Twelve O'Clock High

Season 1 Episode 2

Follow the Leader

Aired Friday 9:30 PM Sep 25, 1964 on ABC

Episode Recap

Rated: TV G

Opening / Teaser:

NOTE: This episode as the pilot and while not shown first, was the first episode shot.

The episode opens with the 918 flying and a view from outside moving inwards of Brigadier General Savage flying his plane. We see six bombs on the side of his plane, as fighters have planes shot down on their side. The navigator lets us know we're departing England and now crossing the English Channel. General Savage puts the crew on Oxygen for the flight.

Just as the bombardier reports clear skies over the target, the co-pilot spots three FW flying above them and General Savage informs high and low squadrons to be on their toes, as here they come. One of the FW hits the General's plane causing a fire in the radio room, which is under control, and he hits the navigator. This causes the bombardier to leave his post to help him. The General reminds him they are on a bomb run and his place is at his station and he returns to it. Bombs away and shortly thereafter the other bombs drop giving a nice pattern.

The co-pilot is with the bombardier and navigator checking up on them and tending to the gravely navigator. General Savage checks in and the bombardier says they need to do something to help him. Just then multiple FW return at 12 o'clock high. The General orders the co-pilot back to the cockpit to help him handle the controls during the attack.

The bombardier reports the navigator is doing worse and they need to return him home. The General says they can't break formation. While he doesn't explain why it is obvious during an attack a stray plane would be like a sheep to wolves. General Savage begins directing the B-17 squadrons and their response to the FW attack. We see the worried look on the bombardier's face, just as the clock face appears with the 12 o'clock HIGH logo and the announcer's introduction begins.

Act I

Waiting at the base for the 918 to return is Major Stovall, the executive officer, and Major General Wiley Crowe, the Brigadier's direct superior. Upon the return we see two flares from the General's plane showing he has wounded. The two Majors leave the control tower and hurry to the Brigadier's plane.

Without saluting the Brigadier passes his superior officer and his own men rushing to get the doctor on board the plane. The other 918 planes return and we discover the entire 918 got back successfully.

A few moments later the doctor leaves stating the navigator died before they touched down. When the bombardier exits the plane, the Brigadier says to General Crowe that he'd like to commend this bombardier, to which Crowe thanks him for a job well done. We find out the navigator was the bombardier's closest friend.

The maintenance chief drives up reporting extreme battle damage to the General's plane. He's not sure about the other twenty planes, but the General wants it all fixed by morning and orders them to work around the clock.

Major General Crowe expresses the "old man's" concern that Savage is flying every mission. The cold hard fact is the General is not expendable, to which Savage asks "are they" as he looks at this men.

At debriefing the two Generals are reviewing the photos and drinking coffee. Discussing how to end the war quicker, they agree daylight precision bombing is the only way. Savage wants to try a new tactic -- coordinated bombardier action. Instead of 21 bombardiers dropping as they see fit, they would all drop based upon the lead bombardier. When he drops, they drop. General Crowe says it will be his neck on the block and to trust one man. Savage replies his bombardier hit the target yet again today and under extreme emotional distress. He won't miss.

Wiley says he's going back to Wing and says he'll leave it this way. "You better be right, Frank."

Act II

Savage finds the bombardier - Mellon - in his quarters. He proposes the idea to him, but Melon is unsure. He doesn't have the rank to lead the bombardier and he's not bucking for rank. Savage asks if he knows he's going to hit the target. Melon replies, yes he does even when he misses. Savage replies it takes a man to admit that flaw. We find out Melon is only twenty years old (not even one year for each plane). When Savage was twenty, he was just learning to fly.

Next day, the 918 is warming up but the day is not going well for the General. He ears are inflamed and the doctor says they'll burst when he goes above 20,000 feet. The General says he's going to fly, but the doctor says he won't be flying today. Just then the maintenance chief bursts into the office reporting only 19 ships are ready. The General says he ordered 21, to which the chief replies they worked around the clock and only have 19. The General orders the chief to get the other two planes ready today.

Major Cobb asks if the General will be leading the mission and the General begins to get his gear. Doc says if the General bursts his ear drums he might be out for the duration of the war, to which Savage says he can't argue with the umpire. Dropping his gear he turns command for the mission over to Major Cobb. Cobb questions if they are to bomb on Melon. Savage asks Cobb what's his objection to the plan. They discuss Melon and the General decides to go with Melon. As the General puts it the Air Force says these boys are men and if they're not men we'll lose the war.

General Savage drops off Major Cobb and gives Melon the thumbs up sign. Melon enters the plane and begins to have memories of his last flight.


The ground crew is playing base ball, Major Stovall, and General Savage are in the control tower. They are all waiting for the 918 to return. We find out Major Stovall is a Grandpa and the only one in the group. He wants to go up, though. The Major and General discuss their lives and regrets during this break. We learn more about both characters.

The 918 is returning and the General yells to the ground crew they are coming back. The crew takes off in cars, trucks, on bikes, etc.

The General arrives at a plane and finds out his plane is still out. Cobb got hit and is limping home. While everyone dropped on Melon, it looks like he dropped early missing the target.

Savage returns to his office and discovers he's not only in trouble for missing the target using his new approach, but it looks like they hit a school. The Dutch embassy filed a formal complaint that went to the U.S. Ambassador in London, to Ike, and then down the chain to Crowe, where the brick will stop. He wants a good answer.

Major Stovall enters the office informing Savage that Cobb, Bishop, Melon, and the crew made it back OK. Cobb and his crew (officers) are here, to which Crowe orders them into the office. Savage introduces them, as Crowe goes behind Savage's desk making it clear he's in command at this point.

Crowe wants to the bottom of what went wrong. He starts with Cobb and then goes to Melon. He reams them and doesn't like their explanations. He says unless someone can prove the bomb sight is to blame, none of them are fit to be on a lead crew. He also says coordinated bombing is a failure.

Savage comes to their defense. He says Cobb has never been grossly wrong and points out he put one of the men on this crew up for a DFC. Finally, he says unless he can pick his own crews and leads, he'll ask for a transfer.

Crowe responds by letting the crew leave, so he can Savage can talk alone. These two friends, the mentor and the student argue and Savage puts it on the line. Should he be in command tomorrow, he'll use this tactic again. He believes in it and they need something new, a new tactic, to win this war.

At the local pub, the Star and Bottle, a girl enters and looks for Melon. She sits down and he orders her a drink. She can tell something is eating him. The only thing she can think of is the fact she's late (having missed the bus). Melon says it's not her.

Just then a Captain asks him to play darts, as he's supposed to be a bombardier. Another officer says to lay off him, but Melon takes the darts and throws three bull eyes in a close pattern. He asks, how that for a pattern and leaves very quickly - running out. The girl calls his name and runs after him.

Reaching him, he kisses her, and she says they can go somewhere else. He starts letting it out. How they bombed on him and how he made them bomb on children. She tells him it is war, but he replies only he wants to go home. Major Cobb drives up and says the General wants to see him. His girl wants him to call and he says yes, but then changes it to maybe.

Act IV

Melon and the General are going over a report that says there was an electrical error that caused the bombs to drop 10 seconds early. It proves it was not Melon's fault, but Melon questions the timing. The General points out having the damage occur before makes it all fit. The damage to the switch and the timing match up. The General says it is the reason and it is the one going up the chain of command.

Melon still won't let himself off the hook that easily. The General points out to Melon it was impossible for him to hit the target given the damage to his equipment. Melon admits at take off his mind was on the previous mission even to the point of being frozen. The General asks if he was OK at the time of the bombing. Melon says he was OK and even calm. Savage says he has faith in Melon and they're on for tomorrow and everyone will be bombing on him.

Savage and Melon discuss responsibility and how they are both responsible for the deaths at the school. Yet, Savage won't change his mind. He doesn't want Melon to carry around the guilt or thinking he can't do the job. Melon will fly, bomb, and lead the group tomorrow. The General won't discuss it any longer and dismisses Melon, twice, when he hesitates.

Next day, the doctor says the General's ears are better but he should wait one more day. Savage says he has to do this target.

The General enters the briefing room and explains the failure was because of a mechanical problem. They are going back today with an extra long bomb run because they must hit the target today. They will use the same procedure as yesterday, bomb on the leader. The lead crew will be the same as yesterday - Bishop. The General will fly with them (Bishop's crew).

While on the way to the target Melon simply stares off into the distance. At Wing Command, Major General Crowe and his superior discuss the mission and how Crowe could have stopped the bomb on leader, but didn't. Melon is slow to respond when General Savage (the pilot) calls for him, but he starts his work.

There is cloud cover, but finally he sees a break. During the FW attack, again the FW hits the front of the plane. This time both the navigator and Melon are hit. Yet, Melon returns to his station and bombs. The group bombs with him with complete destruction of the target.


At the base hospital, General Savage enters the Officer's ward. The navigator is up for an air medal. Melon is OK, but has a broken leg. The General wants to talk and Melon agrees. He wonders if Melon was able to see the damage, but he wasn't. Savage reports 70% hit within a 1,000 foot circle of the target. This brings a smile to Melon's face. Just like the equipment (earlier mission) he was hit before the drop the General points. out. Melon is glad he came through for the General and has a question. He wonders why the General bet everything on him (not just the mission, but his own career).

Savage replies because he had the training, the intelligence, the skill, and Savage was sure he had the character. Melon thanks the General for making him go through it.

Savage replies he should thank General Crowe and then goes on to explain what happened fifteen years ago. Savage was piloting a three engine plane and right after takeoff it crashed. An inquiring was unable to determine if it was a mechanical problem or pilot error. Savage would never have been able to resolve it in his own mind, if it hadn't been for Wiley's faith in him as a pilot.

General Savage hands the strike photos to Melon and leaves. Outside we see Savage look up into the night sky.