Dornier’s Second Coming – Dornier 17Z-2 Werke nr. 1160
The 26th August 1940 – a crew of 4 climb aboard Luftwaffer Dornier 17Z-2 5K+AR, tasked with attacking Fighter Command airfields in the Medway Area. One of a seven aircraft formation operated by 7 Staffel, III Gruppe / KG3 (7th Squadron of the 3rd Group of Bomber Wing 3) from their home base of Saint-Truiden, little did the crew of 5K+AR know this would be the last time they left Saint-Truiden. Now, some 70 years on the tale of Dornier 17Z-2 Werke nr. 1160 has come to light. Jamie Ewan takes a look at this rare piece of aviation history for AeroResource.
Built as a Dornier Do 17Z-2, equipped with two Supercharged Bramo ‘Farnir’ 323P-1 nine-cylinder radial engines, the aircraft found at Goodwin Sands is strongly believed to be Dornier 17Z-2 (Werke nr. 1160) coded 5k+AR. The aircraft was allocated to 7/KG3 (7 Staffel / III Gruppe of KG.3 ‘Blitz’) who at the time were based at St. Trond in Belgium. KG3 arrived at the base with some 108 Do 17s (of which 88 were combat ready) towards the end of June 1940. Taking part in the Battle of Britain during the summer of 1940, the unit soon switched to night operations against English targets before converting onto the Junkers JU88 by early June 1941.
Often referred to as the Fliegender Bleistift (Flying Pencil) because of it’s long narrow fuselage, the Do 17 first flew on the 23 November 1934. The type was designed by Claudius Dornier’s Dornier Flugzeugwerke company with the aim of meeting a specification issued by the Ordinance Department (Heereswaffenamt) in 1932. The requirements were for freight aircraft for the ‘German State Railways’ and a ‘High speed mail transport for Lufthansa’, with design work beginning at the Friedrichshafen works on 1 August 1932. With the German Nazi party coming to power in 1933 Hermann Goring became Germany’s National Commissar of Aviation and along with, Erhard Milch, set up the Ministry of Aviation. Designating Dornier’s submitted design as the Do 17, work began on the prototypes on 17 March 1933. Towards the end of 1933 the requirement of the type was changed to a ‘High Speed, double tailed aircraft with the ability to carry freight or special equipment’ – in other words a bomber. The original design submitted in 1932, the Do17 V1, sported a single vertical stabilizer; leading to continued development of the model. After almost a year of development the Do17 was first shown in mock up form in April 1933, however the ‘Special Equipment’ was to be fitted at a later date (April 1934) under Project ‘Definition’ to disguise the types offensive role.
It is of note that unlike the Heinkel He 111 series of aircraft which were planned for military use from the start of their development, the Do17 V1 was first developed as a fast, six passenger mail plane to compete with Henkel’s smaller and successful He 70 monoplane. It has been said that the type was actually rejected by Lufthansa due to the cramped cabin and rather high operating costs for the type as a mail plane. It is believed that the three prototypes produced by Dornier remained at the company’s factory in Lowntal for some six months unused, until the interjection of Flight Captain Untucht of Lufthansa. After receiving permission to fly one of the dormant machines, he flew the type through its paces over the airfield at Lowntal. Upon landing Untucht said “This machine is as nimble as a fighter, give it more lateral stability and we’ll have a high speed bomber!”. The comments prompted Dornier to redesign the type’s tail unit, reviving interest in the type. The further development of the type led to the aircraft becoming a ‘Schnellbomber’ (Light fast Bomber) with the hope that the aircraft would be able to out-run any enemy fighters.
The Do 17 became one of the three main bombers (The other two being the Junkers Ju88 and the He111) used by the Luftwaffe during the first three years of World War Two. The Do17 made its Combat Debut in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, operating with the Condor Legion in various roles. The type became very popular among its crews due to its manoeuverability and good handling at low altitude, which made the Dornier capable of surprise bombing attacks. Its sleek and thin air frame made it harder to hit than other German bombers, as it presented less of a target.
