23 April, 2009
Sir Douglas Bader
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader was a Royal Air Force fighter ace during the Second World War.
In 1928, Bader joined the RAF, but, on December 14, 1931 at Woodley airfield near Reading, lost both of his legs in an aircraft crash attempting a slow roll at very low level following jibes about him not wanting to perform aerobatics that day. Bader recovered, undertook refresher training, passed his check flights, and attempted to stay in the RAF but was retired for medical reasons on 30 April 1933. After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he was drafted and he requested that he be assigned to the RAF. Posted to a fighter squadron in 1940 Bader scored his first kills during the Battle of France, over Dunkirk.
During the Battle of Britain Bader became a friend and supporter of Trafford Leigh-Mallory and his "Big Wing" experiments, which led him into conflict with Air Vice Marshal Keith Park. In 1941 Bader participated in fighter sweeps over Europe as the RAF adopted a more offensive stance, but in August 1941 he was forced to bail out over German-occupied France, was captured and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war. While a POW, Bader made as much trouble as possible, escaping in August 1942, only to be recaptured and sent to Colditz Castle, the camp for POWs who made repeated escape attempts. He also met and befriended Adolf Galland, a prominent German Ace, during his imprisonment. Liberated in April 1945, he requested a return to action but that request was denied. Douglas Bader ended the conflict with 22 aerial victories scored in the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, and left the RAF for good in February 1946.
Bader was considered to be an inspirational British hero of the era. His brutally forthright, dogmatic and often highly opinionated views (especially against authority) coupled with his boundless energy and enthusiasm inspired adoration and frustration in equal measures with both his subordinates and peers.
In 1976 Bader was knighted for his services to disabled people.
On 4 June 1979 Bader flew for the last time as a pilot. He had recorded 5,744 hours and 25 minutes flying time. Adolf Galland followed Bader into retirement.
His workload was exhausting for a legless man with a worsening heart condition, and, after a London Guildhall dinner honouring the 90th birthday of the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, Bader died of a heart attack on 5 September 1982 at the age of 72. Bader had previously suffered a "minor heart attack" three weeks earlier after a golf tournament in Ayrshire.