The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell

Synopsis: The true story of General Billy Mitchell, a pioneering crusader for the Army's fledgling air corp. In spite of an impressive performance during the First World War, the commanders of America's armed forces still think of the airplane as little more then a carnival attraction. Even after sinking an "unsinkable" captured German battleship from the air, Mitchell sees funds dry up and friends die due to poor equipment. He is court-martialed after questioning the loyalty of his superiors for allowing the air corp to deteriorate.
Genre: Biography, Drama, War
Director(s): Otto Preminger
Production: Warner Bros.
  Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
100 min

Jimmy, how are you?

Billy, it's good

to see you.

Admiral Sims,

General Mitchell.

We've met.


you know Admiral Gage?

We've exchanged


This is Commander Landsdowne

of our lighter-than-air service.

His dirigible

will patrol the area

during maneuvers.

I know

the commander.

General Mitchell.

I'd like to

clearly state, Billy,

that I'm extremely

and utterly impartial...

in your dispute

with the navy.

That's why

the general staff

assigned me...

to decide whether

to allow you to

carry out this mission.

I assume you have

no objection to me.

I wouldn't want

a fairer judge.

Very well, then.

Admiral, will you state

the navy's position?

That battleship

is the primary target

of our maneuvers.

The air service believes

that it can be sunk

by aerial bombardment.

The navy denies this...

and asks that they

be allowed to sink it

with naval gunfire.

Why does the navy feel

the ship can't be sunk

from the air?

That ship

was once the pride

of the German navy--

the battleship


The British called her

"the unsinkable Dreadnought."

Are you aware

of these facts, General?

Yes, sir.

Would you care to fly

back to Langley Field?

I'll show you exactly

how I intend to sink her.

Yes, I'll be glad to.


What'd you think of that?

All hits or near misses.

Quite impressive.

We'll send that scow

to the bottom

in nothing flat.

Somebody's burning!

Someone's burning!

Look! He's burning!

Call out the crash truck

and the ambulance!

Why doesn't he

use his parachute?

We have no parachutes.

[ Siren Wailing ]

[ Siren Continues ]

[ Coughing ]

Are you all right,


Yeah, I--

I guess so.

I'm a little singed

around the edges.


What happened?

It's that fuel line.

I smelled gas

in the cockpit

when I took off.

Why'd you go up

when you knew

something was wrong?


if it isn't one thing,

it's another.

Today it was that fuel line.


it was an oil pump.

And last week

I almost lost a wing.

And yet I'm luckier

than a lot of the guys.

Now you see, Jimmy,

why I need money so badly.

She certainly could

use some improvements.

But that's not

an impressive weapon,

any way you take it.

It can be. Come here.

I'd like to show you



Sentry, this is

General Guthrie.

Give me a hand,

will you.

Where'd you get those?

I had Ordnance

make it up for me.

One ton

of cast T.N.T.

You're not trying to tell me

that your planes can carry

a 2,000-pound bomb.

Of course they can.

They'll sink the battleship

as though it were a tin can.

Let's be realistic,


A 2,000-pound bomb

is not practical

under wartime conditions.

Maybe you'll

get it in the air,

but never to the target.

That's exactly

what I want to do.

Give me a chance,

and I'll show you

it can be done.

On a staged exhibition, maybe,

but never in combat.

How high do you want to fly?

I'd like to come in

at a thousand feet.

You know as well as I do that

anti-aircraft will knock down

any planes lower than 5,000.


In a real fight,

our pursuit ships

would be in there

strafing their decks.

I have to be realistic

in this, Billy.

After all,

we have performance figures

on our guns.

But the airplane

is an unproved weapon.

I'll prove it to you

if you'll let me.

One of these days,

half the world will be

in ruins from the air.

I want this country

to be in the other half.

If I sink that ship,

we may have

a real air force.

Where's the money coming from?

There's not enough to go around

for the army and navy now.

Forget them.

The next war will be fought

in the sky anyway.

No war is won

until a bayonet is put

to the throat of the enemy.

The foot soldiers

won the last war,

and they'll win the next.

In the end,

it's the infantry

who will lead the way.

Yes, and we'll

blast the road for them.

Your attitude isn't

helping your case any.

I'm sorry, sir.

Well, then,

let's forget the next war.

I'm in a war right now.

My boys are dying

every week...

in these obsolete,

moth-eaten, antiquated

flying machines.

Let me get in there

and prove that

we're entitled to live.

Billy, this test

is supposed to simulate

wartime conditions.

If you come in

at a low level...

and drop a bomb too big

ever to be practical,

you're simply

staging an exhibition

for your own purposes...

and you'll give

the wrong impression.

Now, in order to be fair

to both sides, I'm going to

give you two cracks at her.

But you'll have to come in

at 5,000 feet and carry

only the thousand-pound bombs.

Five thousand feet?

Why, that'll rig it all

in favor of the navy.

I'm sorry.

Those are your orders.

Have you a car

available to take me back?

Yes, sir.

I'd like somebody

to tell me...

why the taxpayers

of this country should

throw their money away...

on a useless

military toy

called the airplane.

The theory is, Senator,

it might come in handy

in time of war.

War is a serious business,

Congressman Reid,

and it's got to

be taken seriously.

The taxpayers don't want

their money wasted on

a lot of silly kite-flyers.

One six-inch naval gun

is worth the entire

air service.

Exactly, and I think

it should be reduced to

its realistic proportions--

an entertainment unit

for holiday parades

and state fairs.

[ Laughing ]

If we have another war,

Senator, I hope

you fight it personally.

Gen. Mitchell has signaled,

requesting permission

to commence bombing.

Has he reported his altitude?

He's at the

[ Bombs Whistling ]

[ Explosions ]

[ Laughing ]

He didn't even scratch her.

I knew he couldn't sink her.

Sink her? He didn't

even touch her.

- After all, the British fleet

couldn't sink it.

- I knew he could never do it.


I want new orders

for tomorrow.

In what way?

I want to use

We've been

over that before.

Request denied.

You're dismissed,


But, Jimmy,

with 2,000-pounders...

I don't have to

hit the ship.

Water concussion will

blow her bottom out.

I can prove it.

A 2,000-pound bomb

is an unrealistic weapon.

Make your run

as before.

I'm not going out there

and make a fool

of the air service...

in front of

and the world press.

You will carry out

your orders.


Let's postpone the run.

Let me off the hook

till I can figure something out.

I think it would be

most unfortunate if you

were to sink that ship.


Twice during my lifetime

this country's

gone to war...

with an army untrained,

unequipped and unready.

I don't want to go to war

that way again.

But I might have to

if you can make Congress believe

this country can be defended...

by airplanes alone.

You will attack

from 5,000 feet

with 1,000-pound bombs.

Good day, Billy.

Go on, go on.

What's going on,


We've been talking.

What about?

We've come

to the conclusion...

that we're just not

getting anyplace.

I see.



there just doesn't seem

to be any future, sir.

Everything seems

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Milton Sperling

Milton Sperling (July 6, 1912 – August 26, 1988) was an American film producer and screenwriter for 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros., where he had his own independent production unit, United States Pictures. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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