written by Marilyn Walton 

"Masters of the Air" (MOTA) POW camp scene

WWII Eighth Air Force historian and US POW expert, Marilyn Walton, sent us a response to her viewing of Masters of the Air, Episode 9. Marilyn served as an advisor on the Apple TV + series and shared her expertise with us on Greatest Generation Live

Masters of the Air (MOTA), Episode 9, like the other episodes, contained both detailed fact and poetic license to capture so many storylines and characters in the 100th Bomb Group and beyond.

Perhaps the most valuable and accurate renderings were the harrowing bombing mission sequences early in the series. The scenes were well-researched and accurate. Not everything that occurred in the sky happened to the same characters, like Buck and Bucky, but they did happen to others and were grafted on to the storylines of MOTA main characters to condense the storytelling.

Playtone Studios is dedicated to producing historically-correct products, and they did so again with MOTA, making much use of CGI, (computer generated imaging) and a large cast.

Over 300 cast members made up the scenes in MOTA. In order to re-create the missions in the sky blue battlefield, over 3,200 CGI shots were used. The result was spectacular, and we viewers saw what so many of our fathers withstood, whether they were in the 100th BG or not.

MOTA provided many of us our first glimpse of what our heroic Airmen experienced to defeat Hitler. We saw in full color the toll it took on those who flew and were taken prisoner, as well as those who never returned.

At the same time, the script strayed from the facts, often by necessity, given the time constraints of a 9-part series. The producers and scriptwriter made hard decisions about what to keep and what to leave out. Below are instances of key details, some of which appeared in MOTA, and some didn’t.

  • When an injured Rosie Rosenthal encountered the Soviet soldiers on the ground in Germany, he did raised his arms and shout, “Americanski! Coca-Cola! Lucky Strike! Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin!’ to convince the suspicious troops that he was an ally.
  • When the POWs marched from the train station in Oberursel, Germany, near Frankfurt for interrogation, they were surprised to see an Esso gas station on the corner near the facility. An old German woman was, in fact, guarding a water spigot and denied the POWs a drink from it. She delivered a quick swat with a broom and called the POWs “murderers.”
  • No graffiti or profanity would have been permitted on the walls of the solitary confinement cell at Dulag Luft.
  • German guards did punch holes in Red Cross canned goods in the POW camps. This was to keep the prisoners from hoarding food for an escape. Prisoners complains, and the hole punching was eventually discontinued.
  • Allied POWs did call German guards “goons.” The reference was to Alice the Goon from E. C. Segar’s comic strip Thimble Theatre. It wasn’t as compliment. When the German guards suspected they were being ridiculed, POWs told them that GOON stood for German Officer or Non-Com to appease them.
  • On the long forced march to Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, the POWs did not meet German mechanized troops. They did, however, have to clear the road for some Wehrmacht ski troops, dressed in white, headed to the front. They traded cigarettes with the POWs.
  • Also on the march, German citizens traded hot water and eggs with the POWs when permitted. Chocolate D-bars and cigarettes were used as currency. Some of the German women said they had not seen a bar of soap in years.
  • The POW marchers also saw many pitiful horse-drawn wagons with old men, young mothers and small children.Wheels frequently froze, and the POWs stopped to help get wagons up from the ditches. Many were refugees, Polish and German, fleeing Russians to the East.  Our freezing POWs gave bits of chocolate to the children, and in one case a POW gave his gloves to a tiny German girl who had no gloves.
  • Bucky Egan is angry they are marching at night when, he says, it is more dangerous. Actually, the opposite was true. Escaping POWs always traveled during the night to stay hidden. Long columns of marching men would also be safer at night when they could not be seen.
  • In Episode 9 of MOTA, POW George Niethammer is shown escaping with Buck Cleven. This did happen. But George got separated from Buck, and they never saw each other again. Three years after the war, George’s body was found with two others likely shot by the SS. MOTA shows George being stabbed with a bayonet by Hitler Youth in the woods. This did not happen.
  • MOTA Episode 9 has a POW saying to make sure to take the matches before leaving on the march. Matches were almost impossible to find in the whole camp. Some POWs lit cigarettes and then lit other POWs’ cigarettes to keep a light continually.
  • German guards at Stalag Luft III would not have shouted, “Get out!” The two words that the men heard the most from the Germans were raus and snell. Few German guards spoke English, POWs were not supposed to talk directly with any guards.
  • Rosie Rosenthal did not fly on the Chow Hound mission to Holland at the end of the war. Neither did Buck Cleven. Egan did not return from liberation in Moosburg to the 100th BG at Thorpe Abbots. He went directly to Camp Lucky Strike, in Le Havre, France, to be processed to go home.
  • The P-57 that flew over the camp, to the delight of the Tuskegee Airmen, did so a few days before liberation. So did other fighter They all did victory barrel rolls to signal the POWs they would soon be free. During the whole month of April, the prisoners could hear P-47 and P-51 fighter aircraft strafing targets in and around Moosburg. At no time did any plane shoot into the camp, nor did they participate in the liberation. That was a ground troop operation.
  • At no time did any POW fight with German guards at the liberation, as is shown in MOTA. The guards fled the camp before liberation. During the fairly brief skirmish, the POWs were all in their barracks to stay safe, a few in slit trenches. Lt. Col. Clark remembered the sound and feel of 120,000 men all hitting the ground at the same time when the fighting first started. There were a few random shots that hit POWs, but none died.
  • POW Martin Allain, not Bucky Egan, climbed the flag pole to put up the Stars and Stripes. The Nazi flag was not ripped apart after it was taken down. Today, that Nazi flag is at the US Air Force Academy on display.