I’ve been looking recently for references to the legendary WW2 pilot Douglas Bader in and around the Pas de Calais where he was shot down and captured in August 1941.
(For some time, I’ve been encouraging the local tourism office in St. Omer to put together a Bader trail/tour featuring key sites eg. the hospital that he escaped from, his escape route, the airfield where he was entertained by Adolph Galland, etc. And it looks like they might do it.)
During my researches, I’ve been surprised to learn that Bader was not the only legless pilot in WW2 – though he should perhaps be recognised for being the first!
Bader’s story was an inspiration to Britain’s other amputee pilot, Colin ‘Hoppy’ Hodgkinson, who lost one leg just below the knee and the other just above, after an horrific crash when he was serving with the Fleet Air Arm in May 1939.
After regaining his mobility on artificial legs, he transferred to the RAF where he took to the skies again as a Spitfire pilot in Sep 1942. Over the next year he shot down two German fighters before, like Bader, being shot down himself and losing an artificial leg in the process. Like Bader, he became a Prisoner of War, before being repatriated in 1944, and flew jets with the RAF after the war.
It turns out the RAF were not the only air force to have double-amputee fighter pilots in WW2. The Russians had three.
The best known is Alexey Petrovich Maresyev, who, like Bader, became a decorated national hero and later had a book and a film made about him.
Maresyev had started the war well with several kills before being shot down in April 1942. He spent 18 days getting back through enemy lines but his injured legs had to be amputated. Fourteen months later he was back in the air with artificial limbs. By the end of the war he had totaled 11 aerial victories and been awarded a Hero of the Soviet Union medal.
Maresyev’s tally was beaten by Zakhar Artyomovich Sorokin, who in November 1941 rammed his Mig 3 into a Messerschmitt Bf 110 near Murmansk. His subsequent injuries resulted in his legs being amputated, but that didn’t stop him from flying again with artificial legs and totaling 13 kills by the end of the war.
Details of Sorokin’s career & history are thin on the ground, and so too are those of L. Byelousov. The only references that I can find, repeat the brief report in Hugh Morgan’s book Soviet Aces of World War II (Pub Osprey, 1997)…
“L Byelousov’s case was slightly different from others in that he had been severely injured in pre-war flying accidents but had managed to regain flying status, only to be injured again in another crash in December 1941. This second accident caused his old wounds to open, whereupon gangrene set in and both his legs had to be amputated. Drawing on amazing reserves of willpower, Byelousev again managed to return to operations, and went on to score seven kills. He was eventually awarded Hero of the Soviet Union in 1957.”
If anyone has more information about these Russian pilots, or any other double-amputees flying in the second World War, let us know!
Image: Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, CO of No. 242 Squadron, seated on his Hawker Hurricane at Duxford, September 1940. (Wikimedia Commons)