Two successful flyers in the Great War have different attitudes about the killing they do in combat.
Jerry Young (Fredric March) and Henry Crocker (Cary Grant) land in a plane that turns upside down. They laugh about how hard it is to fly these planes. Soldier Mike “Slug” Richards (Jack Oakie) asks what they are doing, and Henry stalks off. Jerry is told to report to the colonel. Inside Mike tells men they are going to France, and they are excited. Jerry comes in, and they ask him when they are going. He says they will leave at seven in the morning, and he reads the list of men going. Henry asks him why his name is not on the list. Jerry tells Henry he will kill himself if he does not learn how to fly. Jerry says Henry will be an observer. Henry is angry he is staying there, and he knocks Jerry down.
Two planes piloted by Jerry and Mike land in France. Jerry meets Lt. Kingsford (Leyland Hodgson). Jerry is told to report to Major Dunham (Guy Standing), who asks him and Mike how London was. Dunham says their only job is to take photographs and bring them back. They will have to fly close to the ground where the enemy can shoot at them. He shows them a new enemy battery on the map. Kingsford will help them.
Jerry says they had seven months of training for this, and he gets in a plane with Kingsford. Mike is told he is to take off immediately too. While Jerry flies, Kingsford shoots at an enemy plane which is shooting at them. The enemy plane goes down and crashes. Jerry lands and tells Mike that he got two planes. Jerry sees wounded Kingsford being carried and laid down. Dunham asks if he got his photographs, and Jerry says Kingsford is dead. Jerry hands the box to Dunham. Jerry asks if it was his fault, and Dunham says it was no one’s fault.
In his quarters Jerry sees a man removing Kingsford’s things. He sees Kingsford’s unfinished letter to his wife and sits down and writes a letter of condolence to her.
Jerry tells Dunham he has lost five observers in two months. Dunham says it is war, and they must expect it. He asks Jerry why he volunteered. Dunham says tomorrow he may not come back, and Jerry says that does not matter. Dunham says Jerry is becoming an example for younger men. Jerry sees the latest man’s things removed from his quarter. Henry comes in with a bag, and Jerry asks if he is his new observer. Henry says yes and asks who fault it was that he lost five men. Henry says he asked for this assignment. Jerry thought he did not like him. Henry says that is true, but he is curious to see long he could go on before his nerves go to pieces. Jerry asks if he thinks he is yellow, and Henry agrees. Henry asks Jerry what he would have done if Jerry had hit him. Jerry responds by hitting Henry. Jerry says they have a job to do, and he will take him wherever he wants to go.
Mike is reading a book as Jerry and Henry are leaving again. Jerry is flying, and Henry checks his gun. They see two enemies parachuting, and Henry kills them. Henry asks Jerry if he is trying to kill him. Henry shoots at another plane that crashes. They fight other planes. They fly low and land, shot at by the plane following them. Jerry asks Henry if his gun jammed, and he says it did. Jerry tells Mike that Henry shot down a defenseless observer at 600 yards.
The men are singing in the bar. Henry walks in, and they stop. He asks if he is poison. They tell him they do not shoot down observers parachuting. Henry asks why, and Jerry says it is like shooting someone in the back. Henry believes killing enemies is his job. Jerry tells him not to kill parachuting men from his plane.
Henry is cleaning his gun. Dunham tells Henry that a French general is coming to give Jerry another medal. Henry is getting one too. Dunham wonders if Jerry is drinking too much. Henry goes out to find Jerry, and Dunham does not believe that he does not like him.
Jerry and Mike are sitting at a table, and Jerry is drinking. Mike has the waitress Fifi (Adrienne D’Ambricourt) show Jerry his book on a night in a Turkish harem. Henry comes in and tells Jerry he is getting a medal. Mike kisses Fifi goodbye and calls her Fanny. They go to the ceremony and stand in the rain. The general kisses Jerry, and Mike kisses the general. They go into a bar and drink, but Henry sits apart. Young Lt. Johnny Stevens (Kenneth Howell) tells Mike he is his new observer, and Mike buys him a drink. Johnny drinks whiskey. Dunham congratulates Jerry and asks him to talk to the new youngsters. Dunham introduces the famous Jerry Young to them. Jerry does not know what to say. Dunham asks about his latest victory. Jerry says they need them. He advises them when they shoot down a man not to let it get to them. They are fighting for humanity and the preservation of civilization. Jerry asks Dunham if that is what he wanted. A bomb comes through the roof, and Jerry goes to help a wounded youngster who regrets not getting to the front before he dies. Jerry says someone will get a medal for that.
