Tag Archives: Chevalier de la légion d’honneur

Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar (February 21, 1910 – September 5, 1982)

Group Captain Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar. (Paul Laib)

21 February 1910: Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS, DL, the legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He was the son of Frederick Roberts Bader, a civil engineer, and Jessie Scott MacKenzie Bader.

Bader attended Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, East Sussex, and St. Edward’s School in Oxford. After graduating in 1928, he joined the Royal Air Force as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Bader was granted a permanent commission as a Pilot Officer, “with effect from and with seniority of 26th July 1930.”

Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson, of No. 23 Squadron, during training for the 1931 Hendon Airshow, with a Gloster Gamecock. (RAF Museum)

Bader lost both legs in the crash of a Bristol Bulldog fighter while practicing aerobatics 14 December 1931 and was medically retired, 30 April 1933.

Following his medical retirement, Douglas Bader joined the Asiatic Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Petroleum Company) and the Shell Transport and Trading Company.

Mrs. Douglas R. S. Bader, 1942

On 5 October 1933, Mr. Bader married Miss Olive Thelma Exley Edwards at the registry office of Hampstead Village, London. Miss Edwards was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Ivo Arthur Exley Edwards, R.A.F. On their fourth anniversary, 5 October 1937, a formal wedding ceremony took place at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, London.

In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.

The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, and on 26 November 1939, he was sent to refresher flight training at the Central Flying School where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.

A page from Douglas Bader’s pilot log book, showing his “exceptional”evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)

Flying Officer Bader was posted to No. 19 Squadron, RAF Duxford, 7 February 1940. The squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. In April, he was reassigned as flight leader of A Flight, No. 222 Squadron, also flying Spitfires from Duxford. On 24 June 1940, Bader took command of No. 242 Squadron at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in East Anglia. No. 242 operated the Hawker Hurricane.

Squadron Leader Douglas Bader with his Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, LE D, V7467, of No. 242 Squadron, RAF Colitshall, Norfolk, East Anglia, September 1940. (Royal Air Force)

On 24 September 1940, Flying Officer Bader was granted the war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Distinguished Service Order

On 1 October 1940, George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, appointed Acting Squadron Leader Douglas R. S. Bader a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. The notice in The London Gazette reads,

“This officer has displayed gallantry and leadership of the highest order. During three recent engagements he has led his squadron with such skill and ability that thirty-three enemy aircraft have been destroyed. In the course of these engagements Squadron Leader Bader has added to his previous successes by destroying six enemy aircraft.”

Acting Squadron Leader Bader, D.S.O., was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 7th January, 1941: “Squadron Leader Bader has continued to lead his squadron and wing with the utmost gallantry on all occasions. he has now destroyed a total of ten hostile aircraft and damaged several more.”

In March 1941, Acting Squadron Bader was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and assigned as Wing leader of 12 Group’s “Big Wing” at RAF Tangmere, just east of Chichester, in West Sussex. The Big Wings were large formations of three to five fighter squadrons acting together to intercept enemy bomber formations.

Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order, 15 July 1941: “This officer has led his wing on a series of consistently successful sorties over enemy territory during the past three months. His qualities of leadership and courage have been and inspiration to all. Wing Commander Bade has destroyed 15 hostile aircraft.”

Douglas Bader climbing into the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire.

On 9 August 1941, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “DB”, along the coast of France. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.

Transcript of message giving status of Bader and requesting a replacement prosthetic leg. (from Bader’s Last Flight: An In-Depth Investigation of a Great WWII Mystery, by Andy Saunders, Frontline Books, 2007, Appendix L at Page 214)

Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped.

Adolph Galland arranged for a replacement prosthetic leg for Bader to be airdropped at a Luftwaffe airfield at St. Omer, in occupied France.

On 9 September 1941, Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. “This fearless pilot has recently added a further four enemy aircraft to his previous successes; in addition he has probably destroyed another four and damaged five hostile aircraft. By his fine leadership and high courage Wing Commander Bader has inspired the wing on every occasion.”

Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Squadron Leader Douglas Bader is seated, center.

