I know I’ve said that several times before, but this one just might top them all to permanently retire the crown.
Update! I knew of Bader from all the Battle of Britain histories and historical fiction I’ve read over lo, these many years, but went poking around for more info on him. And BOY, did I ever find it. To wit (bold mine throughout):
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, DL, FRAeS (/ˈbɑːdər/; 21 February 1910 – 5 September 1982) was a Royal Air Force flying ace during the Second World War. He was credited with 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.
Bader joined the RAF in 1928, and was commissioned in 1930. In December 1931, while attempting some aerobatics, he crashed and lost both his legs. Having been on the brink of death, he recovered, retook flight training, passed his check flights and then requested reactivation as a pilot. Although there were no regulations applicable to his situation, he was retired against his will on medical grounds.
After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, however, Douglas Bader returned to the RAF and was accepted as a pilot. He scored his first victories over Dunkirk during the Battle of France in 1940. He then took part in the Battle of Britain and became a friend and supporter of Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and his “Big Wing” experiments.
In August 1941, Bader baled out over German-occupied France and was captured. Soon afterward, he met and was befriended by Adolf Galland, a prominent German fighter ace. Despite his disability, Bader made a number of escape attempts and was eventually sent to the prisoner of war camp at Colditz Castle. He remained there until April 1945 when the camp was liberated by the First United States Army.
Bader left the RAF permanently in February 1946 and resumed his career in the oil industry. During the 1950s, a book and a film, Reach for the Sky, chronicled his life and RAF career to the end of the Second World War. Bader campaigned for disabled people and in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 1976 was appointed a Knight Bachelor “for services to disabled people”. He continued to fly until ill health forced him to stop in 1979. Bader died, aged 72, on 5 September 1982, after a heart attack.
A truly remarkable man, no? His legs were amputated after that ill-advised aerobatics attempt, one BTK (ie, Below The Knee) and one ATK (Above etc), in amputee jargon (mine was ATK, just so’s ya know). Baden was flying a Bristol Bulldog, a single-seat, unequal-wingspan (ie, lower wing shorter in length than the upper) biplane of some renown and excellent reputation at the time. His logbook entry after the crash was a true masterpiece of dry, laconic, British stiff-upper-lip understatement:
Crashed slow-rolling near ground. Bad show.
— Douglas Bader
In 1932, after a long convalescence, throughout which he needed morphine for pain relief, Bader was transferred to the hospital at RAF Uxbridge and fought hard to regain his former abilities after he was given a new pair of artificial legs. In time, his agonising and determined efforts paid off, and he was able to drive a specially modified car, play golf, and even dance.
Daring, dauntless, utterly without fear and indomitable, Sir Douglas Bader was outstanding even amongst an entire generation of real, true men; clearly, the words “quit” or “give up” simply were no part of his vocabulary. We shan’t see his like again, to our incalculable cost. Lots more great, great stuff at the link, of which you should damned-skippy read the all.
Ironically enough update! As it happens, Leigh-Mallory and Bader’s “Big Wing” theory, along with the resultant political battles with Air Vice-Marshall Keith Park, was recounted in great depth in one of those historical-fiction novels I’ve always been so fond of, namely Vol 2 of John Rhodes’ gripping Breaking Point series (highly recommended, if you’re into that sort of thing at all). “Big Wing,” while still controversial, was nonetheless pretty much a disaster.
After the Battle of Britain Leigh-Mallory never really had a chance to use the Big Wing defensively again, and it quickly mutated from a defensive to an offensive formation—Bader would eventually lead one of these new wings on massive fighter sweeps over France. To this day there is debate over the effectiveness of the “Big Wing” as it was used during the Battle. Although Leigh-Mallory and Bader argued it was a great success, post-war analysis suggests the actual number of German aircraft shot down by the wing was probably a fraction of those claimed (the claims for the Big Wing were never credible even at the time. On 15 September 1940, the Big Wing was scrambled twice against incoming raids and claimed 52 kills, eight probables and others damaged. (German records showed that six aircraft were lost). Some senior officers like Leigh-Mallory and Sholto Douglas wanted to believe these claims so that they could use the Big Wing as a political tool against Dowding. This would seem to support the idea that, for a “Big Wing”, there were “not enough enemy to go around”; the Wing had too high a concentration of aircraft in the same air space looking for targets.
It could be argued that 12 Group had more time to get fighters into position but even then it failed to do so. When 11 Group was stretched to its limits and required support, due to the delay imposed by 12 Group, 11 Group airfields were left undefended. This was due not only to time wasted in forming up the Big Wing but also due to 12 Group commanders not following 11 Group’s instructions and thus arriving in the wrong place. Not only did 12 Group fail to support 11 Group, they left their own airfields undefended; a large portion of UK airspace was left undefended while Leigh-Mallory and Bader tested their Big Wing theory. The time taken to form a Big Wing also wasted fuel and combined with the limited range of the fighters, reduced time over the combat zone. When 10 Group was asked to provide cover for 11 Group in similar circumstances, it was provided and 11 Group airfields defended.
Casualties for the “Big Wing” were significantly lower than in the smaller formations—suggesting that they did indeed benefit from protection in numbers. The “Big Wing” invariably joined combat with the enemy over Northern London, where the German fighter escort was at the very limit of its range and effectiveness. Consequently, the Big Wing also made very few interceptions, and as a result lower casualties would be expected on both sides. Park’s tactics (which had included the occasional use of two- and three-squadron wings) were correct for the conditions he had to fight under. The most powerful argument against the Big Wing in the Battle of Britain is that without a clear idea of a target as a raid assembled over France, it was impossible for the Big Wing to get airborne and form up in time to meet it.
Not all of the problems with “Big Wing” can be attributed to the concept itself; as always, the 7P Rule (Proper Previous Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) axiom comes into play. That, in concert with the unavoidable influence of Murphy’s Law and the proverbial “fog of war,” all had their own part in things, also.