The True Story Behind 'Masters of the Air' May Be Even Bloodier Than What's on the Screen

Jamie Lerner - Author

Jan. 30 2024, Published 10:45 a.m. ET

Callum Turner standing in front of a plane in 'Masters of the Air'
Source: Apple TV Plus

For some reason, WWII stories never grow old. For example, the story of Masters of the Air still seems to be profound, even if its general subject matter is replicated over and over and over again. In this case, however, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman have come together once again to bring us a palpable and gritty tale from every dad’s favorite war.

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Masters of the Air, the Apple TV Plus limited series, follows the 100th Bombardment Group aka the 100th (or the Bloody Hundredth), as they fight in WWII. While many war interpretations tend to be based on truth, producers and writers often take some liberties with the story. So what is the true story behind Masters of the Air?

Members of the 100th in the back of a truck in 'Masters of the Air'
Source: Apple TV Plus
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‘Masters of the Air’ is based on the true story of the 100th Bombardment Group.

The 100th Bombardment Group was first activated in 1942, although it wasn’t deployed to WWII until the spring of 1943. The aircrews departed from Kearney, Neb., and flew to England, where they set up a base in Norfolk with the Royal Air Force Thorpe Abbotts. The group was responsible for some of the most significant bombing missions in WWII and attempted over 300 missions.

Austin Butler and Callum Turner in 'Masters of the Air'
Source: Apple TV Plus
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They gained their nickname, the Bloody Hundred, because of how many soldiers were lost and injured during their missions. Air combat is one of the most dangerous forms because there’s truly nowhere to hide. Also, fighter pilots are operating heavy machinery that keeps them alive, so if something happens to the plane, the people inside can lose their lives. Because the 100th was often assigned the most high-risk missions, it’s not shocking that many lives were lost.

The characters in ‘Masters of the Air’ are based on real people.

It’s not just the war history of the 100th that Masters of the Air stays true to. The main characters in the series are all based on real people. Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, portrayed by Nate Mann, commanded the only surviving B-17 during a mission to raid Münster in Germany. 12 out of 13 planes were struck down and Rosie’s aircraft survived severe damage. After the war, Rosie was an assistant to the U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, and he died in 2007 at 89 years old in New York.

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Gale Cleven, portrayed by Austin Butler in Masters of the Air, married his childhood sweetheart Marjorie in 1945, just after his deployment in WWII, although she passed away suddenly in 1953. John “Bucky” Egan, portrayed by Callum Turner, really did call Gale “Buck” as a nod to one of his friends from home. But much of the series’ story actually comes from Harry Herbert Crosby’s 1993 memoir, A Wing and a Prayer.

Edward Ashley, Matt Gavan, Callum Turner, and Anthony Boyle in 'Masters of the Air'
Source: Apple TV Plus
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After fighting in the war, Harry went on to be a professor of writing, so his perspective of the war has been shared throughout history. Portrayed by Anthony Boyle in Masters of the Air, Harry was the lead navigator of the 100th and flew over 32 combat missions. Curtis Biddick, played by Barry Keoghan, and Roy Claytor, played by Sawyer Spielberg, were also part of the real 100th.

However, the only surviving member of the 100th today is John “Lucky” Luckadoo, who will be celebrating his 102nd birthday in 2024. So the writers and producers of Masters of the Air had to turn to other sources to accurately portray the life and times of the 100th. Historian Donald Miller, who wrote the book, Masters of the Air, was tapped as a resource for the Apple TV Plus series.

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Callum Turner in 'Masters of the Air'
Source: Apple TV Plus

“The big difference between making this and The Pacific is that back then, a lot of those vets were still alive and the actors could call them, or we’d have them on set, and they’d tell us what really happened,” Donald told USA Today. “With this, I was practically the only one who had known or interviewed many of these real vets. So the actors would come to me, and I’d help best I could.”

From what we can tell, Donald is making sure that Masters of the Air honors the real heroes at its center.

New episodes drop every Friday on Apple TV Plus until its finale on March 15, 2024.

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