Based on a play by William Wister Haines, a general orders a series of costly bombing runs in order to destroy the factories for advanced German fighter-planes, but he finds the casualties are deterring the brass and the politicians.
In London in 1943 Brigadier General Casey Dennis (Clark Gable) orders a maximum effort for three days in a row. On the first day 48 bombers and 500 men are missing. General Roland Kane (Walter Pidgeon) brings in the reporter Elmer Brockhurst (Charles Bickford) and asks about the appalling losses. Casey's friend, Brigadier General Clifton Garnet (Brian Donlevy) arrives. Kane learns Casey's next target and talks to him alone. Kane orders a security blackout and resumes command. Casey shows a film of the new German fighter planes that could help them win the war. Casey is bombing the factories.
Eleven planes come back out of 36. Casey advises a bombardier how to land a bomber, but using the brakes causes the plane to burn and explode. Col. Ted Martin (John Hodiak) tells Casey that they hit a torpedo factory instead of the target. Casey, Martin, and bombardier Ansel Goldberg (Cameron Mitchell) take responsibility. Kane asks Major Desmond Lansing (Ray Collins), who advises continuing Operation Stitch. Kane explains that he has competition to get support for the Air Force. Casey tells how they are taking on Germany's powerful air force. Kane gives Casey command again; but when he learns the Congressional committee is there, he cancels that.
Garnet wants Martin to be his chief of staff in the Pacific with B-29s. Kane asks Casey to give Captain Jenks (Michael Steele) a medal, but Casey says he refused to fly. Casey will agree if he gets the command back. Kane calls it blackmail but says okay. Casey orders the second target again, and he watches the bombers take off at dawn.
Kane tells the committee he needs more planes. Congressman Arthur Malcolm (Edward Arnold) asks Casey if a thousand men were lost in two days by his decision to go beyond fighter cover. Casey asks his aide, Sergeant Immanuel Evans (Van Johnson), to get liquor. Casey gets a message from Martin that they hit the target. Jenks is being presented with the medal when Casey learns that Martin's plane was shot down. Casey tells Malcolm to shut up, and Jenks walks out. Casey leaves to plan the next mission.
Kane relieves Casey of his command, and Garnet is the new commander. Drunk George Washington Lee (Marshall Thompson) apologizes to Garnet and has only one more mission. Many expect a new commander to order easy missions at first, but Lansing recommends the third part of Stitch. Casey tells Garnet to command and says goodbye. Garnet orders the dangerous mission. Casey says they are killing their men but hopes that the sacrifice is worthwhile. He learns he got the B-29 command and flies off.
This drama explores the merciless bombing of modern
warfare in which powerful countries fight each other to the death
with advanced technology and industrial might. In this case the
Allied response was to the German effort to win the war with their
Messerschmidt Me-262 jet fighters that could fly much faster.