Masters of the Air: Apple’s Air Force drama is imperfect, but powerful

Apple TV’s new Second World War series, Masters of the Air, tells the story of the 100th Bomb Group of the US 8th Air Force, which operated B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers from an airfield at Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk. The series is based on Donald L. Miller’s history book of the same name and is produced by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

As a historian with interests in the history and memory of the 8th Air Force, I was largely impressed by the show’s historical accuracy, especially the recreation of the base at Thorpe Abbotts. The series delivers a moving portrayal of the American bomber boys and explores their role in the European air war with care and sensitivity.

But there are also missed opportunities, and the storytelling lacks the confidence and clarity of previous Spielberg-Hanks productions.

The European air war

Like many of its cinematic predecessors, Masters of the Air examines the doctrine employed by the 8th Air Force – daylight precision bombing. Focused on the “choke-points” in the German war economy – oil refineries, fighter production, ball-bearing manufacture – it was a key point of divergence with Britain’s Royal Air Force which attacked German industry through nighttime “area” bombing.

The merits of each approach are dealt with early on: an argument with RAF aircrew in the pub leads to fisticuffs and the matter is duly settled with one swift punch (in the favour of the Yanks).

The necessity of daylight precision bombing asserted, the series turns its attention to its cost in aircraft and aircrew. Missions are launched, and fortresses fall. Young aircrew bravely and stoically endure.

Air combat, we are shown, is brutal and chaotic. It consumes energy, sanity, hope. It breaks minds and bodies. In confronting the sheer arbitrariness of life and death, survival and sacrifice, Masters of the Air is a worthy successor to the Gregory Peck film, Twelve O’Clock High (1949).


For the full article by Dr Sam Edwards visit the Conversation.


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