Real-life Rosie Rosenthal In ‘Masters Of The Air’ Was Rosenthal Part Of The Nuremberg Trials?


Masters of the Air made us privy to many iconic American figures who played a crucial role in World War II. These were the kind of people who kept their country above themselves and showcased such bravery on the war front that their name was etched in the history books. One such person was Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, who fought alongside the likes of John Egan and Gale Cleven, and later, he even took part in the Nuremberg trials in the capacity of a lawyer. So, let’s find out how much of what has been shown in the series happened in real life and if the makers have taken any creative liberties while portraying the character of Rosenthal. 

Who Was Rosie Rosenthal?

Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal’s character is inspired by a real-life person who became one of the most iconic figures of the 100th bomb group and who left a great legacy behind. Rosie was born in 1917 in Brooklyn, New York, and after he graduated from law school, he joined a law firm. Rosie had no plans of joining the army back then, but then Pearl Harbor happened, and it changed everything. It was such an impactful event, and it shook the entire American society so much that most of the men after that decided to serve their country and join the army. Rosie was one of those people who liked finishing the job at hand and who didn’t shy away from taking responsibility.

Rosie knew that while the American youth sacrificed their lives fighting the Germans, his conscience wouldn’t allow him to sit in his cozy chamber and not be a part of the great war. So that’s when Rosie decided to join the Air Force and began his training at the Army Air Force Flight School. He learned to fly a number of planes there and ultimately joined the 100th bomb group, aka the bloody hundredth, and became the flight commander of the 418th bomb squadron. There was no need for Rosie to leave his comfortable life and come to the warfront, but like many other men, he kept his nation above himself. He knew that there were chances that he wouldn’t be able to come back alive, but he was ready to take that risk if it benefited his nation in any way. Rosie knew how to take initiative, and considering he was a law student, he believed in the concept of the rule of law. Rosie was a Jew, and the atrocities being carried out by the Nazis seemed even more personal to him. He knew that if he was not going to fight for the cause of his country and for his community, then probably nobody would. 

What happened during the Munster mission? 

During the Munster operation in Masters of the Air, the first thing that made the pilots and the entire 100th Bomb Group a bit worried was the fact that the target for the mission was the Munster city center. Rosie, Egan, and everybody else knew that there could be a lot of civilian casualties, and somewhere, they were burdened with guilt. Rosie didn’t know what to do or what to expect, so he decided to just follow the orders and come back home in his B-17, named the Royal Flush. Rosie, at that juncture, was not as clear in his head as his colleague John Egan was. When somebody asked Egan about the mission, he told them blatantly that in war, such casualties were bound to happen. Egan was grieving the loss of his friend, Gale Cleven, at that time, and so for him to be sympathetic towards the Germans was probably the hardest thing to do. Maybe if things had been right, he would also have had moral dilemmas about what he wanted to do. That mission proved to be even more horrendous for the American forces than their last mission, where the target was Bremen. In real life, too, only Rosie was able to return to base, and apart from him, each and every American “flying fortress” was knocked down by the German missiles. Some survived the crash, like John Egan, and some were burned to death. That mission changed Rosie Rosenthal. He saw death wreaking havoc in front of his eyes. He saw his own people, with whom he had chatted hours ago, being burned to death in front of his eyes. He heard their cries and felt their pain, and he didn’t know if he should be happy that he was alive or mourn as all his friends died, and he couldn’t do anything. That day, Rosie understood the sacrifice a soldier made. He realized that even if a soldier managed to survive the war, he had to live with the horrors of what he saw for his entire life.

As shown at the end of Masters of the Air, Rosie’s plane also crashed, but luckily, he was rescued by the Soviet forces and was able to come back safely. Witnessing the plight of the Jews firsthand moved him from within, and that became one of the key reasons why he didn’t stop after completing his quota of 25 missions. 

Was Rosenthal Part Of The Nuremberg Trials? 

In Masters of the Air, we saw that after three consecutive missions, Rosie was sent to have some downtime. He was probably more restless there than he was at his army camp, and he asked the psychologist there to give him a green light and let him return to his base. The therapist asked him why he wanted to risk his life all over again and if he shouldn’t be happy about the fact that he didn’t have a dagger hanging on his head at all times. That’s when Rosie said that the thought of escaping from the battlefront never crossed his mind. He said that he wouldn’t be able to live his life in peace, knowing that there was a war going on and that he couldn’t contribute from his end. Every soldier had to finish their quota of 25 missions, and after that, they could go back home, but Rosie decided to stay back. He didn’t feel that it was fair to leave his colleagues and friends. As he told the therapist before, he was the kind of man who finished the task and then only stopped. Rosie completed 52 missions, and he stayed with the 100th bomb group till the very end of World War II. Rosie joined his law firm after the war, and then later, he was called to be a part of the team of prosecutors for the Nuremberg Trials. Rosie said that after cross-questioning and prosecuting one of the most powerful German politicians, Hermann Goring, he finally felt at peace and, in a way, got his closure. Rosie married Phyllis Heller, a fellow lawyer, in 1946, and they had a happy married life. The recipient of many military service awards, like the distinguished Service Cross, Robert Rosie Rosenthal, passed away on April 20, 2007. 

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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