One of Our Aircraft Is Missing

One of Our Aircraft Is Missing
One of Our Aircraft is Missing

theatrical poster
Directed by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Written by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Starring Godfrey Tearle
Eric Portman
Hugh Williams
Bernard Miles
Hugh Burden
Emrys Jones
Googie Withers
Pamela Brown
Cinematography Ronald Neame
Editing by David Lean
Distributed by Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors
Release date(s) 27 June 1942 (UK)
Running time UK: 102 minutes
US: 82 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £70,000 (est.)

One of Our Aircraft is Missing is a 1942 British war film, the fourth collaboration between the British writer-director-producer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and the first film they made under the banner of The Archers. Although considered a wartime propaganda film, and made under the authority of the Ministry of Information as part of a series of film productions specifically aimed at morale in the United Kingdom, the story and production values elevated it from the usual jingoistic fare.[1] Today, One of Our Aircraft is Missing is considered one of the "best of British films of the era."[2]



One of Our Aircraft Is Missing begins dramatically with the crash of "B for Bertie", an unmanned RAF Vickers Wellington bomber. Its crew was forced to bail out over the Netherlands near the Zuider Zee after one of their engines was damaged during a nighttime raid on Stuttgart. A reversal of the plot of Powell and Pressburger's previous film, 49th Parallel (1941), it is the British trying to escape with the help of various local people. In the 49th Parallel, the Germans stranded in Canada argued and fought amongst themselves, while the British fliers in this film work well together as a team.

Five of the six airmen find each other; the sixth goes missing. The first Dutch citizens they encounter, led by English-speaking schoolteacher Else Meertens (Pamela Brown), are suspicious at first as no aeroplane is reported to have crashed in the Netherlands (the bomber actually reaches England before hitting a tower). After much debate and some questioning, the Dutch agree to help, despite their fear of German reprisals.

The disguised airmen bicycle through the countryside, accompanied by many of the Dutch, to a football match, where they are passed along to the local burgomeister (Hay Petrie). To their bemusement, they discover their missing crewman playing on one of the teams. Reunited, they hide in a truck carrying supplies to Jo de Vries (Googie Withers).

De Vries pretends to be pro-German, blaming the British for killing her husband in a bombing raid (whereas he is actually in England working as a radio announcer). She hides them in her mansion, despite the Germans being garrisoned there. Under cover of an air raid, she leads them to a rowboat. The men row undetected to the sea, but a bridge sentry finally spots them and a shot seriously wounds the oldest man, Sir George Corbett. Nevertheless, they reach the North Sea. They take shelter in a German rescue buoy, where they take two shot-down enemy aviators prisoner, but not before one sends a radio message. By chance, two British boats arrive first. Because Corbett cannot be moved, they simply tow the buoy back to England. Three months later, he is fully recovered, and the crew board their new four-engine heavy bomber.

The attitude of the Dutch people towards the Nazi occupation is shown by lines spoken by two Dutchwomen who help the airmen at great personal risk to themselves and these explain why the Dutch people were willing to help Allied airmen even though those same airmen were sometimes dropping bombs on the Netherlands and killing Dutch people:

Else Meertens: Do you think that we Hollanders who threw the sea out of our country will let the Germans have it? Better the sea.

Jo de Vries: [Speaking to the downed aircrew as RAF bombers approach]
You see. That's what you're doing for us. Can you hear them running for shelter? Can you understand what that means to all the occupied countries? To enslaved people, having it drummed into their ears that the Germans are masters of the Earth. Seeing these masters running for shelter. Seeing them crouching under tables. And hearing that steady hum night after night. That noise which is oil for the burning fire in our hearts.[3]


As appearing in screen credits (main roles identified):[4]

Actor Role
Godfrey Tearle Sir George Corbett, Rear Gunner in B for Bertie
Eric Portman Tom Earnshaw, Co-pilot in B for Bertie
Hugh Williams Frank Shelley, Observer / Navigator in B for Bertie
Bernard Miles Geoff Hickman, Front Gunner in B for Bertie
Hugh Burden John Glyn Haggard, Pilot in B for Bertie
Emrys Jones Bob Ashley, Radio Operator in B for Bertie
Pamela Brown Else Meertens
Joyce Redman Jet van Dieren
Googie Withers Jo de Vries
Hay Petrie Burgomeister
Selma Vaz Dias Burgomeister's wife (as Selma Van Dias)
Arnold Marlé Pieter Sluys
Robert Helpmann De Jong
Peter Ustinov Priest
Alec Clunes Organist
Hector Abbas Driver
James B. Carson Louis
Willem Akkerman Willem
Joan Akkerman Maartje
Peter Schenke Hendrik
Valerie Moon Jannie
John Salew German Sentry
William D'Arcy German Officer
David Ward First German Airman
Robert Duncan Second German Airman
Roland Culver Naval Officer
Robert Beatty Sgt. Hopkins
Michael Powell
(taking a turn as an actor)
Despatching Officer
Stewart Rome Cmdr. Reynold


