Cinema History from the Cold War!

One Plane, One Bomb
CBS News
United States Air Force
1953

Among the more frequent contributors to civil defense productions were broadcast journalists, due in large part to the keen eye they kept on world events.  The chief contributor from this select group was Edward R. Murrow, a pioneer in all mediums of the field.  Murrow, who achieved fame for his London radio broadcasts during WWII, also lent his voice to the first official government film on civil defense, Survival Under Atomic Attack and in 1953 helped create Disaster on Main Street.  Later that same year, Murrow and his team at CBS put together a short film commissioned by the United States Air Force which was to be shot in the style of their See It Now television series.  Though formatted like other installments of the series, One Plane, One Bomb was shown to audiences in theaters with the intention of highlighting the weakness of America's civil defense capabilities.

                             

The premise for the film is an intriguing experiment conducted by the Air Force and various factions of the Ground Observer Corps, civil defense volunteers who were trained to spot and identify unknown planes in the sky.  Elements of a B-29 bomber wing take off from England in a simulated Soviet attack, while Air Force command centers use radar and Ground Observer reports to track the flight and attempt aerial engagement before a bomb can be dropped on New York City.  To record the entire process, CBS stationed reporters both on the ground in rural Massachusetts as well as in the air with the fictional enemy.  Following a 20 hour ocean crossing, the first planes reach American soil, flying low enough to avoid coastal radar defenses.  The first indication of their location is reported when two volunteer Ground Observers report the suspicious flight over East Millinocket, Maine.  This raises an alarm with civil defense authorities who begin to chart the path of the unidentified planes.  They remain undetected, however, until passing just southwest of Boston.  Murrow solemnly notes that several unmanned observer posts could have better relayed their position.

                               

In Boston, an engineering professor who volunteers in his spare time to command a civil defense air tracking location works with his female crew to follow the aircraft, relaying their coordinates to Dow Air Force Base, where Sabre interceptor jets to rise to meet the the threat.   Stationed in portable trailers parked near their planes, American pilots lounge until a scramble order sends them airborne.  Prior to takeoff, the pilots are denied a final position on the enemy flight because yet another Ground Observer station, a cabin in the country, was not staffed.  "This one was abandoned, silent, and it makes it tough on a pilot..."  After an hour of searching blindly, the jets return to base while the bomber pilots gloat of being undetected.  Crossing the Merrimack River, however, a volunteer spotter outside a church spots the flight, reigniting the chase.

Ground Observer stations in Connecticut alert military radar installations of the flight, prompting F-94 Starfires to tail the "enemy" from Cape Cod.  Murrow himself rides along with this flight, noting the remarkable speed with which the planes take to the air.  On the ground, it is confirmed through Strategic Air Command the bombers are Soviet and a civil defense alert is issued for New York City while mobile anti-aircraft batteries up and down the coast are activated.  Twenty minutes from New York, American fighters meet up with their invading counterparts.  CBS reporter Ed Scott, broadcasting from a B-29 gun turret, notes that his plane has been "shot down" based on aerial maneuvers.  Murrow's fighter closes in on the remaining two as they cross Long Island on a final run for Manhattan.  "We get them, but there's no way to prove it, and even at this point, the bombers would have hit something!" 

                             

Hauntingly, Scott continues reporting as though the bomb run had been successful.  Rolling over familiar landmarks, the East River, Harlem, and Central Park, the pilot releases his payload one mile north of the Empire State Building.  Three minutes before noon, the bomb detonates within a block of it's target.  Murrow somberly relates that while this was only a simulation, Air Force estimates suggest that 70% of a Soviet force could survive air defenses to attack New York and other targets.  A strengthened Civilian Ground Observer Corps would greatly improve these odds.  Concluding, Murrow signs over to General Hoyt Vandenberg, Air Force Chief of Staff.  From his desk Washington D.C., Vandenberg authoritatively calls for several hundred thousand volunteers to fill the gaps in America's visual defense.  The primary requirement for all applicants? "A determination to keep America safe and free."