He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Schloss Colditz near Leipzing, Germany, where he was held for three years. Units of the United States Army 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division, and the Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored Division, liberated the prison 15 April 1945 after a two-day battle.

Schloss Colditz, April 1945. (United States Army)

Douglas Bader was repatriated to England. On 28 August 1945, Squadron Leader D.R.S. Bader, DSO, DFC (Ret) was promoted to Wing Commander (temp), and in September Wing Commander Bader was assigned as commanding officer of the R.A.F. Fighter Leaders School. On 1 December 1945, Wing Commander (temporary) D.R.S. Bader DSO DFC (Ret.) is granted the rank of Wing Commander (War Substantive).

On 21 July 1946, Wing Commander Bader reverted to the retired list, retaining the rank of Group Captain.

During World War II, Group Captain Bader was officially credited with 22 enemy aircraft destroyed, shared credit for another 4; 6 probably destroyed, shared credit for another probable; and 11 damaged. (26–7–11). Group Captan Bader was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur by France in 1945, and awarded the Croix d’ Guerre.

Group Captain Bader’s medals at the RAF Museum: Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar; 1939-1945 Star with clasp BATTLE OF BRITAIN; Air Crew Europe Star with clasp ATLANTIC; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45 with Mention in Despatches; Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier, badge; and Croix de Guerre 1939-1940

Bader received civil aviator’s license 3 July 1946. He returned to work for Shell in a management position which involved considerable travel. He flew the company’s Percival Proctor around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He remained with Shell until 1969, having risen to managing director of Shell Aircraft International.

Bader with a Percival Proctor which he flew while working for Shell.

In the years following World War II, he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them,

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.

In the New Year’s Honours, 2 January 1956, Douglas Bader was appointed an Ordinary Commander of the Most Excellent Order (C.B.E.), by Her Majesty The Queen, for services to the disabled.

He was the subject of Reach For The Sky, (Collins, London, 1954) a biography written by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. (Brickhill had been a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III.) In 1956, a movie of the same name was released, starring Kenneth More as Bader. Bader was the author of Fight For The Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and Hurricane (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1973).

Bader and companion in his 1938 MG TA Midget roadster, circa 1945. He was the original owner, but sold it in 1948. This car was recently offered for sale by Bonham’s.(Getty Images)

Thelma Bader died in 1971 at the age of 64 years. The couple had been married for 38 years.

Bader later married Mrs. Joan Eileen Hipkiss Murray. She had three children from a previous marriage, Wendy, Michael and Jane Murray.

4 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”

Sir Douglas Bader, Knight Bachelor, and Lady Bader, 1976. (Daily Mail)

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.

Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 December 1910

Hélène Dutrieu (Library of Congress)
Hélène Dutrieu (Library of Congress)
Pierre Lafitte
Pierre Lafitte

22 December 1910: Hélène Dutrieu won the first Coupe Fémina by flying her Farman airplane 60.8 kilometers (37.8 miles) in 1 hour, 9 minutes at Étampes, about 48 kilometers (29 miles) southwest of Paris, France.

The Fémina Cup was established by Pierre Antoinne Baptiste René Lafitte, publisher of Fémina, a ladies’ magazine. A prize of ₣2,000 was awarded to the woman who had completed the longest flight of the year.

Mlle Dutrieu won the prize again the following year with a distance of 243.8 kilometers (151.5 miles) and duration of 2 hours, 58 minutes.

Hélène Dutrieu was just the fourth woman to become a licensed airplane pilot. She began training with a Santos-Dumont Damoiselle, in which she crashed on her first flight. After trying with another aircraft builder, she went to the Farman brothers, who loaned her one of their airplanes and taught her to fly it. She held Aéro-Club de Belgique certificate number 27, issued at the end of August 1910, and a few months later, 25 November, she also received certificate number 27 from the Aéro-Club de France.

