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    SUBJECTS — Aviation; World/WWI & England;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
    Age: 10+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 1938; 103 minutes; B & W; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     This film is about a British airplane squadron during the First World War.

    Benefits of the Movie: "The Dawn Patrol" shows aerial warfare in its infancy: the rickety planes, the dog fights, the poor training given to the British pilots, and the pressure on the officers who sent boys up every day knowing that many wouldn't come back.

    Possible Problems: MODERATE. As one ten-year-old kept repeating as he watched this movie, "These guys drink like fish." Niven and Fairbanks also have too much of a high old time between flights. While some men resort to drunkenness and pranks in the face of tension and likely death, this film overdoes it. The heroes also miraculously survive time and again, although reality takes hold at the end.

    Parenting Points:     Describe for your child the role of air power in the First World War. See Helpful Background section. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:  None.

      Featured Actors:  Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and David Niven.

      Director:  Edmund Goulding.
  QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   In this movie, the commanders repeatedly send the squadron on missions that infuriate the pilots because they seem impossible or excessively dangerous. Sometimes the commanders make stupid mistakes. But even when the commanders are giving good orders, what about their perspective is different from the viewpoint of the flyers?

    Helpful Background:

    World War I was the first war in which the airplane played a combat role. Planes were used both for scouting enemy positions and for bombing and strafing. Observation balloons and dirigibles were also used. Early in the war, German dirigibles bombed Paris and London, but dirigibles were too vulnerable and the Germans switched to planes. By 1915, the airplane dominated the air war. The Germans had air superiority from October 1915 until July 1916. After that, the Allies, chiefly the British, dominated. When the U.S. entered the war Allied air supremacy became overwhelming. U.S. Army Air Corps strength went from three squadrons in April 1918 to 45 in November of the same year. By the end of the war there were 200,000 Americans active in the Army Air Corps in Europe.

    World War I aerial warfare featured a number of aces, men who shot down many enemy planes. They were the American Eddie Rickenbacker, the Frenchmen Georges Guynemey and Charles Nungesser; Albert Ball of Great Britain, the Canadian William Avery Bishop and the German Baron Manfred Von Richthofen (the Red Baron).

    Before World War I, balloons were used to observe enemy positions. Propeller driven planes were first used to observe enemy troops by the Italians in the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12. The British established the Royal Flying Corps in 1912. At the beginning of World War I, the Allies and the Germans each had about 200 slow, vulnerable planes. These were soon replaced by faster planes. Early aerial combat was hampered by the fact that bullets from the machine gun mounted on the plane would strike the propeller. This was solved by Anthony Fokker, a Dutch air craft designer working with the Germans. The Allies quickly matched this advance.

    From 1916 until shortly before the end of the war, the Germans bombed Paris and London causing 9000 casualties. Their main purpose was to draw British planes from the front, to handicap British industry and to destroy morale of the civilian population. The raids accomplished little of military value.

    For more on the First World War, see Learning Guide to All Quiet on the Western Front.
  Suggested Response: One element in the definition of a good commander is one who doesn't send his troops or planes out on an impossible mission just for his own glory if it succeeds. However, there is a difference in perspective between the flyers and the commanders. The commanders see the big picture that the flyers do not know. Thus, often, flyers will think that their missions are not justified, but might have a different perspective if they had the information available to the commanders.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    1.  What is the relationship between the closeness of death, the need to act courageously, and the reckless drunkenness of the flyers?

    2.  How does this film show how some people react to the stress of war and a very risky role in it?

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    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)

    1.  Did these particular men have to be flyers and put their lives at special risk? There were hundreds of other jobs that they could take which supported the war effort but which were less dangerous.

Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

    Bridges to Reading: None.
  MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: See the Subject Matter Index section on Aviation and Space Exploration

    Links to the Internet: None.


Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

    Bibliography: In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

    • Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995.

    Last updated December 9, 2009.

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