In 1943, on the Russian front, decorated leader Rolf Steiner (James Coburn) is promoted to Sergeant after another successful mission. Meanwhile, upper-class and arrogant Prussian Captain Hauptmann Stransky (Maximilian Schell) is assigned as the new commander of his squad. After a bloody battle of Steiner's squad against the Russian troops led by the brave Lieutenant Meyer (Igor Galo), who dies in combat, the coward Stransky claims that he led his squad against the Russian and requests to be awarded with the Iron Cross to satisfy his personal ambition together with that of his aristocratic family. Stransky gives the names of Steiner and of the homosexual Lieutenant Triebig (Roger Fritz) as witnesses of his accomplishment, but Steiner, who has problems with the chain of command in the Army, and with the arrogance of Stransky, refuses to participate in the fraud. When Colonel Brandt (James Mason) gives the order to leave the position in the front, Stransky does not retransmit the order ...
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