During the 1940 Battle of Britain, Flight Lieutenant Bader became famous both for the fact that he was a double amputee and because he quickly became an ace. His aggressive flying style and inspired leadership while commander of 242 Squadron, flying Hurricanes in Number 12 Group during the height of the Battle of Britain, came to epitomize British pluck. Dissatisfied with the prescribed tight, "line-astern" formations, Bader insisted, to the point of insubordination, that the RAF conduct attacks in looser formations utilizing all available aircraft. This approach came to be known as the Big Wing concept, identified with Number 12 Group's commander, Air Vice Marshal Sir Trafford L. Leigh-Mallory. By 1941, Bader was promoted to wing commander and took command of Number 11 Wing of three Spitfire squadrons in Sussex.
On 9 August 1941—at the time credited with 22.5 kills, making him one of the highest-scoring British aces—Bader was flying near Le Touquet, France, when he was shot down. Parachuting to safety, he badly damaged one of his artificial legs in the landing. The commander of the unit that had shot him down, Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general) Adolf Galland, interceded with Air Marshal Hermann Göring to allow the British to air-drop Bader a replacement leg.
Bader repeatedly attempted to escape imprisonment until he was finally sent to the German maximum-security prisoner-of-war (POW) camp of Colditz Castle, where he spent the remainder of the war. Bader led the Battle of Britain flyby in the postwar victory parade and retired from the RAF in February 1946. His life was the subject of the book Reach for the Sky and a movie of the same title. Bader died in London on 5 September 1982.
Robert Bateman and Spencer C. Tucker
Bader, Douglas. Fight for the Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and the Hurricane. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973.; Brickhill, Paul. Reach for the Sky. New York: Norton, 1954.; Terraine, John. A Time for Courage: The Royal Air Force in the European War, 1939–1945. New York: Macmillan, 1985.