Miniseries spotlights the heroics of Savannah-born Mighty Eighth

Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, ’Masters of the Air’ premieres Friday on Apple TV+
American crews flew bombing missions aboard B-17 aircraft during World War II as part of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. An Apple TV+ series on the unit titled "Masters of the Air" debuts Jan. 26. Courtesy of Apple TV+

Credit: Courtesy of Apple

Credit: Courtesy of Apple

American crews flew bombing missions aboard B-17 aircraft during World War II as part of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. An Apple TV+ series on the unit titled "Masters of the Air" debuts Jan. 26. Courtesy of Apple TV+

SAVANNAH — Historical markers dot Georgia’s nearly 300-year-old first city like Spanish moss does the limbs of Savannah’s ubiquitous live oak trees, so the plaque that fronts American Legion Post 135 is often overlooked.

The sign reads “Birthplace of Eighth Air Force” and in 175 words summarizes the origins of a military unit that changed the course of history.

America redefined airborne warfare in World War II with the advent of high-altitude bombing, and a new arm of the Army Air Corps, which became known as the Mighty Eighth, was founded in what is now the legion post located a half-block south of Savannah’s picturesque Forsyth Park.

The Eighth is widely credited with expediting the defeat of Nazi Germany. The planes flew missions deep into Germany to destroy the munitions depots and factories that made up the Nazi war machine and inflict crippling psychological damage by leveling the Reich’s cities.

A historical marker stands in front of the Chatham Artillery armory, now the American Legion Post 135, in Savannah. The building was where the Army Air Corps founded the Eighth Air Force during World War II. (Adam Van Brimmer/

Credit: Adam Van Brimmer

icon to expand image

Credit: Adam Van Brimmer

Yet relative to D-Day heroes and the soldiers who turned the Nazis back at the Battle of the Bulge, the airmen of the Eighth Air Force are unsung. Films such as “Band of Brothers,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Fury” have immortalized America’s ground warriors in the European theater. Conversely, the story of the Mighty Eighth has gone largely untold beyond the historical marker and the exhibits of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, located on Savannah’s outskirts.

Until now.

The drama “Masters of the Air” premieres Friday on Apple TV+ with the release of the first two of nine episodes, with additional installments available each of the seven Fridays that follow. A project led by Hollywood icons Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, the limited series is a companion piece to their previous World War II historical dramas “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” and chronicles the Mighty Eighth’s contributions through the airmen of the “Bloody Hundredth”, one of 40 Eighth Air Force bomber groups that battled the Nazis in the skies above Western Europe.

“The battle in the air was unique and changed the course of the war and history” Goetzman told Entertainment Weekly. “The dedication of these young men was instrumental in our eventual victory.”

Long time coming

Savannah’s many Mighty Eighth enthusiasts have waited more than a decade for the release of “Masters of the Air.”

The film is based on the 2008 book of the same name by acclaimed historian Donald L. Miller, and Spielberg bought the movie rights in 2011. Miller conducted much of his research at the local museum, which opened in 1996 in the Savannah suburb of Pooler.

Miller is a longtime museum trustee, and word that his book would get the “Band of Brothers” treatment spread at supersonic speed. “The Pacific” had aired on the cable television network HBO the year prior, and “Masters of the Air” was being billed as the finale of a World War II trilogy.

The Apple TV+ series "Masters of the Air" chronicles the story of the Mighty Eighth Air Force's 100th bomber group during World War II. (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

Credit: Courtesy of Apple

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy of Apple

Development for the series, which began in 2013, was ongoing when Spielberg signed on to produce content for Apple in 2017, two years prior to the streaming service’s launch. Filming of “Masters of the Air” was to start in 2020 in England, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the start to April 2021. Coronavirus-related restrictions imposed by the U.K, government frequently delayed the production.

“It seems like it took forever, but it was not quite an eternity,” said Miller, who lives in Pennsylvania where he teaches at Lafayette College. “I wanted it done fast — every year that passes there are fewer and fewer Mighty Eighth vets left. I wanted as many of them as possible to see the film.”

According to Scott Loehr, president and CEO of the Mighty Eighth museum, only a handful of the 350,000 who served in the Eighth Air Force in World War II survive. The living are in their 90s and 100s.

The B-17 "Spirit of Savannah" is on display at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. (Photo courtesy of National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force)

Credit: National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

icon to expand image

Credit: National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

' ... a ticket to your own funeral’

Survival rates are a fundamental element of the Mighty Eighth’s story.

The Air Corps lost more than 26,000 crew members in World War II, a casualty rate that surpassed even that of the Marine Corps units who invaded Iwo Jima and Okinawa. For much of the war, American fighter planes lacked the range to escort the bombers behind German lines, making the large, lumbering B-17s easy targets for the Luftwaffe. Crews flew an average of 15 missions before being lost.

“Holding a ticket to the Eighth Air Force was like holding a ticket to your own funeral,” Miller said. “When you reached your 15th mission, you were statistically a dead man.”

Exploring the psychological toll of fighting amidst imminent death is a theme of both the book and the series.

The Mighty Eighth’s bomber doctrine said the Germans would have no defense against hundreds of aircraft flying in formation and dropping bombs with precision from 25,000 feet. But cloud cover and other weather factors, as well as an overestimation of bombing accuracy and an underestimation of the Luftwaffe’s capabilities, frequently meant slaughter for the Eighth Air Force.

The courage shown by the Mighty Eighth’s airmen is a powerful message of “Masters of the Air,” said museum trustee and Major League Baseball executive Sandy Alderson.

“The Mighty Eighth’s story is a great story and demonstrates the capacity of young Americans to adapt to incredible demands, physical and mental, and succeed,” Alderson said. “For that reason the story should be an inspiration for every generation of Americans. They call those who came of age during World War II the Greatest Generation, but I think every generation is capable of similar accomplishments if they only realize it.”


Masters of the Air”

On Apple TV+ starting Friday, Jan. 26.

About the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

Located in Pooler, a suburb of Savannah, the museum opened in 1996 and preserves the records and experiences of the Eighth Air Force. The museum features a number of interactive exhibits, including a restored B-17 named The City of Savannah. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and more information is available online at A $12 million capital campaign raising funds to expand and enhance the museum is ongoing. To learn more, visit