Sir Douglas Bader DSO*, DFC*
Having joined the RAF in 1928, in December 1931 Douglas Bader crashed his Bulldog fighter while performing aerobatics, losing both legs in the accident. Remarkably he recovered, undertook flight training, was reinstated as a pilot, but in line with RAF regulations at the time, lost his commission and was pensioned off, his flying career seemingly over.
However in 1939, after the outbreak of WWII, and with trained pilots in desperately short supply, Bader managed to persuade the RAF to return him to flying duties scoring his first aerial victories over Dunkirk during the Battle of France in early 1940. In summer of that year he took command of No 242 Squadron’s Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain, adding to his aerial victories while avidly promoting his ‘Big Wing’ tactical philosophy.
Following the RAF’s victory over the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, Bader was promoted to lead the Tangmere Wing’s Spitfire squadrons and in 1941 recruited some of the most battle-hardened pilots to help him take the fight to the enemy squadrons based across the Channel. In daily engagement with the Luftwaffe’s crack fighter squadrons based in the Pas de Calais, in August 1941 Bader failed to return from an operation.
Forced to bail out over German-occupied France, he was captured near St Omer. After an interview with his well-known fighter adversary, Adolf Galland – who at the time led the Luftwaffe’s JG-26 Wing – Bader was dispatched to a succession of POW camps. Despite his disability, he made numerous escape attempts, eventually being incarcerated in the high security POW camp at Colditz, where he remained until the camp was liberated in 1945.
In his relatively short combat career Douglas Bader was credited with 22 aerial victories, four shared, six ‘probables’, and 11 enemy aircraft damaged. After the war was over, in 1946 Bader left the RAF and devoted much of his life campaigning for the disabled, his devotion to the cause being formally recognized when he was knighted in 1976.
Having met Adolf Galland in 1941, after the war the two opposing fighter pilots were reunited and became firm friends until Douglas Bader died in 1982.