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Dornier 17 Bomber
Claude Dornier was born in 1884 in south west Bavaria to a French father and German mother. He founded the company Dornier GmBh and the Dornier 17 was developed as a light fast bomber that was designed outrun its pursuers. It was used primarily in the first three years of the war after which it was replaced by the more powerful Junkers 88. For the rest of the war it was used for research and training. The last known example was scrapped in Finland in 1952 yet remarkably an example has been found on the seabed of Godwin Sands, Kent and was raised last week (Jun 10th 2013) and has been moved to RAF Cosford for preservation, the one and only example of an important piece of World war II history. The following is a short history of this aeroplane with thanks to 'The Sunday Telegraph' and 'The Express and Star' of Wolverhampton.
Where should the Dornier 17 be displayed
Dornier 17 in its protective cover
The Dornier Do-17Z is believed to be 5K+AR 7th Squadron, 3rd Group Bomber Wing 3 although this has yet to be verified. It left St Trond, Brussels on August 26th 1940 with 16 33 lb bombs on board. One of nine aircraft on course to bomb RAF Manston as a lure to trap British fighters to be targets for Messerschmitt 109's. The bombers were detected by RAF warning systems and 264 Squadron Defiants were scrambled in response. One of these defiants, piloted by Desmond Hughes brought down two Dorniers, the second of which was the specimen lifted last week from the seabed. Amazingly two of the four man crew survived and became prisoners of war, returning to Germany at the end of the war and both dying in the 1990's.
Visit to Cosford August 2014
Well tell me honestly, if you have an interest in something enough to blog about it then you should be prepared to visit it in person. So finally on August 4th 2014, I did just that. I stopped at RAF Cosford and visited a very wet dornier bomber. She is located in two plastic tents behind the main Cosford museum hangars. The tents are half cylinders and the humidity is so high that she is almost totally obscured. Still I managed to take a few pictures. I also learned that when they separated the fuselage from the wings the bolts were in perfect condition. Also as soon as the aircraft is stabilised and restored she will go on display at RAF Hendon in London. My hope is she will be allowed to be seen for a couple of weeks at Cosford and if she is, then I will return to get some more photos without the plastic sheeting, the very necessary plastic sheeting I might add. Furthermore, as if to compensate for the poor visibility of the aircraft the entrance has a lovely two dimensional display of what the aircraft looked like. Its makes a nice visual introduction and quite informative comparison. I don't know if I would recommend a visit, there really isn't a lot to see. A bit like being in the Gods at a concert, all you can say is that you were there and you saw it. But if you are an aircraft enthusiast then it is a must see.
Dornier 17 recovery
The wreck was located in September 2010 and was deemed to be in remarkably good condition. So good that the engines were intact and there was still grease on the propeller bearings. Three years of planning resulted in the aircraft being lifted on a cradle on June 10th 2013. All the crew of the bomber have since died but another war veteran, Karl Betighofer, who was shot down over Normandy in 1944 was on hand to see the airplane arrive at RAF Cosford on June 17th. The whole operation cost £500k and what now lies ahead is the painstaking conservation of the hulk for display at RAF Cosford war museum. The museum expects thousands of visitors to come and see this piece of history as it is restored to showcase (not running) condition. Before arrival at Cosford the plane was dismantled for transportation at Ramsgate by a nine man specialist team. The work was complicated by the fact the bomber had landed upside down. The Dornier 17, nicknamed the flying pencil because of its narrow fuselage, will now be restored and I will return to update this blog when she goes on display.
Progress on the restoration of the Dornier 17
Exactly one year on and the slow painstaking process of cleaning up and restoring the aircraft continues. It is constantly bathed in a citric acid solution to combat years of lying on the seabed while restorers chip away at the debris with plastic tools. The final resting place will on display at RAF Hendon in London. Major advances have been the separation of the forward fuselage from the tail boom by de-riveting the units. The citrus solution has also been very effective on bringing the propellers back to life. However the dissolving sea life and the gel created has had the effect of clogging the filtration system. The success therefore has caused its own set of problems. The filtration system has now been upgraded allowing for continuous operation. Visitors are welcome to see the progress of the restoration at RAF Cosford.
Dornier 17 in action during WW2
The Dornier Legacy
While I admit to be absolutely fascinated by the recovery of the Dornier 17. While I admit it is a beautiful machine with lovely lines and wonderfully engineered. I am also aware that it is a killing machine probably responsible for countless deaths in the war. This sobering legacy may well be better served by the restoration of this last example rather than it remaining a phantom of the written word and photograph. The restored plane may well serve as a reminder of the folly of men and perhaps some small redemption for the man who designed it.
Stage two Dornier Preservation
September 2014. The citric acid solution has now sufficiently removed the debris and sea life from the fuselage that it has now been removed from the plastic tunnels and into a conservation centre where process will continue. Any component that can be separated from the fuselage ( including a flare gun!) is removed and cleaned separately. These will be reconnected or 'put back' at a later date. Cleaning will continue with plastic scrapers and, where applicable, with cloths soaked in citric acid solution for areas that still have marine residues. The wings have proved more troublesome and are still undergoing further washes in citric acid. Over a ton of sand and mud has been removed from the wing sections! Some of the marine sediments have been left in place to give some support to the fragile aluminium sections. In addition the engines have been lifted from the wings, whilst the removing of marine deposits have revealed bullet holes in both wing and fuselage. A second visit by the author is planned.
As mentioned above,I will be watching the developments of the recovery of the Dornier bomber over the next few years and as such this article will continue to grow and evolve. I will also provide links so that anyone interested can advance their study across the internet. I do not think the Dornier will ever become airworthy but if it can be restored to a point where people can visualise what it must have looked like then an important piece of history will have been regained.