‘Masters of the Air’ Part Eight: Trying hard

The penultimate episode of Masters of the Air introduces the Tuskegee Airmen of the 99th Pursuit Squadron.
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The penultimate episode of Masters of the Air introduces the Tuskegee Airmen of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. Under the Fifteenth Air Force and operating from Italy, and Africa before, the Black fighter pilots proved their abilities in combat despite doubts some leaders in the Army Air Forces. An evaluation ordered by Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold found that the 99th was at least equal to other units operating the P-40 Warhawk fighter plane in Mediterranean. In 1944, the 99th was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group, another segregated unit, and transitioned to the iconic P-51 Mustang which the Tuskegee Airmen are most commonly associated with.

Captain Westgate undercover in France (Apple TV+)

While their fighter pilot counterparts are eager to get into heavier combat, Buck Cleven and Bucky Egan find different ways to cope with life as POWs. Tired of waiting around, Bucky calls for them to take action while Buck stresses patience in the wake of the executions of participants in the Great Escape. Across the English Channel, Crosby begins preparing the 100th’s flight plans and maps for D-Day. With the invasion of mainland Europe on the line, no mistakes can be afforded. Like most troops, Cros turns to caffeine, denial and uppers. As he works himself to the point of collapsing, Sandra Westgate is revealed to be a British agent working undercover in France to lay the groundwork for the Allied invasion.

Life in Stalag Luft III isn’t getting easier for the prisoners (Apple TV+)

On May 15, 1944, Col. Thomas Jeffrey took over command of the 100th from Lt. Col. Bennett. One of the youngest officers to command a bomb group, Jeffrey was awarded the Silver Star for “gallantry in action” during the Schweinfurt raid in October 1943. With Rosie confirming the upcoming invasion of mainland Europe, the men of the 100th cheer in excitement at finally reaching the goal toward which they had been fighting for months. As tensions come to a head between Buck and Bucky in the Stalag, the news of the Allied landings is more than enough to get the two men back on the same side.

Lt. Col. Clark discusses possible scenarios and responses with his senior leaders (Apple TV+)

After recovering from his collapse, Cros awakes having missed D-Day. Rosie’s account of the invasion illustrates the importance of having achieved air superiority beforehand, but it does little to console Cros’ regret of missing the big show. With the Allies closing in on Germany from the west and east, Lt. Col. “Bub” Clark formulates plans and preparations for the American POWs with Buck, Bucky, DeMarco and Crank. Following up on the Normandy landings, the 99th gears up to strike German positions in Southern France in support of the Operation Dragoon landings there. Lieutenants Alexander Jefferson, Robert Daniels and Richard Macon from the 99th are shot down during their attacks and are taken prisoner, Macon with a serious neck injury.

“Each flight is its own lesson” (Apple TV+)

In the Stalag, the Allied invasion of Europe is met with transfer of POW camps to the infamous SS. Luckily for the prisoners, the SS allowed the Luftwaffe to retain operational control of the camps. To covertly bulk the prisoners up, the Americans take turns on the camp’s stump remover under the guise of stocking up firewood for the winter. In turn, the extra wood is used to craft weapons in case the Germans decide to begin executing the prisoners en masse.

Jefferson, Daniels, and Macon formulate escape plans in the Stalag (Apple TV+)

Following their interrogations, affirming their loyalty to the United States, the Tuskegee Airmen are transferred to Stalag Luft III. While some of their white counterparts treat the Black pilots with disdain, many are welcoming, having been saved by the famous Red Tail fighter escorts during bombing missions; Buck welcomes the new arrivals into the barracks and the other prisoners follow his lead. Later in the library Jefferson connects with Buck over flight training, books, and Jefferson’s critical map-drawing skills. Buck admits that he welcomed the Black pilots since he knew that they couldn’t be German spies.

Buck enlists Jefferson’s skills in the compound library (Apple TV+)

The episode concludes with Crosby going on a forced leave and Sandra ending their relationship. In the Stalag, the prisoners train for the possibilities of fighting off murderous guards and escaping to friendly lines. Buck’s radio provides the men with news of the approaching Allies; welcome news to the prisoners, and concerning news for their German captors. With just one episode left of Masters of the Air, there’s a lot to tie up before the nine-part miniseries concludes.