Angels One Five (1952)
Director: George More O'Ferrall.
Starring: Jack Hawkins (Group Capt. 'Tiger' Small), Michael Denison (Sq. Leader Peter Moon), Dulcie Gray (Nadine Clinton), John Gregson (Pilot Officer 'Septic' Baird), Cyril Raymond (Sq. Leader Barry Clinton), Veronica Hurst (Betty Carfax), Harold Goodwin (Wailes), Norman Pierce ('Bonzo'), Geoffrey Keen (Company Sergeant Major), Harry Locke (Look Out), Philip Stainton (Police Constable), Vida Hope (WAAFS), Amy Veness (Aunt Tabitha), Ronald Adam (Group Controller), Humphrey Lestocq (Flight Lt. 'Batchy' Salter).
pilots in the Battle of Britain
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
". . . Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say "This was their finest hour.'" Winston Churchill, June 1940.
Women are busy tracking incoming German aircraft. Twelve plus aircraft are headed to a certain area in Britain. The aircraft sightings are plotted out on a huge map of Britain divided into sections. From here calls go out to the different air squadrons and they in turn issue the order to scramble. A call goes out to scramble Red and Yellow sections, Dover, Angels 1-5. The pilots jump into action. The planes are soon off into the air.
Group Capt. 'Tiger' Small comes to check on the people in the huge map room. He says hello to Sq. Leader Peter Moon. Moon tells him that the Germans are up to their usual. They are after a convoy. The men and women plot the progress of the British planes and the German planes and warn the British when the two groups are approaching each other. Small says that the Germans have some 3,000 aircraft between Brest and Amsterdam. That puts the British at about a 6 to 1 disadvantage.
Small mentions to Moon that a volunteer reservist named Pilot Officer 'Septic' Baird is going to join the squadron. Small also says that he wants Moon to get some practice in flying one of the Hurricane aircraft. He says to let Barry Clinton take over more of his work to free him up for the flying time.
A constable has come over to the Clinton house near one of the airfields to complain that they keep a light on in an upstairs room with the curtains open and this violates the rules for the blackout. Barry, the section controller, and his wife Nadine try to explain that the light has been put up at the request of Group Captain Small to help those pilots having to fly at night. The constable suggests that they hang out a red light or something. This just cracks up Nadine as she laughs.
Moon calls Pimpernel Leader for a progress report. Pimpernel Leader reports that the bandits have turned away and the British planes are returning to base. One of the three replacement aircraft is heading for the airfield at about the same time the Hurricanes are returning and Moon tells pilot Baird of the lone aircraft to land as quickly as he can. The pilot starts the landing, but then nearly hits another aircraft. He jerks his plane high enough in the air to go over the top of the other plane, but this means he can't stop fast enough. He crashes his plane into Barry Clinton's house. Barry asks him: "Dropped in for tea?"
Doc arrives and asks if Baird is okay. The pilot thinks he may have strained a ligament in the back of his neck. Doc says he will give Baird a ride in the ambulance. Before leaving, Baird apologizes for the problem.
Flight Lt. 'Batchy' Salter is resting at squadron headquarters as the rest of the pilots come into the room. They are glad to see him because they thought he might have gone down the hard way. It turns out his plane was hit a couple of times in key places and he had to set down. But the real thrill he had was landing. His plane almost got hit by another plane. The Skipper (Bill Ponsford) is furious with the other pilot, but Salter tell him he did land at cross wind. Skipper doesn't care. He wants to chew out that ferry type pilot for not being more careful. Skipper gets hold of Moon and starts screaming about the incident. Moon has to tell him that the pilot in question is actually an operational type and, in fact, is posted to Skipper' squadron. Skipper says he absolutely won't have the man in his squadron. Moon says he will have to take that up with Small.
With his neck all wrapped up Baird prepares to meet the squadron. The pilots are engaged in a game somewhat like leap-frogging, but the pilots tumble over couches instead of each other. When Skipper realizes it's the new pilot, he confronts him about nearly killing his best flight leader. Baird says he's sorry about that, but it really wasn't his fault. Skipper goes on with his cross-examination until Small intervenes and saves Baird. Small has a drink with him.
The next morning Moon tells Baird that he will be working with him in the operations room. Baird is disappointed and starts to protest. He ticks off Moon a bit, who tells him that if he is sent to the hold, he'll go to the hole. Baird goes to see Small. Small tells him the Doc says it will take 2 to 3 weeks for the neck to get better. Baird protests that he is okay to fly. He ticks off Small a bit too, so Small has to tell him why it is important that Baird not immediately jump into flying. For one, he needs to know how the entire operation functions. He tells Baird to ease back a bit and take things in for a while.
Skipper comes in to talk to Small about Baird. Small explains that Baird will be working in the operations room for a while until he learns a bit more about how things work here.
Flight Leader Salter comes in to Operations Room to talk with Baird. He explains to Baird that he was being chased by a Jerry and had a hole in his gas (glycol) tank. This explanation makes Baird feel a lot better, because he was feeling a little abused unjustly. Salter gives Baird a little tour of the airfield. He tells Baird not to take what Skipper says too personally. He is a bit touchy at times. Salter introduces Baird to the other pilots and they welcome him warmly. But Baird still hasn't gotten over his initial reception to the squadron. When they tease Baird, he gets angry. The tension is broken by a phone call to scramble. The pilots run out of the room.
Small calls all his squadron leaders together for a meeting. He tells the leaders that things are going to get worse. The Jerries have only been probing their defenses so far. The real action is yet to start and Britain only has 50 squadrons of aircraft. In contrast, the Germans have 120 squadrons of bombers and 80 of fighters. What the British do have on their side is better aircraft, better pilots and radio location/ground control. When the real action starts, squadron headquarters will become a valuable target for the Jerries, so Small wants a curtailment of visits from dates, girl friends and wives. He doesn't want any women killed unnecessarily.
