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In 1943, at a U.S. air base in England, a squadron of airplanes returns from a bombing mission over Germany. All the pilots land safely except for Major Ed Hardin. The radio operator then contacts Hardin, who is flying over the English Channel, and while the other men listen, Hardin shoots down two German planes. Later, Brig. Gen. Gilbert requests that Hardin be court-martialed for repeated violations of combat orders. Although Hardin has the highest number of hits in the entire command, he refuses to stay with the other bombers as Gilbert has ordered, often chasing planes into Germany. Gilbert intends to make an example of Hardin to prevent younger pilots from following his lead. Brig. Gen. McCready, however, turns down Gilbert's request and points out that Hardin was trained as a Flying Tiger, where such behavior is encouraged. Meanwhile, philandering Sgt. Dolan discovers a way to leave the base whenever he wants by releasing a black cat from a cache in the storeroom. Because of the pilots' superstitions, he is then ordered to drive the cat as far away as possible, and is thus able to visit any woman he pleases, although he is always careful to use an alias. When Col. Bill Brickley is moved to another unit, he recommends Hardin to take his place. Both McCready and Hardin are dubious about this decision, but in the end, Hardin is made a colonel and takes over as leader of the squadron. Hardin eliminates many of Gilbert's hated requirements, but still refuses to allow his men to be married because he believes that a married man would not be willing to take the same risks in fighting as an unmarried man. This decision angers his friend, Capt. Stu Hamilton, who wants to marry his girl friend Ann, and he leaves the unit. The pilots continue to improve the effectiveness of their bombing raids under Hardin's leadership and are finally given permission to bomb German planes on the ground before they can take off. Never having formally transferred, Stu returns, although he is now married. Hardin orders him to present his written request for a transfer in the morning, but allows him to fly one last mission. Stu is killed during the raid, but before he dies, he tells Hardin over the radio that he was thinking of Ann, instead of flying, when he was hit. Later, Dolan's ruse is uncovered when his picture appears in the newspaper and is recognized by many of his lady friends. Dolan is sent to the brig, and the rest of the unit prepares for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. During the strafing, Hardin is hit and crashes. Another pilot is placed in charge, and betting that Hardin has somehow survived, the men continue fighting.