TV review: Masters of the Air finale is superb, even if Britain is written out of the war

Masters of the Air, Apple TV

'Roise' Rosenthal is taken to safety by the Russians
'Roise' Rosenthal (Nate Mann) is taken to safety by the Russians

As the final credits roll for Masters of the Air, we meet the real men that the Spielberg/Hanks series is based on.

There’s emotion and remarkable facts.

Robert ‘Rosie’ Rosenthal left the US Airforce to act as a lawyer at Nuremberg, prosecuting the Nazis he had just helped defeat.

Alexander Jefferson lived to 100 years old, dying in 2022 while the series was in production.

It was also a reminder of how time has moved on since the first series in this trilogy on the Second World War.

When Band of Brothers hit our TV screens more than 20 years ago, each episode opened with interviews with the fighting men of the 101st Airborne we would see represented by actors.

By the time of Masters of the Air, the flyers are all dead and we are restricted to pen pictures and explanatory captions.

The feature length finale was timed to be released on the same day worldwide last week and it was fitting for the culmination of this sweeping view of the most significant conflict in history.

Band of Brothers covers the grinding advance of US forces from the D-Day landings in France through to the final advance on Germany.

Gale 'Buck' Cleven (Austin Butler)
Gale 'Buck' Cleven (Austin Butler)

The Pacific (2010) shifts to America’s main theatre of operations as the Marines face Japanese soldiers willing to die fighting rather than surrender as the battle for tiny islands consumes huge numbers of men.

Master of the Air follows the US Airforce as it tried to bomb the Germans into submission from when they were posted to England’s eastern seaboard through to the surrender of the Nazis in May 1945.

Each series tells the true stories of some of the men involved, based on their biographies published in the years after the war.

The final episode opens with Allies finally ‘masters of the air’ in Europe with no Luftwaffe left to oppose them in early 1945.

Rosie is flying a bomber over Berlin after turning down a possible return home when he completed 25 bomb runs.

There are no Germany fighter planes but plenty of deadly flak and Rosie’s plane takes two direct hits.

Everyone left alive bails out as Rosie tries to reach Russian positions east of Berlin.

He drops onto the front lines and fears being shot by advancing Russian troops as they kill any Germany with his hands in the air.

John 'Buck' Egan (Callum Turner) and Gale 'Buck' Cleven (Austin Butler) in a forced march while POWs in Germany
John 'Buck' Egan (Callum Turner) and Gale 'Buck' Cleven (Austin Butler) in a forced march while POWs in Germany

Frantic shouts of “American ... Coca Cola ... Roosevelt” save him and he’s taken off on a circuitous route through Poland, Iran, Athens and then Churchill’s personal plane back to Britain.

On his journey through Poland in a Red Army officer’s car, Rosie see the horrors of the holocaust as he happens across a concentration camp and talks to some of the survivors.

It was the only moment in the series when the men who spent the war looking down on the battle, saw the real-life consequences.

Gale ‘Buck’ Cleven and John ‘Bucky’ Egan are having a more difficult time getting home, suffering on a forced march from a prisoner of war camp in eastern Germany.

But they eventually make it out for a monumental reunion and spend their final days dropping aid and food to the beleaguered Dutch.

Master of the Air isn’t perfect. It’s presented primarily for a home audience and the myopic view of the US winning the war alone is irritating.

The Russians get a passing nod by necessity but Britain’s role in the war is restricted to thankful host for US troops.

Nonetheless, this is masterful television and easily possible to get through the nine episodes in Apple TV’s 7-day free trial.