Tag Archives: Chevalier de la légion d’honneur

19 May 1918

Sous-lieutenant Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, Aéronautique Militaire, circa 1917.  Lufbery is wearing the pilot’s badge of the Aéronautique Militaire on his tunic. He also is wearing the Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, Médaille Militaire, and Croix de Guere with one silver and three bronze palms. The airplane is a Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 of Escadrille SPA 124, “La Fayette.” (Captain Robert Soubiran/Library of Congress LC-USZ62-101970)

19 May 1918: Major Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, a leading Allied fighter pilot of World War I, was killed in action at Maron, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.

Flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, he engaged by a Rumpler two-place observation plane of Reihenbildzug Nr. 3, a photographic reconniassance unit, flown by Gefreiter Kirschbaum and Leutnant Schieibe. Lufbery’s fighter was hit by gunfire from the Rumpler. The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte airplane was later shot down and its crew captured.

Lufbery’s Nieuport rolled inverted, and he fell from the airplane. He was killed on impact.

Raoul Lufbery is considered to have been the first American “ace,” although all sixteen of his officially-credited aerial victories took place while in the service of France.

Major Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, with a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, 1918.

Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery was a dual American and French citizen, born 14 March 1885 at Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme, France. He was the fourth child of Edward Lufbery, an American chemist, and Anne Joséphine Vessière Lufbery. Mme Lufbery died when he was about one year old. His father left Gervais in the care of his maternal grandmother, Madeline Vessière Greniere, and returned to the United States. Gervais grew up in France.

In 1907, at the age of 22, Lufbery traveled to America to visit family members in Connecticut. After traveling around the country and working in various occupations, Lufbery enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned from the recruit depot Fort McDowell, Angel Island, San Francisco, to Company F, 20th Infantry Regiment, at the newly establish Fort Shafter, Territory of Hawaii, 13 December 1908. From 1 April 1909, Lufbery was stationed with Co. M, at the Presidio of Monterey in California. In 1910, he was sent to the Quartel de Espana, Manila, Philippine Islands.

After completing his term of service with the United States Army, in 1914 Lufbery enlisted in the Légion Étrangère (the French Foreign Legion). He was initially assigned as an aircraft mechanic, but was soon trained as a pilot. In 1916, Sergent Lufbery was assigned to a newly-formed unit, N-124,¹ Escadrille Lafayette of the Aéronautique Militaire (the French Air Service) which was made up primarily of volunteers from America. (The United States did not enter the War until 6 April 1917.)

Lufbery shot down his first enemy airplane 30 July 1916, and his fifth, 12 October 1916.

Sergent Lufbery was awarded the Médaille Militaire 11 September 1916. He was promoted to Adjutant, a non-commissioned officer rank. Adjutant Lufbery was awarded his first Croix de Guerre avec palme 26 September 1916, and his second, 28 October 1916. He was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur 10 March 1917. Lufbery was promoted to the commissioned rank of Sous lieutenant des Troupes Aeronautiques. Additional awards of the Croix de Guerre followed on 15 May, 15 June, 13 October, 29 October, 9 November 1917, and 11 January 1918.

Between 30 July 1916 and 2 December 1917, while serving with the Aéronautique Militaire, Lufbery shot down sixteen enemy airplanes (officially credited).

Sous-lieutenant Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, Aéronautique Militaire.

Sous lieutenant Lufbery was transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, and was commissioned a major in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps, United States Army.

Following his death, Major Lufbery was awarded the Purple Heart, and Britain’s Military Medal. His remains are interred at the Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches, Paris, France.

Nieuport 28 C.1 serial number 6215.

The Nieuport 28 C.1 ² was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane fighter built by Société Anonyme des Éstablissements Nieuport for the French military. It was rejected, however, in favor of the SPAD S.XIII C.1. The new United States’ Air Service was in great need of fighters. There were none available of American manufacture, and because the new SPAD was in great demand, 297 Nieuport 28s were acquired by the American Expeditionary Force and assigned to the 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons.