 Mlle Hélène Dutrieu with a Santos-Dumont Damoiselle, just before her first flight, 1908. (Unattributed)
Mlle Hélène Dutrieu with a Santos-Dumont Damoiselle, just before her first flight, 1908. (Unattributed)

Hélène Dutrieu was born 10 July 1877 at Tournai, Belgium, to Florent Dutrieu and Clothilde van Thieghem. She became a professional bicycle racer and at the age of 20, Mlle Dutrieu won the women’s cycling world championship and won again in 1898. She also won the Grand Prix d’Europe.

In addition to bicycle racing, Hélène Dutrieu raced motorcycles, cars and airplanes. For her athletic accomplishments, the King of Belgium awarded her the Cross of St. André with Diamonds, and in 1913, France made her a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, the first woman so honored for aviation.

During World War I, Mlle Dutrieu served as an ambulance driver, and was assigned to supervise all ambulances at one hospital. Later she was director of the Campagne à Val-Grâce military hospital.

Mlle Ditrieu married a member of the French Assembly in 1922 and became a citizen of France. Mme Dutrieu-Mortier served as a vice president of the Aéro-Club de France.

Hélène Dutrieu-Mortier died at Paris, 27 June 1961 at the age of 83 years.

Hélène Dutrieu in her Farman airplane, 1911 (Unattributed)
Hélène Dutrieu in her Farman airplane, 1911 (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 November 1934

Hélène Boucher, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)
Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur. (Bibliothèque nationale de France)

30 November 1934: While flying her new Caudron C.430 Rafale near Guayancourt, France, Hélène Boucher crashed into a forested area at Voison-le-Bretonneaux. Apparently, the airplane stalled while on landing approach, rolled, and then hit the trees. The airplane was destroyed and Mlle Boucher was critically injured. She died while en route to a hospital at Versailles. She was just 26 years old.

Wreckage of Mlle. Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB, 30 November 1934. (Lela Presse via avions-bateaux)

Hélène Boucher’s funeral was held at Chapelle des Invalides, the first time that a woman had been so honored. Posthumously, the government of France awarded her the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. She is buried at the cemetery in Yermenonville.

Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher

Hélène Antoinette Eugénie Boucher was born at Paris, France, 23 May 1908. She was the daughter of Charles Léon Boucher, an architect, and Élisabeth Hélène Dureau Boucher. Following World War I, Hélène attended high school at the Lycée Montaigne and then the Collège Sévigné, both in Paris.

Mlle Boucher learned to fly at the Aero Club of Landes, Mont-de-Marsan, making her first flight on 4 July 1930. She quickly earned a tourist pilot license. The Aero-Club de France awarded her its pilot certificate number 182. In 1932, Hélène Boucher qualified for a public transport license.

Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France
Mlle Bouchere was awarded Certificate Number 182 by the Aero-Club de France. (Escadrille Féminine Méditerranéenne)

Mlle Boucher participated in a number of international and long distance air races, such as the Raid Paris-Saigon in 1933. She specialized in aerobatics and her performances made her a popular figure at air shows.

On 2 August 1933, flying a two-place 40-horsepower Mauboussin-Peyret Zodiac M.120, Mlle Boucher set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude at 5,900 meters (19,357 feet).¹

The following year, on 8 August 1934, flying a Caudron C.430, C.450 and a C.530, she set nine FAI world records for speed over the 100 and 1,000 kilometer closed circuits. Mlle Boucher averaged 412,37 kilometers per hour (256.24 miles per hour) over the 100 kilometer closed circuit.² For the 1,000 kilometers she averaged 409,18 kilometers per hour (254.25 miles per hour).³

With crew member Marie-Louise Becker, Boucher flew the C.530, powered by a 140 cheval-vapeur Renault Bengali, to set three records over the 1,000 kilometer circuit at an average speed of 250.09 kilometers per hour (155.40 miles per hour).⁴ She set a fourth 1,000 kilometer record of 250.06 km/h (155.38 mph).⁵

On 11 August 1934, Mlle Boucher set a World Record for Speed over a 3 Kilometer Course of 445.03 kilometers per hour (276.53 miles per hour), flying a Caudron Type Coupe Deutsch, powered by a 6-cylinder Renault Bengali engine.⁶

Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.
Hélène Boucher’s Caudron C.430 Rafale, F-AMVB.

