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Bombardier is a 1943 film war drama about the training program for bombardier of the United States Army Air Forces. The film stars Pat O'Brien and Randolph Scott. Bombardier was nominated for an Academy Award in 1944 for the special effects used in the film. It was largely filmed at Kirtland Army Air Fieldmarker, New Mexicomarker.

The film follows the training of six bombardier candidates, seen through the differences between the two USAAF pilots in charge of their training over the efficacy of precision bombing.

Brigadier General Eugene L. Eubank, commander of the first heavy bombardment group of the U.S. Army Air Forces to see combat in World War II, introduces the film with the statement:

I want you to know about a new kind of American soldier, the most important of all our fighting men today.
He is most important because upon him, finally, depends the success of any mission in which he participates.
The greatest bombing plane in the world, with its combat crew, takes him into battle, through weather, through enemy opposition, just so he may have thirty seconds over the target.
In those thirty seconds, he must vindicate the greatest responsibility ever placed upon an individual soldier in line of duty.
I want you to know about him, and about those who had the faith and vision and foresight to bring him into being, to fit him for his task, long months before our war began.


At a staff meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1941, two officers of the U.S. Army Air Forces (and old friends) debate the importance of bombardiers to the mission of the Air Force. Major "Chick" Davis (Pat O'Brien) argues that the day is coming when the bombardier, using the top secret "American bombsight", (which is never depicted in the film) will be seen as the "spearhead of our striking force." Capt. "Buck" Oliver (Randolph Scott) belittles the argument and states that his experience from a year of observing the RAF fight the German Luftwaffe proves that getting a plane "so close that a bomb can't miss" is the only way to succeed, so that all else must be discarded in a quest for new pilots. Davis challenges Oliver to a "bombing duel" to test their respective points of view. Oliver, using a dive bomber, misses the stationary target with all his bombs, while Davis, bombing from 20,000 feet in a B-17 Flying Fortress, succeeds in hitting his target with his first bomb.

Some time later, Oliver recommends that the civilian flying school of a friend, the fictional "Hughes Field" in "Almansor", New Mexico, be leased for the location of the new Bombardier Training School. As the school's first class nears graduation, Major Davis arrives, along with his right hand man, M/Sgt. Archie Dixon (Barton MacLane), to take command. Davis is discomfited by the presence of so many civilian women clerks, including the field's former owner, Burton "Burt" Hughes (Anne Shirley), the daughter of a respected Air Corps general and now a secretary under terms of the lease. Davis is brusque with Burt and she observes he could use some training in manners.

Buck Oliver arrives with the next cadet class, which includes Tom Hughes (Eddie Albert), Burt's brother. Davis is mildly disturbed to learn that Oliver and Burt have a romantic history, and the two friendly rivals continue to butt heads over the importance of bombardiers. Oliver, who heads the group of pilots flying bombers for cadet training, refuses to take them seriously because they will become sergeants upon graduation, not commissioned officers. Davis attempts to make up with Burt, and solicits the War Department to commission the bombardiers. Preflight ground school is intensive and with practice bombing, reveals the shortcomings of many of the cadets. Tom Hughes has trouble with fear-induced air sickness, Joe Connors (Robert Ryan) with committing to being a bombardier, and "Chito" Rafferty (Richard Martin with the lack of women with whom to socialize. Cadet Pete Jordan is not up to the complexity of the training and soon washes out.

Connors reveals to Davis that his problem is the result of an attempt by a spy to buy information from him about the bombsight, and helps Davis lure the spy into a trap where he is arrested. Cadet Paul Harris, brilliant in ground school and a hero for saving his bomber from destruction when a flare goes awry, is conscience stricken that his mother thinks he will be a murderer of innocent civilians. When a bomber develops mechanical problems and the crew is ordered to bail out, Tom Hughes panics in fear and refuses to jump. His friend (and another suitor of Burt Hughes), Cadet Jim Carter (Walter Reed), crash lands the plane, claiming that he is the one who panicked, but Hughes confesses afterward. Facing an elimination board, he successfully persuades Davis to recommend he be given a second chance.

