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Film / The Fighting Lady

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The Fighting Lady is a 1944 wartime documentary film produced by the United States Navy.

It is a propaganda film about a year in the life of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, which due to wartime censorship is only called "the Fighting Lady" onscreen, but is (mostly) actually USS Yorktown (CV-10). This Yorktown, the successor to the Yorktown (CV-5) that was sunk at Midway in 1942, receives a crew, passes through the Panama Canal and enters the combat zone of the Pacific. Much attention is paid to life aboard an aircraft carrier at sea, with the narration taking care to point out that it's not just about the pilots; the guys who cook the food and do the laundry are part of a fighting ship at sea too.

Finally the "Lady" sees combat, with an aircraft raid on Marcus Island. The raid on Marcus is followed by a bigger raid on the large Japanese naval base at Truk Island. That's followed by the climax of the film: the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944. Planes from the "Lady" participate in this battle, an American victory so crushing that it was nicknamed the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot". The film ends by pointing out which of the people seen onscreen were killed in combat.

The Fighting Lady was narrated by Robert Taylor, a Hollywood heartthrob who was also a Naval reservist and had been called up. It was directed by Edward Steichen and produced by William Wyler, with Alfred Newman writing the music.


  • Anti-Air: The "Lady" is shown bristling with Oerlikon 20mm, Bofors 40mm, and 5-in/38 guns. When the Japanese attempt to send bombers to attack her and the rest of the American task force, these guns are shown downing a number of them.
  • Coming in Hot: Yes indeed. One plane comes in leaking burning thermite, which is not just dangerous to the deck crew but could cause a massive fire. Another pilot ditches next to the "Lady" when his plane runs out of gas. Another pilot comes in with his control gear shot all to hell; his plane spins to a stop on the deck but not before the tail, both wings, and the nose break off. The pilot then calmly hops out of his cockpit, totally uninjured.
  • Cool Boat: The Yorktown herself, arguably. She's even still around to this day, as a museum ship.
  • Cool Plane: The US Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy have several of these.
    • The Grumman F6F Hellcat, successor of the venerable F4F Wildcat, notable for outclassing the infamous Mitsubishi A6M Zero, as well as its 19 to 1 kill ratio and producing the most aces for the US Navy.
    • The Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger, the US Navy's primary torpedo bomber for most of the war. Among its achievements include being responsible for the sinking of both Yamato-class battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
    • The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, while not having the best start and a less than desirable reputation at first in the early production models, eventually came out on top and proved to be a war-winning dive bomber once later versions ironed out the flaws.
    • The Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero (Allied codename "Zeke"), while already showing obsolescence by 1944, is still mentioned to be a formidable adversary in the hands of experienced pilots, which is unfortunately one of the things the Imperial Japanese military is short on, thus the heavy casualties incurred.
    • The Kawanishi H8K (Allied codename "Emily"), an flying boat that actually proves to be a formidable adversary for any American fighter pilot trying to bring one down, as it is heavily armored for an Japanese aircraft, as well as being armed with autocannons for defensive armament.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Practically all of the battles captured on film are this one way or another, as the Japanese cannot send any effective resistance against the US fleet, whether by air or sea. Truth in Television at this point, since Japan was already short on experienced pilots, effective aircraft, and even warships.
    • The battle of the Philippine Sea, as captured by the airplane cameras. It was a crushing Japanese defeat in which they lost two aircraft carriers and over 300 planes, thus ending forever their ability to attack with carrier planes.
  • Death from Above: To be expected of the fighter and bomber squadrons based onboard the "Lady", several pieces of footage show these squadrons pulling this off on Japanese aircraft, ships, and land installations.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: The H8K "Emily" Flying Boat, as gun camera footage shows, is a very difficult target to take down, as the plane manages to continue flying despite being peppered with .50 caliber bullets. It eventually goes down after receiving multiple hits to its engines.
  • Due to the Dead: Ends with clips showing all the people in the movie who were killed during the year at sea, including Lt. "Smokey" Stover, the young pilot who got so much screen time. Marines fire a 21-gun salute.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: A real one. More than one, in fact. And not just fighters, but dive bombers and torpedo bombers, too.
  • Fragile Speedster: The Japanese Zero fighter. As Taylor puts it, the plane manufacturers sacrificed almost all armor for additional speed and maneuverability.
  • Killed Offscreen: "Smokey" Stover, whose plane doesen't return to the "Lady", and is presumed MIA.
  • Narrator: Taylor is pretty darn patriotic.
  • Manipulative Editing: Although the film gives the impression it was all filmed on one ship, a couple of scenes were filmed on Yorktown's sister ship, the Ticonderoga. The giveaway is the numeral 14 at the aft end of the flight deck on which aircraft are touching down at the beginning of the film, which makes the ship USS Ticonderoga (CV-14).
  • Old-School Dogfight: Old school indeed. The narration notes correctly that the Japanese "Zero" fighter has neither pilot armor nor self-sealing fuel tanks, which at this stage of the war basically makes it a death trap.note 
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The "Lady" (Yorktown), due to wartime censorship. Its commanding officers are known only as "Jocko" (Captain Joseph James "Jocko" Clark) and "Dixie" (Kiefer). They are both rather legendary Naval Officers.
  • P.O.V. Cam: The most distinctive thing about this film is the airplane POV Cams. "Gun cameras" were affixed to the fighter machine guns. This results in some amazing POV shots of American pilots engaging in aerial duels or dive-bombing ships.
  • Reporting Names: Most Japanese planes shown are referred to by their Allied code names, namely the B6N "Jill" torpedo bomber and the H8K "Emily" flying boat.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Fighters, bombers, patrol aircraft, ships, land installations, practically any time something is shown in a combat zone, it's almost guaranteed to go up in flames and blow up.