written by Steve Snyder

Masters of the Air photo of WWII Airmen leaving their plane

For months, Apple TV+ has been using the photograph above in its publicity for Masters of the Air, a state-of-the-art 9-part series based on the 2007 book by Donald L. Miller.  The series follows the actions of the 100th Bomb Group during World War II. It’s considered the third in a trilogy of WWII dramas, after Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010).

Friend of the VBC Steve Snyder, President of the 306th Bomb Group Historical Association, board member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, and author of Shot Down: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth, recently sent an email saying his team have tracked down the story behind the photo. It turns out, the Airmen in the photos are members of the 306th, not the 100th BG:

We have been able to verify that the photo used on the cover of Donald Miller’s Masters of the Air is the 306th Bomb Group, 367 Bomb Squadron John Stolz crew and aircraft #42-31428. However, only about half the men were on Stoltz’s crew. The rest are replacements from other 367 crews.

The photo was taken upon their return from the February 4, 1944 mission to Frankfurt which my father’s 306th BG crew flew on before being shot down on their next mission, February 8, also to Frankfurt.

Waist gunner Floyd Shade is the front most person and identified by his daughter, Carol. Dan Giusti confirmed his grand uncle, bombardier Steve Tanella is second from right. Dan was able to verify this information from Tanella’s diary and attached photo.

On February 22, the plane, flown by a different crew, was shot down by enemy aircraft and crashed at Daaden, four miles South of Dermbach, nine miles SW of Siegen, Germany. 9 KIA and 1 POW. Missing Air Crew Report 2655 is from the 306th Archives.

Stolz completed 22 missions from November 1943 to April 1944, but was shot down in B-17 #42-31758 on his 23rd mission on April 24, 1944 and landed in Switzerland.

Below is the photo referred to by Steve. Steve also included part of an interrogation report on the February 4, 1944 Frankfurt mission.

Original WWII photo of Airmen leaving plane, used for Masters of the Air series