F-AMVB was the second of two specially-built Société Anonyme des Avions Caudron C.430 Rafale racing airplanes, c/n 02/6886. (Rafale means gust: “a brief, strong, rush of wind.”) It was registered 18 October 1934 (Certificate of Registry 3947).

The C.430 was a single-engine, two-place, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. The airplane was constructed of wood, with the fuselage, wings and tail surfaces covered with plywood. Fuel was carried in two tanks in the fuselage, one forward of the cockpit and another placed between the pilot and passenger positions. The wings had no dihedral and were equipped with split flaps.

The Caudron C.430 was 7.100 meters (23 feet, 3.53 inches) long with a wingspan of 7.700 meters (25 feet, 3.15 inches)and height of 1.88 meters (6 feet, 2.02 inches). The total wing area was 9 m² (96.9 square feet). Its empty weight was 480 kilograms (1,058 pounds) and gross weight, 820 kilograms (1,808 pounds). The C.430 had a maximum fuel capacity of 160 liters (42 gallons), and 16 liters (4 gallons of lubricating oil.

The airplane was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 6.333 liter (386.463 cubic inch) Renault Bengali 4Pei inverted four-cylinder overhead-valve (OHV) engine with a compression ratio of 5.75:1, rated at 130 cheval-vapeur (128.3 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m., and 150 cheval-vapeur 148.0 horsepower) for takeoff. This was a direct-drive engine, turning a two-bladed, metal Hélices Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The 4Pdi was 1.28 meters (4 feet, 2.4 inches) long, 0.93 meters (3 feet, 0.6 inches) high and 0.52 meters (1 foot, 8.5 inches) wide. It weighed 135 kilograms (298 pounds).

Renault Bengali 4Pei

This gave the C.430 a cruise speed of 260 kilometers per hour ± 5% (153–170 miles per hour) and maximum speed of 305 kilometers per hour ± 5% (180–199 miles per hour) at ground level. The service ceiling was 5,750 meters ± 250 meters (17,922–19,808 feet) and range was 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).

The remaining Caudron C.430 Rafael, c/n 01, F-PJHB, is in at Musée Régional de l’Air, Angers Loire Aéroport, Marcé, Pays de la Loire, France, painted as Mlle Boucher’s blue and red racer with her registration markings, F-AMVB.

Tombe de l’aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)
Tombe de l’aviatrice Hélène Boucher. (Bibliothèque de France)

¹ FAI Record File Number 12005

²  FAI Record File Numbers 4496, 12111

³ FAI Record File Numbers 4483, 12110, 12112

⁴ FAI Record File Numbers 4494, 12032, 12033

⁵ FAI Record File Number 14860

⁶ FAI Record File Number 12034

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–18 November 1932

Amy Johnson Mollison with her de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, Desert Cloud, London, 14 November 1932. (Unattributed)
Amy Johnson Mollison with her de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Cloud, Lympne Aerodrome, London, 14 November 1932. (Unattributed)

14–18 November 1932: Amy Johnson, CBE, (Mrs. James A Mollison) flew her new de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, c/n 2247, registration G-ACAB, from Lympne Aerodrome, London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, a distance of approximately 6,300 miles (10,140 kilometers) in a total elapsed time of 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes. This broke the previous record which had been set by her husband, Jim Mollison, by 10 hours, 28 minutes.

A contemporary news article described the event:

FLIGHT, November 24, 1932

MRS. MOLLISON’S FINE FLIGHT

Beats her Husband’s Cape Record by 10½ Hours

THERE are few, we think, who will not admit that Mrs. J.A. Mollison (Miss Amy Johnson) has accomplished a really remarkable feat in her latest flight—from England to Cape Town in 4 days 6 hr. 54 min., thus beating her husband’s previous record for the same journey of 4 days 17 hr. 22 min. by 10 hr. 28 min.

Not only is the flight a magnificent achievement as far as the time taken is concerned, but as a feat of endurance, pluck, good piloting and navigation, it must be placed foremost in the list of great flights.

Throughout the flight Mrs. Mollison had had only 5 hours’ sleep!