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was 6.30 meters (20 feet, 8 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 8.160 meters (26 feet, 9¼ inches), lower wingspan of 7.79 meters ( 25 feet, 6-2/3 inches)  and height of 2.30 meters (7 feet, 6½ inches). The upper wing had a chord of 1.30 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches), and the lower, which was staggered behind the upper, had a chord of 1.00 meters (3 feet, 3.4). The upper wing had very slight dihedral, while the lower wing had none. Its empty weight was 399 kilograms (880 pounds) and loaded weight was 626 kilograms (1,380 pounds).

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 15.892 liter (969.786-cubic-inch-displacement) Gnome Monosoupape 9 Type N nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.45:1. The Monosoupape had a single overhead exhaust valve actuated by a pushrod and rocker arm. As the pistons reached the bottom of their exhaust strokes, a series of intake ports near the bottom of the cylinder were uncovered. The intake charge was drawn from the engine crankcase. The Type N produced 160 horsepower at 1,300 r.p.m. and turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.4 inches). The engine weighed 330 pounds (150 kilograms).

The Nieuport 28 had a top speed of 198 kilometers per hour (123 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) and 1,380 r.p.m., a range of 290 kilometers (180 miles) and a service ceiling of 5,300 meters (17,388 feet). Duration at full power was 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Two .303-caliber Vickers machine guns were mounted on the cowling, firing forward through the propeller arc.

Nieuport 28 C.1, serial number 6215.

¹ The “N” indicates that Escadrille 124 was equipped with Nieuport fighters. When the squadron transitioned to SPADs, the designation changed to SPA 124.

² “C.1” was the French designation for a single-place chasseur, their World War I term for what we now consider to be a fighter.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 April 1918

1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, Air Service, United States Army. (Campbell Studios, New York)

23 April 1918: at 09:55 a.m., near Saint-Gobain, France, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, 103rd Aero Squadron (Pursuit), shot down an enemy Albatross C two-place biplane. This was Baer’s fifth victory in aerial combat, making him the first American “ace.” ¹ [Official credit for this shoot-down is shared with Lt. C. H. Wilcox.]

Albatros C.VII C.2197/16 (Wikipedia)

Paul Frank Baer was born 29 January 1894 at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fourth of four children of Alvin E. Baer, a railroad engineer, and Emma B. Parent Baer.

In 1916, Baer served under Brigadier John J. General Pershing during the Mexican Expedition to capture the outlaw and revolutionary Francisco (“Pancho”) Villa. He then went to France and enlisted the Aéronautique Militaire, in 20 February 1917. He was sent for flight training at the Avord Groupemant des Divisions d’Entrainment (G.D.E.). He graduated as a pilot, 15 June 1917, with the rank of corporal.

After flight training, Corporal Baer was assigned to Escadrille SPA 80, under the command of Capitaine Paul Ferrand, 14 August 1917 to 20 January 1918, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 and SPAD S.XIII C.1. Baer was next transferred to Escadrille N. 124, the Escadrille Américaine, under Georges Thénault. This unit was equipped with the Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C1.

Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29C.1, s/n 12002, right front quarter view.

After the United States entered the War, Baer was transferred to the 103rd Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant with a date of rank retroactive to 5 November 1917. At that time, the 103rd was under the command of Major William Thaw II, and was operating near La Cheppe, France, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 chasseur.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 S7714 of the 103rd Aero Squadron, France, 1918. The pilot is Captain Robert Soubiran, the squadron’s commanding officer. (U.S. Air Force)

Lieutenant Baer is officially credited by the United States Air Force with 7.75 enemy airplanes shot down between 11 March and 22 May 1918, ² and he claimed an additional 7. (Credit for two airplanes was shared with four other pilots.) After shooting down his eighth enemy airplane on 22 May 1918, Baer and his SPAD S.XIII C.1 were also shot down. He was seriously injured and was captured by the enemy near Armentières and held as a Prisoner of War. At one point, Baer was able to escape for several days before being recaptured.

For his service in World War I, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer was awarded the United States’ Distinguished Service Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award). He was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by Raymond Poincaré, the President of France. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

After World War I, Baer, as a “soldier of fortune,” organized a group of pilots to fight against “the Bolsheviks” in Poland. He returned to the United States, departing Boulogne-sur-mer aboard T.S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, and arriving at New York City, 4 November 1919. He then flew as a test pilot, an air mail pilot in South America, and worked as an aeronautical inspector for the U.S. Department of Commerce, based at Brownsville Airport, Texas. In 1930, he was employed as a pilot for the China National Aviation Corporation.

