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Monday, 9 January 2012

Douglas Bader

Douglas Bader was born on February 21, 1910 in St John's Wood, London, the second son of Frederick Roberts Bader, a civil engineer, and his wife Jessie.

Douglas attended St Edward's School where he received his secondary education. Fellow RAF night fighter and bomber pilot Guy Gibson also attended the same school.

In mid-1923, Bader, at the age of 13, was introduced to the Avro 504 during a school holiday trip to visit his aunt, Hazel, who was marrying RAF Flight Lieutenant Cyril Burge. Although he enjoyed the visit, and took an interest in aviation, he showed no signs of becoming a keen pilot.

In 1928, Bader joined the RAF as an officer cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in rural Lincolnshire. He came 19th out of 21 in his class examinations.

Motorcycling was tolerated at Cranwell, though cadets usually took part in banned activities such as speeding, pillion racing, and buying and racing motorcars. Bader was involved in these activities and was close to expulsion after being caught out too often.

On September 13, 1928, Bader took his first flight with his instructor Flying Officer W. J. "Pissy" Pearson in an Avro 504. After just 11 hours and 15 minutes of flight time, he flew his first solo, on February 19, 1929.

On July 26, 1930, Bader was commissioned as a pilot officer into No. 23 Squadron RAF based at Kenley, Surrey.

Bader was sporty and was selected for the Royal Air Force cricket team to play a first-class match against the Army at The Oval in July 1931. He scored 65 and 1. He did not show much interest in pursuing the sport as he preferred rugby.

On December 14, 1931 he attempted some low-flying aerobatics at Woodley airfield in a Bulldog Mk. IIA, K1676, of 23 Squadron, apparently on a dare. His aircraft crashed when the tip of the left wing touched the ground. As a result of the accident had to have both legs amputated.

Baden's laconic comment in his log book after the crash was: "Crashed slow-rolling near ground. Bad show."

He learnt to fly using artificial legs and on the outbreak of the Second World War was allowed to rejoin the RAF. A member of 222 Squadron, Bader took part in the operation over Dunkirk and showed his ability by bringing down a Messerschmitt Bf109 and a Heinkel He111.

After being promoted by Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, he was given command of 242 Squadron. The squadron's first sortie during the Battle of Britain on August 30, 1940, resulted in the shooting down of 12 German planes over the Channel in just over an hour. Bader himself was responsible for downing two Messerschmitt 110.

In August 1941, Bader was forced to bail out over  German-occupied France and was captured. During his seizure Bader lost one of his artificial legs, so the Germans radioed England and requested a replacement, which a RAF plane dropped by parachute to a German airfield. Now back on both tin legs, the intrepid English aviator has made several fruitless attempts to escape so now the Germans are depriving him of his artificial limbs at night.

Despite his disability, Bader made a number of escape attempts and was eventually sent to the POW camp at Coilditz Castle. He remained there until the camp was liberated in April 1945.

When the film Reach For The Sky, which chronicled his life was released, people associated Bader with the quiet, and amiable personality of actor Kenneth More who played Bader in the film. Bader recognised the producers had deleted all those habits he displayed when on operations, particularly his prolific use of bad language.

Bader was credited with 20 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.

Bader sitting on his Hurricane, as commanding officer of No.242 Squadron 

On September 5, 1982, after a dinner honoring Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris at the Guildhall, Bader died of a heart attack while on his way home.


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