As reported in last week’s issue of FLIGHT, Mrs. Mollison set out from Lympne, in her D.H. “Puss Moth” (“Gipsy Major”), Desert Cloud, at 6.37 a.m. on November 14, and at 7.30 p.m. arrived at Oran, on the North African coast, 1,100 miles distant. She made an hour’s stop to refuel en route at Barcelona, and after a halt of 4 hours at Oran she started off on a night flight across the Sahara Desert towards Gao and Niamey.

At this stage some anxiety was felt owing to the absence of news concerning her progress for over 24 hours. Then came the news that she had landed safely at Gao (some 1,300 miles from Oran) at noon, November 15—having thus successfully accomplished a most difficult flight across the desert, without landmarks, at night. After a short stop for refuelling Mrs. Mollison left for Duala, but after flying for about an hour she noticed that her tanks were almost empty. She at once returned to Gao and found that they had put in only 10 galls. instead of 42 galls.!

After this irritating delay she proceeded once more, arriving safely at Duala in the evening, and continuing, after a short halt, towards Loanda. On this stage, during the night, the oil circulation caused her some trouble, and so she landed the next morning at Benguela (Port. W. Africa) to set matters aright.

Fortunately, the trouble was not serious—probably a portion of the Sahara in the filters—and she was able to proceed after a delay of some 9 hours. A halt to refuel was made at Mossamedes in the evening of November 17 and then came another night flight on the final stage of her journey.

Meanwhile, news of her start on the last hop reached Capetown, and from midnight November 17–18, huge crowds made their way to the Municipal aerodrome—although Mrs. Mollison could not possibly arrive much before midday. There were, therefore, several thousand people on the aerodrome by the time she arrived.

Mrs. Mollison appeared somewhat unexpectedly, from inland, shortly after 3 p.m., and it was not until the machine was about to land that the crowd realised that it was the Desert Cloud. She landed at 3.31 p.m. (1.31 p.m. G.M.T), and immediately the cheering crown broke down the barriers and surrounded the machine. It was some time before she could get out of her machine, but eventually she was got into a car, and before driving away she waved to the crowd and said: “Thank you very much for your great welcome. I said I would come back, and I have done so. It is really too kind of you to give me such a welcome.”

Safely inside the aerodrome building, Mrs. Mollison spoke over the telephone to Mr. Mollison, after which she was taken to some friends, where she could obtain some well-earned sleep.

1st day     Lympne–Oran (1,100)

2nd  ”        Oran–Gao (1,400)

3rd   ”        Gao–Duala (1,150)

4th   ”        Duala–Mossamedes (1,350)

5th   ”        Mossamedes–Cape (1,300)

(Concluded on page 1141)

JOHNSON, Amy, CBE, with her de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Wind, at Lympne Aerodrome, 14 November 1932

 MRS. MOLLISON’S FINE FLIGHT

(Concluded from page 1133)

Needless to say, Mrs. Mollison has received numerous messages of congratulation, amongst which were the following: —From H.M. the King: “Please convey to Mrs. Mollison hearty congratulations on her splendid achievment. I trust that she is not too exhausted. —George, R.I.”

From Lord Londonderry, Secretary of State for Air: “On behalf of the Air Council I congratulate you most warmly on the successful completion of your magnificent flight.”

Messages were also sent by the Royal Aero Club and Royal Aeronautical Society, Lord Wakefield, etc.

Mr. A.E. Whitelaw, the Australian philanthropist—who gave Mr. Mollison £1,000 in recognition of his Australia flight—is presenting a cheque for £1,000 to Mrs. Mollison in recognition of her achievement.

— FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and AirshipsNo. 1248 (Vol. XXIV, No. 48.), 24 November 1932 at Pages 1133 and 1141.

The de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., DH.80A Puss Moth was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with an enclosed cabin for a pilot and two passengers. It was constructed of a tubular steel frame covered with doped fabric. The airplane was 25 feet (7.620 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 9 inches (11.201 meters) and height of 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters). The Puss Moth had an empty weight of 1,265 pounds (574 kilograms) and gross weight of 2.050 pounds (930 kilograms).

