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This post is my contribution to the #blogformation series on the topic of “truth is stranger than fiction.” One of us among the group selected this topic to torment the other authors! The good news is, there is no shortage of incredible stories in aviation that defy logic and turn fiction onto its ear. This is one of those stories.
The year was 1940, the historic venue was The Battle of Britain. If you are a student of aviation history, you will know that the Battle of Britain was a pivotal point early in World War II where only a handful of Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilots held off the entire German Luftwaffe. This selfless act of heroism can only be described in the immortal words of Winston Churchill when he spoke about the RAF’s efforts, “Never in the field of human conflict has so many owed so much to so few.”
Because they were outnumbered and outgunned by the Luftwaffe, the RAF fighter pilots flew constantly to makeup that shortfall. It was an extremely tough job and losses mounted. Many pilots were shot down and then got back into the cockpit on the same day.
One of the preeminent fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain was a man named Douglas Bader. He was very aggressive and quickly became a leader among the fearless knights of the air. In that role he had the distinction of being assigned to a squadron that needed a swift kick in the pants – Squadron 242. He would quickly turn that unit into lean, mean, fighter squadron that fought hard.
Bader was older than most of his contemporaries at 29 and would go on to lead several squadrons and become a Wing Commander. He amassed 20 confirmed victories and an assortment of shared and unconfirmed kills during the conflict.
Fate would catch up to Bader over northern France when he collided with a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and was captured. The famous German fighter pilot Adolf Galland met with him out of mutual respect prior to his entry into a prison camp. Bader managed to escape prison, but was betrayed by the French underground and was recaptured. This time he was placed in a maximum security facility until the war ended.
In England Douglas Bader was a national hero. After the war, the Queen of England would bestow one of the highest honors possible, by knighting Bader. He would therefore be called Sir Douglas Bader, making him literally a Knight of the air.
All of this would be an extraordinary story in and of itself, but because truth is stranger than fiction, I want to add in this small detail about the subject of this story.
You see Sir Douglas Bader did all of this as a double amputee! He wore crude prosthetic limbs and had to be assisted into and out of the cockpit every flight.
Image flying a fighter in combat, and not just any combat – the Battle of Britain. Now image bailing out of a crippled Spitfire over France and surviving only to be captured, escape, and be recaptured.
As a younger man in pilot training he had an unfortunate aircraft accident that cost him both of his legs. He didn’t let that stop him and when WWII broke out he managed to convince the military to let him back into a fighter cockpit – which of course turned out to be a great decision!
Bader was with us until 1982, living a long and prosperous life all because he didn’t let anything keep him down – something we should all aspire to.
God Speed Sir Bader! A true Knight of the air!
This week, six aviation bloggers will again join forces to provide a series of common posts. Think of us as “blogging in formation” (#blogformation) for the next six days. This month’s theme will be – Truth is stranger than fiction.
You don’t want to miss this. Tune in to the specific blog listed below on the appropriate date and you’ll be glad you did.
And if you like what you see, share it with your friends! #blogformation
You can see the posts at:
The series runs the August 3rd-8th, 2013.
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