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Task Force
Written and directed by Delmer Daves
Produced by Jerry Wald
Cast: Gary Cooper as Jonathan Scott
Jane Wyatt as Mary Morgan
MGM/UA Home Video, 1949, 116 min., Video

Actual historical footage mixes with Hollywood glamour in this film to produce a semi-documentary on the history of the aircraft carrier from 1922 to 1949. This popular movie includes a 15-minute segment aboard an aircraft carrier in April 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa, where Japanese kamikazes attack and damage the ship. Gary Cooper and Jane Wyatt, both Academy Award winners, star in this movie. Cooper plays Jonathan Scott, who starts his naval career as a pilot in 1922 on the first aircraft carrier Langley, participates in the Battle of Midway as Operations Officer on the carrier Yorktown, and commands his own carrier during the Battle of Okinawa. Wyatt plays Mary Morgan, who marries Scott several years after her first husband dies in a flight accident on the Langley while testing carrier planes together with Scott.

Humor, romance, and top-notch acting make this an enjoyable film. In addition, historical events and details generally are presented accurately, although the writer takes some liberty with facts in order to produce a commercial film. For example, Scott commands a carrier with a code name of Clipper, but the real name is never given. The film's director skillfully mixes actual battle footage with staged shots to give the impression that Scott and his men are taking part in the battle. The footage of kamikaze attacks actually comes from many different dates and locations, but the film combines these into one day.

This movie captures the tension and worry of the carrier men as they wait four long days for the impending Japanese kamikaze attacks. One waiting man says, "Worst thing about the Navy is you're either bored stiff or scared stiff." Rumors go through the fleet that the Japanese may have as many 7,000 kamikaze planes ready to attack. On April 6, the mass kamikaze attacks come with about 400 planes (O'Neill 1999, 144). Kamikaze pilots dive into Scott's carrier, causing many deaths and great damage to the point where it is in danger of sinking. Scott refuses to leave the ship, and his men and nearby ships finally put out the fires. The seriously damaged carrier limps back to the U.S. and does not participate in any more battles during World War II.

During the Battle of Okinawa, this film shows the kamikaze attacks only from the standpoint of Americans on the carrier and in its fighter planes. The Japanese kamikaze pilots and their leaders remain invisible throughout the battle. The Americans do not belittle or disparage the kamikaze attacks as a military strategy, and instead the film focuses on the response of Commander Scott and his men to a serious combat threat.

Through this film many Americans in the late 1949 saw in theaters for the first time extended footage related to the kamikaze attacks that caused so much fear and damage off Okinawa. Task Force captures the tense atmosphere prior to the attacks, the damage after the hits, and the grief for the many lives lost.

Source Cited

O'Neill, Richard. 1999. Originally published in 1981 as an illustrated edition. Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations. London: Salamander Books.