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Remarkable Sonar Image Shows Intact German WWII Bomber

Dornier 17
A sonar side-scan image of a Dornier 17 that has been on the bottom of the English Channel for 70 years. Courtesy: RAF Museum

Dornier 17
Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

September 9, 2010 — “At 1142 hours, 264 Squadron was ordered to take off and patrol Dover, to intercept enemy bombers.”

So begins a typically terse and understated British Royal Air Force Fighter Command Combat report posted on August 26, 1940, in the midst of what was to become known as the “Battle of Britain.” Operating briefly out of RAF Hornchurch, near London, 264 Squadron flew Boulton Paul Defiant turret-armed fighters, airplanes that would be relegated exclusively to night operations just days after this particular sortie.

The report neatly summarizes the encounter, listing six enemy Dornier 17 bombers and one Me-109 fighter destroyed, to three Defiants lost on the British side. The details state that one Do-17 was “…damaged. Broke formation—smoking from both engines.” It is believed that this is the airplane that made a forced landing in an area of the English Channel called Goodwin Sands at low tide, shortly before 2 p.m. that afternoon. Read the original combat report

It’s almost certain that none of the aircrew on either side had any inkling that this particular bomber would make the news again just over 70 years later.

The Dornier 17 was a twin-radial-engined light bomber built by the Dornier Flugzeugwerke in Friedrichshafen, Germany, beginning in 1934. Known to the Germans as the Fliegender Bleistift and to the British by that nickname’s translation, “Flying Pencil,” more than 2,200 Do-17s were built in Germany and under license in Yugoslavia. Of that number, not a single one was known to have survived.

Until now.

In 2000 and 2001, a fisherman reported snagging his net on what he thought might be a crashed airplane just east of Deal in Kent. A recreational diver learned of this a few years later, and, in 2008, investigated and confirmed the presence of an airplane. Wessex Archaeology performed multiple side-scan sonar surveys of the site over the next two years, and it was only then that it became clear that they’d uncovered a truly unique piece of history.

The airplane, a Do-17Z-2 of the Luftwaffe’s 7 Staffel, III Gruppe based at St. Trond in Belgium, remains remarkably well preserved and almost entirely intact after seven decades under water, though two of the six MG 15 machine guns were reportedly stolen from the site by unauthorized sport divers. The Royal Air Force Museum is now working in partnership with Wessex Archaeology on a plan to raise and restore the wreck for display alongside the Museums’ Vickers Wellington, a British medium-bomber that is nearly as rare as the Dornier itself.

On September 3, 2010, the Museum’s Director General, Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye said, “The discovery of the Dornier is of national and international importance. The aircraft is a unique and unprecedented survivor from The Battle of Britain. It is particularly significant because, as a bomber, it formed the heart of the Luftwaffe assault and the subsequent Blitz.” Announcing that the airplane will be displayed at the Museum’s forthcoming “Battle of Britain Beacon” project, Dye went on to say that “The Dornier will provide an evocative and moving exhibit that will allow the Museum to present the wider story of the Battle of Britain and highlight the sacrifices made by the young men of both air forces and from many nations.”

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