The Bloody Hundredth: The True Story Behind Masters of the Air

The Bloody Hundredth is a hourlong documentary telling the true story of the 100th Bomb Group featured in Masters of the Air.

The documentary opens with a brief prologue before an opening montage paints a picture of what was going on in Europe. It ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941. The US would enter the European front and join Great Britain. They were the only European country left that were fighting against Nazi Germany. The bombing campaigns would change with the arrival of the Americans. Their goal was full air supremacy. Without obtaining their goals, the war efforts would be over rather quickly.

We here from American veterans, both portrayed in the series and not, about their experiences. Masters of the Air author Donald L. Miller also discusses the war. Many Americans who were eligible would enter the war. Whether they worked in Hollywood, played sports, or whatnot, they rose to the challenge. Some 40 classmates out of school were assigned to fly the B-17, also known as the Flying Fortress. They would fly for some 12 hours a day. There were both fighters and bombers that were apart of the air campaign. The bombers would require limited protection in order to do their jobs. Once they were near their target, they would have to be very precise in dropping bombs. Early on, many targets were along the coast, especially factories. Things would change upon targeting a location deep inside Germany.

The Bloody Hundredth, now streaming on Apple TV+.
“The Bloody Hundredth,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

Neither are living anymore but we do hear about both John Egan and Gale Cleven. Both feature prominently in the series. One anecdote is shared about Cleven and it’s one that we also see in an episode. Two different bombardment groups would see action in the air on a particular mission. But rather than a ten-minute break, there was a two-hour gap instead. The ones who made it to North Africa were extremely lucky. Meanwhile, Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal would make his arrival in 1943 as something of a replacement for lost crews.

October 1943 saw a focus of taking out as many aircraft manufacturing plants as possible. Or as the airman called it, “Black Week.” The planes were aiming to go their deepest into Germany yet. Unfortunately, Cleven’s plane would end up being shot down. Egan, upon hearing this, decided to go on the next mission. Egan would also join his friend in being shot down. Meanwhile, as planes would suffer damage, the 100th would end up taking flight with fewer planes.

A number of captured American airmen would make their way to the camps as POWs. Interestingly enough, Cleven and Egan, amongst others, end up a Stalag Luft III. That’s where they end up meeting two members of the Red Tails, Alexander Jefferson and Richard Macon. This is the exact same one as The Great Escape. But with this documentary only running about an hour, there’s only so much that viewers will learn. Meanwhile, P-51 Mustangs would come to the rescue in the air campaign during the missions into deep Nazi Germany. Their main focus was Berlin. It would not be an easy mission but essential to getting the job done.

Members of the 8th Air Force Bombers had a tour duty of 25 missions. Upon completion, one could take command of a squadron or return home to the US for a rotation. Rosie’s buzzing of the field is a moment that we end up seeing in the series. Meanwhile, D-Day is still looming on the horizon. Rosie could have gone back to the US but instead stays on as a squadron commander. Back to D-Day, every plane would take part in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Between the technical support from the air and the ground invasion, this would mark a turning point in World War II.

As a result of D-Day, the Nazis would be fighting on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. Meanwhile, the Russians discovered an abandoned Nazi concentration camp at Majdanek. They now had indisputable evidence of the final solution against European Jewry.

The Bloody Hundredth, now streaming on Apple TV+.
“The Bloody Hundredth,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

On some of their final missions, the Air Force targeted Nazi German oil plants along with transportation and storage facilities. It would make for an air blockade against Germany, leaving them without any air protection during what would become the final months of the war. Rosie had to eject from his plane and sees three Red Army troops upon landing on the ground. He had flown some 52 missions and then recovered at a Russian hospital before flying back to England. Elsewhere, Stalag Luft III was being evacuated. Liberation would come shortly after making it to their next destination. After that, Hitler’s death, the end of Word War II in Europe, and then back home to the US.

The Bloody Hundredth works as a companion doc to the series but also reminds us that troops serving in World War II were The Greatest Generation. In a previous world, we would probably be watching the doc as a bonus feature on the home release. But because the series is on Apple TV+ rather than HBO, it is streaming as a documentary in its own right. It may only be barely over an hour long but it’s a solid companion with a focus on the airmen in the 100th.

DIRECTORS: Mark Herzog & Laurent Bouzereau
NARRATOR: Tom Hanks
FEATURING: Steven Spielberg, James Stewart, John “Lucky” Luckadoo, Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, John A. Clark, Harry Crosby, Joseph Armanini, Owen “Cowboy” Roane, Donald L. Miller, Seth Parison, Bruce Alshouse, Robert Wolff, Glenn Bankston, Thomas Jeffrey, Dr. Conrad C. Cane, Curtis Lemay, Ira Eaker, Frank D. Murphy, James Doolittle, Dr. Tami Davis Biddle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, William “Bill” Couch, Dr. Matthew F. Delmont, Alexander Jefferson, Marilyn Jeffers Walton, Richard Macon

Apple TV+ released The Bloody Hundredth on March 15, 2024. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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