Dawn Patrol

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  And you’re the one that gapped to Brand

about sending green kids up to get killed.

Combat maneuvers. Ground-school.

He doesn’t know.

What chance would he have up there?

Major “Court” Courtney:  He’ll have as much chance as the others.

There can’t be any exceptions.

Do you think I want to do this?

Those are the orders.

Captain “Scotty” Scott:  Oh, I know it’s orders, Court.

Give me three days, two days.

Then I can get him up in the air…

…and teach him a few basic tricks.

At least he’ll have a fighting chance.

He doesn’t know anything.

Court, he can’t even do a half-loop

and roll out.

Do you hear that? He can’t even roll out.

What good’s he gonna be up there?

Do you think he’s gonna bring down

any Boche plane? No.

They’ll slaughter him, Court.

Give me just a few days.

Major “Court” Courtney: I said every man goes into the air

at dawn.

– I’m sorry, Scott-o, but there it is.

One of the great war films, Dawn Patrol (1938) tells the grim tale of a Royal Flying Corps squadron on the Western Front.  World War One began a scant eleven years after Kitty Hawk, and the technology for heavier than air flight was still very much in the experimental stage.  It was quite hazardous just flying, let alone engaging in combat.  As a result, fighter pilots in 1917 had an average life expectancy of 40-60 hours of flight time.  That figure is deceptive, since the pilots who survived and became veterans had a huge advantage over rookie pilots fresh from flight school who had little chance and were often shot down during their first three missions.  Yesterday was the anniversary of the death in 1918 of Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, the highest scoring Ace of World War I, who survived an amazing two years flying on the Western Front and had 80 confirmed kills. and probably amassed a total of one hundred.  Rookies against veteran pilots like Richthofen was simple murder with the outcome all but certain.

The film follows three commanders of 59 squadron in 1915, portrayed by Basil Rathbone, Errol Flynn and David Niven.  At the beginning of the film Major Brand, Rathbone, is in command, constantly battling with his two top pilots, Captain “Court” Courtney, Flynn, and Lieutenant “Scotty” Scott, who view Brand as an unfeeling martinet who sends new pilots to their deaths with hardly a thought, not realizing that Brand is haunted by their deaths, he calls himself a butcher, and has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get more training time for the new pilots.  Brand is ultimately promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Courtney is promoted to Major and takes over the Squadron, while Scott is promoted to Captain.  Courtney now finds himself doing precisely what Brand was doing, sending new pilots to their deaths while pleading unsuccessfully for more time.  One of the new pilots who is killed on his first mission is Donnie Scott, the brother of Courtney’s friend “Scotty” Scott, who pleads unsuccessfully with Major Courtney for an opportunity to spend a few days teaching his brother combat flying so that he will have some sort of chance.  Courtney, to save the life of his heartbroken friend Scott, takes on a suicide mission himself and perishes.  At the end of the film Scott is the new commander of the Squadron and we see him prepping newly arrived rookie pilots for their first mission, as the War continues on its terrible way.

Rathbone was a combat veteran of World War I, the medals on his film uniform being actual medals he won in combat.  Niven would go on to serve in combat in World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Flynn would volunteer for service in World War II but be rejected for his ill health.  Flynn was unfairly mocked as a draft dodger.

Published in: on April 23, 2021 at 4:12 pm  Comments Off on Dawn Patrol  
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