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In Burma during World War II, an exhausted patrol of British soldiers trudges through a jungle swamp urged on by their ruthless captain, Alan Langford. Their radio had been disabled by water, causing them to lose contact with headquarters, and their commander, Brigadier, has been mortally wounded. After fording the river, the patrol comes upon a small Burmese village where they are met by machine-gun fire emanating from some Japanese soldiers hiding in the native huts. Returning fire, the British overpower their enemy, killing eight Japanese soldiers and one full colonel. They also capture an uncooperative Burmese man who was working as an informant for the Japanese. When the captain questions the informant about the colonel and a map with strange markings they found, the man refuses to talk. The captain then threatens to kill him unless he cooperates, and to convince the informant that he is serious, orders two villagers shot unless he answers the questions. The captain's callousness enrages both Max, a war correspondent traveling with the patrol, and the patrol's chaplain, affectionately known as "Padre." Sgt. McKenzie supports his superior's decision, however, and carries out his orders. After the villagers are executed, the frightened informant tells Langford that the map, in code, outlines a major attack that will trap the British and cut off their supply lines, leaving them helpless. Realizing that the lives of thousands of British soldiers hang in the balance, the captain orders McKenzie to kill the informant so that he will never be able to divulge that the map has been found and deciphered. Because it is imperative that the British command be informed about the attack, Langford decides to leave the wounded behind so as not to impede their progress to headquarters. Although Max and Padre are outraged by Langford's decision, Brigadier announces that the wounded have unanimously decided to remain behind. When a division of enemy soldiers is spotted in the area, the captain realizes that they must all remain in the village to prevent the Japanese from suspecting that their attack plan has been discovered. Consequently, Langford dispatches McKenzie, Padre and Max to headquarters to alert them about the attack while he and the others remain behind to repair the transmitter. Knowing that they will slow down the sergeant, Max and Padre insist on staying behind, although it means certain death. As the sergeant and two other men make their way through the jungle, they are killed by the enemy. While the men desperately try to repair the radio at the camp, Langford's second-in-command, 2d Lt. Paul Hastings, wrestles with his fear of dying. When word comes that the Japanese are approaching, Langford leads a patrol to ambush them at the river, but one of his men fires his rifle too early and alerts the enemy to their position, resulting in their capture. The Japanese commander, Maj. Yamazaki, wonders aloud why the British stayed in the village when they easily could have escaped and begins to suspect that they may have found the map. In order to pressure Langford, the major threatens to execute his men unless he divulges all he knows. When Langford protests that Yamazaki is ignoring the code of conduct in war, the major chides that there are no morals in war. While Langford watches from a window in the hut, the major orders the British soldiers lined up in front of a firing squad, then tells Langford that he has two minutes to cooperate or his men will die. Unwilling to watch his men be executed, Langford makes a dash for the radio transmitter and is gunned down by one of his guards. As the others bravely face death, Padre leads them in prayer, while in the background, a speech from the commander of the British troops is broadcast over the radio, praising the bravery of his men.