One of Our Aircraft is Missing! (1942)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Starring:     Godfrey Tearle (Sir George Corbett, Rear Gunner), Eric Portman (Tom Earnshaw, Copilot), Hugh Williams (Frank Shelley, Observer / Navigator), Bernard Miles (Geoff Hickman, Front Gunner), Hugh Burden (John Glyn Haggard, Pilot), Emrys Jones (Bob Ashley, Radio Operator), Pamela Brown (Els Meertens), Joyce Redman (Jet van Dieren), Googie Withers (Jo de Vries), Hay Petrie (The Burgomaster), Selma Vaz Dias (Burgomeister's wife), Arnold Marlé (Pieter Sluys), Robert Helpmann (De Jong), Peter Ustinov (The Priest), Alec Clunes (The Organist), Hector Abbas (Driver), James B. Carson (Louis), Willem Akkerman (Willem), Joan Akkerman(Maartje), Peter Schenke (Hendrik), Valerie Moon (Jannie).

a British aircrew parachutes out over Holland and the Dutch Resistance helps them to get back to England

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In the summer of 1941 five Dutchmen were executed by the Herrenvok for assisting in the escape of a British Air Crew. These are their names:

Arie van Steenset 26 years old

Arie van Stel 52 years old

Joris de Geus 52 years old

Bastiaan Arie barendrecht 22 years old

Pieter W. Kruithofl 29 years old.

Their village was Oud Beyerland. Their names shall be remembered."

It is signed for the Royal Dutch Government by the President of the Council of Ministers.

Sunday morning, 04:26, at an operational station somewhere in England.

At 0426 an airplane land on the airfield. This is reported to the Operations Room. No other planes sighted. Another aircraft comes flying over the water to get to the airfield, but there is no one flying the plane. The plane crashes into an electrical tower.

"From this and other operations, one of our aircraft is missing."

The audience is introduced to the crew of one aircraft:

John Glyn Haggard, Pilot

Tom Earnshaw, Copilot

Frank Shelley, Observer / Navigator

Bob Ashley, Radio Operator, famous soccer player

Geoff Hickman, Front Gunner

Sir George Corbett, Rear Gunner.

 

"B. for Bertie crashed on Sunday Morning, at 0431, but our story starts some fifteen hours earlier."

Flashback. In the operations room they say that the target is Stuttgart, the Mercedes-Benz factory. (Stuttgart is near the border in the southwest corner of Germany.)

Sir George comes into the mess hall and sits with some of the flight crew. He says he is flying tonight. He asked the group captain and he said it was okay. But Sgt. Hopkins will be bumped from the flight. An officer tells the sarge that he's not flying tonight. Hopkins is not happy about it.

At night the aircraft start taking off. B. for Bertie is one of those planes. The plane goes over the English Channel and onto the Netherlands. And now comes up the anti-aircraft fire. Bertie drops leaflets to the populace below.

The bombs are ready to go. The pilot takes the plane down low. Three huge bombs are dropped on the city.  But as they start to turn around and fly back they are hit by anti-aircraft fire.

Bertie is flying with only one engine. The plane is above the Netherlands. And now the only engine they have left starts to go bad. The order is issued to get ready to abandon the aircraft. One man jumps, then another. The pilot is the last to drop out from the plane.

Five of the crew get together, but Bob Ashley is missing. Frank suggests that the first thing they should do is find Bob Ashley. Sir George asks the men if they should split up or stay together as a group? They will stay together.

Navigator Frank pulls out a map and starts to figure out where they are. Frank figures that they are somewhere near Hilversum which is southeast of Amsterdam. If they go straight across the country to the English Channel, they will come out somewhere south of Haarlem on the coast.

Some farm children come running into the woods after their stray animals. They have a dog with them and the dog finds the five members of the aircrew up in a large tree. The men try to tell the dog to scram, but he just keeps barking at the airmen.

The children call for the dog, but he's not leaving his post under the tree. So when the kids come towards the tree, they spot the airmen. One of the fellows, John, speaks a little Dutch and he is the one who communicates with the children. The kids tell John that they are friends to the English. So the airmen all climb down the tree and everyone is introduced to each other. The kids take the airmen into the town.

The airmen are now in a house. There's a big meeting of the neighbors in the large kitchen. When they have conferred with each other, Els Meertens, who speaks good English, confers with the airmen. She wants them to prove to her that they are not German agents posing as Englishmen. Navigator Frank has a clipping about his wife's upcoming TV performance that he clipped from the London Times. This satisfies Els. She shows the clipping to the people and now Els can invite the airmen into the kitchen.

There they meet their host Pieter Sluys. They have the airmen sit down to eat.

They talk about a possible escape back to England. Els, however, tells them the coast is 58 km away and there are lots of Germans between here and there. They will take the men to their church, which is 10 km closer to the coast. From there they will get them to the coast by nightfall.

The Dutch dress the airmen in Dutch clothes. Frank is dressed as a woman. The Dutch ride on bicycles to get to their church. Coming to a T-intersection, they have to wait for two German tanks to pass by. Then they continue on their trip.

The British airmen go to church with the Dutch. The news arrives that the German's have found Bob's parachute. Outside the parishioners hear the Germans coming up to the church. The commander comes into the church, but doesn't find anything suspicious and leaves.

The host of the aircrew says that a villager named De Jong is a Quisling (Nazi collaborator). And what's worse De Jong was using his boy Cornelius to transport the gramophone and records over to the Nazis. The Quisling comes over to see Mr. Pieter Sluys. It doesn't take him long to figure out that the strangers at the dinner table are members of the British aircrew they have been looking for. He then tries to get out the front door, but is blocked by the British. Sir George grabs the Quisling and holds a pistol to his mid-section.

Sluys goes to check on his records. He suddenly realizes that Cornelius substituted his father's records for the German records. So that's why they hear patriotic Dutch tunes coming from Nazi headquarters. Father Sluys has a good laugh at the expense of the Germans. And now the British airmen tell De Jung that the Germans will be coming after him for playing such a good joke on them. They will shoot him down before he can offer any explanation. They've got De Jung stymied.

The British airmen take a boat headed west on a water canal. The men and some of the villagers get off the boat and attend a game of soccer. As they watch the game proceed, the airmen notice that Bob Ashley is playing soccer.

After the game the five airmen plus Bob Ashley travel to the sea on the back of a truck. The truck is stopped at a check point. Jo de Vries, a Dutchwoman pretending to be a German collaborator, helps the truck get permission to go ahead..

The truck drives down to the dock. The men get out of the back of the truck and, guided by Jo de Vries, run to hide behind a building. She next leads them up and onto the top of a roof of a building. There they hide in a storage area that is very close to an area above the Germans.

She takes them even farther into an apartment. The Dutch woman says they are safe here. She even has a radio tuned into the BBC. Navigator Frank tunes in the channel that has his wife singing for the radio.

De Vries asks the men if they will contact her husband for her when they are in London. Her husband is a radio announcer for Radio Orange (Dutch radio). The men are anxious to get back to England, but De Vries tells them it all depends on when the British bomb the local area. That is the only time that it's safe to make an escape. "There is nothing to do now, but wait."

At night the air sirens go off. The escape is on. The men walk to a row boat, but they run into two German soldiers. They have to overpower the two Germans. Once this is done, they get into the rowboat and head out.

They have to go under a swing bridge guarded by a German soldier. The men in the row boat hide under the bridge. The soldiers open the swing bridge so the fishing boast can get through. The boats go through and now the row boat comes out of hiding.

A guard spots the rowboat and starts shooting at it. Sir George is the only one hit by bullets.  He doesn't cry out, so the men didn't know he's hurt. They discover much later that Sir George has been badly wounded.

The men reach the buoy where the airmen will wait for the British boat to pick them up.

After a short wait, a ship reaches them. The captain decides to just tow the buoy to England rather than move Sir George.

Three months later. The former crew of the B. for Bertie are ready to go out on a mission to bomb Berlin itself. This includes Sir George Corbett. They take off from the base headed for Berlin.

"The Netherlands will rise again!"

 

This film deals with the experiences of the aircrew of an English bomber plane making a raid on Stuttgart, Germany.  The crew has to jump out of the disabled bomber.  Luckily for them they land somewhere southeast of Amsterdam, Holland.  They come under the control of the local Dutch Resistance.  The Dutch Resistance is so familiar with downed Allied pilots that it is a regular route of escape they have built up.  The British air crew has to do very little thinking or arranging of anything.   It has all been sorted out for them.  They just have to go along with their various guides.  This surely eliminates much of the stress from the air crew of planning out and carrying out an escape.  This is one war movie where there is no love story.  The airmen hardly have the time to sit down anywhere during their escape.  The film uses an ensemble of actors.  The only people that have more than their fair share of face time in the film are two Dutchwomen who help oversee the British escape. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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