Friday, March 24, 2017
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Article written by Andy Saunders entitled ‘Who downed Douglas Bader’.  

Douglas Bader (DB) was downed on the 9th August 1941 whilst over France leading the Tangmere Wing (at that time comprising Spitfire Squadrons 41, 610 and 616).  DB flew with 616 in W3185.  610 and 616 (41 had fallen some 20 km behind) came across some Me 109s (F type).  DB’s section of Spitfires found enemy fighters above them and below them.  DB’s section went after the Me 109s that were below them and the sky became full of turning and diving machines.  DB found himself on his own.  Something hit W3185 – the whole of the Spitfire behind the cockpit was missing.  He bailed out and for the rest of the war was a POW.  It was believed that W1385 collided with a Me 109.

The German fighters opposing the Tangmere Wing that day were from Jagdgeshwader 26, who operated from Audembert (Pas de Calais area) and were led by Adolf Galland.  Shortly after DB was downed Galland invited DB to tour Amdembert.  During the tour DB asked who had shot him down.  Galland spent a lot of time trying to determine who downed DB and came to the conclusion that he had been shot down but was unable to say by whom.  Galland tried to fit one of the ‘kills’ recorded by the German pilots with the downing of W1385 – there would have been huge publicity for the pilot involved – but was unable to do so.  

Only two Me 109s (Werke-Nr 8350 flown by Albert Schlager and a 109F-4 flown by Heinz Luchhardt) fell from the skies above the Pas de Calais area that day.  Luchhardt’s machine was shot down – the pilot survived and reported that he had been shot down some 30 km from where W1385 was brought down.   Albert Schlager was killed when his parachute failed to open. In June 2004 excavations were made to unearth Werke-Nr 8350 - maker’s plate stamped with the number 8350 was found as was the tail wheel, a piece from the fin, part of the elevator linkage and piece of the steel airframe bearing a .303 bullet strike.  This evidence indicates that Albert Schlager’s machine was shot down with the tail intact.

Loinel ‘Buck’ Casson was another 616 Squadron pilot downed at the same time and in the same area as DB. Casson was shot down by Gerhard Schopfel.  The Me 109 pilot forced Casson’s damaged Spitfire to land in a field.  Casson became a POW and after the war claimed he had shot down a Me109 on the 9th August 1941.  Casson wrote to DB (letter dated 28th May 1945) in reply to a letter DB wrote to Casson that was full of questions relating to events of the 9th August 1941.  The following is a short extract from the letter Casson wrote to DB; ‘When we dived to attack those Me109s that were climbing up in formation I was to starboard and behind you with three other aircraft of B Flight … I watched you attack those Me 109s that were climbing up in formation.  I was well throttled back in the dive as the other three started to fall behind and I wanted to keep the flight together.  I attacked from the rear and after having a squirt at two 109s flying together I left them for a single one flying alone.  I finished nearly all my cannon ammo up on this boy who finally baled out at 6000 ft having lost most of his tail unit … ’      

The Me 109F had elliptical wingtips and no tail bracing struts – from the rear it could look similar to a Spitfire.  The attack Casson made was initially at 24000 ft with the pilot bailing out at 6000 ft – DB was hit at approximately 24000 ft and struggled for sometime to get out of the cockpit.   Wreckage from Werke-Nr 8350 indicates the tail was in place when it hit the ground - Heinz Luchhardt reported that he had been shot down in a manner quite different to what had befallen Casson’s victim.  Andy Saunders concludes that Casson downed Douglas Bader.