Group Captain, Sir Douglas Bader, DSO, DFC, was a flying ace who flew in the Second World War, despite losing both legs in a previous crash. He was shot down over enemy territory and held at Colditz for his frequent attempts at escape.
Short Bio Douglas Bader
Douglas Bader was born in 1910 in England. At school he was bright and excelled at sports, especially rugby and cricket. After graduating from school, he decided to join the RAF – the newest armed service, and at the time quite dangerous.
Douglas proved a gifted flyer, but, with a healthy disrespect for following orders; he was frequently in trouble for bending rules and regulations. Attributed to Douglas Bader is the quote:
“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men. “
However, due to his skill he passed on the second attempt, just missing out on being awarded best flyer of the year.
However, in 1931, Douglas was involved in a painful crash where he had both his legs amputated. He was encouraged to take part in some low flying aerobatic manoeuvres. In the new British bulldog plane, he got too close to the ground and ended up crashing. The loss of legs was a huge blow for a person who was so committed to being active. He had to leave the RAF as they wouldn’t use a pilot without legs.
There then followed a period of painful readjustment as Douglas struggled to cope with his new disability and life in civilian surroundings.
On the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, Douglas again reapplied to the RAF. As they were so desperate for pilots, he was allowed to rejoin and he flew fighter sorties in the Battle of Britain.
He was one of the great pioneers of the big wing squadron, and helped to form the Duxford Wing – a formation of five squadrons which helped to shoot down many German fighters. He attributed his success in aerial combat to the three maxims of German ace Erich Hartmann:
- If you had the height, you controlled the battle.
- If you came out of the sun, the enemy could not see you.
- If you held your fire until you were very close, you seldom missed
In 1941, he collided with a German plane and was incarcerated in a POW camp. He was sent to Colditz for his many escape attempts – despite his lack of legs.
In the spring of 1945, the POW camp was liberated by the Allies and Douglas spent the next few decades visiting injured servicemen in hospital. He was knighted by the Queen in 1976 for his service to amputees.
He died in 1982 of a heart attack.
Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader
- Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader at Amazon.com
- Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader at Amazon.co.uk
A film was made of his life – Reach for the Skies. There have been many pubs and one school named in honour of Douglas Bader.
Books on Douglas Bader