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Bader's Spitfire - St Omer, France

A team led by Andy Saunders excavated a number of Spitfire sites in France during the preparation of a TV documentary.

TV production company Wildfire, in association with the UK broadcaster Channel 4, spent four days filming the work of the team at work near St Omer.

Controversy has raged for many years over the background to the events of 9 August 1941 when the famous leg-less 'Ace' Douglas Bader was shot down. It was hoped that the excavation of his aircraft near the village of Blaringhem, south of St Omer in France would help resolve the matter once and for all. Bader baled out of Spitfire W3185 "LORD LLOYD I" which was donated to the RAF by Mr Oswald Finney, after the 'tail had been shot off' and he landed by parachute to the south of the village. A 1945 French newspaper reported that 'The aircraft of the famous legless pilot fell at Mont Du Pil Farm', where the recent seach was based. Andy Saunders has proposed that Bader, the Tangmere Wing Leader, was a victim of 'friendly fire' and was brought down by Lionel H 'Buck' Casson 'B' Flight Commander of Tangmere Wing, who was also shot down in the combat near St Omer and taken prisoner. Casson died 2003.

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Cameras record a major excavation at one of the Spitfire sites close to the main road at Blaringhem. It was thought that road widening and a drainage ditch may have destroyed the site.

 

An excavation took place to identify the wreck. Although little was found, one fragment from the gun-switching mechanism from the control column was enough for Spitfire expert Peter Arnold to declare that this machine was armed with 20mm cannon - and therefore not Bader's 303 machine-gun armed W3185.
Subsequent reseach showed this to be Spitfire BM303 flown by Sergeant J E Misseldine of 611 Squadron who was shot down on 8 June 1942.

The scene at Mont Du Pil Farm, where much of the filming took place.

 


Massed detectors searching the 'cone of probability' predicted by the Bernie Forward, the air crash investigator, to be the likely area of the crash.

 

Andy Saunders, Simon Parry and Izzi the interpreter discuss the search strategy at Mont Du Pil Farm, with the farm dog taking a great interest.

 

The excavation of the second Spitfire site. The dig took place in heavy rain - the tent is only to protect the camera equipment!

The wreckage revealed just north of Mont Du Pil. Paul Cole points out the RAF roundel clearly still on the side of the fuselage. This wreck has no tail section, as with Bader, but is it Bader's Spitfire W3185? Or MA764 that went missing somewhere over France on 25 November 1943, when being flown by Flight Sergeant Donald Bostock of 122 Squadron?


Too good an opportuntity to miss - after four hard days' hard work Peter Dimond tries the flying helmet and seat harness for size.


The flying helmet and goggles found in the wreckage of the cockpit, with the pilot's initials 'DB' painted in white and still plainly visible. Did 'DB' stand for Douglas Bader? or perhaps Donald Bostock?

The wreckage was brought to England where it was cleaned and
re-assembled on a framework as part of the Channel 4 documentary
shown in August 2006.

 

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