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Douglas Bader

Douglas Bader, the son of a soldier who died as a result of the wounds suffered in the First World War, was born in London in 1910. A good student, Bader won a scholarship to St Edward's School in Oxford. An excellent sportsman, Bader won a place to the RAF College in Cranwell where he captained the Rugby team and was a champion boxer.

Bader was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Air Force in 1930 but after only 18 months he crashed his aeroplane and as a result of the accident had to have both legs amputated.

Discharged from the RAF he found work with the Asiatic Petroleum Company. 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.

Bader was now promoted by Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and was given command of 242 Squadron, which had suffered 50 per cent casualties in just a couple of weeks. Determined to raise morale, Bader made dramatic changes to the organization. This upset those in authority and was ordered to appear before Hugh Dowding, the head of Fighter Command.

The squadron's first sortie during the Battle of Britain on 30th August, 1940, resulted in the shooting down of 12 German aircraft over the Channel in just over an hour. Bader himself was responsible for downing two Messerschmitt 110.

Bader had strong ideas on tactics and did not always follow orders. He took the view that RAF fighters should be sent out to meet the German planes before they reached Britain. Hugh Dowding rejected this strategy as he believed it would take too long to organise.

Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, the commander of No. 11 Fighter Group, also complained complained that Bader's squadron should have done more to protect the air bases in his area instead of going off hunting for German aircraft to shoot down.

When William Sholto Douglas became head of Fighter Command, he developed what became known as the Big Wing strategy. This involved large formations of fighter aircraft deployed in mass sweeps against the Luftwaffe over the English Channel and northern Europe. Although RAF pilots were able to bring down a large number of German aircraft, critics claimed that they were not always available during emergencies and prime targets became more vulnerable to bombing attacks.

This strategy suited Bader and during the summer of 1941 he obtained 12 kills. His 23 victories made him the fifth highest ace in the RAF. However, on 9th August 1941, he suffered a mid-air collision down near Le Touquet, France. He parachuted to the ground but both his artificial legs were badly damaged.

Bader was taken to a hospital and with the help of a French nurse managed to escape. He reached the home of a local farmer but was soon arrested and sent to a prison camp. After several attempts to escape he was sent to Colditz.

Bader was freed at the end of the Second World War and when he returned to Britain he was promoted to group captain. He left the Royal Air Force in 1946 and became managing director of Shell Aircraft until 1969 when he left to become a member of the Civil Aviation Authority Board.

Paul Brickhill's book, Reach for the Sky, was published in 1954 and was later made into a movie. Bader's autobiography appeared in 1973. Douglas Bader, who was knighted in 1976, died in 1982.




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