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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. D R S Bader

 

Douglas Robert Steuart Bader was born in St Johns Wood, London on 21st February 1910. His early years were spent in India, where his father was in the Civil Service. Bader returned to England and attended a preparatory school at Temple Grove, Eastbourne.

 

Above: Bader standing at left at Temple Grove in 1922.

 

He later won a scholarship to St Edwards School, Oxford. In 1928 he won a prize cadetship to RAF College Cranwell and began the course there in September.

 

 


After passing out in July 1930 Bader was granted a permanent commission and on 25th August was posted to 23 Squadron at Kenley. In 1931 he represented 23 Squadron in the Pairs Aerobatic flying competition at the Hendon Air Display which the squadron won for the third year running.


On 14th December 1931 Bader crashed in a Bristol Bulldog after attempting a roll at very low level. Miraculously he was not killed but lost both legs, the right one above the knee and the left below.


After being fitted with artificial limbs Bader remained in the RAF but was not allowed to fly. He was then retired by the Air Ministry on 30th April 1933. He was engaged by the Asiatic Petroleum Company, which later became Shell.


Following the outbreak of war Bader made repeated requests to rejoin the RAF in a flying capacity.

Finally, on 18th October 1939, he went to CFS Upavon for a flying test conducted by S/Ldr. RHA Leigh. Bader passed the test and was re-commissioned on 26th November as a Flying Officer with seniority of 26th January 1932.


After a refresher course at Upavon Bader joined 19 Squadron at Duxford on 7th February 1940. On 12th March he was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant and posted on 16th April to 222 Squadron at Duxford as 'A' Flight Commander.


On 1st June Bader scored his first victory, when he shot down a Me109 near Dunkirk and shared in the probable destruction of a He111.

On 24th June 1940 Bader was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader and given command of 242 Squadron at Coltishall, a unit made up mainly of Canadian pilots. Morale was low and discipline was lax when Bader set himself the task of bringing 242 back to a good operational standard.


On 11th July Bader shot down a Do17 into the sea off Cromer. He was granted a permanent commission on 26th July.


He shot down another Do17 into the sea near Yarmouth on 21st August and claimed two Me110's destroyed on the 30th. Bader claimed two Me110's and a Me109 destroyed on 7th September, a Do17 shot down and two others damaged on the 9th, another Do17 destroyed and two more damaged on the 15th, a Ju88 and a Do17 destroyed on the 18th and a Me109 shot down and probably a second on the 27th.


After receiving a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 1st January 1941), Bader's final victory with 242 was a shared Ju88 on 22nd January 1941, shot down into the North Sea east of Yarmouth.


He was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and posted to Tangmere as Wing Commander Flying on 18th March 1941.

In June he began to add to his victories in sweeps over France, on 21st June a Me109, on the 26th a Me109 and another shared and on 2nd July another Me109 and one damaged.


Bader shared another Me109 and damaged a second on 21st July and damaged another on the 23rd.

He led the Wing on 9th August to escort bombers to Bethune. From the start things went wrong and he found himself alone and involved with several Me109's. In the ensuing combat, south of Le Touquet, he claimed a Me109 destroyed and probably a second before he was shot down. It has been claimed subsequently that he was accidentally struck by rounds fired by F/O LH Casson of 616 Squadron but this has been impossible to verify.

Bader baled out, losing his right artificial leg in the process, and was captured on landing. For the Germans he was a difficult prisoner and he eventually finished up in Colditz. He was released from there on 4th April 1945.


After rest and recuperation, Bader was posted to Tangmere as a Group Captain in command of the Fighter Leaders School. Many things had changed since 1941 and it was not a successful appointment. After a short period Bader was given command of the North Weald Sector, from where he organised and led the Battle of Britain flypast in September 1945.


Bader retired on 21st July 1946 retaining the rank of Group Captain.

He had received the following orders and decorations, DSO (gazetted 1st October 1940), Bar to the DSO (gazetted 15th July 1941), DFC (gazetted 7th January 1941), Bar to the DFC (gazetted 9th September 1941), Legion d'Honneur, Croix de Guerre and three Mentions in Despatches.

After retiring Bader rejoined Shell. In 1952 he was made Managing Director of the Shell aircraft fleet, an appointment which necessitated a lot of overseas travel. He always found time to encourage disabled people, particularly children and young people. For his public service, Bader was made a CBE in 1956 and knighted in 1976.


He flew his own aeroplane for the last time on 4th June 1979 when he made a local flight from White Waltham.


On 5th September 1982, after attending a dinner in honour of Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Harris, Bader died in the car as his wife drove him back to their Berkshire home.

 


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