Many are unaware that Douglas Bader flew his last sortie from RAF Westhampnett on 9 August, 1941. Having joined the RAF in 1930 at the age of just 20, he tragically crashed his Bristol Bulldog fighter just a year later which lead to the eventual amputation of both of his legs in 1933. He was discharged from the RAF, but was determined to keep flying.
He learnt to walk again using prosthetic legs and in 1935 was allowed back into the RAF. His first solo flight back in action was over the Dunkirk evacuation in which he successfully shot down a Messerschmitt 109.
Bader arrived at RAF Westhampnett on 18 March 1941 to take command of three Spitfire squadrons of Tangmere wing including 610, 616 and 145 Squadrons. He famously selected Smith to be his wingman, along with Johnnie Johnson and Cocky Dundas. He flew with 616 Squadron from then on leading the formation with his personal Spitfire marked ‘DB’, in the ‘finger four’ formation he adapted from the Luftwaffe tactics .
On the day that Bader was lost, Sir Alan Smith was not flying with the formation as he was under the weather. Bader led the wing, with Sgt Geoff West as his wingman in place of Smith, but from the outset it went badly.
Bader had lost one of his false legs when he was shot down, and the Germans offered free passage to an RAF aircraft to drop a replacement near St.Omer, where he was being held. The RAF refused, and a few days later mounted a bombing operation during which a new false leg was dropped by parachute.
Bader was released after the war and won a DSO and bar (Distinguished Service Order) and DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar.