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BACKGROUND ON “TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH”

The leading characters in this movie are as follows:

1. Brigadier General Frank Savage - Assistant Chief of Air Staff, 8th Air Force

2. Col. Keith Davenport - Group Commander, 918th

3. Major Harvey Stovall - Group Adjutant, 918th Bomber Group, 8th Air Force

4.. Lt. Col. Ben Gately - Air Executive Officer, 918th Group

5. Major (“Doc”) Kaiser - Group Medical Officer, Major Cobb - Squadron Commander, 918th

6. General Pritchard - Commander, 8th Air Force

As you watch the movie, please watch it from the viewpoint of the character you’ve been assigned
You may be asked occasionally what your thinking is and/or what action you would take under the
circumstances shown for the character that you represent.

Some background about the 8th Air Force during World War II ....

When this movie appeared in 1949, the War had only been over for four years. Anybody old enough
to have seen the movie at that time would have been thoroughly acquainted with all the military terms,
the equipment and situations depicted. So here is some background that should help put you in the
picture, so to speak.

The U.S. 8th Air Force arrived in England in 1942 and first saw action on Aug 15. No American
troops then were fighting on the European continent. At the time the movie takes place, the 8th was
the only American military presence in England. General Pritchard (a fictional name) is in charge of
all the Bomber Groups; there were four Bomber Groups at the time the movie action takes place.
Later, by the end of 1943 there were dozens of such groups. Check out the organization chart of the
918th.

He has a “staff” working with him providing the overall strategy and guidance of the air effort. Brig.
Gen. Frank Savage is the Assistant Chief of Staff. The “line” consists of the various Bomber Groups.
Col. Keith Davenport heads the 918th Group; he is called the Group Commander.

Each group typically was located at its own airfield or base in the English countryside; “Archbury” is
the home of the 918th. General Pritchard’s Headquarters (named “Pinetree,” actually and in the
movie) was apart from the Group bases, at a manor or estate nearby the various bases (he could get to
them pretty quickly). Until recently, one could see the cracking remains of these airfields, still dotting
the English countryside.

Each group had a replica of the above-described organization. The Group Commander had his “staff”
which was under the Group Adjutant (Major Stovall in the 918th). The GA was the top administrative
officer in the group; he handled the paper work -- which is voluminous in the military bureaucracy. He
also had the unpleasant task of notifying the next-of-kin when someone was killed or missing in action.
The equivalent of the Group “COO” was the Air Executive Officer (Lt. Col. Ben Gately, at the start of
the action). He handled all the details of getting the bombing missions launched; in effect, all the
individual Airplane Commanders reported to him. The Ground Executive Officer handled the
maintenance of the planes and administration of the airfield itself. Each base had its own hospital and
medical doctors; the Chief Medical Officer at the 918th was Major Kaiser.

Each Group had twenty-one aircraft. There were four Squadrons within each group; each squadron
had five aircraft, headed by a Squadron Commander. The odd aircraft was the lead plane, commanded
usually by the Group Commander or the Air Executive Officer. However, it was common to rotate the
command of the lead plane among the Squadron Commanders or even selected highly thought of
individual aircraft commanders.

The aircraft flown by the 918th Group was the Boeing B-17, commonly called “The Flying Fortress.”
This aircraft was very heavily armored and armed; it carried ten guns to protect itself. Its main mission
was to deliver bombs to an enemy target. By that time, the U.S. had developed a secret weapon, the
Norden Bombsight. It was a complex piece of machinery found with the Bombardier in the nose of the
aircraft. Once the aircraft was flying over the target. The “bombing run” was handed over to the
Bombardier. In effect, he took over the aircraft until the bombs were dropped. The bombardier in the
lead plane managed this maneuver.

Each aircraft had a crew of ten, four of whom were officers - pilot, copilot, bombardier and navigator.
The lead navigator was responsible for charting a course to get the group to the target. Everybody,
including the pilot, depended on the navigator’s accuracy. The remainder of the crew, all enlisted men,
manned the 50mm cannons found on the two sides, top and bottom, and front and back of the B-17.

Despite its formidable protection, the aircraft was vulnerable to antiaircraft fire (“flack”) and German
fighter planes. If a mission was not too far over enemy territory, say in France, there might be
additional protection from squadrons of American fighter planes, accompanying the bomber groups.
Unfortunately, these fighters had very limited range -- and could only protect the bombers a part of the
way towards the enemy target. The bombers usually were totally unprotected on their return to base.
In the first missions flown over Germany, there was no fighter protection at all. Allied aircraft were at
the mercy of the German Luftwaffe and almost constant antiaircraft fire. Losses were horrific.

The American bombing strategy was to take full advantage of the accuracy of the Norden bombsight
which required being able to see the targets below. Therefore, most U.S. bombing took place during
daylight hours. In contrast, the British preferred night bombing. This was considered safer for the
aircraft. Because the British planes could not see the targets very well (despite using flares whenever
they could), they practiced “carpet bombing,” a systematic laying waste of an entire area within which
it was thought the specific target lay. The U.S. practiced “precision bombing.” In theory, fewer
civilians would be killed in their homes. In order for this type of bombing to be effective, it was
necessary for the planes to fly at relatively low levels, much lower than the British planes.

The 8th Air Force suffered staggering losses in the early days of the war. Ultimately, 48,600 airmen in
the 8th lost their lives in 6,000 aircraft shot down, almost all during a three-year period (1942-44).
There were no limits placed on the number of missions that you needed to have flown in order to
complete your individual obligation. Later in the War, limits were put in place, ranging from fifteen to
twenty-five missions.

Not too many made it, in the early days when this movie takes place. The average life expectancy of
an aircraft was 50 days. German aircraft attacking B-17 bomber groups fared no better: more than
16,000 of their aircraft were downed in these air fights. The Memphis Belle, about which the movie
was made, was the first B-17 to complete twenty-five missions; its crew went on to promote Liberty
Bond sales in the United States.

Although 12 O’Clock High is a fictional movie, it hews very close to reality. The very first incident
that you’ll view is the crash landing of a B-17 returning from a mission. You’ll hear about the heroic
efforts of the plane’s copilot, Lt. Bishop, in taking over the controls of his damaged plane and bringing
it home after the pilot suffered grave injuries. Lt. Bishop (in the movie) is awarded the Medal of
Honor for his efforts. On July 26, 1943, the real “Lt. Bishop,” Lt. John C. Morgan, 407th Squadron,
92nd Bombardment Group performed the acts that did win him the Medal of Honor, meticulously
replicated in the film. There is very little that is “Hollywood” in this movie.

If you ever encounter someone who flew in the 8th Air Force during WWII, you can be quite sure that
you are looking at a genuine hero -- and treat him as such!

O r g a n i z a t i o n C h a r t o f t h e 8 t h A i r F o r
M a j . G e n . P r i t c h a r d
C o m m . , 8 t h A i r F o r c e

B r i g . G e n . S a v a g e
A s s t . C h i e f o f A i r S t a f f

G r o u p C o l . K e i t h D a v Ge n r op u o pr t G r o u p
C o m m a n Cd e o r m m . , 9 1 8 t Ch o G m r om u a p n d eCr o m m a n d e r
A r c h b u r y

M a j . S t o v L a t .l l C o l . G a t e l y
G r o u p A d Aj u i rt a E n x t e c u t i v e
O f f i c e r
ARMY AIR FORCE RANKS
M a j . K a i s eGr r o u n d General – 4 stars
M e d i c a l O E f f xi c e e c r . O f f i c e r
Lt. General – 3 stars
Major General – 2 stars
S q u a d r o Sn q u a d r o Mn a j . C o b S b q u a d r o n
C o m m a nC d o e m r m a n S d qe ur a d r o C n o m m a n d e r Brigadier General – 1 star
C o m m a n d e r
Colonel
S q u a d r o n Lt. Colonel
A d j u t a n t
Major
Captain
L t . B i s h o Ap / C A / C A / C 1st Lieutenant
A / C C o m m a C n o d m e rm a C n o d m e rm a n d e r
C o m m a n d e r 2nd Lieutenant