The Fighting Lady – A News Drama of the Pacific

The Fighting Lady – A News Drama of the Pacific (1945) This film is about the carrier war in the Pacific during WWII, ostensibly about a single carrier that remains unnamed so as to represent all the carriers and the crews, both ship and air, who fought the battles. But most of the filming was done aboard the USS Yorktown, CV10. In two shots, one can make out the number 10 on the flight deck, and vaguely on the superstructure. But nowhere in the narrative script is the carrier mentioned by name. This is the 4th Navy ship with the name “Yorktown”, and the second ship of that name in WWII – the 3rd Yorktown having been sunk at the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.

The 61-minute film opens with airplanes flying overhead and then landing on the carrier. It is July 1943 and the “Fighting Lady” is steaming south to the Panama Canal and out into the Pacific. After a brief layover in Pearl Harbor, she will join a task force heading for an air strike in August 1943, on Marcus Island, “Lady’s” first combat. Her next combat will be an assault in the Gilbert Islands, followed by an attack on Kwajalein Atoll.

“Lady’s” aircraft continued providing air support of the invading troops until the entire Atoll was secured. The carrier also supported the invasion of the Marianas island group, Tinian island being specifically mentioned as a target. The final combat of the film takes place in June 1944 attacking Japanese bases on Guam in the battle of the Marianas Islands and also engaging the Japanese Navy in the battle of the Philippine Sea.

Apart from an excellent script read by Robert Taylor, this film lacks the personal closeness of the 8th and 12th Air Force documentaries. Not until very late in the film do we begin to meet any of the pilots – and then, a recitation of three names, with their faces showing on screen, accompanies the burial at sea of the casualties in the last engagement. We do meet Lt. E.C. Stover, nicknamed “Smoky” from Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He will not be flying because he has had too many missions up to now. “Smoky” is also one of those later buried at sea. We are told about three of the ship’s crew as general quarters is called: “George the barber will pass ammunition, Leo the baker will be a sky lookout, and Frank the tailor will man a first-aid station”. There are countless scenes of crewmen doing a variety of activities – we see their faces, watch them perform their shipboard duties or engage in relaxation such as playing poker, strumming a guitar, etc. but we don’t know all their names.

When the action of battle is shown, it is all action – little mention of individual airmen or ship’s crew except those mentioned above, although we see both carrying out their duties. And it is among the finest combat photography of the war. Most all of the combat shots were from cameras in the aircraft wings. And it is clear that the Pacific war was a very different kind of combat theater than Europe or the Mediterranean.

Leslie Halliwell’s annual “Film Companion” and the Baseline Encyclopedia of Film somehow managed to connect “Fighting Lady” to William Wyler. This error still won’t die, although attempts have been made to correct it on the Internet Movie Database. While “Fighting Lady” was being shot in late 1943 and 1944, Wyler was completing his first documentary, “Memphis Belle” and in early 1944 was re-assigned to the 12th Air Force in Italy where he made his second film of the war, “Thunderbolt.” As an Army Air Force officer, he never had any connection with a Navy film.
Floyd D. Barrows Michigan State University barrowsf@msu.edu

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