The real ‘Masters of the Air’

With Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ hugely anticipated ‘Masters of the Air’ finally hitting TV screens across the world, ‘FlyPast’ shares views captured of the ‘The Mighty Eighth’ in England while executing the daylight strategic bombing campaign across Nazi-occupied Europe.
Crew 65 of the 458th Bombardment Group’s 755th Bombardment Squadron pose for a publicity shot in front of their Consolidated B-24H Liberator at RAF Horsham St. Faith near Norwich, circa mid-1944. They are, front row, left to right: co-pilot Lt William Rowland; Lady – the crew’s Cocker Spaniel mascot; and pilot Capt Robert V Whitlow. In the middle row is navigator Lt Robert O Nixon and bombardier Lt William C Lawrence. While flight engineer TSgt James R Holman; nose turret gunner/armorer SSgt Edward J Mickey; radio operator/gunner SSgt Ernest J Hutchins, and tail turret gunner SSgt Otto A Sobanjo make up the back row. Of note, a name is missing from the back row – a mistake carried over from the original caption written some 80 years ago!
Crew 65 of the 458th Bombardment Group’s 755th Bombardment Squadron pose for a publicity shot in front of their Consolidated B-24H Liberator at RAF Horsham St. Faith near Norwich, circa mid-1944. They are, front row, left to right: co-pilot Lt William Rowland; Lady – the crew’s Cocker Spaniel mascot; and pilot Capt Robert V Whitlow. In the middle row is navigator Lt Robert O Nixon and bombardier Lt William C Lawrence. While flight engineer TSgt James R Holman; nose turret gunner/armorer SSgt Edward J Mickey; radio operator/gunner SSgt Ernest J Hutchins, and tail turret gunner SSgt Otto A Sobanjo make up the back row. Of note, a name is missing from the back row – a mistake carried over from the original caption written some 80 years ago! US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Private First Class Lenuel J Putty of Morton Gap, Kentucky, inserts a fuse into a 100lb bomb loaded in the bomb bay of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator “somewhere in England” in 1944. The text attached to the arming pin label reads: “Pin not to be removed until fuze is about to be place in bomb. If fuze is removed from bomb replace pin at once
Private First Class Lenuel J Putty of Morton Gap, Kentucky, inserts a fuse into a 100lb bomb loaded in the bomb bay of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator “somewhere in England” in 1944. The text attached to the arming pin label reads: “Pin not to be removed until fuze is about to be place in bomb. If fuze is removed from bomb replace pin at once
Ninety-First Bombardment Group Catholic Chaplain Capt Michael Ragan holds service for the crew of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress 42-107030/LG-T ‘Fifinella’ at RAF Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire sometime in mid-1944. Assigned to the 322nd Bombardment Squadron, ‘Fifinella’ was shot down by anti-aircraft fire on August 13 that year during a strike on a railway bridge at Le Manoir in northwestern France; while nine of the ten crew survived to become prisoners of war, 22-year-old pilot 1st Lt Thomas P Smith, Jr was killed
Ninety-First Bombardment Group Catholic Chaplain Capt Michael Ragan holds service for the crew of Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress 42-107030/LG-T ‘Fifinella’ at RAF Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire sometime in mid-1944. Assigned to the 322nd Bombardment Squadron, ‘Fifinella’ was shot down by anti-aircraft fire on August 13 that year during a strike on a railway bridge at Le Manoir in northwestern France; while nine of the ten crew survived to become prisoners of war, 22-year-old pilot 1st Lt Thomas P Smith, Jr was killed US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Masters of the air: Aircrew, many teenagers, pose for the camera at a base in England. ‘The Mighty Eighth’ suffered almost half of the United States Army Air Force's casualties with some 47,483 – including more than 26,000 dead – while another 28,000 became prisoners of war. For their valour, the young men of the Eighth earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and more than 420,000 Air Medals
Masters of the air: Aircrew, many teenagers, pose for the camera at a base in England. ‘The Mighty Eighth’ suffered almost half of the United States Army Air Force's casualties with some 47,483 – including more than 26,000 dead – while another 28,000 became prisoners of war. For their valour, the young men of the Eighth earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and more than 420,000 Air Medals US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Medical personnel look on as a 381st Bomb Group B-17G Flying Fortress returns to RAF Ridgewell in Essex fires red flares to show it has wounded on board…
Medical personnel look on as a 381st Bomb Group B-17G Flying Fortress returns to RAF Ridgewell in Essex fires red flares to show it has wounded on board… US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
July 20, 1944: Airmen of the 91st Bombardment Group’s 401st Bombardment Squadron inspect the battle-damaged wing of their B-17G Flying Fortress (43-37552/LL-E ‘The Peacemaker’) at Bassingbourn following a raid against an enemy airfield near the German city of Leipzig. Returned to service soon after, 43-37552 was lost with all on board when it crashed near Baldock in Hertfordshire during a test flight on April 12, 1945
July 20, 1944: Airmen of the 91st Bombardment Group’s 401st Bombardment Squadron inspect the battle-damaged wing of their B-17G Flying Fortress (43-37552/LL-E ‘The Peacemaker’) at Bassingbourn following a raid against an enemy airfield near the German city of Leipzig. Returned to service soon after, 43-37552 was lost with all on board when it crashed near Baldock in Hertfordshire during a test flight on April 12, 1945 US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Sgt James V Blakney of Lansford, Pennsylvania (left) and MSgt Charles W Carrigan of Nashville, Tennessee, change the number one engine on 785th Bombardment Squadron B-24J 42-50569/2U-H ‘Times a' Waistin' at RAF Attlebridge, Norfolk, in mid-1944. This Liberator was lost following a raid against the marshaling yards at Celje in what was Yugoslavia on February 14, 1945 – there was no MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) filed