The squadron has one big cocktail party before the curtailment starts and there is a big turn out for it. At the party Small meets Groucho Carfax's sister Betty. Small notices the absence of Baird and sends one of the pilots to tell him that "his presence would be acceptable". Baird reluctantly goes to the party.
Small tells Nadine Clinton that he wants her to leave her bungalow. He explains that the Jerries are going to start bombing the fighter stations. Nadine is very polite about it, but frankly tells Small that she is not going. Baird arrives and Nadine takes him to meet some of the single women. She introduces him to Betty Carfax. Nadine quickly and diplomatically disperses the three or four pilots hanging around the pretty blonde so Baird can talk to Betty alone. Suddenly, the Pimpernel Squadron pilots have to get ready for action. They leave the party. Baird really takes a liking to Betty because she is so understanding of and sympathetic to his situation.
The Skipper has been killed in aerial combat. Now Moon is picked to replace him. Barry Clinton will take Moon's position in the Operations Room. And now German bombers are bombing Britain and British pilots are working overtime.
The squadrons are losing more pilots than can be trained. Small tells Moon that Baird will ready in a couple of days. Baird and Betty have dinner with Barry and Nadine. They all toast to Baird who will soon be in the air. Baird tells them that they are being awfully nice to him, especially considering his terrible start. After dinner and the 9 p.m. news, Betty and Baird talk on the porch. Betty tells him it's a good time for him to relax more. Baird asks her to go out with him for dinner, just the two of them. She gladly accepts. He almost kisses her.
All squadrons (Pimpernel, Beeswax and Nutmeg) are up in the air now. The action is going to be very heavy. There is another threat. It looks like one group of German aircraft are headed for them at Neethley. Barry calls over to Small to warn him that enemy aircraft are headed for them. It is a real emergency and Small himself is going to fly. They are asking for every available pilot to get into the air. Baird sees this as his chance. Barry orders everyone to action stations. Small sees Baird rushes to a plane that he was going to use. He smiles at the man's eagerness to get up in the air. The Germans are almost on top of them. Barry tells his people to get their helmets on and close the blast-proof doors. All non-operation personnel are ordered to take cover immediately.
Twenty-five bombers, JU-88s, are approaching. Someone has left his transmitter on and Barry can't get through to the squadrons. Bombs start dropping on the station. The Operations Room is rocked, but the women just keep plotting out the positions of the aircraft. Small grabs one of the machine guns and fires away at the bombers. Operations Room takes a direct hit and the ceiling starts to cave in. The women run for cover. A big part of the ceiling falls in on the room. All the lines are dead. Barry orders to evacuate the building, but all the exit doors are blocked.
Men start filling the bomb craters back up with dirt. The airplanes start returning to base. Baird sets down. He goes and checks out a downed German aircraft. He walks all over the top of it. Baird is the one who shot it down. The other Pimpernel pilots arrive in a truck. They are absolutely shocked when they learn that Baird shot the German aircraft out of the sky. The pilots make him sit down on a tail fin, pick it up and walk with him as they sing along the way. They walk him all the way to their operational shack. Moon calls Baird in for a talk. He scolds Bair for holding a personal jamboree. But what he is really mad at is that all the while Baird was in the air, he left his radio on transmit. This prevented Operations from speaking to the pilots on his frequency. Moon says Baird may know all the manuals by heart, but until his has real operational experience, he's no good to the outfit. Baird is upset and now he tells the other pilots that he made a mistake, that maybe he wasn't the one who shot down the German plane.
Now Small gets after Baird. It seems Baird's whole career with the squadron has been spent listening to reprimands. Small, however, takes pity on the guy and encourages him after having chewed him out. He tells Baird that he also made a mistake. As station commander he should never have acted as an ack-ack gunner. So Small reprimands himself. He goes farther and says he was also going to take the last Hurricane when Baird got it. They go out and have a drink.
When Moon and Small call Baird over to them, Baird expects the worse, but hears good news instead. He is flying as Moon's Yellow Two tomorrow. Baird goes from down-trodden to having a big smile on his face.
Nadine and Betty made it through the bombing okay. Tonight Betty will go out to dinner with Baird. Nadine is worried about her husband. He takes the loss of each of the pilots as his responsibility. Small goes to check on Barry at Operations. He tells Barry he has been worrying too much. While there, the Pimpernel squadron is scrambled. They find the enemy and go to the attack. Baird knocks down one of the bombers. Other German aircraft attack Pimpernel. Baird is hit and wounded and has to jump out, but he can't get his cockpit open. Moon tells him to follow him to the airfield. Baird is very weak and having a hard time getting enough height to make a landing possible.
Nadine sees Betty and Betty tells her that some of the guys are still in the air. Betty wants to get to her quarters so she can get ready for her date. Baird calls in and it sounds like he knows he's not going to make it and he doesn't. Nadine hangs up a lantern in her bombed-out house for the night fliers.
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Winston Churchill.
Pretty good movie. Spoiler Warning. It was done on a small budget. The pictures of the German bombers and fighters are pretty bad. The story is a bit sad though. You follow the story of Baird and wade all through the bad times with him, only for him to be shot down when he finally got back into the sky. Actually the love story doesn't even really get off the ground. We are just on the verge of seeing the couple kiss when the pilot dies. And it seems unbelievable that a squadron leader would be so hard on a just starting pilot over a near-accident that wasn't really anybody's fault. After all, the pilots had to look out for each other too and why risk alienating one of the pilots? The squadron leader made Baird's adjustment to the squadron much harder than it should have been. The dog fights are not very good either. Nevertheless, the movie did keep my interest even if I didn't like the ending.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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