Masters of the Air: The True Story of the 100th Bomb Group, Explained

Apple TV+’s thrilling war-drama series, ‘Masters of the Air,’ takes the audience into the heat of the battles fought in the sky. The focus is on the 100th Bomb Group, a unit in the Eighth Air Force, and their many missions, which a lot of them narrowly survive, while most don’t make it out. Created by John Shiban and John Orloff, the series has Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg working behind the scenes, reunited to recreate the magic of ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific.’ Like its predecessors, ‘Masters of the Air’ doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of war in its bloodiest form. The audience discovers all the challenges the unit faces, making us care about the dozens of characters that appear throughout the show. What makes it even more interesting is that the show stays pretty close to the true events.

Masters of the Air Recreates the True Horrors of War

‘Masters of the Air’ is based on the book, ‘Masters of the Air: How the Bomber Boys Broke Down the Nazi War Machine’ by Donald L. Miller. The bestseller is based on the true story of the Eighth Air Force unit, drawn from the extensive research conducted by Miller, which includes interviews with the surviving members of the unit as well as the archival and historical records.

The unit was established on January 28, 1942, and activated in June of the same year. The show recounts their missions, which took place between 1943 and 1945 and recreates the stories of these men with a reverent lens, with a lot of characters named after the real Air Force officers. The unit was sent to England in May 1943 and stationed at Thorpe Abbots’ Station 139, which served as their base till the end of the Second World War.

Being in the Air Force during the war was statistically dangerous, but the 100th earned a reputation that made everyone call it a jinxed unit. Nicknamed the “Bloody 100th,” the unit was rumored to have taken down more losses than most and lost a lot of crew members along the way. Reportedly, whenever a new airman was assigned to the 100th, they would prepare themselves for the worst. But then, every other airborne unit in the war had the same odds. It has been stated that the 100th didn’t have any statistically abnormal rate of losing planes and crew. A lot of other units survived with much worse losses. But the 100th stood apart due to its key members and the stories of their survival and sacrifice, turning them into the legends they are known as now.

With 35 planes containing ten crew members each, the 100th arrived with about 350 men in the Second World War. As a rule, they were required to complete 25 missions, though, over time, others started to doubt their ability to survive till the last mission, given all that they went through in a short amount of time. Their primary functions included bombing important locations in the enemy territory, which included everything from arms factories to communication lines and storage facilities. Later, they were also employed to transport food, among other things.

When it comes to presenting the unit and the men who served in it, the show stays pretty true to the real accounts about them. As shown in the Apple TV+ series, the men in the 100th soon discover that their precision bombing during the daytime makes them much more vulnerable and, hence, easier to become the enemy’s target as compared to their British counterparts who carried out missions at night. With time, however, they also realize that the Nazis aren’t the only things they’ll have to battle. From air sickness to frostbite to PTSD, the men are challenged on different levels and have to keep themselves steady during all this because their actions don’t just affect their lives but also that of nine other men on the plane.

The show also treads with accuracy when it comes to presenting the missions of the unit as well as the losses they took with each flight. In their first combat mission, the 100th lost three planes and, hence, thirty men, with their fates uncertain. Before this, the group hadn’t really faced battle as most men in it were still pretty young and had never been out of their towns, let alone flown a plane and fought in a war. The first mission itself had a sobering effect, and soon, they faced many other challenges.

The main characters in ‘Masters of the Air’ are the two “Bucks,” Major John “Bucky” Egan of the 418th Bomb Squadron and Major Gale “Buck” Cleven of the 350th. The film portrays them in the same light in which they have been remembered by the other members of the 100th and their representation in several other accounts. Much like in the show, they did become the de facto leaders of the group, with everyone in their unit, especially the juniors, holding them in high regard. They were best friends who’d joined the Air Force together, and their fates, too, followed a similar arc, with both of their planes getting gunned down in enemy territories within a couple of days of each other and both ending up prisoners-of-war in the same place.

The show also accurately depicts the character and actions of Lt. Harry Crosby, who serves as the navigator. Despite being nervous and somewhat unsure of his abilities, Crosby became an instant hero when his accurate calculations helped the unit hit the targets and evade interception from Nazis in what would have been considered a misstep on any other day. Reportedly, he also stopped the unit from bombing Bonn after the day he listened to Beethoven and realized that the composer was from Bonn. Another such character to fall under the limelight is Major Robert Rosenthal, who survived when the rest didn’t and evaded capture by the enemy when it seemed like he was gone for good.

Many other such soldiers feature in the show, with the show trying to cover all of their experiences as much as possible. While nine episodes are not enough to capture what the men in the 100th went through in the span of those 2-3 years, the show does an excellent job of sticking as close to reality as possible and presenting the stories of these brave men with the accuracy and respect they deserve.

Read More: Best Military TV Shows