Henry hears Jerry talking in his sleep about a battle. He says he lost five and names them. He sees burning men and says he can’t stand it. He says he will stop it. Johnny comes in and asks Henry if something is wrong. Henry says he was having a nightmare. Jerry is still asleep.
Dunham says it is a pity the boys were killed. Henry asks to be assigned to another pilot because he is afraid to ride with Jerry, who is cracking. Dunham says he will not break up the only team he can rely on. He gives Jerry ten days leave.
Mike is taking a bath and talking with Jerry, who advises him to look out for himself because of his dream. Dunham tells Jerry he has ten days leave. Dunham says Mike will have extra duty. Jerry says Mike should have Henry as his gunner, and Dunham agrees. Mike asks Jerry to bring him back a cheese.
Jerry is at a party and says he has to go. The hostess wants him to meet her youngest boy, and they shake hands. The boy asks if he shot down eighteen planes. He asks if it is fun and asks about it. Jerry says he does not have time. The boy asks if they are on fire when they fall and if they explode with a bang. Jerry says yes. Jerry goes out and gets in a taxi. A beautiful lady (Carole Lombard) gets in the car too and asks for a cigarette. She asks where he is going. He suggests going around the park. She says the party was bad. He says it was all right until the kid. She suggests a glass of champagne in the moonlight. They get out, and Jerry gives the driver money to buy champagne for them. They sit down in the park. He asks why she is doing this. She asks if he likes it, and he says he does. The driver brings the champagne and glasses, and Jerry asks him to wait for them. They drink. He asks her why. She asks him to tell her about it. He says it is the same thing day after day. He thought it was a game at first. He shot down more planes with more dead men, and he became a shining example. He says he has to do it. They bring young boys and tell them to be like him. She knows he is not afraid. He knocks them down, and they buy his drinks. He apologizes to her, and she says she wants to be kind.
Jerry returns to his unit and has cheese for Mike who has landed with Henry. Jerry gives Mike the cheese. Mike smiles and then faints. They carry Mike, and a man says he is dead. Jerry blames Henry for making Mike go back and tangle with the enemy after they took their pictures. Jerry says he killed the best guy who flies in France. Jerry gives an order to have Henry’s gear transferred because Johnny will fly with him.
Dunham tells Jerry and Johnny that they bombed the 86th squadron. Dunham says they want photos so they can make a counter-raid. Dunham warns Jerry it is a tough section, and he asks if he would rather have Henry than the youngster. Jerry says no. Jerry starts the engine and gives Johnny advice before they take off. An enemy plane shoots at them. Jerry shoots at them, and Johnny is hit. Jerry flies in a loop to avoid enemy planes, and Johnny falls out. The enemy plane tries to land and turns over. Jerry lands and says Johnny fell out. Jerry is told that he killed the Germans’ great ace. Jerry sees he was just a kid. Jerry is driven back and writes a report how he looped and Stevens fell out.
Jerry is drinking in his room. Henry comes in and says they are having a binge in Jerry’s honor. Jerry says he will go. They welcome him, and he sits down to dinner. They toast Jerry, and he drinks to the man he killed. He thanks them for the honor and says it is too bad Stevens could not be there. He says they congratulated him for killing a blond kid. He says he got medals for killing kids, and he asks for what. He gives them war and throws down his glass and leaves. They say he is drunk and sing. Jerry returns to his room. Henry leaves the party and hears a shot. He finds Jerry on the floor leaning on his bed. Henry puts him in bed. Dunham comes in and says Jerry got drunk quickly. Henry says Jerry asked him to fly with him. Dunham goes out.
Henry carries Jerry and puts his body in the cockpit. Henry takes off and then shoots holes in both wings. He aims the plane down.
A plaque commemorates “Captain J. H. Young who gallantly gave his life in aerial combat to save the world for democracy. June 14, 1918.”
This anti-war drama portrays the tragic nature of war for young pilots who have a very high mortality rate. One pilot manages to kill many others and survive, but he can no longer stand killing and takes his own life. Another man considers it his duty to kill enemies; but he sacrifices his life so that his friend can have an honorable death.