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Operation Crossbow (later re-released as The Great Spy Mission) is a 1965 spy thriller and World War II film, made from a story from Duilio Coletti and Vittoriano Petrilli and filmed at MGM-British Studios. It is a highly fictionalised account of the real-life Operation Crossbow, made with a veritable galaxy of Britishmarker and Germanmarker film stars but it does touch on the main aspects of the operation.

Plot summary

The film alternates between German developments of the V-1 and V-2 missiles with a German cast speaking their own language and British Intelligence discovery of the weapon. Having problems with the V-1, the Germans make a manned version to find out the flight problems of the missile but all the test pilots are killed flying it. The Germans use a lighter aviatrix, Hanna Reitsch (Barbara Rütting), who successfully flies and lands the V-1 providing valuable information used to mass produce the weapon.

On the other side, as D-Day approaches, Winston Churchill is concerned about rumours of a German flying bomb and orders Duncan Sandys (Richard Johnson), one of his ministers, to investigate. Sandys is convinced by intelligence and photo-reconnaissance reports that the weapons exist, but a sceptical scientific advisor Professor Lindemann (Trevor Howard) dismisses the reports as extremely fanciful. He is proved wrong when V-1s start falling on London. Bomber Command launches a raid on Peenemündemarker to destroy the factory producing them.

The Germans move their factory underground to Southern Germanymarker for protection and rush ahead with the development and production of the larger, more deadly V-2. The head of British intelligence (John Mills) learns that engineers are actively being recruited across occupied Europe for the new weapon and decides to infiltrate the factory. He finds three qualified volunteers, all experienced engineers who speak fluent German. They are hastily trained and sent to Germany via the Netherlandsmarker. Amongst the volunteers interviewed but not selected is a British officer named Bamford (Anthony Quayle) who is actually a German undercover agent.

Just after the British agents are parachuted into occupied Europe, British Intellignece learns that one of them, Robert Henshaw (Tom Courtenay), has been given the cover identity of a man wanted by the police for murder. Sure enough, he is arrested, but released after being blackmailed into becoming an informer. But he is recognised by Bamford, now working as a security officer and interrogated. Refusing to reveal his mission, he is tortured by the Gestapomarker and then shot.

A further complication occurs when Nora, the wife (Sophia Loren) of the real man that United States Army Air Forces Lieutenant John Curtis (George Peppard) is impersonating comes to visit her husband to obtain custody of their children. Though innocent, the wife can compromise the mission. Curtis gives Nora the impression that he will allow her to rejoin her children, but the German contact, Frieda (Lilli Palmer) who runs the hotel Curtis is staying at shoots Nora and has her body removed.

Curtis and Phil Bradley (Jeremy Kemp) manage to infiltrate the underground factory. Bradley is only able to get work as a porter/cleaner, but Curtis manages to work his way into the heart of the project, where he is assigned to fix the problem of engine vibration that is holding up the V-2's development.

The two agents send back information and learn that the RAF is mounting a nighttime bombing raid on the facility - but the protective doors on the ceiling, that covers the ready to be launched large A9/A10 "New York Rocket", must be opened to expose the plant and provide a landmark for the bombers. The controls are in the powerhouse; Bradley is shot, but Curtis is able to shoot his way in. As the Germans frantically try to break in, the fatally wounded man manages to open the doors before he dies. The raid succeeds in obliterating the factory.


To help the box office, Sophia Loren appears, courtesy of her husband and producer of the film Carlo Ponti, in a cameo role. Despite getting lead billing, she has only a small role in one scene. She plays the Italian wife of 'Erik van Ostamgen', a dead man whose identity has been appropriated by Curtis, Peppard's character, and is murdered to maintain secrecy.

Some real people were portrayed quite accurately in the film:


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