The Steel Bayonet
Cast & Crew
Early in 1943, a British battalion pulls out of the hills surrounding Tunis, North Africa, after a hard thirteen-week campaign against German troops. 'C' Company, led by Major Alan Gerard, has spearheaded the attacks and is now reduced to barely two platoons and must rest and reorganize. However, a general informs Gerard that, instead of having a seven-day rest period, his men will need to begin a new campaign immediately. They are to establish a gunnery observation post and hold it until an Allied counter offensive can be mounted in the rear. The general promises Gerard replacements for the many soldiers he has lost and assigns Capt. Mead, a gunnery officer and old friend of Gerard's, to assist him. Gerard explains the order to his men, several of whom realize that it is a suicide mission. There can be no gun shots, as these will alert the enemy, and all patrols encountered must be killed by bayonet. The platoons march to a deserted farmhouse with a windmill tower and begin to establish a post. The general then arrives with only five raw recruits and an officer, Lt. Vernon, who is to be Gerard's second-in-command. After the booby-trapped body of a a German soldier is inadvertently detonated, killing two British soldiers, the explosion alerts the Germans, who send out a seven-man patrol which is bayoneted by the British. Mead, who is working in the tower, is shot at by a lone German sniper, but Gerard, countermanding a foolish order given by Vernon, takes a machine gun and deals with the sniper himself. When Vernon then demands to be posted to another company, Gerard reminds him that they may not live through the next few hours. Later, up in the tower, which he can enter and leave only under cover of dark, Mead is unaware that he has spilled his water canteen and, due to the extreme heat and exposure, becomes delirious with sunstroke. That night, Gerard goes up the tower and brings Mead down, and as he recovers, Mead discusses their situation with Vernon, who then decides to stay with the company. Gerard expects an attack on their position at dawn, so Vernon leads a squad, which lays anti-tank mines in the fields around the farmhouse. Mead returns to the observation tower and, as heavy shelling begins and German infantry advance, uses his radio to direct British artillery retaliation. Although Vernon and his sergeant major wipe out a German machine gun position with a grenade, the Germans continue their attack on different flanks. However, Mead is able to direct British fire onto the infantry and tanks. When the Germans realize that the attack is being directed from the tower, they order tanks to destroy it. Gerard receives an order to withdraw and the few survivors of the attack board a troop carrier. Mead, however, is held down in the tower by enemy fire and when Gerard approaches the ladder, he finds blood dripping from above. After the Germans enter the farm, Gerard is trapped under a falling wall. The German commander, unaware of Gerard's presence, surveys the battlefield, salutes the dead, then berates his troops for having taken so long to defeat a handful of infantry. Though wounded, Gerard is able to use Mead's radio, which has fallen from the tower, to order artillery strikes directly on his position and is killed, along with the Germans, in the ensuing barrage. From the troop carrier, the survivors see the farm totally destroyed. The stand at the farmhouse has, however, greatly aided the counter offensive, and three days later, Tunis falls, dooming the Germans' campaign in North Africa.
John H. Watson
The print viewed was incomplete, lacking approximately nine minutes. The film's opening title card reads: "Leo Genn as Major Gerard." However, the cast list at the film's conclusion lists the character as "Major Gerrard." The order of the opening and ending cast credits differ. According to modern sources, this film was one of a three-picture deal United Artists had with Hammer Film Productions, Ltd. and was shot on the British Army's Tank Training Grounds at Aldershot, England.