26th August 1940 – That fateful day…
26th August 1940 – Luftwaffe Pilot Feldwebel (Flight Sergeant) Willi Effmert (24) and his crew, Navigator/Bomb Aimer Unteroffizer (Sergeant) Herman Ritzel (21), Wireless Operator Unteroffixer (Sergeant) Helmut Reinhardt (27) and Bombardier Gefreiter (Corporal) Heinz Hunh (21) climb away from their home base aboard Dornier 17Z-2 5K+AR. Carrying sixteen 50 Kilogram bombs, they are tasked with hitting the RAF Airfields of Fighter Command at Debden and Hornchurch along with other aircraft from KG2 and the neighboring KG3. It was hoped that the Bombers would attract Royal Air Force fighters up to intercept them and trap them for the German Escort above. Flying as part of a seven ship formation, AR became disoriented before reaching the target area above the clouds and became separated from the rest of the formation.
Around the same time Boulton Paul Defiants of 264 Squadron, operating out of there Forward Operating Base of RAF Manston, were scrambled to intercept approaching enemy bombers over the Dover area. Led by Flight Lieutenant Banham, the Squadron climbed to height and observed a formation of some 12 Dorniers in Vic’s line astern formations. Ordering the Squadron to attack the Dorniers, the Defiants of 264 were pounced upon by some fifty Me109’s from Jagdgeshwader 3 diving down from height to deter the eager fighters from the bombers. Although the Dorniers took no evasive action the Gunners brought cross fire to bear while the pilots carried on pressing towards their targets.
After becoming separated from the rest of his flight, Flight Sergeant Willi Effmert powered on towards the objectives, with the hope of catching up with the rest of the aircraft near the target or on the run home. Heading towards the target area, the aircraft was spotted by aircraft of 264 Squadron and set about by the Defiants. During the attack the aircraft was hit in both engines and the cockpit, with one of the power plants stopping and the other badly damaged. The Defiants, seeing the aircraft was in trouble and losing height, left her to her fate and headed back to base to refuel and rearm. 264 Squadron’s total claims for the day were six Do17 destroyed, one damaged and one Me 109 destroyed for the loss of three Defiants (Category 3 losses). During the month of August, 264 Squadron were credited with 18 enemies destroyed and 3 damaged for the loss of 16 of their own. The actual victor over 5K+AR is still not known as it may have been one of the aircraft downed by the Me 109’s of Jagdgeschwader 3 (Fighter Wing 3).
It is of note that 264 Squadron were nicknamed the ‘Madras Squadron’ as the aircraft on strength were provided by money gifted from the Presidency of Madras.
With one of the aircraft’s Supercharged Bramo ‘Farnir’ 323P-1 nine-cylinder radial engines out of action and the aircraft critically damaged, Pilot Willi Effmert elected to head south. As the aircraft rapidly lost both height and speed, the crew decided to make a forced landing on The Goodwin Sands in the English Channel. Lying around 6 miles off the Deal coast in Kent the water was at low tide and an ideal place for a forced landing. At around 1340 hours, with aircraft low over the surface of the water and the aircraft’s left wing tip hit the water and flipped the air frame onto its back. Off the crew, Pilot Flight Sergeant Willi Effmert – albeit injured during the attack and Navigator/Bomb Aimer Sergeant Herman Ritzel both survived, with Wireless Operator Sergeant Helmut Reinhardt and Bombardier Corporal Heinz Hunh sadly being killed during the action. Both Flight Sergeant Willi Effmert and Navigator/Bomb Aimer Sergeant Herman Ritzel became Prisoners-of-War in Canada after being captured. The bodies of Sergeant Helmut Reinhardt and Corporal Heinz Hunh were later recovered and buried in Holland (Ysselsteyn) and the UK (Cannock Chase) respectively. The aircraft slowly sank to a depth of some 50 feet where the notoriously known shifting sands slowly covered the air frame for some 70 odd years.
After lying dormant for some 70 years the wreck is believed to have first been discovered in c. 2000/2001 when a fisherman snagged his fishing nets on something on the bottom of the sea bed. With the ever shifting sands the wreck was finally exposed enough for a recreational diver – who had been told about an object on the sea bed by the fisherman in 2004 – to make a dive and pinpoint the wreck. It is thought the wreck has become visible again within the last 3 years. With this information a high resolution side-scan sonar and magnetometer survey were made in September 2008 of the area by Wessex Archaeology on behalf of English Heritage. The aircraft was found to be lying inverted and largely intact with a small field of debris in and around the aircraft. The only real apparent damage to the aircraft was found to be the cockpit area, observation windows. The wreck was found to be lying largely proud of the seabed with the propellers bent and the bomb bay open – weather this was due to the doors being ripped off in the impact or they were open before the forced landing is unknown.
