Military Biography WWII Flight Commander Douglas Bader Part 3

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)

By the summer of 1941 the Germans had been driven from the air over England, and the RAF was attacking German-occupied France. On Aug. 9, Bader lost contact with the rest of his squadron, only to discover six German planes below him. In a solo attack, he shot down two of the Nazi planes, but the propeller from one of them sliced his own plane in two. As Bader bailed out, his right leg got caught in the cockpit. Half in and half out of his plane. Bader hung there until his artificial leg snapped off. Awaiting this unusual parachutist on the ground were three German soldiers, who took him to the hospital in St. Omer, France.

In a chivalrous gesture, the Germans radioed the RAF about Bader's lost leg and allowed a British plane to parachute him a new one. His German captors soon had reason to regret their generosity, for soon after Bader received his new leg, he tied 15 sheets together, lowered himself out of a hospital window, and escaped. Recaptured in two days, he was temporarily deprived of his legs and shipped to a POW camp in Germany.

He earned the hatred of his guards by constantly taunting and insulting them. Once an angry guard, not knowing of Bader's handicap, slammed his rifle butt down on Bader's artificial foot and was surprised when Bader just smiled. Despising captivity, Bader tried innumerable escapes. Confined to the hospital at Stalag VIIIB, he escaped with a work party to another POW camp near an airbase, where he planned to steal a plane. He got to the other camp, but news of his escape reached the camp's commander, who had all prisoners stand at attention and drop their pants. Bader's legs gave him away, and he was returned to Stalag VIIIB.

Finally, in desperation, the Germans sent Bader to Colditz prison, where they kept their most fleet-footed captives. Colditz was a castle with 70-ft. walls, surrounded by 100-ft. cliffs; it had been built 200 years earlier by Augustus the Strong. Escape from Colditz was practically impossible, especially for Bader, whose legs were in poor condition and had to be taken to the local blacksmith for occasional repairs. At the war's end in 1945, he was liberated and returned home a hero. After a short while, he resigned from the RAF and went back to work for Shell Oil as a pilot. He is now retired, yet very active.

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