At a time when Britain and her Commonwealth were enduring their ‘Darkest Hour’, the nation were in need of inspirational heroes and perhaps nobody answered this call more famously than Douglas Bader. Losing both his legs as a result of a pre-war flying accident, Bader’s determination to re-join the RAF saw him playing a significant role in leading Fighter Command’s defiant resistance against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain and later taking part in fighter sweeps over Northern France, as the RAF went on the offensive. It was during one of these operations on 9th August 1941 that Bader’s Spitfire collided with another aircraft, severing the tail and sending him spinning towards the ground. Although managing to exit the aircraft and parachute to safety, one of his prosthetic legs had remained stuck in the cockpit and crashed to earth with the stricken Spitfire. Clearly a huge propaganda coup for the Germans, they contacted the RAF with news of Bader’s capture and to offer safe passage to an aircraft bringing a replacement leg for their illustrious guest. Not wanting to allow the Germans an even greater propaganda victory, the RAF planned to parachute drop a new leg, not by accepting the safe passage option, but as part of a full ‘Circus’ bombing raid. On 19th August 1941, six Blenheim Mk.IVs supported by a large force of Spitfires launched an attack against the power station at Gosnay, with Blenheim R3843 also carrying a rather unusual payload, Douglas Bader’s new leg. The wooden box containing the prosthetic limb was unceremoniously bundled out of the Blenheim over the target area, before all six bombers turned for home, their bombs unreleased, due to heavy cloud cover over the target area and the fear of inaccurate bombing causing civilian casualties. The protecting Spitfires did not fare so well, with eight aircraft lost during the operation.
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