Info compliments of Wikipedia: Twelve O'Clock High is a 1949 American war film about aircrews in the United States Army's Eighth Air Force who flew daylight bombing missions against Nazi Germany and occupied France during the early days of American involvement in World War II. The film was adapted by Sy Bartlett, Henry King (uncredited) and Beirne Lay, Jr. from the 1948 novel 12 O'Clock High, also by Bartlett and Lay. It was directed by King and stars Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell, and Dean Jagger.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two: Dean Jagger for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and Thomas T. Moulton for Best Sound Recording. In 1998, Twelve O'Clock High was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 1949, American attorney and former U.S. Army Air Force officer Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger) is vacationing in Great Britain when he spots a familiar Toby Jug in an antique shop window. He asks the proprietor where he bought the jug and he is told that it came from Archbury, which is the location of the former USAAF station where Stovall served with the 918th Bomb Group during World War II. Convinced that it is the same jug the Group had used to signal it had been alerted for a mission, he buys it and journeys by train and bicycle to the ex-USAAF airfield at Archbury, now abandoned and used as pasture, but with the runways, taxiways, control tower and other buildings still standing. As Stovall relives memories of the place, the scene flashes back to 1942 and the main plot begins.
Having recently arrived and been thrown into action, the 918th has gained the reputation of a "hard luck group" suffering from poor morale. One reason is the U.S. strategy of daylight precision bombing and the corresponding losses to German anti-aircraft fire and Luftwaffe fighter aircraft. In addition, their commander, Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill), has become too close to his men to instill adequate discipline. When he is ordered to fly a mission at low altitude to increase accuracy, Davenport rushes to headquarters and confronts his friend, Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck), the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations. His behavior prompts Savage to go to Major General Patrick Pritchard (Millard Mitchell), commanding general of VIII Bomber Command, and tell him that that he feels Davenport may not be fit to command. Following a disastrous mission in which the 918th loses seven bombers, Pritchard relieves Davenport of command and the 918th is given to Savage.
In order to address discipline problems, Savage deals with everyone so harshly that the men begin to detest him. Savage fires Lieutenant Colonel Ben Gately, the popular Air Exec, busting him down to a lieutenant's job as an aircraft commander; and replaces him with the rough-and-ready Major Cobb, a superb combat leader. Upset by the contrast of Savage's stern leadership with Davenport's easygoing ways, all of the 918th's pilots apply for transfers. Savage asks the Group Adjutant, Major Stovall, to delay processing their applications to buy him some time. A former U.S. Army Air Service pilot during World War I who was an attorney in civilian life between the wars, Stovall knows how to use organizational "red tape” to his advantage. When the 918th resumes combat flying with greater success after hasty refresher training, the men begin to change their minds, especially after Savage leads them on a mission in which the 918th is the only group to bomb the target and have all of the aircraft return safely. Savage also acquires a surrogate son in Lieutenant Jesse Bishop, a Medal of Honor recipient who is Savage's eyes and ears among the combat aircrews.
The word gets around that Pritchard personally chewed Savage out for his claim of "radio malfunction" as an excuse to ignore the recall order. But rather than incurring any form of punishment for this disobedience, Savage persuades Pritchard to recommend the group for a Distinguished Unit Citation. When the Inspector General arrives to check out the unrest, Savage is packing ready to go, but the pilots withdraw their requests to transfer. Savage also softens his attitude towards the men as he becomes more closely involved with them and is warned about the consequences by Keith Davenport on a visit to Archbury. At the same time, Savage and Gately are reconciled after the general learns Gately flew three missions with a fractured vertebra he received when he was forced to ditch his plane, the Leper Colony, in the English Channel due to battle damage.
As the air war advances deeper into Germany, missions become longer and riskier, with enemy resistance intensifying. Many of Savage's best men (including Bishop and Cobb) are shot down or killed. Pritchard tries to get Savage to return to a staff job at VIII Bomber Command, but Savage refuses because he feels that the 918th isn't ready to stand up without him yet. Reluctantly, Pritchard leaves him in command. However, after a particularly dangerous raid on the ball bearing plants at Hambrucken (a roman a clef of the Black Thursday raid on Schweinfurt in 1943), Savage's iron will cracks. On the day of the first Eighth Air Force raid on Berlin, Savage finds himself physically unable to haul himself up into his B-17. The redeemed Ben Gately takes his place as lead pilot and strike commander for the mission. While waiting for the group’s return, Savage becomes catatonic. Only as they return to Archbury, relatively unharmed after destroying the target, does Savage regain his composure and fall asleep. The story then returns to 1949 and Stovall pedals away on his bicycle.