‘Masters of the Air’ Part Five: The Chant

Miguel Ortiz
Feb 16, 2024 7:05 AM PST
Reviewed byTessa Robinson
4 minute read
(Apple TV+)

(Apple TV+)


The fifth episode of Masters of the Air provides the audience with some relief from the trauma of Part Four.

The fifth episode of Masters of the Air provides the audience with some relief from the trauma of Part Four. Thought to have been killed on October 8, 1943, during the Bremen mission, “Ev” Blakely, James Douglass and Harry Crosby return to Thorpe Abbotts after landing at a different English airfield. In reality, Blakely's damaged Fort made a harrowing crash landing on the coast coming back from Bremen. Although not shown, Jack Kidd also survived the crash and returned to Thorpe Abbotts.

"Chick" Harding, "Red" Bowman, Jack Kidd, and Harry Crosby await the 100th's return from Munster (Apple TV+)

On October 9, 1943, the day after Bremen, the 100th Bomb Group flew a long mission to hit Marienburg. Back-to-back with the costly Bremen raid, the men are shocked to see Bucky return early from his pass, indicating that another mission is scheduled for the next day. With heavy losses across the Eighth Air Force, bomber crews often had to fly subsequent missions with little to no rest in between.

Upon his return, Crosby is promoted to Group Navigator for the 100th and his friend, “Bubbles” Payne, is returned to a bomber crew. In reality, Crosby’s promotion would not come until November 1943. Still, the show uses Crosby’s promotion to highlight the headquarters side of bomber operations. Like Maj. Richard “Dick” Winters, as depicted in Band of Brothers, Crosby learns that staff work is demanding, far from glamorous, and nerve-racking as you’re forced to sit back while your friends go into combat.

Bucky did swap out his sheepskin jacket before the Munster mission. Buck didn't like the outerwear, describing it as "dirty" (Apple TV+)

Like other missions, the target in Munster on October 10, 1943 was a war-related one: the railway marshaling yards. Unlike other missions, the later declassified aiming point was the center of town. Despite the official target, Munster was very much a city-busting terror bombing like the British RAF had been carrying out on Germany. This sat just fine with Bucky. "I find [sic] myself on my feet, cheering," Donald Miller reports Egan recalling in the book, Masters of the Air. "Others, who had lost close friends in [previous]...raids joined in the cheering 'cause here is a chance to kill Germans, the spawners of race hatred and minority oppression. It was a dream mission to avenge the death of a buddy." As depicted in the show, not everyone was happy about bombing so close to a church. Capt. Ellis Scripture, a navigator in the 95th Bomb Group, raised this concern with his group commander and said he didn't want to fly. After being threatened with a court-martial, Scripture changed his mind.

Ground crew load a Fw 190's deadly Werfer-Granate 21 rocket launcher (Bundesarchiv)

The Bremen raid took such a serious toll on the 100th that it was only able to send up 13 Forts, far short of a complete group of 19 or 21. Coupled with a significant gap between them and the other groups, the 100th was a prime target for German fighters. Following the previous raids on Bremen and Marienburg, the Luftwaffe showed no mercy on October 10. Fighters passed so close to the bombers that men could see the scarves of the German pilots as they flew by. When Bucky's Fort was critically hit, "Hambone" Hamilton really did get hung up on a panel as he bailed out, narrowly missing the engine's propellor when the panel was jettisoned. Bucky also argued with John Brady over who should jump first. It wasn't until .30-caliber bullet holes perforated the bomb bay doors below their feet that Egan yielded and bailed out.

On loan, Rosie got Royal Flush back to Thorpe Abbotts with two engines shot out and a hole in the starboard wing from a rocket. An unexploded shell was later found in one of the wing tanks; superb luck for the crew or benign sabotage by a slave laborer in a German factory (100th Photo Archives)

On the return from Munster, pilot Lt. Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal hums the tune of Artie Shaw's "The Chant." The music prompts the flight engineer in the top turret to hum along and calms the crew's nerves before the Germans fighters pounce again. Only a few Forts of the 100th made it to the target to release their bombs. Of those, only one made it back to Thorpe Abbotts; the carnage in the air was so intense that one gunner said it was "like flying through an aerial junkyard." Rosie really did take evasive maneuvers to keep the Germans from taking down his badly damaged bomber. With his tail gunner and both waist gunners wounded, Rosie twisted the Fort "all over the sky" until the Germans gave up.

Capt. Joseph "Bubbles" Payne wasn't KIA until the next year on the April 28, 1944 raid on Sottevast, France (100th Photo Archives)

Unlike in the episode, Crosby and Blakely flew a damaged plane to Bournemouth for a rest after their crash landing. Eager for news on the Munster mission, Crosby called the Thorpe Abbotts weatherman, Capt. Cliff Frye. In a prearranged code, Crosby asked if his friends got back from pass. When Frye didn't answer, Crosby asked if some had a permanent change of station. "Yes, all but one," Frye responded before breaking the code. "Egan's gone. Your old crew is gone. The whole group is gone." While this is depicted differently in the show, the impact on the Group is the same. Of the 140 officers who started combat operations at Thorpe Abbotts four months earlier, only three were still on flying status. In just a week, the Group lost over 200 men, including Squadron Leaders Buck Cleven and Bucky Egan. October 8-14, 1943 became known as Black Week in the Eighth Air Force and the 100th earned its nickname "The Bloody Hundredth."


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