Review: The Bloody Hundredth Documentary

Series: The Bloody Hundredth  |  Streaming on: Apple TV+  |  Rated: TV-14  |  Reviewer: James Steen  

Courtesy: Apple TV+

Having recently reviewed “Masters of the Air,” this documentary about The Bloody Hundredth tells the true story of the Eighth Air Force airmen and literally felt like a tenth episode in the series.  Not only is it narrated by Tom Hanks, but it features interviews from several historians, as well as Steven Spielberg, and the actual pilots themselves, many of whom were featured in “Masters of the Air.”  The documentary utilizes vintage video footage that is both historically accurate and compelling.  In fact, some of the period footage was beautifully restored and/or colorized to HDMI quality that viewers are accustomed to today.

One of the more memorable stars of “The Bloody Hundredth” documentary is John “Lucky” Luckado, who is still alive today after successfully completing 25 combat missions roughly 80 years ago.  Luckado, who resides in Dallas, Texas, lives up to his name, considering that 77 percent of the airmen from the 100th Bomb Group were killed or captured during World War II.  Not only is it remarkable that Luckado has lived to be 102 years old, but his first-hand account of being a B-17 bomber pilot and what it was like to fly those missions is very inspiring. 

The raid on Munster, on Oct. 10, 1943, capped off the Eighth’s Air Force’s worst three days in the war which came to be known as “Black Week” with the loss of 88 B-17s over Germany.  In fact, the documentary tells us that the Eighth Air Force suffered the highest casualty rate of any other branch of the American armed forces. The mission on Munster is what led to the 100th becoming known as “The Bloody Hundredth” because out of 13 planes that went into battle, only one plane, flown by Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, returned to England. 

There is actual interview footage of Rosenthal in the documentary, who was prominently featured in “Masters of the Air,” that was recorded prior to his death in 2007 at age 89.  Only 25 percent of bomber crewmen completed 25 missions.  Rosenthal tells the story about buzzing the tower after completing his 25th mission.  Evidently, General Huglin was in the tower and hit the deck soiling his uniform; but instead of berating Rosenthal, the general told him that was “one hell of a buzz job Rosie.”  Rosenthal was so committed to the war effort, that he signed on for another tour and ultimately completed 52 bombing missions after being shot down twice. 

With the introduction of the P-51 Mustang as a bomber escort in December 1943, the United States finally began to gain air superiority over Germany.  The Mustang was a fast, maneuverable fighter with a British Rolls Royce Merlin engine that could fly long distances with the bombers all the way into the heart of Germany.  The Allies knew that a successful ground invasion of Western Europe on D-Day would require victory over the Luftwaffe.   

So, in 1944, the bombers were relentless in their bombing campaigns and the American fighters would shoot down as many of the German fighter planes as possible.  Their goal was to take out enough of the German fighters so that the Luftwaffe could no longer mount an effective air defense.  One surprising statistic in the documentary was that the casualty rate for Luftwaffe pilots on the western front from January to May 1944 was a staggering 99 percent. 

On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed in Normandy, France opening up a second front in the west against the Nazis; the Luftwaffe put up little or no defense.  After gaining air superiority, the Eighth Air Force started bombing Berlin and other military targets deep within Germany with daily campaigns and sorties that crippled the Third Reich.  The war raged on after D-Day for almost another year until Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 1945. 

As the documentary wraps up, Tom Hanks reminds viewers that, “World War II was the most devastating event in human history; more costly in lives than any war ever fought.”  When it was time to fly home after the war, the locals from England put on their Sunday best as a way to honor and thank all of the airmen from the Eighth Air Force stationed all over Great Britain.  The documentary ends with the inspiring words of Frank Murphy, a pilot from the 100th Bomb Group, who eloquently said, ”The freedoms that we enjoy did not come about by accident, they were bought and paid for by my generation and the generations that preceded us. And for that reason, I think the World War II generation deserves to be remembered.” 

We do remember the sacrifices made and express sincere gratitude for your bravery, the hardships endured, and your generation’s unwavering commitment to defeat fascism and defend freedom.