The title "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" is taken from a phrase that was often heard in contemporary news reports in the U.K. after a bombing raid, "one [or often more] of our aircraft failed to return", which originally served as the working title of the screenplay but was then altered to a less-downbeat form.[1] Although the screenplay was not completely developed by the time of production, Powell considered it "half-finished... it remained (that way) for most of the production."[1] One of the reasons for continual revisions to the screenplay were the constant advances in wartime technology that were occurring. The Admiralty informed the producers and directors of the use of "lobster pots," floating steel platforms, hitherto unknown to the public, that had been anchored in the North Sea to facilitate rescue of downed airmen. When Powell learned of this innovation, he pointedly rewrote the screenplay to include this refuge as the means to deliver the crew to safety. With help from the Ministry of Information, permission to use these platforms was obtained.[5]

The actors that were gathered for the film included recognized stage and screen talents as well as newcomers such as Peter Ustinov making his film debut. Although mainly centred on male roles, Powell encouraged Pressburger to create a number of significant female characters. The main leads, Hugh Burden, Hugh Williams, Emry Jones, Bernard Miles, Godfrey Tearle and Eric Portman formed the crew of "B for Bertie" and introduced themselves and their character's positions onboard the bomber in a progressive sequence that was filmed, like most of the aircraft interiors, in a Vickers Wellington "shell" supplied by the RAF, that nonetheless had working features such as lighting and electrically powered turrets.[5]

A Vickers Wellington bomber, a type featured in the film

To maintain an aura of authenticity, actual RAF bombers on "ops" (operations) were filmed but the key aerial scenes of the bombing of Stuttgart, Germany was created using a large-scale model at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. The giant Wellington replica actually covered the entire studio floor and was rigged with lights and fitted for effects shots including explosions. On screen, the effect was striking and realistically duplicated the flight and bombing raid carried out at the start of the film.[6]

Much of the outdoor sequences set in the Netherlands were shot at Boston in Lincolnshire, with many of the town's landmarks visible, for example, Shodfriars Quay and the railroad Swing Bridge.

Notably, there is no scored music, Powell deliberately strove for "naturalism" relying on natural sounds that would be heard by the characters.[7]

The film was cut by 20 minutes for its original American release.[8]


The movie received two Academy Award nominations, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, and Ronald Neame (photography) and C.C. Stevens (sound) for Best Effects, Special Effects. Powell's nomination was the only Academy Award nomination he ever received in his career – Pressburger won an Academy Award for 49th Parallel and was nominated for The Red Shoes as well.[8]

In popular culture

The film is mentioned in the Dad's Army episode "The Lion Has Phones." When Lance-Corporal Jones tries to ring up GHQ, he mistakenly gets the cinema, whose operator tells him the film is on. There is a mention of Eric Portman and Googie Withers. A poster for the film is on display at the cinema.[9] Correspondingly, in the episode of Dad's Army, "Time on My Hands," Pike knows how to open a parachute because, he says, he's seen it done in One of Our Aircraft is Missing.[10]

A title in the form of "One Of Our X Is Missing" has been used in film and other media as homage, parody, or to invoke a mood. Many of the times it is used, it isn't clear if it's a reference to the film or to the well known wartime phrase. Examples include: a Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "One of Our Planets is Missing"; the final episode of the US television series Maverick, titled "One Of Our Trains Is Missing"; a 1991 text adventure game by Zenobi called One of Our Wombats is Missing; and a 1975 British comedy film titled One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, which included Peter Ustinov and Hugh Burden in the cast. They were also both in One of Our Aircraft Is Missing.

Cover of the DVD which shows one of the original pieces of artwork used in posters to promote the movie.


  1. ^ a b c Powell 1986, p. 388.
  2. ^ Dolan 1985, p. 63.
  3. ^ "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing Memorable quotes." Retrieved: 10 January 2010.
  4. ^ One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942) Full credits
  5. ^ a b Powell 1986, p. 390.
  6. ^ Powell 1986, p. 391.
  7. ^ Powell 1986, p. 389.
  8. ^ a b " 'One of Our Aircraft is Missing'." Retrieved: 10 January 2010.
  9. ^ Dad's Army Episode "The Lion Has Phones," 25 September 1969
  10. ^ Dad's Army Episode "Time on My Hands," 29 December 1972.
  • Aldgate, Anthony and Jeffrey Richards. Britain Can Take it: British Cinema in the Second World War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd Edition, 1994. ISBN 0-7486-0508-8.
  • Barr, Charles, ed. All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1986. ISBN 0-85170-179-5.
  • Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Hardwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • Murphy, Robert. British Cinema and the Second World War. London: Continuum, 2000. ISBN 0-8264-5139-X.
  • Powell, Michael. A Life in Movies: An Autobiography. London: Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.

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