Monday, 15 December 2014

Douglas Bader tries to get his squadron equipped

Warrant Officer Bernard West had been engineering officer of 242 and Douglas decided to keep him. He sensed that Mr West, as he always called him, would be the linchpin and indispensable prop on which to build. West on the other hand knew that the relationship with his squadron commander must be based on total understanding and regard. In the same way that to Douglas his metal legs were something of an irrelevance, to Mr West the important things about Douglas were his attitude and his service credentials.
Bernard West was fiercely loyal to his squadron and he knew that somebody was going to have to sort it out and establish morale. He realised that Douglas would be an exacting and uncompromising commander, but was prepared to support him 250%. Something that Mr West realised from the start was that there would be big trouble if he didn't get 242's aircraft strength and serviceability on the top line,
The problems were immediate. The squadron had eighteen brand new Hurricane MkIs on its strength, but no spare parts and no proper sets of tools to work with. When Mr West reported this situation to Douglas the reaction was just as he predicted that it would be. In modern parlance Douglas "went ballistic".
He sent off the now famous signal to group headquarters, with a copy to Fighter Command HQ: "242 Squadron now operational as regards pilots but non-operational, repeat, non-operational as regards equipment."
It was only after he had sent the signals that he told his outraged station commander what he had done. Normal practice would have been to ask another squadron to lend a hand, but Douglas was not like that. This was his squadron and as far as he was concerned his needs were more important than any other squadron that might be waiting further up the line.
The response from Fighter Command came the same day. A squadron leader in charge of equipment phoned to argue that there were shortages in many units and 242 ought to borrow what was needed from other squadrons. Something of a shouting match developed that resulted in both phones being slammed down.
The AOC flew down to Coltishall to try and smooth things over and agreed to see what could be done. Before anything could be done Douglas received a summons to Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory for an interview with the C-in-C himself, Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding.
This could have meant the end of a promising career for Douglas, but although the C-in-C made it clear that he did not think much of Douglas’s signal, what really irked him was the supply officer's assertion that he, Dowding, would be furious at what Douglas had done. Dowding did not take kindly to other people predicting how he would or would not react, least of all a comparatively junior officer.
The outcome was that the offending squadron leader lost his job at Fighter Command, as did the station equipment officer at Coltishall. 242 Squadron received its requested equipment within 48 hours and became fully operational on 9th July 1940. 

From "Douglas Bader" by Michael Evans

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