Sunday, 21 May 2017

Target for Tonight (1941)

Target for Tonight is a 1941 British documentary film billed as filmed and acted by the Royal Air Force, all while under fire. It was directed by Harry Watt. The film is about the crew of a Wellington aircraft. The film went on to win an honorary Academy Award in 1942 and 'Best Documentary' by the National Board of Review in 1941.
Before the film, several text cards explain bombers and the Royal Air Force chain of command. The film begins with an observation aircraft flying over and dropping a box of undeveloped film. Bomber Command develops the film and analyses the resulting photographs, which are presented for the audience to see. There has been a massive build-up by German forces in the subject area for the past few months. The film shows the planning of the mission, even detailing how the bomber wing chooses munitions for the task. The weather forecast is expected to be good and the pilots are briefed. The crew of "'F' for Freddie", the bomber that is the focal point of the film, suit up and take off. While over Germany, the crew bombs the target, dead on for one bomb, but their aircraft is hit by flak from "faceless" anti-aircraft gunners. The radio operator is hit in the leg, and Freddie is the last aircraft to return. Mist covers the water, prompting worry at the Command. Meanwhile, Freddie cannot climb after the flak hit. They are not losing altitude, but are in a bad situation. Tension builds in the film until finally, 'F for Freddie' lands. No aircraft are lost and the mission is a complete success.

The film was shot at RAF Mildenhall and at actual RAF Bomber Command headquarters in High Wycombe, with the head of Bomber Command Sir Richard Peirse and Senior Air Staff Officer Sir Robert Saundby appearing in the film. In order to not give away information to the enemy, RAF Mildenhall took the fictitious name of Millerton Aerodrome and several other aspects were altered involving the day-to-day operations. Squadron Leader Dickson, the captain of 'F for Freddie', was played by Percy Pickard, who went on to lead Operation Biting and Operation Jericho, a raid on Amiens Prison, during which he lost his life along with his navigator, Flight Lieutenant J. A. "Bill" Broadley. The second pilot was played by Gordon Woollatt. Also appearing (and uncredited) is Constance Babington Smith, who as a serving WAAF officer at the time was responsible for photographic interpretation of aerial reconnaissance pictures. Appearing in the control room scene is world record holder John Cobb, then a serving RAF officer. Although the film was about a bomber squadron flying Wellingtons, the aircraft shown on the film poster are Boulton Paul Defiant fighters.

Herman Wouk, in his novel The Winds of War, included a Wellington bomber christened "F for Freddie" in an episode of the story. The lead character, American naval captain Victor Henry, flies onboard "F for Freddie" as an observer during a bombing mission over Berlin. Wouk's fictional narrative evokes portions of the real "F for Freddie's" mission log: one of their bombs hits their target squarely and flak damages the plane and injures one of their crewmembers in the leg (in the novel, the rear gunner rather than the radio operator). They have trouble holding altitude but make it back after a long, tense flight over hostile territory.

Scenes from the film were included in the episode "Whirlwind" from the documentary British World War II documentary The World at War. The documentary criticised the film for what it considered was an unrealistic portrayal of strategic bombing. Until the development of radio navigational aids and the pathfinder force later in the war, many British bombers failed to find their targets.

A possible identity of 'F for Freddie', is Wellington Mk 1c OJ-F (P2517) which was serving with No. 149 Squadron from November 1940 to September 1941.

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