During World War II, Cpl. Rolf Steiner (James Coburn) is a well-respected member of the German military and a recipient of the Iron Cross, Germany's highest military honor. Envious of Steiner's award, Capt. Hauptmann Stransky (Maximilian Schell) clashes with Steiner while leading soldiers into battle along the Russian front. Desperate to receive his own Iron Cross, Stransky takes the credit for a significant attack and sparks a heated rivalry with Steiner.