G-ACAB was powered by a 373.71-cubic-inch-displacement (6,124 cubic centimeters) air-cooled de Havilland Gipsy Major I inverted, inline 4-cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It produced 120 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m and 130 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. The engine weighed 306 pounds (138.8 kilograms).

The DH.80A had a cruise speed of 95 miles per hour (153 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 108 miles per hour (174 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). The standard DH.80A had a range of 430 miles (692 kilometers), but The Desert Cloud had additional tanks which increased its range to over 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

De Havilland built 284 DH.80A Puss Moths between 1929 and 1933. Only eight are known to exist. G-ACAB, then owned by Utility Airways, Ltd., was destroyed in a hangar fire at Hooton Park, Cheshire, 8 July 1940.

Amy Johnson flew this de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Cloud, from England to South Africa, 14–18 November 1932. She made teh return flight the following month. (Arch. B. Bambeau via Fan d' Avions)
Amy Johnson flew this de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Cloud, from England to South Africa, 14–18 November 1932. She made the return flight the following month. (Arch. B. Bambeau via Fan d’ Avions)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–18 November 1932

Amy Johnson Mollison with her de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, Desert Cloud, London, 14 November 1932. (Unattributed)
Amy Johnson Mollison with her de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Cloud, London, 14 November 1932. (Unattributed)

14 November 1932: At 6:37 a.m., GMT, Mrs. James A. Mollison, better known to the world as Miss Amy Johnson, C.B.E., departed Lympne Aerodrome, London, England, for Cape Town, South Africa. She was flying her brand new de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, c/n 2247, registered G-ACAB, which she had named The Desert Cloud.

Contemporary news articles reported the event:

FLIGHT, November 24, 1932

MRS. MOLLISON’S FINE FLIGHT

Beats her Husband’s Cape Record by 10½ Hours

THERE are few, we think, who will not admit that Mrs. J.A. Mollison (Miss Amy Johnson) has accomplished a really remarkable feat in her latest flight—from England to Cape Town in 4 days 6 hr. 54 min., thus beating her husband’s previous record for the same journey of 4 days 17 hr. 22 min. by 10 hr. 28 min.

Not only is the flight a magnificent achievement as far as the time taken is concerned, but as a feat of endurance, pluck, good piloting and navigation, it must be placed foremost in the list of great flights.

Throughout the flight Mrs. Mollison had had only 5 hours’ sleep!

As reported in last week’s issue of FLIGHT, Mrs. Mollison set out from Lympne, in her D.H. “Puss Moth” (“Gipsy Major”), Desert Cloud, at 6.37 a.m. on November 14, and at 7.30 p.m. arrived at Oran, on the North African coast, 1,100 miles distant. She made an hour’s stop to refuel en route at Barcelona, and after a halt of 4 hours at Oran she started off on a night flight across the Sahara Desert towards Gao and Niamey.

At this stage some anxiety was felt owing to the absence of news concerning her progress for over 24 hours. Then came the news that she had landed safely at Gao (some 1,300 miles from Oran) at noon, November 15—having thus successfully accomplished a most difficult flight across the desert, without landmarks, at night. After a short stop for refuelling Mrs. Mollison left for Duala, but after flying for about an hour she noticed that her tanks were almost empty. She at once returned to Gao and found that they had put in only 10 galls. instead of 42 galls.!

After this irritating delay she proceeded once more, arriving safely at Duala in the evening, and continuing, after a short halt, towards Loanda. On this stage, during the night, the oil circulation caused her some trouble, and so she landed the next morning at Benguela (Port. W. Africa) to set matters aright.

Fortunately, the trouble was not serious—probably a portion of the Sahara in the filters—and she was able to proceed after a delay of some 9 hours. A halt to refuel was made at Mossamedes in the evening of November 17 and then came another night flight on the final stage of her journey.

After this irritating delay she proceeded once more, arriving safely at Duala in the evening, and continuing, after a short halt, towards Loanda. On this stage, during the night, the oil circulation caused her some trouble, and so she landed the next morning at Benguela (Port. W. Africa) to set matters aright.

