At an American air base in England in 1943, conniving, womanizing Sergeant Dolan (Tom D'Andrea) manipulates everyone, while insubordinate, maverick pilot fighter ace Major Ed Hardin (Edmund O'Brien) gives his commanding officer and close friend, Colonel Brickley (John Rodney), headaches by ignoring the out-of-date rules of engagement formulated by Brigadier General M. Gilbert (Shepperd Strudwick). When Major General Mike McCready (Henry Hull) promotes Brickley to whip a new squadron into shape, Brickley also recommends Hardin as his replacement.
Despite his misgivings, McCready agrees. To everyone's surprise, Hardin strictly enforces the rules. One rule in particular, forbidding pilots to marry, irks his friend and wingman Captain Stu Hamilton (Robert Stack). As a result, when his tour of duty ends, Hamilton does not sign up for another, and instead goes home to marry his sweetheart. He later returns a married man, however, hoping to persuade Hardin to overlook his transgression.
Hardin refuses to let him back into the squadron, but does weaken enough to let him fly one last mission. Unfortunately, Hamilton is shot down and killed; he admits to Hardin over the radio as his burning aircraft plummets to Earth, that he had been distracted during the mission by thoughts of his wife.
McCready decides that he needs Hardin for his staff, but allows Hardin to first finish his current tour. Hardin's next mission is providing close air support for the Allied landings on D-Day. His aircraft is hit by flak and goes down.
Cast notesRock Hudson has an uncredited role as a pilot in his film debut. Hudson, a former truck driver by the name of Roy Fitzgerald, was under personal contract to director Raoul Walsh, who rode him unmercifully, saying "You big dumb bastard, don’t just get in the center of the camera and stay there like a tree, move!" It took 38 takes to get a good version of Hudson's one line, "You’ve got to get a bigger blackboard."
In Fighter Squadron, the fighter group is equipped with 16 Republic P-47 Thunderbolts provided from the Air National Guard units in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, which were still equipped with the type. To portray Luftwaffe fighters, the film used eight North American P-51 Mustangs from the California ANG, with ersatz German markings. The film was shot for two weeks at Oscoda Army Air Field on Lake Huron, Michigan, a location that approximated the terrain of the fictional English air base where the fighter groups were located. The ANG units that were assigned to the film also were able to take their active duty training while flying with the film company
Fighter Squadron used previously unreleased aerial combat color footage shot by William Wyler for his documentary, Thunderbolt! (1947). Additional location shooting took place at Van Nuys Airport, California.
Fighter Squadron is fictitious, but is based on the exploits of the fighter groups based in England before the Normandy landings. Screenwriter Seton Miller based the film on the actions of the 4th and 56th Fighter Group. In the 4th FG, the men called themselves "Blakeslee's Bachelors"; when one got married, it was followed by ordered transfers to other units. The transfer policy was decided by the unit's commanding officer, Col. Donald J. M. Blakeslee. The technical advisors for the film included Major Joseph Perry, a veteran of the 56th FG and Major Leroy Gover, an ace with the 4th FG.
Fighter Squadron was critically reviewed by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times. He disparaged the "lurid adventure episodes" in the story, and commented that: "The glamor-repute of the Air Forces and the 'hot rocks' who flew the fighter planes, which was cause for much ironic jesting among the lowly 'doughfeet' during the war, is the stuff that Warner Brothers has exclusively put upon the screen in its loud, Technicolored 'Fighter Squadron,' which came to the Strand yesterday."