Baer was flying from Nanking to Shanghai for with an amphibious Loening Air Yacht biplane, named Shanghai. The airplane crashed after striking the mast of a boat on the Huanpu River. He died at the Red Cross Hospital at Shanghai, China, at 9:00 a.m., 9 December 1930. A Chinese pilot, K. F. Pan, and an unidentified female passenger were also killed. General Hsiung Shih-hui and four other passengers on board were seriously injured.

Paul Baer’s remains were returned to the United States aboard S.S. President McKinley and were buried at the Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

In 1925 a new airport was opened in Fort Wayne and named Paul Baer Municipal Airport. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the military and designated Baer Army Airfield. It is now Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA).

A CNAC Loening Air Yacht amphipian at Lungwha, China, circa 1930. (SFO Aviation Museum & Library R2014.1811.001)
Lufbery

¹ TDiA would like to thank CMSgt Bob Laymon USAF (Ret.) (AKA, “Scatback Scribe”) for pointing out that while Lt. Baer was the first American to become an ace flying in the American service, that,

“The first American Ace was actually Gervais Raoul V. Lufbery, an American immigrant that was serving with the French Air Service when he shot down his 5th German plane in 1916: http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=903

² U.S. AIR SERVICE VICTORY CREDITS, WORLD WAR I, USAF Historical Study No. 133, Historical Reserch Division, Air University, Maxwell Ir Force Base, Alabama, June 1969, at Page 7

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 April 1917

SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris (U.S. Air Force)
SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris, October 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Sous-Lieutenant Rene P.M. Dorme, Escadrille No. 3
Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme, Escadrille No. 3, Aéronautique Militaire.

4 April 1917: Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme of the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service) made the first flight of the famous World War I fighter, the SPAD S.XIII C.1.

Lieutenant Dorme was an ace with 18 confirmed victories. In the next seven weeks, he shot down another five enemy aircraft.

Designed by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés Technical Director Louis Béchéreau and manufactured by SPAD as well as eight other companies, this was an improved and slightly larger version of the earlier SPAD S.VII C.1. It used a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 8Ba engine instead of the S.VII’s 8Aa, with an increase of 50 horsepower. (Later versions used  8Be engines.) Armament was increased from a single .303-caliber Vickers machine guns to two.

The SPAD was faster than other airplanes of the time and it had a good rate of climb. Though a product of France, it was used by both the Royal Flying Corps and the U.S. Army Air Service. In France, the airplane type now considered a “fighter” was called a chasseur (“hunter”). The letter “C-” in the SPAD’s designation reflects this. The “-.1” at the ending indicates a single-place aircraft.

SPAD S.XIII at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
SPAD S.XIII at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

The SPAD S.XIII C.1 was a single-seat, single-engine, two-bay biplane constructed of a wooden framework with a doped fabric covering. Sheet metal covered the engine and cockpit.

The S.XIII was 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters) long.¹ The upper and lower wings had equal span and chord. The span was 26 feet, 3¾ inches (8.020 meters) and chord, 4 feet, 7-1/8 inches (1.400 meters). The vertical spacing between the wings was 3 feet, 10½ inches (1.181 meters), and the lower wing was staggered 1¼° behind the upper. Interplane struts and wire bracing was used to reinforce the wings. The wings had no sweep or dihedral. The angle of incidence of the upper wing was 1½° and of the lower, 1°. Only the upper wing was equipped with ailerons. Their span was 7 feet, 3½ inches (2.222 meters), and their chord, 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters). The total wing area was 227 square feet (21.089 square meters).

The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters) with a maximum chord of 1 foot, 8¾ inches (0.527 meters). The height of the vertical fin was 2 feet, 7/8-inch (0.876 meters) and it had a maximum length of 3 feet, 11¼ inches (1.200 meters). The rudder was 3 feet, 10-5/8 inches high (1.184 meters) with a maximum chord of 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The SPAD S.XIII C.1 had fixed landing gear with two pneumatic tires. Rubber cords (bungie cords) were used for shock absorption. The wheel track was 4 feet, 10¾ inches (1.492 meters). At the tail was a fixed skid.

