Swarms of German fighters pass through formations of American bombers like deadly lightning in a sky streaked with contrails and the murderous glare of tracers. Up there, on an infinite battlefield, a furious and desperate fight takes place. The B-17s fall, plummeting into eternity or spinning around like giant burning tree leaves. The pilots of the Flying Fortresses try to maintain formation so as not to turn their planes into solitary prey. And in the midst of the storm of destruction, the gunner in the exposed ventral turret of one of the great machines explodes in a cloud of blood when hit. “Superb,” said Britain’s James Holland, one of the fashionable military historians, of the new war series The masters of the air. Of course, air warfare, particularly that of American heavy bombers dropped over Germany and occupied Europe, has never been seen with the realism and emotion with which it appears in this nine-part Apple TV+ miniseries. The masters of the air It is based very faithfully on Donald L. Miller’s extraordinary 2006 book of the same name, which Desperto Ferro has just published in Spanish.
With the same success formula as blood Brothers (parachute infantry) e The Pacific (marines) and Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg as producers, The masters of the air follows an American unit’s campaign in World War II throughout the war. This time the story focuses on the members (pilots, crews, mechanics and commanders) of the “bloody 100”, a long-lived bomber group of the famous 8th US Air Force who flew, from their bases in the English countryside, the famous Flying Fortresses, the imposing four-engined Boing B-17 bombers loaded with devastation, with which they intended to subjugate Nazi Germany.
We witness throughout the series, with our hearts in our hands, amazed at what human beings are capable of suffering (and inflicting) in sensational and chilling scenes of war. Like that of the Messerschmitts Bf 109s that attack the bombers head-on and spray them with bullets that open large holes in the cabin, in the fuselage and in the flesh of the aviators. Or that of the lethal black clouds of Flak (the German anti-aircraft defense) that cover the sky, making the devices shake with their explosions like a giant hand (laugh at the turbulence) and literally causing the planes and their crews to explode. At one point, from a B-17 they see a rain of debris falling from other disintegrated bombers, including a body hitting the wing. Other shocking scenes are that of the crew member caught in the bomb hatch while trying to jump with a parachute while his plane falls in a dizzying fall and a companion anguishedly tries to free him, or that of the aviator who, upon returning from a mission, while paramedics extract his destroyed comrades, he summarizes everything that has happened by falling to his knees on the landing strip and vomiting compulsively.
The series shows very well the contrast between the powerful bombers, marvels of aeronautical technology of the time that take off in impressive phalanxes, and the way in which they are destroyed. As one pilot summed it up as he tried to absorb the vision of ten men and three tons of metal reduced to a cloud of black smoke, “it seems impossible that something so large could disappear so quickly.” In the scene of a forced landing of a riddled B-17, with two engines out of order and without wheels, several crew members dead or seriously injured, it is impossible not to shudder when the pilot utters the phrase so familiar (in another context) : “Crew, prepare for landing”.
Most of those scenes come from the book and from real testimonies collected by Miller. The most incredible thing about the series is that it really was like that. And that those young people, coming from the four corners of the United States and from all social classes, were able, after having survived bloody and terrifying missions, to return the next day on their planes. 26,000 8th Air Force airmen died, more Marine Corps casualties. The masters of the air shows conclusively that if there was anything worse in the Second War than serving in submarines, it was in bombers, which added dizziness to claustrophobia (how terrifying was the confined interior of the B-17s!) and to the It’s a nightmare to fight in a hostile environment. The lack of oxygen and the cold were – and the series demonstrates this very well -, together with the atmospheric conditions, two of the mortal dangers faced by the aviators. In one chapter we see how a machine gunner who tries to unlock the weapon by taking off his gloves leaves his hands stuck to the metal and tears his skin.
The group’s adventures are represented above all – as in Miller’s book – through a series of real characters, here played by actors, such as the old Gale. bucket Cleven (Austin Butler) and John Bucky Egan (Callum Turner), lieutenants Harry Crosby (Anthony Boyle), Glenn Graham (Darragh Cowley) and Curtis Biddick (Barry Keoghan, the very current protagonist of Salt burner), or support sergeant Ken Lemmons, played by Rafferty Law, son of Jude Law. The proven formula of telling a story from inside a combat unit and emphasizing the human dimension of its members works again The masters of the air (we inevitably suffer for those young people who have a really bad time on their planes), everything and the difficulty of reawakening affinity and identification, right now, with the military who sow chaos and destruction and devastate the cities, killing the civilian population with their bombs.
And if there is one weapon that is difficult to empathize with, it is bombers. The debate over the horrific destruction caused by American high-altitude strategic bombing during World War II appears in Miller’s book and the series, in which some aviators question the massacre of civilians. In any case, both the series and the book opt for the reassuring thesis that this suffering was necessary to put an end to the Nazis, and that somehow the Germans had asked for it. Miller tries to distinguish between the American bombings, which would always have been aimed, he points out, at attacking the German war effort, even considering that the bombs could have been deflected; and that of the English, who did not hesitate to deliberately destroy the cities. Series and book continually remind us of the enormous sacrifice made by the bombing aviators, who lost 60 flying fortresses and almost 600 men in a single mission. Another complex issue mentioned in the book and series is that of racism: the democratic United States allowed some blacks to fly on fighter planes (the Tuskegee men) but not on bombers.
What is striking about the series is the technical and operational precision (the missions narrated are authentic, including the one that ended with the landing in North Africa after the bombing of Regensburg) and a scenography that meticulously takes care of everything, from the planes to the smallest period element , passing through aviator clothing, with the iconic leather and sheepskin jackets. Also lots of good historical details. Among them, the secret with the Norden sights, the decisive instrument of the American bombers that allowed them to hit targets with unprecedented precision, or the scene in which a radio operator eats the sheets with the frequencies and the secret identification of the device before falling into enemy territory. Likewise, the way the atmosphere in the bases (and mess halls) is depicted, the superstitions of the crew members, the stress of combat, the fear (“the Focke-Wulf funk”), the mystique of 25 missions later you were on your way home (the true story of the B-17 is told Memphis Bella, to which the 1990 film of the same name was dedicated), the good relationships of American personnel with British children, or the romantic and sexual relationships during the war. The series captures with great precision, in parallel plots, the functioning of the escape networks of the downed pilots (with them Chuck Yeager was able to return to combat), and the life of the aviators captured and interned in concentration camps (Stalag Luft, like that of The great escape).
Among the drawbacks, the accentuated – and sometimes excessive – epic sense of the story, and a certain aestheticism (it is doubtful whether the bomber boys They were all so beautiful and posed so well.) Two things that certainly help to achieve The masters of the air a grand spectacle, but one that hardly fits the ultimate reality of how the bombers left the world below in their wake.
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