On a subsequent flight, Buck Oliver passes out from anoxia, nearly tossing Carter out of the opened bomb bay without a parachute. Tom Hughes falls to his death saving Carter's life. Oliver is subjected to a board of investigation but exonerated because his actions resulted from the failure of his oxygen equipment. Guilt-stricken and unable to face Burt, Oliver transfers out of the school. Shortly after, America is drawn into the war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbormarker. Davis, promoted to colonel, becomes a B-17 group commander, and awkwardly proposes marriage to Burt. She stifles the proposal by telling Davis that he reminds her of her father. The group (and new bombardiers Carter, Connors, Rafferty, and Harris) leaves for a secret island base in the Pacific, and Burt passionately kisses Jim Carter goodbye, revealing her choice.

At the base, Buck Oliver, now a major, joins the group just as it is about to fly a secret night mission to bomb an aircraft factory in Nagoya, Japanmarker. Oliver's assignment is bomb with incendiaries to set the target on fire a half hour before the arrival of the group, which Davis will lead at high altitude. Joe Connors is Oliver's bombardier and Sgt. Dixon his tailgunner. Flying low, Oliver's plane is shot down before he can drop his bombs, and Connors remains at his post, sacrificing his life, to destroy the bombsight, thus fulfilling an oath he took upon entry into Bombardier School.

Oliver and the remainder of his crew, including Dixon, are captured. Their Japanese captors execute the other crew members to coerce Oliver and Dixon into revealing the location of their base, but Dixon overwhelms his guard and attempts to escape. He is machine gunned in the attempt, but the shots also set fire to a truck carrying barrels of gasoline. Oliver drives the burning truck throughout the factory, setting fire to its camouflage netting and fulfills his mission, knowing he will be killed by his own planes. The B-17 group fights off Japanese fighters, is riddled by flak, but overcomes the reluctance of the bombardiers to bomb their compatriots and successfully destroys the target.


Production and background notes

RKO Pictures began Bombardier as a project in 1940, with several rewrites to incorporate changes in world events. The film itself was in production from October 12 to December 18, 1942, with six weeks of the filming done on location at Kirtland Army Air Basemarker. Aviation cadets were used as extras, and veteran aircrews assigned to the school as instructors flew the B-17s used in formation shots at the end of the film. At Kirtland, filming featured live action photography of B-17E Flying Fortresses, B-18 Bolos, and AT-11 Kansan trainers.

Notable members of the film crew included Robert Wise as film editor, and Robert Aldrich as second assistant director. Lambert Hillyer directed filming (uncredited) of an aerial sequence, while Joseph F. Biroc completed the cinematography work begun and credited to Nicholas Musuraca.

Albuquerque Army Air Base (renamed Kirtland in February 1942) was constructed from January to August 1941 on the site of the former Oxnard Field (a private airport) in Albuquerquemarker, at which time the 19th Bomb Group (commanded in combat by Col. Eugene Eubank, who introduces the film) completed training for deployment to the Philippinesmarker. A permanent Bombardier Training School, the first of ten in the southwest United States, opened in December 1941 at Albuquerque AAB and eventually graduated more than 5,000 bombardiers.

Bombardier's central conflict between competing points of view over the importance of specialized bombardier training reflected an actual doctrinal struggle within the U.S. Army Air Corps between 1939 and December 1941, when, as in the film, the proponents of specialized training won out. Three attempts at developing a school had been tried since July 1940 at Lowry Fieldmarker, Coloradomarker; Barksdale Fieldmarker, Louisianamarker; and Ellington Fieldmarker, Texasmarker, before the permanent school was established at Kirtland by Col. John D. Ryan as the first step in meeting a wartime goal of training 30,000 bombardiers.

Richard Martin made his first appearance as the Mexican Irish character "Chito" Rafferty that he would later play in many RKO Western opposite Tim Holt.

Reviews and reception

Bombardier premiered on May 14, 1943, at Kirtland AAB, (now Kirtland AFBmarker). Despite a blistering review from Bosley Crowther, the film was well-received by the public.



External links

  • original film trailer

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