Early in 1943, British aerial reconnaissance photographs identified the sites of Hitler’s long-threatened “new weapons” – V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets. The subsequent plan to destroy these sites was named “Operation Crossbow” by Winston Churchill himself.
Key scenes were shot on location in the straits of Dover (against the famed white cliffs), at RAF Abingdon in Berkshire (where the British parachute regiment school was located) and outside Number 10 Downing Street. The largest sets ever built at MGM’s British studios were made to accommodate the German rocket on its underground launching pad – with two huge sound stages being run into one, covering an area of 30,000 square feet.
More than 400 extras were used to portray the forced labour corps employed by the Nazis on their rocket project and the tremendous explosions filmed on these sets necessitated reinforcing the studio roofs and walls.
Many of the characterisations in the film were of real people – some of them still alive at the time of production – including Professor Frederick Lindemann, later Lord Cherwell (played by Trevor Howard); Duncan Sandys (Richard Johnson); Wing Commander Douglas Kendall (Richard Todd); Flight Lieutenant Andre Kenny (John Fraser); aerial photographer Charles Sims (Richard Wattis); and General Ziemann (Paul Henreid), the director of Hitler’s rocket base at Peenemunde. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was portrayed by Patrick Wymark.
Actress Sylvia Syms played the part of Constance Babington Smith who worked with Photographic Intelligence during the war and was the one who first spotted the mysterious object on a recce photo which turned out to be a flying bomb.
Top German cinema star Barbara Rütting had the role of Hannah Reitsch, Germany’s famous woman pilot who succeeded in the near-suicidal task of piloting the V1 flying bomb and was twice personally presented with the Iron Cross by Hitler himself.
Sophia Loren played the part of a Dutch woman who goes to meet her husband, a specialist engineer working on the Nazi rocket project, and meets instead an American called Curtis (George Peppard) who has assumed her husband’s identity.
Keep your eyes peeled for small roles (many uncredited) by John Alderton, John Le Mesurier, Philip Madoc and Gordon Jackson.
Nora Van Ostamgen
First Lieutenant John Curtis, USAAF
Professor Frederick Lindemann
Captain Phil Bradley
Wing Commander Douglas Kendall
Flight Officer Constance Babington Smith
Flight Lieutenant Andre Kenny
Air Chief Marshal
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
Colonel Kenneth Post
Sir Charles Sims