Operation Crossbow is a 1965 action film, directed by Michael Anderson and portraying a heavily fictionalised version of the World War Two "Crossbow " missions, which were largely carried out, not as the film suggests, by spies and saboteurs, but instead by precision bombing of German secret weapon facilities.
With an all star (for the time) cast, "Operation Crossbow" concentrates on a group of secret agents sent to infiltrate and destroy German efforts to build and use rockets to attack the British isles. the film also features fictionalised versions of real life people who played key roles in the events as they played out, as well as numerous scenes showing German development of rockets.
The film begins in early 1943, when the scientists and technicians at Peenemunde are trying to figure out why the V-1 "Flying Bomb" refuses to fly in a straight line, and always ends up veering off and crashing soon after it is launched. Manned versions of the V-1 are launched and result in the deaths of four test pilots, all of whom report that the missiles automatic guidance system doesn't appear to be able to cope with the sudden and unexplained veering problem. It is only when experienced test pilot Hanna Reitsch decides to try flying on for herself that the problem is solved, thus allowing the Germans to begin mass production of the V-1 for use as a practical weapon.
In London, Winston Churchill (Patrick Wymark) becomes concerned over rumours that the Germans are developing rockets to use for the bombardment of London, concerns which are not helped when an RAF photo reconnaissance plane returns pictures of a major construction project being undertaken in Peenemunde, which appear to show several launch ramps and towers being built. Special attention is given to a picture which shows a finned object about 35 feet long being carried on the back of a heavy transport truck, which RAF analysts state is some sort of long range rocket, however Churchills scientific advisor, Professor Lindemann , disputes this and dismisses the concept of, what is for all intents and purposes, a primitive ICBM, as ridiculous, and says the image merely shows a partially inflated barrage balloon. It is in fact, an A4 rocket, otherwise known as the V-2.
The matter is given serious enough consideration that in August of 1943, RAF bomber command launches Operation Hydra , which reduces the Peenemunde research facility to a pile of rubble. This doesn't set the Germans back much though, as they merely move their operations to a secret underground facility in Southern Germany, where it will be largely safe from Allied bombing raids, however, the increased production of rockets requires that they recruit as many engineers and rocketry experts as possible, and this provides the allies with the chance they need in order to halt V weapon production.
A hurried recruiting drive turns up three men from the allied ranks, all of whom fulfill the requirements that they speak fluent German, and have some practical knowledge of mechanical engineering.
John Curtis (George Peppard) is an American pilot, Phil Bradley (Jeremy Kemp) is a British army officer who was working in signals intelligence and finally Robert Henshaw (Tom Courtney) is a Dutch naval officer. All these men are quickly trained and briefed for their mission, which involves them being given identities taken from dead men who fit the requirements the Germans need from the engineers they are looking for. Unfortunately, Henshaw is given the identity of a man whom the German Police want in connection with a murder, and soon after they are parachuted into enemy territory and meet their contacts, he is arrested. Realising his cover might be broken if he denies the charge, he confesses to the murder, and the police chief offers him a deal, he will be allowed to continue his career as an engineer, in exchange for becoming an informant, Henshaw agrees, however, just as he thinks he is in the clear, a Gestapo agent, Bamford (Anthony Quayle), who had been sent to Britain in an attempt to infiltrate British intelligence but failed, recognises Henshaw and decides to question him. Henshaw refuses to break cover, insisting he is Jacob Biljus, a Dutch engineer who speaks only Dutch and German. For his troubles, Henshaw is executed as a spy, and Bamford now knows that the allies are up to something.
Curtis meanwhile runs into his own problem, as the man who he is impersonating, Eric Van Ostangen, recieves a visit from his estranged Italian wife, Nora (Sophia Loren - who at the time of filming was the wife of the films producer, and was cast simply to add sex appeal to the film). Curtis manages to not get his cover blown when he is forced to state his assumed name in front of Nora when being questioned by a German policeman, and he extracts a promise form Nora that she will remain quiet about what she has seen and heard in exchange for Curtis signing a document as Van Ostangen which gives custody of their two children to her.
The document is signed ans Curtis proceeds with his mission, however Nora, in order to ensure she does not talk, is unceremoniously killed by members of the Dutch resistance.
Bradley meanwhile, masquerading as "Doctor Engel, professor of mathematics", runs into his own problem, as his name does not appear on the list of people who have been approved for work at the secret facility. Bradley quickly recovers from this setback by launching into a furious tirade about how incompetent the police are at missing him off the list, and states that he will speak with the fuher himself about the insult, to which the policemen, trying to save face, add his name to the list.
Curtis and Bradley arrive at the secret base, however Bradley is refused a position in the engineering corps, as his name does not appear on the list of those cleared to work there, so he is relegated to working as a janitor. Curtis however, is more successful in his deception, and is put to work in the research and development department, here to his horror, he finds that the Germans are well on their way to completing construction of an A9 rocket, also known as the "Amerika Rakete", which his supervisor informs him will be more than capable of landing a warhead on New York.
At roughly the same time as the two men infiltrate the secret facility, V-1s begin raining down on southern England, confirming that the rumours of German flying bombs were indeed true, and the RAF and coastal defences are largely unable to stop them, however, over time a strategy of repositioning guns to act as a heavy flak screen in order to free up fighter planes to catch any missiles that slip through is adopted, and V-1s begin being shot down before they get anywhere near their targets.
Bamford, whom is still suspicious that the allies are up to something at the rocket facility, arrives and takes over command. his first act is to have every single member of staff there checked out down the the minutest detail. By this time, the Germans have largely abandoned the V-1 as a weapon and begin using V-2 rockets, which cannot be intercepted by coastal defences or aircraft.
As the V-2 does not use a fixed launching site, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the Allies to destroy them as they had with the V-1 launch ramps, so it is planned that the allies will launch a massive raid on the rocket facility on Germany itself, to which Bradley and Curtis will assist by performing acts of sabotage, so that if the bombing fails, at least it will hamper German efforts to construct both V-2s and "America Rockets".
Curtis and Bradley hatch a daring plan, when the air raid comes, they will seize the A9s launch control room and open the launch doors to the silo, thus giving the allied bombers a target to hit with their bombs, which they hope will be enough to destroy the rocket factory. This plan hits a snag when Bamfords investigation rumbles Curtis as an impostor, so, under the cover of a fake fire alarm, Curtis and Bradley manage to break in to the generator room, but Bradley is wounded and captured by Bamford and his S.S lackeys, who try and use him to get Curtis to come out, but this is unsuccessful, and Bradley is eventually shot, just as the air raid sirens signal the arrival of the bomber squadron.
Curtis, despite being wounded by one of the generator technicians, manages to open the A9s silo doors, where the spotlights used inside the hidden silo give the RAF something to aim at.
The Germans quickly try and launch the A9, but are too late, as the Lancasters of the RAF empty their payloads on top of them, obliterating the launch silo and most of the underground facility, along with all personnel inside.
In the epilogue, Churchill commends the RAF and military intelligence for stopping the rocket attacks on London, and makes plans to build for the future, where hopefully never again will man kind have to fight the sort of war they have just experienced.
This film is an enjoyable enough WW2 adventure romp, although it does get a tad boring in places, with much of the action being limited to tense standoffs followed by quick gun fights, and although it does take extreme liberties with the history, it doesnt stray too far into science fiction.