It is late April, 1945, and World War II is almost over. The shooting hasn't stopped yet, however, and the residents of one small town in southern Germany are acutely aware that the Americans are getting quite close. The film centers on seven boys in their mid-teens: Hans, Albert, Walter, Jurgen, Karl, Klaus, and Sigi. The boys are schoolmates and friends. Hans is a refugee from urban bombing. Walter's father is the local Nazi party boss. Karl has a crush on the sexy girl who works at his father's hair salon. Klaus has a budding romance with his classmate Franciska. Jurgen's father was killed in action in the war. Sigi is the smallest and often gets teased by his buddies.
The boys are wrapped up in the usual teen angst and drama, with a little extra excitement caused by the war, which they're tracking with pins on the maps in their classroom. However, fun and games suddenly end when the boys are drafted into the Wehrmacht. After barely a day of military training, they are thrown into the defense of their local bridge, with tragic consequences.
Vicco von Bulow, aka "Loriot" the German comedian, has a small part as a Wehrmacht soldier.
- All for Nothing: They weren't even supposed to defend the bridge! The whole idea was to put the boys someplace safe before a demolition team arrived to blow the bridge. But due to a tragic blunder the boys are left in a pitched battle with the Americans for no reason at all.
- Armchair Military: The boys, before they're drafted. As they're moving pins on their map and discussing tactics, the teacher asks if the General Staff can take their seats.
- Based on a True Story: Supposedly based on a real-life incident in which a group of teenagers defended a bridge.
- Brutal Honesty:Soldier: Think you can make soldiers out of these squirts?
Drill instructor: No.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: The closing title card says that the bridge battle of 27 April 1945 was so insignificant that it wasn't mentioned in any military communique.
- Child Soldiers: A deeply tragic example, as teenaged boys who should be in school are sent off to the front.
- Cold Sniper: The American Hero Antagonist sharpshooter which kills one of the boys.
- Conscription: The boys are eager enough when their draft notices arrive. Their parents are horrified, and veteran soldiers are either appalled or blackly amused when they see raw teens being trained.
- Cool Teacher: Stern, the boys' English teacher, who makes subtle comments indicating he's not on board with fascism. He's horrified when their draft notices come in. He later begs a German officer to keep the boys safe.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: The American soldier who dies in agony on the bridge after Karl shoots his guts out.
- Dies Wide Open: Several American and German soldiers.
- Dirty Coward: Walter's father, the local Nazi Party boss, who bleats platitudes about "final victory" but gets the hell out of town when the Americans get too close.
- Downer Ending: Six of the seven boys die, for absolutely nothing.
- Dwindling Party: All in the last half-hour of the film, as the boys get picked off one by one.
- Eek, a Mouse!!: One of the boys brings a mouse to school with the express purpose of freaking out the girls. He does manage to freak out one girl.
- Extremely Short Timespan: Appears to take place over not much more than 48 hours. There's one day when the boys are shown in town before they get their draft notices, one day when they're in training—dialogue specifies they only trained for one day-and the next morning and afternoon when they're in combat at the bridge.
- Faux Fluency: The American soldiers who shout appeals for the boys to give up sound like what they really were, namely, German actors faking American accents.
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Karl freaks out when things start getting too real and says he wants to go home. Klaus says "Pull yourself together!" and slaps him. Klaus feels bad about this a little bit later when Karl is killed.
- The Inquisitor General: Played for drama. The kindly NCO who was meant to lead the boys on the bridge briefly runs back into town to get more coffee, where he is stopped by a pair of fanatical Feldgendarme (military police), who mistake him for a deserter and machine-gun him - thereby leaving the boys to their own devices.
- Last Stand: An utterly pointless one, as the boys go down fighting to defend a strategically irrelevant bridge that should have been demolished.
- Lowered Recruiting Standards: Hitler was running out of men so he lowered them about as far as they could go, sending out innocent schoolboys to be slaughtered.
- Match Cut: From one of the boys holding his head and agonizing after being rejected by a girl, to that same boy holding his helmet to his head as part of an army drill.
- Missing Backblast: Played with. When one of the boys fires his Panzerfaust at an American tank from inside a house, he isn't adversely affected and is even momentarily jubilant about his success. Then he turns back towards the elderly owner of the building who was protesting from behind him only moments ago...
- Old Soldier: Sgt. Heilmann, who is quietly amused by his fresh-faced and utterly green young charges, and is a Reasonable Authority Figure perfectly OK with keeping them out of harm's way. His death after blundering into a military patrol unleashes all the tragedy that follows.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Surprisingly, Captain Fröhlich, the boys' CO. Recognizing that they are unsuited to combat after exactly one day of training, he arranges for them to be posted to what should be an easy station, at a bridge that is going to be blown. Then things go awry.
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: The American soldier who finds out the German soldiers are Child Soldiers; when encountering Walter, rather than shooting him upon finding him when he accidentally fatally wounds an elder civilian, he just attempted to chastise him for getting into this mess before the debris collapses on him. Then he attempted to call a cease fire to show that they Wouldn't Hurt a Child, only to get gunned down due to a Poor Communication Kills language barrier and the only German word he knows and uses ("kindergarten") turns out to be a Berserk Button for Karl who pulled the trigger.
- Toplessness from the Back: Karl gets very angry when he catches Barbara, the family's voluptuous hairdresser, having sex with his father.
- Train-Station Goodbye: Walter does this hurriedly, after dashing to the station on a bicycle, when he finds out his mother is leaving.
- War Is Hell: It is ghastly and horrible and people die.