The airplane had an empty weight of 1,464 pounds (664 kilograms), and gross weight 2,036 pounds (924 kilograms).

Initial production SPAD XIIIs were powered by a water-cooled 11.762 liter (717.769-cubic-inch displacement), La Société Hispano-Suiza 8Ba single overhead cam (SOHC) left-hand-tractor 90° V-8 engine. It was equipped with two Zenith down-draft carburetors and had a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The 8Ba was rated at 150 cheval vapeur (148 horsepower) at 1,700 r.p.m., and 200 cheval vapeur (197 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.43 inches) through a 0.585:1 gear reduction. (The 8Be engine had a 0.75:1 reduction gear ratio and used both 2.50 meter and 2.55 meter (8 feet, 4.40 inches) propellers.) The Hispano-Suiza 8Ba was 1.36 meters (4 feet, 5.5 inches) long, 0.86 meters (2 feet, 9.9 inches) wide and 0.90 meters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) high. It weighed 236 kilograms (520 pounds).

SPAD S.XIII C.I, right profile. (Unattributed)
The SPAD S.XIII C.1 was developed from the earlier SPAD S.VII C.1. This is Capitaine Georges Guynemer’s SPAD S.VII C.1, N° S 254, “Vieux Charles,” at the Musée de l’Armee. The flowers on the landing gear are a tribute the the fighter ace following his death, 11September 1917. Today, this airplane is in the collection of the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Le Bourget Airport.

The airplane had a main fuel tank behind the engine, with a gravity tank located in the upper wing. The total fuel capacity was 183 pounds (83 kilograms), sufficient for 2 hours, 30 minutes endurance at full throttle at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), including climb. There was also a 4.5 gallon (17 liters) lubricating oil tank.

The SPAD S.XIII had a maximum speed of 135 miles per hour (218 kilometers per hour) at 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) and a service ceiling of 21,815 feet (6,650 meters).

The chasseur was armed with two fixed, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine guns with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the guns’ water jackets were not filled, thereby saving considerable weight.

The SPAD S.XIII was produced by nine manufacturers. 8,472 were built. Only four are still in existence.

Instrument panel of SPAD S.XIII C.1 16439 at NMUSAF. (U.S. Air Force)
Instrument panel of a SPAD S.XIII C.1 at NMUSAF. (U.S. Air Force)

The airplane in the photograph above is SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 16594. It was built in October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, an automobile manufacturer in Paris, France. It did not see combat, but was shipped to the United States at the end of the War and was stationed at San Diego, California. The airplane was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is painted in the markings of the airplane flown by Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, commanding officer of the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces. It is on display at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Arthur Raymond Brooks, U.S. Army signal Corps
Captain Arthur Raymond Brooks, U.S. Army Signal Corps

The airplane in the photograph below is another SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 7689, also built by Kellner et ses Fils, in August 1918. It was sent to the 22nd Aero Squadron at Colombey-les-Belles and assigned to Lieutenant Arthur Raymond Brooks. Brooks’ fiancée attended Smith College and he named the SPAD Smith IV in her honor. With this airplane, Lieutenant Brooks shot down six enemy airplanes. Other pilots also flew it to shoot down another five.

After the War came to an end, 7689 was shipped to the United States and used in a Liberty Bond fund-raising tour. In December 1919, the United States Army gave the fighter to the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored at the Paul E. Garber Center, 1984–1986, and remains in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 7689, Smith IV, after restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 7689, Smith IV, after restoration at the Paul E. Garber Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

René Dorme fought 120 aerial engagements, many while flying a SPAD S.VII C.1. He is officially credited with 22 victories, and may have shot down as many as 59 enemy aircraft. His personal airplane was marked with a green Cross of Lorraine. He was a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and had been awarded the Médalle Militaire and the Croix de Guerre with 17 Palms. Dorme was killed in action 25 May 1917 when his SPAD VII was shot down by Oberleutnant Heinrich Kroll of Jasta 9 at Fort de la Pompelle near Reims.

Sous-lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme, Aéronautique Militaire, Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

¹ Dimensions, weights, capacities and performance data cited above refer to SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 17956 (A.S. 94101), which was tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio (Project Number P-154), 1921.

© 2017 Bryan R. Swopes

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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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