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‘Masters of the Air’ Part Four: Beat the odds

The fourth episode of Masters of the Air opens with the difficult reality that America's Bomber Boys didn't know if their friends whose Forts went down were alive or not.
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(Apple TV+)

The fourth episode of Masters of the Air opens with the difficult reality that America’s Bomber Boys didn’t know if their friends whose Forts went down were alive or not. Some like Biddick and Snyder did not survive while others like Quinn and Bailey made it safely into the hands of friendly resistance members. However, for evaders on the ground, the challenge of survival was just getting started. Resistance groups really did grill downed American airmen to ensure that they were not German infiltrators. Knowing the national anthem is always a good thing, but it turns out that knowing sports trivia can save your life. It also helps to do things the American way like write the date in the order of month, day, year, lest the Belgian Resistance take you for a walk in the woods.

B-17F Hell’s Angels, tail number 41-24577 and crew (U.S. Air Force)

For the bomber crews, 25 was the magic number; complete 25 missions and your tour of duty was over. Cpt. Glenn Dye and the crew of the B-17F Sunny were the first to accomplish this in the 100th Bomb Group. Although it is commonly believed that Memphis Belle was the first Army Air Forces bomber to complete 25 missions on May 19, 1943, Hell’s Angels completed its 25th mission the week prior on May 13. Memphis Belle and her crew were the subject of a documentary directed by Academy Award-winner William Wyler and stole the spotlight from Hell’s Angels.

As highlighted by Lt. Winifred “Pappy” Lewis and Dye himself, the 25-mission celebration was a sobering reminder of how few airmen would actually complete their tour of duty before being shot down or killed. Still, even Pappy’s pessimism can’t stop Lt. Herbert Nash from making a move on Helen (of the American Red Cross, not Troy). Similarly, Chick gives little credence to the concerns of flight surgeon Cpt. Wendell “Smokey” Stover over the mental health of the airmen. Rather, he encourages the men to drink, dance, or do whatever they need to in between missions to decompress. The Central Medical Establishment studied “flak-happy” airmen to develop treatments; still, the priority was getting men up in the air and some treatments did more harm than good.

The real Michou Dumon (cometline.org)

22-year-old Michelle Dumon, codename Michou, really was a member of the Belgian Resistance known as the Comet Line. Founded by another young Belgian woman named Andrée de Jongh, codename Dédée, the Comet Line was a network through occupied Belgium and France that helped downed Allied airmen evade back to England with food, shelter, transportation, and even fake documents. To preserve the integrity of the network, the Comet Line operated independently from the British MI9 and the American OSS, although it received financial support from the former. While Comet Line members were arrested, including Dédée, the network was never broken.

The Bremen raid on October 8, 1943 was one of the worst days in the history of the Army Air Forces (Apple TV+)

Back in England, the second Bremen raid returns with more losses for the 100th; notably, Buck Cleven, Jack Kidd, Benny DeMarco, and Ev Blakely’s Forts, including Harry Crosby and James Douglass did not return. Bucky really did take his first pass to London during this mission. In the Masters of the Air book, Donald Miller reports that Egan was eating a hotel breakfast of fried eggs and a double Scotch when he read The Times‘ headline “Eighth Air Force Loses 30 Fortresses over Bremen.” Jumping up from his table, he made for the nearest phone and called Thorpe Abbotts. In the same code depicted in Masters of the Air, Bucky used baseball lingo to ask about the mission and learned that Buck “went down swinging.” That was all that Bucky needed to hear to come back and pitch.