Sgt James V Blakney of Lansford, Pennsylvania (left) and MSgt Charles W Carrigan of Nashville, Tennessee, change the number one engine on 785th Bombardment Squadron B-24J 42-50569/2U-H ‘Times a' Waistin' at RAF Attlebridge, Norfolk, in mid-1944. This Liberator was lost following a raid against the marshaling yards at Celje in what was Yugoslavia on February 14, 1945 – there was no MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) filed US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Time to reflect: With a cigarette in hand, 755th Bombardment Squadron Lead Bombardier Capt Ross Messner of Montpelier, Ohio takes a moment to gather his thoughts while leaning against the landing gear of his Consolidated B-24 Liberator at Horsham St. Faith following a mission over Germany in 1944
Time to reflect: With a cigarette in hand, 755th Bombardment Squadron Lead Bombardier Capt Ross Messner of Montpelier, Ohio takes a moment to gather his thoughts while leaning against the landing gear of his Consolidated B-24 Liberator at Horsham St. Faith following a mission over Germany in 1944 US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
August 25, 1944: Personnel attached to the 458th Bomb Group watch on as the wounded are evacuated from 752nd Bombardment Squadron B-24H Liberator 41-29303/7V-H ‘Liberty Lib’ through the waist gunner's window at Horsham St. Faith following a raid on the Dornier Flugzeugwerkes in the German city of Lübeck
August 25, 1944: Personnel attached to the 458th Bomb Group watch on as the wounded are evacuated from 752nd Bombardment Squadron B-24H Liberator 41-29303/7V-H ‘Liberty Lib’ through the waist gunner's window at Horsham St. Faith following a raid on the Dornier Flugzeugwerkes in the German city of Lübeck US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Pilot Lt Bob Boundrecor, a native of Luther, Louisiana (left), and co-pilot Lt Ned Hawkins of Jacksonville, Florida take a moment to pose for the camera while pre-flighting their Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress at a base in England
Pilot Lt Bob Boundrecor, a native of Luther, Louisiana (left), and co-pilot Lt Ned Hawkins of Jacksonville, Florida take a moment to pose for the camera while pre-flighting their Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress at a base in England US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
With their hydraulic system shot out, this pilot of this 784th Bombardment Squadron Liberator (42-51141/T9-N ‘Pegasus The Flying Red Horse’) landed at Attlebridge in February 1945 with two parachutes tied to the waist gun mounts to compensate for the lack of brakes and flaps. Note the bomb doors are stuck open
With their hydraulic system shot out, this pilot of this 784th Bombardment Squadron Liberator (42-51141/T9-N ‘Pegasus The Flying Red Horse’) landed at Attlebridge in February 1945 with two parachutes tied to the waist gun mounts to compensate for the lack of brakes and flaps. Note the bomb doors are stuck open US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
TSgt Henry Streets, a tail gunner with the 91st Bombardment Group’s 322nd Bombardment Squadron, checks his guns prior to a mission from Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, in Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress 42-32095/LG-L ‘Ack-Ack Annie’. The Eighth's combat record boasted 566 ‘aces’ - 261 of which were fighter pilots, including 31 with 15 or more ‘kills’, while 305 were enlisted gunners
TSgt Henry Streets, a tail gunner with the 91st Bombardment Group’s 322nd Bombardment Squadron, checks his guns prior to a mission from Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, in Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress 42-32095/LG-L ‘Ack-Ack Annie’. The Eighth's combat record boasted 566 ‘aces’ - 261 of which were fighter pilots, including 31 with 15 or more ‘kills’, while 305 were enlisted gunners US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Said to be a staged publicity image captured at Horsham St. Faith, this shows a 458th Bombardment Group 755th Bomb Squadron Liberator crew returning home from a raid in early September 1944. From left to right (standing) they are co-pilot 1st Lt Larry Riesen, pilot Capt Howard Slaton, flight engineer TSgt David Kerr, radio operator TSgt Nelson Keefer, air gunner SSgt John Dembecki, and air gunner SSgt Clarence Johnson. Sitting from left are bombardier Capt Ross Messner, ball turret gunner SSgt Ray Sherman, unknown, and navigator Lt Robert MacGeorge
Said to be a staged publicity image captured at Horsham St. Faith, this shows a 458th Bombardment Group 755th Bomb Squadron Liberator crew returning home from a raid in early September 1944. From left to right (standing) they are co-pilot 1st Lt Larry Riesen, pilot Capt Howard Slaton, flight engineer TSgt David Kerr, radio operator TSgt Nelson Keefer, air gunner SSgt John Dembecki, and air gunner SSgt Clarence Johnson. Sitting from left are bombardier Capt Ross Messner, ball turret gunner SSgt Ray Sherman, unknown, and navigator Lt Robert MacGeorge US Department of Defense via the US National Archives
Cpl Larry Roth of Brooklyn, New York, and Cpl Wallace Merquardt of Fremont, Wisconsin, direct a 785th Bombardment Squadron Consolidated B-24J Liberator to the runway at RAF Attlebridge, Norfolk, in mid-1944…
Cpl Larry Roth of Brooklyn, New York, and Cpl Wallace Merquardt of Fremont, Wisconsin, direct a 785th Bombardment Squadron Consolidated B-24J Liberator to the runway at RAF Attlebridge, Norfolk, in mid-1944… US Department of Defense via the US National Archives