ball-bearing industry had any measurable effect on essential war production. Source: U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report

The air war against Germany had mixed results. It did not destroy civilian morale. It did reduce steel and synthetic oil production dramatically but German production of fighter planes and armored vehicles reached their peak in the second half of 1944 when Allied daylight bombing was very heavy.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. Explain the role of technological advancement in fighting World War II.



1. What was the technique used by the new commander to get the bomber group to shape up?


2. Why was getting too involved with the men a risk for any leader of the bomber group?



3. Would you have volunteered to be a bomber pilot in the early days of WWII?


4. Why did the pilots’ fear increase each time they went on a mission?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


1. What would our lives be like if the Americans who served in WWII had sought to evade their responsibilities?




In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Guts & Glory: Great American War Movies, Lawrence H. Suid, 1978, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

This Learning Guide was last updated on December 18, 2009.

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