Douglas Bader

Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Stuart Bader, CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, the son of a soldier who died as a result of the wounds suffered in the First World War, was born in London in 1910. A good student, Bader won a scholarship to St Edward’s School in Oxford. An excellent sportsman, Bader won a place to the RAF College in Cranwell where he captained the Rugby team and was a champion boxer.

This is your life – Douglas Bader

Douglas Bader ‘Penpic’ Bader was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Air Force in 1930 but after only 18 months he crashed his aeroplane and as a result of the accident had to have both legs amputated. Discharged from the RAF he found work with the Asiatic Petroleum Company. On the outbreak of the Second World War was allowed to rejoin the RAF.

A member of 222 Squadron, Bader took part in the operation over Dunkirk and showed his ability by bringing down a Messerschmitt Bf109 and a Heinkel He111.

Bader was now promoted by AVM Trafford Leigh-Mallory and was given command of 242 Squadron, which had suffered 50 per cent casualties in just a couple of weeks. Determined to raise morale, Bader made dramatic changes to the organization. This upset those in authority and was ordered to appear before Hugh Dowding, the head of Fighter Command. The squadron’s first sortie during the Battle of Britain on 30 Aug 1940, resulted in the shooting down of 12 German aircraft over the Channel in just over an hour. Bader himself was responsible for downing two Messerschmitt 110.

Bader had strong ideas on tactics and did not always follow orders. He took the view that RAF fighters should be sent out to meet the German planes before they reached Britain. Hugh Dowding rejected this strategy as he believed it would take too long to organise. AVM Keith Park, the commander of 11 Gp, also complained that Bader’s squadron should have done more to protect the air bases in his area instead of going off hunting for German aircraft to shoot down.

Douglas Bader and Fellow Prisoners of War – Oflag IVC

During the summer of 1941 Bader obtained 12 kills. His 23 victories made him the fifth highest ace in the RAF. However, on 9 Aug 1941, he suffered a mid-air collision down near Le Touquet, France. As he tried to bail out, his right prosthetic leg became trapped in the aircraft, and he only escaped when the leg’s retaining straps snapped. Bader was captured by German forces, who treated him with great respect. General Adolf Galland, a German flying ace, notified the British of his damaged leg and offered them safe passage to drop off a replacement. After several attempts to escape from prison camp, he was sent to Colditz.


Bader was freed at the end of the Second World War and when he returned to Britain he was promoted to group captain. He left the Royal Air Force in 1946, having been a participant in many RAF Golfing Society championships,  playing off a very respectable 6 handicap. In later years he got his handicap down to 2.  Paul Brickhill book, “Reach for the Sky”, was published in 1954 and was later made into a movie. Bader’s autobiography appeared in 1973. Douglas Bader, who was knighted in 1976, died in 1982.