Masters of the Air: Part Five
February 15, 2024 7:24 PM - Season 1, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Rosie’s next mission signals a significant shift in the 100th’s bombing strategy. Crosby receives a promotion, but it comes with a high price.

Crosby, feared lost at the end of last episode, returns to base after a belly-up landing at another airfield, and is promoted to a desk job. No such luck for the MIA Buck so far.

After a brief debate on the ethics of disrupting industrial transportation in the Ruhr Valley with 500 lb bombs dropped on workers’ houses, seventeen rickety, battle-scarred planes from the 100th take off to bomb Muenster. One by one, they get picked off, including Bucky, Crosby’s navigator friend with the lucky snow globe, and many more. Some are able to bail out over Westphalia, relatively close to the German border with the occupied Netherlands, and most of their chutes even open correctly.
Eventually only Lt. Rosenthal’s Fort remains, and he has to rely on some stunningly aggressive manoeuvres to outfly his pursuit and survive the day. Back at Thorpe Abbots, the senior staff are shocked by the numbers not returning to base.
posted by cardboard (8 comments total)
For a show with no discernible characters, I’m enjoying this. Heck of a way to sidestep the Bechdel test.
posted by migurski at 8:25 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]

One statistic about the US experience in WW2 that always sticks with me is that front line infantry unis had casualty rates of 180%, with rates for officers of up to 300%. A policy of reinforcing units rather than rotating them (as was British policy for example) meant those specific units paid the highest price. I don't think that comes through in Band of Brothers but I wonder whether they have deliberately gone down the route of reflecting the massive casualties of the 100th to a much greater extent, resulting in us seeing how utterly withering the missions were across the board. Still not great telly though.
posted by biffa at 6:52 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]

The numbers I've seen for US bomber crews are abysmal - something like a 16% chance of making it through 30 missions. The only worse assignment, in terms of survivability, was to be on submarine patrol.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:46 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]

It's a bold choice to have all the main characters killed or captured by episode five of a nine episode run. I guess it reflects the high casualty rate that we can't focus on one guy who made it through the whole bit.

The battle scenes are pretty excellent, though.
posted by surlyben at 12:29 PM on February 17

I’ve been keeping tabs on the subreddit for the show. Whatever you think about the story itself, there appears to have been a lot of attention paid to details. This isn’t straight up non-fiction, as some things are definitely written for drama or spectacle, but the show is based on real people and real events. One of the VFX people posted that on the Regensburg raid, they adjusted smoke on the ground to match wind directions from the flight logs. Someone noted the enemy fighter in the slo-mo shot in this last episode was a correct submodel - noting the plane’s guns, etc- that would have been in that battle. They were razzing Crosby about navigating them into the only tree around on the crash landing, and someone posted pics of the actual aircraft on the ground… crashed into a tree with bullet holes all over. Another poster showed up to mention his grandfather was on Van Noy’s plane that ditched into the Mediterranean. Egan and Cleven seem like Hollywood caricatures… in his memoir, Crosby wrote that they were exactly like that. The breed on the dog in the show is wrong but Meatball did exist. I haven’t read any of the source materials but I’m looking forward to doing so as I have the chance.

This isn’t related to the show per se, but I once was talking to an older man who owned a shop in another town that we liked to go by when we were able to make the drive. One night we were there at closing time, and a massive thunderstorm had rolled in, so he invited us to stay and wait it out before we got back on the road. That took a couple of hours. Somehow the conversation turned to his time on a bomber crew in WW2. (This was about thirty years ago, so there were a lot more WW2 veterans left at the time.) That was when I learned about the 25 mission rule. He pulled out a photo of him and a bunch of airmen, and he pointed out the few who made it home. So, for me, I’m less interested in the dramatics of the show and more interested in the portrayal of the hell entailed in the air missions. Once you were up there, it was luck of the draw whether you got hit by flak or a rocket or well placed bullets out of a German fighter. You weren’t going to evade most of it. Just hope you get to the target, drop your bombs and try to get back.
posted by azpenguin at 6:57 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

I wasn't really enjoying the show that much until this episode which definitely worked for me.
posted by srboisvert at 8:13 PM on February 18

Masters of the Air is About the Industrialization of Warfare is a ten minute video that makes a number of thoughtful points and is well worth a watch.

It covers the first five episodes without spoilers, and makes the needed comparisons with Band of Brothers and The Pacific, showing how each was a very much a product of its time in the 21st century as well as showing historic WW2 events.

Interestingly, this video is from Second Wind, the new company formed by a bunch of video game reviewers who quit en masse to protest the corporatization of media (previously). They started this independent company, and apparently are using their new found freedom to make whatever they want, including literary criticism of war films, even if they all started as video game people. It's like a fascinating glimpse into what an actually free press might be able to accomplish.
posted by seasparrow at 8:46 AM on February 19

This episode prompted me to look up some further details about that day because my husband’s grandparents were children during WW2 and lived in a town not far from Münster at that time.
posted by eekernohan at 11:00 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

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