Meet the Real-World Airmen Who Became 'Masters of the Air'

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(Apple TV+)

The long-anticipated World War II series "Masters of the Air" has finally begun its nine-episode run on Apple TV+. It follows the World War II exploits of the Army Air Forces' 100th Bombardment Group, American airmen stationed at Royal Air Force Thorpe Abbotts airfield in Britain. The "Bloody Hundredth," as the 100th Bomb Group came to be called, was known for the heavy casualties it took during bombing runs over Nazi-occupied Europe.

Like its companion series, "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific," it's based on a nonfiction book, author Donald L Miller's "Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany." The show's ensemble cast is loaded with talented actors portraying real people. One of the biggest issues in a show about pilots and aircrews, as even its producer admits, is that they're usually wearing masks when they're in combat.

So to clear up who's who and offer a historical perspective on the real-life "Masters of the Air," here's an introduction to each, without giving too much away.

Austin Butler as Maj. Gale "Buck" Cleven

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

Austin Butler ("Elvis," "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood") headlines the expansive cast as Maj. Gale "Buck" Cleven, who was one of the original members of the 100th Bomb Group. Cleven, along with Maj. John Egan, joined the Army Air Corps in March 1940 as a flight cadet. He shipped out to England in June 1943, where he joined the Bloody Hundredth on its first mission: bombing targets in Bremen, Germany.

Callum Turner as Maj. John "Bucky" Egan

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

John Clarence "Bucky" Egan was also an original member of the 100th Bomb Group, originally the group's operations officer. Portrayed in the show by Callum Turner ("The Boys in the Boat"), Egan joined the Air Corps and earned his nickname at the same time and place as his close friend, Gale Cleven. Though their careers took a slightly different path stateside, the two would reunite in the 100th at RAF Thorpe Abbotts.

Anthony Boyle as Lt. Harry Crosby

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

Lt. Harry Crosby, portrayed onscreen by Anthony Boyle ("Tetris"), was a beloved navigator and an original member of the Bloody Hundredth. The Des Moines, Iowa, native would eventually be promoted to group navigator for the 100th. His tour of duty spanned the entire 22 months the 100th was operational during World War II.

Barry Keoghan as Lt. Curtis Biddick

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

Barry Keoghan ("Dunkirk," "Saltburn") plays Lt. Curtis Biddick, a Wisconsin native and graduate of the University of California, Davis who joined the Army Air Forces in January 1942, graduated from aviation training in September 1942 and transferred to England as a member of the 100th Bomb Group in 1943. Like many members of the unit, he saw his fair share of action, including landing in the middle of a RAF commander's vegetable garden.

Rafferty Law as Sgt. Ken Lemmons

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

We can't forget about the enlisted personnel who kept those heavily damaged B-17s in flying shape. Sgt. Ken Lemmons, played in the series by actor Rafferty Law, was one of the first crew chiefs assigned to the 100th Bomb Group. He volunteered for the Army Air Forces one week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and would even become the subject of his own book, "The Forgotten Man."

Elliot Warren as Lt. James Douglass

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

Lt. Douglass was the bombardier of the "Just-a-Snappin,'" a B-17 Flying Fortress that was one of 30 to bomb the shipyards of Bremen on Oct. 8, 1943. Their plane flew the entire way home with more than 1,200 holes in it and just two operational engines. The gunners aboard shot down 10 Luftwaffe fighters on the long trip back to England.

Edward Ashley as Capt. John B. "Jack" Kidd

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

Actor Edward Ashley ("The King") plays Capt. John B. Kidd, a man even the 100th Bomb Group Memorial calls "larger than life." Kidd led the Bloody Hundredth on two of its three most memorable missions. The first came in 1943, during the Regensburg-North Africa shuttle. The next one was the aforementioned Oct. 8, 1943, attack on Bremen, both of which are considered "classic."

Nate Mann as Maj. Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

As Maj. Robert Rosenthal, Nate Mann ("Licorice Pizza") plays one of the Army Air Force's most distinguished bomber pilots. Rosenthal would receive a total of 16 combat awards, including medals from Great Britain and France. He enlisted in the Army on Dec. 8, 1941, and requested to be trained for combat duty.

Spoiler alert: Rosenthal completed the requisite 25 combat missions needed to be sent back to the United States, a number not many WWII bomber pilots achieved. He volunteered to do another tour instead of going home, serving 52 total missions.

James Murray as Col. Neil "Chick" Harding

(Apple TV+/U.S. Army)

A legendary unit needs a legendary commander, right? Col. Neil B. Harding led the 100th Bomb Group from its early days. Played in the series by James Murray ("The Crown"), Harding was a West Point graduate who picked up his advanced flying wings in 1928. He became the commander of the 100th in 1943 and was sidelined temporarily for gallstone surgery, a surgery he simply ignored for as long as he could -- which nearly killed him.

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