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On a European battlefield in 1944 during World War II, Lt. Joe Costa radios his captain, Erskine Cooney, to provide cover while a squad led by Sgt. Ingersol makes a daring attempt to capture a German pillbox. Cooney indicates he will help, but then fails to respond to Costa's pleas to intervene, and Ingersol and his squad are killed. Later at the base camp, Cooney, who attained his rank through politics, anxiously prepares for the arrival of his superior officer, Col. Clyde Bartlett, for a card game. Lt. Harry Woodruff and Costa will be attending the game, and Harry privately tells Costa about his plan to confront Bartlett about Cooney's incompetence. Costa surmises that as Bartlett is from the same town as Cooney, whose father is a powerful judge, it is unlikely he will remove Cooney from his post. Costa blames Cooney for Ingersol's death, and at the card game, loses his temper and leaves. When they are alone, Bartlett listens to Harry's complaints. Although he refuses to remove Cooney, he assures Harry that the platoon will not be seeing any more action. However, when the Germans break through Allied lines, the unit is reassigned and is ordered to take the Belgian town of Lommel. Harry suggests a safe plan of attack, but Cooney insists on his own plan, whereby Costa's platoon will approach the town on the exposed main road and take a farmhouse on the edge of town. Costa and his sergeant, Tolliver, observe that this will leave them vulnerable to attack for four hundred yards. Cooney is immovable, however, so Costa demands he and Harry promise that they will send support if needed. After threatening to kill Cooney if he breaks his word, Costa moves out with the troops. The first squad to attempt the approach is shot down, so Costa leads the survivors, Tolliver and privates Abramowitz, Bernstein, Ricks and Snowden, to the farmhouse, where two German soldiers retreat unnoticed into the cellar. Surrounded by German tanks and snipers, Costa radios Harry for help, but Cooney refuses to send more men. After Harry reluctantly tells Costa that they are on their own, the Germans, a soldier named Otto and an officer, emerge from the cellar, and are disarmed. In order to determine the firepower against them, Costa forces the captain out the front door of the farmhouse, and he is swiftly killed by his own troops. A terrified Otto then admits that there are eighteen tanks and SS troops surrounding them. Costa notifies Harry that they are pulling out and requests smoke cover. Providing as best as he can for his men, Costa leads them across an exposed field, but Abramowitz is shot and dies in Costa's arms. At company headquarters, Cooney's orderly, Jackson, is overwhelmed by the number of wounded soldiers returning from the attack, but is pleased when Tolliver, Snowden and Bernstein return with their prisoner, Otto. Cooney further earns his subordinates' disrespect when he beats the defenseless Otto, and Bartlett, who has just arrived, reprimands him for failing to send in his entire company to take Lommel. As a result, the German Army is now approaching their position. Bartlett threatens to arrest Cooney if he falls back, as it would leave another company unprotected, and strikes Cooney after the coward begs to be reassigned. Harry then warns Bartlett of his intention to report the colonel and Cooney to their superiors, if he survives the next battle. Cooney sobs after Bartlett leaves, whimpering that he will never measure up to his father. Moments later, a wounded Costa returns intending to murder Cooney. However, when Jackson reports that Tolliver and the soldiers are trapped in a cellar by an enemy tank, Costa delays his plans to help his men. Costa attacks two tanks with mortar shells, but falls, and his arm is crushed when a tank rolls over him. Bernstein, meanwhile, is pinned under a beam in the cellar, and his injuries are treated by Snowden and Tolliver. As SS officers overrun the town, Jackson and Harry arrive to help, followed by Cooney, who has gone insane. Cooney intends to surrender, but Harry reminds him that the SS take no prisoners. Just then, Costa painfully drags himself down the cellar stairs and tries to shoot Cooney, but collapses and dies, after which Cooney kicks his body. When Cooney starts to go upstairs and threatens to kill anyone who opposes him, Harry shoots him in the back. Harry then instructs Tolliver to have him arrested when they are freed, but all the men agree that Cooney's death was just. In a show of solidarity, each man fires a bullet into Cooney's body. Moments later, Allied tanks move into the city, and Bartlett finds them in the cellar. Bartlett promotes Harry, and the men tell Bartlett that Cooney died trying to return to the company. Bartlett suspects how Cooney really died and, when he is alone with Harry, reveals he plans to get the Distinguished Service Cross for Cooney to satisfy Cooney's father. Harry is outraged and confesses to the murder, but implicates Bartlett because he refused to reassign Cooney. Bartlett urges Harry to accept the promotion and keep quiet, and that he will arrange for a posthumous citation for Costa as well. However, after Bartlett leaves, Harry contacts division headquarters to file a full report.