Military Biography WWII Flight Commander Douglas Bader Part 1

About the World War II British flight commander Douglas Bader, history and biography of the military figure and hero.


DOUGLAS BADER (Great Britain, W.W. II)

Black spirals of smoke on the horizon told Royal Air Force Flight Commander Douglas Bader (1910- ) that he was nearing Dunkerque (or Dunkirk), where the last of the British army was being evacuated from France in early June, 1940. A few minutes later, he looked down and saw the blazing wreckage 3,000 ft. below; then he glanced back and saw four German fighter planes diving to attack him. He jerked his Spitfire to the right and upward so that one of the Nazi planes lunged in front of him. He glided in behind, took aim, and pressed his thumb down on the firing button. His Spitfire's eight machine guns gave a short burst, and the German plane exploded into an orange-colored torch. This was the first enemy plane Bader had shot down, but in doing so he had achieved more than the destruction of a German plane. He had proved that he was an effective combat pilot even though he had no legs.

As a child Bader had listened to his uncle, Cyril Burge, an RAF officer, tell stories about his experiences in air battles in W.W.I. The tales left the boy with only one desire in life--to become an RAF flier. Although his scholastic record was poor, his skill at rugby, soccer, and cricket, together with his unfailing determination to get whatever he wanted, gained him entrance to the RAF College at Cranwell in 1928. In 1930 he graduated, was commissioned, and was posted to 23 Squadron.

A little over a year later, on Dec. 14, 1931, as Bader was flying low over Woodley Aerodrome, one wing grazed the field, throwing his plane propeller first into the ground. The engine exploded, and when the smoke blew away, only twisted metal could be seen. Bader later said he had felt nothing but had heard an explosion and then a profound silence. He had gone into severe shock.

An ambulance took him to the nearest hospital, where doctors gave him little chance of living. That day a surgeon amputated his right leg above the knee. The next day infection spread in his left leg, and it, too, had to be cut off, about 6 in below the knee. The doctors were surprised when Bader survived and asked where and when he could get a pair of artificial legs.

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