Today in History: The Exemplary WW2 Fighter Ace Was Born

Today in History: The Exemplary WW2 Fighter Ace Was Born

M.C. Millman

On February 21, 1910, Sir Douglas Bader, CBE, DSO, DFC, FRAeS, DL, known as the "Legless Flying Ace," was born. 

Bader was born in London in 1910 and was commissioned as an officer in 1930 in the Royal Air Force (RAF). Just 18 months later, Douglas crashed his airplane while performing aerobatics, becoming a double amputee. As a result, Douglas was discharged from the RAF and had to find work elsewhere. 

An opportunity arose again for Douglas to rejoin the RAF in 1939. The second world war broke out, and Britain desperately needed fighter pilots. In this war, Douglas was credited with 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable, and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.

The talented pilot was at an advantage due to his lack of legs. According to the Douglas Bader Foundation, it is thought that Bader could sustain greater G-force without losing consciousness because he had no legs. Many other pilots would blackout as blood drained from their brain to other parts of the body from the high G-force produced in combat maneuvers.

Bader's lack of legs did save his life in a very real way in August 1941 when his aircraft went down over France, and one of his artificial feet became trapped beneath a pedal. Bader's unique situation allowed him to detach his artificial limb and leave it behind and parachute to safety.

Bader landed in France, which was occupied by Germany, and was captured. He was first sent to a hospital, which he managed to escape from with the help of a nurse and a farmer who hid him. Unfortunately, the Germans found Bader and sent the farmer and his wife to a concentration camp. 

Luckily for Bader, he was treated well and was respected by his captors due to his flying abilities. After multiple escape attempts, Bader was sent to Colditz Castle, a prisoner-of-war camp, until the war's end in 1945.

Bader was promoted to Group Captain after returning to England but left the RAF in 1946 for a job with Shell Aircraft. In the 1950s, the book and film, Reach for the Sky recounted the story of Douglas Bader's life and his RAF career. 

In 1973, Bader published his autobiography. Three years later, he was knighted for his work on behalf of other amputees. He died of a heart attack at 72, less than ten years later, on September 5, 1982.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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