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Command Decision

Command Decision(1949)

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In 1943, at a meeting of the Ministry of Information in London, Major General Roland Goodlow Kane of the U.S. Army Air Corps is troubled by news of heavy losses incurred by his subordinate, Brigadier General K. C. "Casey" Dennis, the commander of the American Bombardment Division in England. After two solid days of bombing, during which Casey has ordered his pilots beyond the limits of the defense line of the fighter planes, forty-eight planes have been downed, a record loss. Kane fears that the massive casualties will provoke the congressmen of the Military Affairs Committee, who are scheduled to visit the division, to sharply curtail funding and thus endanger the very existence of the Army Air Corps, which Kane has fought hard to build. Consequently, Kane wires Casey to maintain a low loss quotient during the congressmen's visit. When Kane's message is followed by the news that Brigadier General Clifton I. Garnet is arriving that afternoon, war correspondent Elmer "Brocky" Brockhurst assumes that Cliff has been sent to relieve Casey of his command. Casey's determination to complete "Operation Stitch" at any cost rankles Capt. Lucius Malcolm Jenks, a pilot who also happens to be the nephew of Military Affairs Committee member Congressman Arthur Malcolm, and so Jenks breaks rank and defies Casey's orders. Jenks's outburst is followed by the arrival of Kane and Cliff. When Casey reports that he has scheduled another massive bombing mission for that day, Kane, alarmed, cancels the visit from the Congressional Committee and orders a security blackout. Accused by Kane of overstepping his command, Casey defends himself by displaying the model of a new German jet bomber that will render the Allied forces defenseless. Casey explains that Operation Stitch was designed to obliterate plants that manufacture the Nazi jets, but that weather conditions dictate that the mission must be completed in three days, before the cloud cover moves in. When Kane learns that the day's raid on the Schweinhofen plant has resulted in the lost of 290 planes and 520 men, he becomes furious that Casey approved such a drastic operation before the meeting of the Armed Forces Allocation Committee. Upon returning from the raid, Colonel Edward "Ted" Rayton Martin, the squadron leader, as well as Casey's close friend and Cliff's brother-in-law, reports that they missed Schweinhofen and bombed a torpedo plant instead. Fearing that Kane will cancel the mission if he learns of the mistake, Ted advises Casey to lie, but the honor bound Casey tells Kane the truth. Pressured by the enormous losses and the day's failure, Kane denies permission for a third day of bombing. When Brocky senses that the officers are not telling him the full story, Kane shows him the secret memorandum on the mission and asks for his support. Although Major Desmond Lansing, a civilian advisor and former World War I officer, agrees with Casey's position, Kane remains unconvinced. Notified that only two more days of clear skies remain, Casey fervently defends the strategic importance of Operation Stitch. Later, in private, Kane confides to Casey that the mission may not only threaten his commission but the very existence of the Air Corps, then reluctantly green lights it. Soon after, the Congressional Committee arrives unexpectedly, causing Kane to cancel the mission. When, to appease the querulous Malcolm, Kane proposes awarding Jenks a medal, Casey coolly informs his superior that he has confined Jenks to his quarters for insubordination and will charge him with desertion unless Kane allows the pilots to complete their mission at Schweinhofen the next day. Kane finally relents, and Brocky, overhearing his orders, writes a stirring story about the undertaking. The next morning, as Ted takes to the skies to lead his men on their perilous journey, word comes that his wife has just given birth to a boy. Later, at the ceremony planned to honor Jenks and appease Malcolm, news comes that the mission has been successful, but at the cost of Ted's life. Malcolm reacts insensitively to Ted's loss, but Jenks refuses the medal and runs from the room. Shaken, Casey excuses himself and seeks solitude in the War room. With only one day remaining to complete the operation, Kane relieves Casey of his command and appoints Cliff in his place. After deliberating for several excruciating hours, Cliff realizes that Casey detested making decisions that would result in life or death, and then gives the order to compete Casey's objective and attack the last target of Operation Stitch. As Casey prepares to fly home and console Ted's widow, he is notified that he has been appointed to a B-29 command, a high military honor.