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Legends of Aviation # 5: Douglas Bader

Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader was probably the most famous of all British fighter pilots of the Second World War. He was not only a hero of the British but also gained enormous respect of his German foes, who imprisoned him during the last four years of the war.

The Battle of Britain

Douglas was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Air Force in 1930 but after only 18 months he crashed his aeroplane and became a double amputee when he crashed his plane in 1931. As a consequence of the accident Douglas was discharged from the RAF, against his will on medical grounds.

War came in 1939 and the RAF had a big shortage of pilots. So Douglas was accepted again as a pilot. He scored his first victories over Dunkirk during the Battle of France in 1940 and thereafter in the Battle of Britain. . He was credited with 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, six “probables”, one shared probable and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.

Douglas Bader climbing into his Spitfire.

In August 1941, Douglas’s Spitfire was shot down over German-occupied France. He bailed out, hitting the ground without one of his prosthetic legs, and was captured, Soon afterwards, he met and was befriended by Adolf Galland, a prominent German fighter pilot, who notified the British of his damaged leg and offered them safe passage to drop off a replacement. Hermann Göring himself gave the green light for this operation. Despite his disability, Douglas escaped from the prison camp Stalag Luft III but was recaptured. After many more escape attempts he was eventually sent to the infamous prisoner of war camp at Colditz Castle. He remained there until April 1945 when the camp was liberated by the First United States Army.

After the war, Douglas returned to the RAF, but left the service in 1946 and joined Royal Dutch Shell, becoming Managing Director of Shell Aircraft until his retirement. He served as technical advisor to the film “The Battle of Britain” in 1969. His own story had been dramatised in the 1950’s film “Reach for the Sky”, which starred Kenneth More as the air ace.

Douglas became an inspiration to disabled and able-bodied alike by demonstrating the ability to “get on with your life”, and raising funds on behalf of many disabled groups and charities. He was honoured in 1976 with a Knighthood for his contribution to and work on behalf of the disabled community.

In 1982, Douglas died. He had been extremely active until the end of his life. Following his death, the Douglas Bader Foundation was formed by his family and friends, many of whom had flown side by side with Douglas during World War II.

Brookfield Aviation is proud to be a supporter of the Douglas Bader Foundation and in particular the “Bader Braves” days out for young disabled aviators. Please visit the website: . All support for this worthy charity is much appreciated.

David and Paul from Brookfield with pilot and some of the “Bader Braves” kids.

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