“Masters of the Air,” the third installment of the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks-led World War II trilogy — following “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” — finally has a release date, according to Apple TV+.
The nine-episode miniseries, starring Oscar-nominees Austin Butler (“Elvis”) and Barry Keoghan (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), is slated to launch with a two-episode debut on January 26, 2024, and will continue with one episode per week until March 15.
Based on Donald L. Miller’s book of the same name, “Masters of the Air” follows American bomber pilots of the Eighth Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group, also known as the Bloody Hundredth, who repeatedly risked flying at 25,000 feet in frigid temperatures — in broad daylight — to bring the fight to Hitler’s doorstep.
Three years — 1942 to 1945 — of death-defying bombing runs by the Eighth’s Flying Fortresses over cities like Berlin, Dresden and Hanover were, for much of the war, the only battles Allied forces waged inside the territorial borders of Nazi Germany.
But the missions proved deadly. So much so that the odds of a B-17 crewman surviving the 25 missions required to complete a tour were only one in four. Until the 1944 introduction of the P-51 Mustang to the air war over Europe, the B-17′s impressive distance capabilities meant daylight bombing runs over Germany would have to be done without fighter escorts, leaving inexperienced B-17 crews to fend for themselves against more seasoned German pilots of the Luftwaffe.
The Eighth’s effort to pry Europe from the claws of the Third Reich — one that included unleashing 697,000 tons of bombs — proved to be overwhelmingly costly. By war’s end, over 47,000 of the 115,000 U.S. Army Air Force casualties were from the Eighth.
“When we were preparing to go overseas our commanding officer called us together and said, ‘Look at the man on either side of you. Only one of you will be coming back. You’re all going to be killed and you might as well accept it,’” World War II B-17 bomber pilot John “Lucky” Luckadoo told Military Times. “That was the mindset that we were supposed to take into combat. That our chances of coming back were so minimal that we should accept our fate and just do the best that we could, for as long as we could. ... The sheer terror that we confronted was so devastating that it left a mark on us for life.”
Development of “Masters of the Air” was originally confirmed by HBO back in January 2013, but delays and budget considerations led to the project being dropped. Eventually picked up as an Apple TV+ production, filming was once again shelved in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The long wait, however, is now over.
Director Cary Fukunaga, the Emmy award-winning director behind the masterful first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” is credited with helming four of the nine episodes.
Reuniting with Spielberg and Hanks on the series is “Band of Brothers” writer John Orloff, who also served as a consultant on “The Pacific.”
Newly released photos of “Masters of the Air” are featured below.
HistoryNet editor Claire Barrett contributed to this story.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.