Fortunately, the trouble was not serious—probably a portion of the Sahara in the filters—and she was able to proceed after a delay of some 9 hours. A halt to refuel was made at Mossamedes in the evening of November 17 and then came another night flight on the final stage of her journey.

Meanwhile, news of her start on the last hop reached Capetown, and from midnight November 17–18, huge crowds made their way to the Municipal aerodrome—although Mrs. Mollison could not possibly arrive much before midday. There were, therefore, several thousand people on the aerodrome by the time she arrived.

Mrs. Mollison appeared somewhat unexpectedly, from inland, shortly after 3 p.m., and it was not until the machine was about to land that the crowd realised that it was the Desert Cloud. She landed at 3.31 p.m. (1.31 p.m. G.M.T), and immediately the cheering crown broke down the barriers and surrounded the machine. It was some time before she could get out of her machine, but eventually she was got into a car, and before driving away she waved to the crowd and said: “Thank you very much for your great welcome. I said I would come back, and I have done so. It is really too kind of you to give me such a welcome.”

Safely inside the aerodrome building, Mrs. Mollison spoke over the telephone to Mr. Mollison, after which she was taken to some friends, where she could obtain some well-earned sleep.

1st day     Lympne–Oran (1,100)

2nd  ”        Oran–Gao (1,400)

3rd   ”        Gao–Duala (1,150)

4th   ”        Duala–Mossamedes (1,350)

5th   ”        Mossamedes–Cape (1,300)

(Concluded on page 1141)

JOHNSON, Amy, CBE, with her de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Wind, at Lympne Aerodrome, 14 November 1932MRS. MOLLISON’S FINE FLIGHT

(Concluded from page 1133)

Needless to say, Mrs. Mollison has received numerous messages of congratulation, amongst which were the following: —From H.M. the King: “Please convey to Mrs. Mollison hearty congratulations on her splendid achievment. I trust that she is not too exhausted. —George, R.I.”

From Lord Londonderry, Secretary of State for Air: “On behalf of the Air Council I congratulate you most warmly on the successful completion of your magnificent flight.”

Messages were also sent by the Royal Aero Club and Royal Aeronautical Society, Lord Wakefield, etc.

Mr. A.E. Whitelaw, the Australian philanthropist—who gave Mr. Mollison £1,000 in recognition of his Australia flight—is presenting a cheque for £1,000 to Mrs. Mollison in recognition of her achievement.

— FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and AirshipsNo. 1248 (Vol. XXIV, No. 48.), 24 November 1932 at Pages 1133 and 1141.

The de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., DH.80A Puss Moth was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with an enclosed cabin for a pilot and two passengers. It was constructed of a tubular steel frame covered with doped fabric. The airplane was 25 feet (7.620 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 9 inches (11.201 meters) and height of 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters). The Puss Moth had an empty weight of 1,265 pounds (574 kilograms) and gross weight of 2.050 pounds (930 kilograms).

G-ACAB was powered by a, air-cooled, normally-aspirated 373.71-cubic-inch-displacement (6,124 cubic centimeters) de Havilland Gipsy Major I, an inverted, inline 4-cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It produced 120 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m and 130 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. The engine weighed 306 pounds (138.8 kilograms).

The DH.80A had a cruise speed of 95 miles per hour (153 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 108 miles per hour (174 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). The standard DH.80A had a range of 430 miles (692 kilometers), but The Desert Cloud had additional tanks which increased its range to over 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).

De Havilland built 284 DH.80A Puss Moths between 1929 and 1933. Only eight are known to exist. G-ACAB, then owned by Utility Airways, Ltd., was destroyed in a hangar fire at Hooton Park, Cheshire, 8 July 1940.

Amy Johnson flew this de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Cloud, from England to South Africa, 14–18 November 1932. She made the return flight the following month. (Arch. B. Bambeau via Fan d' Avions)
Amy Johnson flew this de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, G-ACAB, The Desert Cloud, from England to South Africa, 14–18 November 1932. She made the return flight the following month. (Arch. B. Bambeau via Fan d’ Avions)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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