Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay Jr. adapted their novel about a hard-luck bomber group that is disciplined into shape by a stricter commander.
Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger) visits an abandoned air-strip in England and remembers the fall of 1942.
A crew has a wounded man, and Jess Bishop (Robert Patten) reports what happened. German radio notes they lost five planes and says US daylight bombing is foolish. Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) tells Col. Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) they have to bomb from 9,000 feet instead of 19,000. Savage tells Major General Ben Pritchard (Millard Mitchell) that Davenport is "over-identifying with his men." Davenport's navigator made a mistake, but he refuses to replace him. So Pritchard removes Davenport and assigns Savage.
Savage instills strict discipline and breaks Sgt. McIlhenny (Robert Arthur) to private. He finds Stovall drunk and orders Lt. Col. Ben Gately (Hugh Marlowe) arrested. Savage calls Gately yellow and says he will fly with the worst men. Savage has a drink with Major Joe Cobb (John Kellogg) and then closes the bar. He promotes Cobb.
Savage orders a practice mission and tells them to stop feeling sorry for themselves and consider themselves dead already. He tells Doc Kaiser (Paul Stewart) to approve everyone who can fly. The hero Bishop tells Savage that all the pilots are requesting transfers. Savage persuades Stovall to delay the transfer papers.
Savage goes up with Gately in the "Leper Colony" and coaches them. He sees improvement but orders bombing practice. Because one man favored his roommate, he orders all roommates changed. Davenport warns Savage of mutiny and says the inspector general is investigating his blocking transfers. Davenport says he is being too tough.
Pritchard tries to recall the 918, but Savage made the bombing anyway and gets his company commended. Savage asks Bishop how he feels, and he says he doesn't want to fly. The inspector met with the pilots, but Bishop and the others withdrew their transfer requests. Savage says that Cobb and others will lead missions.
Savage says they are going to bomb Germany. They lose two planes, and McIlhenny, Stovall, and a chaplain stowed away. Bishop is lost, and Doc Kaiser says that Gates was flying with a fractured spine. Savage visits him.
Pritchard announces a critical target and wants Savage back. Savage leads the bombing, and fighter planes attack them. They lose planes and bomb a ball bearings factory. Savage greets Davenport and says one more day may do it. Stovall is drunk and comments on "maximum effort."
Savage is too tired to get on the plane. Gately takes his place while Davenport restrains him. Doc Kaiser says Savage is in shock. When the planes return, Savage comes to life and says he is going to sleep. Stovall leaves the airfield remembering the men singing.
This war drama contrasts leadership methods and has
been used for training officers. Discipline may help us to accomplish
things with more skill. Yet if that discipline is used to destroy
"enemies" in all-out warfare, the human race may not
survive. Thus maximum effort of this kind can be self-destructive,
individually and collectively.