In the thin air above 20,000 feet, with Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters bearing down from all directions, the inside of an unpressurized American bomber in World War II was an altogether foreign world. Freezing cold, oxygen-deprived and hundreds of miles from the nearest friendly fighter escort, the bombers faced desperate odds with each mission deep into enemy territory. It’s a story we imagine we know well — but then, we’ve never seen or heard it told quite like this.
Building on the successful formula they established with the Academy Award-winning film Saving Private Ryan and the hit HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are teaming up once again, this time to tell the engrossing personal stories of the men who fought and sometimes died over Nazi-occupied Europe flying with America’s famed Eighth Air Force.
I first saw a blurb about this something like two years ago. Every single day when I check the stats for this blog, someone has clicked on that post. It is nice to finally see some updates on the mini-series. Let’s face it, making a mini-series about the air war is a lot more complex than one about the ground war.
The Air Force, then and now, went all in on selling the Mighty Eighth as the true success story of the war. But reality, of course, was a bit less explicit. And for all the stupendous raids on Germany in late 1944 and the first half of 1945, the first year and a half of operations by the 8th were less than successful. The Army Air Force struggled to build bomber strength in Britain. Every time they started to build up, planes would be siphoned off to North Africa or Italy. Doctrine was poor. Training, while better than most, was not as good as it would be with experience. And the great shortcoming was the inability to provide long range escort to the target and back, resulting in losses that were downright ghastly.
In the later parts of the air war in Europe, total numbers of losses weren’t so much reduced, as the size of the fleets and the replacement pipeline were robust enough that such losses could be sustained.
Bomber aircrews in Europe faced some of the highest casualty rates of any arm or service, and they deserve to have Spielberg and Hanks tell their story.