With the discovery of the wreck the Air Historical Branch began research into the identity of the air frame. The Identity is strongly believed to be that of Dornier 17Z-2 5K+AR (Werke nr. 1160). It is believed that around fourteen of the type crashed in the area during hostilities.
On further inspection it was found that the starboard tail plane, port rudder, tail fairing cone, entire tail wheel assembly, flap assemblies, engine cowlings and undercarriage doors were missing. However both the main undercarriage legs and wheels remained in place and retracted. At first it was believed that the mail wheels were still inflated but on further inspection it was found that marine life had in fact turned them somewhat solid. The field of debris around the main hulk of the wreck was believed to comprise of panels and lightweight structure such as flap components torn off the air frame during the landing.
In May 2009 a further Side-scan geophysical sonar survey was carried out on the wreck and surrounding area to confirm the aircraft was still present and the condition of the aircraft.
On 2nd and 3rd June 2010 another diving survey was undertaken in conjunction with Wessex Archaeology, again to check the presence of the aircraft. When it came to surveying the surround area that the wreck is lying in the divers had the problematic issues with the tide limits and the visibility. The flow of the tides limited the dives to the wreck to just 50-90 minutes a day and in the right conditions a visibility of just five meters. During one of the dives to the wreck it was discovered that two of the aircraft’s 7.92mm MG 15 machine guns had been removed in unauthorized dives by so called ‘Sport’ divers. However, four of the original MG 15’s were still present in the wreck.
Until the discovery of the ‘Goodwin’ Dornier it was believed that none of the 2,139 Dornier 17’s produced had survived intact, however various large relics relating to the Do 17’s still exist in various museums and collections. For this reason, the discovery of this very rare piece of aviation history is immensely important as the worlds only surviving Do-17. The news of the wreck was kept a closely guarded secret until 3rd September 2010, to try and prevent any further unauthorised dives to the wreck. The aircraft was found to be in remarkable condition considering the events surrounding its loss and the effects of spending so many years under water.
After completing a huge fund-raising effort and devising a plan for recovery and conservation, the Royal Air Force Museum announced that the wreck would be recovered in May 2013. When it came to the recovery, the Ministry of Defense took responsibility of the investigation of the aircraft crash site. This is due to the face that all military aircraft crash sites in the United Kingdom (including those situated in UK territorial waters) need to be investigated in case there still contain human remains, thus making the site a war Grave. The Team behind the recovery of the Dornier was issued said licence due to the fact the crew of the Dornier because are all accounted for and no human remains are present in the aircraft.
The plan for recovery was originally plotted to take around four weeks, using a specially-constructed lifting frame around 5K+AR to raise her from the sea in one piece. However, this approach was changed as the costs of the operation escalated with delays caused due to adverse weather. Instead of making a frame around the aircraft it was decided to attach lifting cables to the strongest parts of the air frame – still lifting the aircraft in one piece. This meant the team involved adapted the lifting frame design to minimize the loads on the air frame during the lift while allowing the recovery to take place within the limited time remaining, as well as within the costs stated. Bad weather delayed the operation for three weeks and on at least four occasions their barge had to take shelter in the harbor at Ramsgate.
Finally, after three weeks of intensive effort to prepare the aircraft for recovery and long-term restoration, due to the change in the methodology used, the Royal Air Force Museum and SeaTech finally managed to raise the ‘Goodwin Dornier’ on 10th June 2013. The project is believed to have been the biggest of its type undertaken in UK Waters! After being slowly lifted to the surface of the English Channel, the wreck was placed on board a support barge where the aircraft’s conservation process started almost immediately for the journey to the Royal Air Force Museum at Cosford via Ramsgate. The Wreck was separated into two parts, with the wings being carefully separated and loaded onto two Low-Loaders, on which the wreck was transported toCosford’s Award Winning Michael Beetham Restoration Center. The aircraft was lifted and loaded into two specially constructed ‘Hydration Tunnels’ for the first stage of the Conservation process.
With the help of metallurgists from Imperial College London, the plans is to use Citric acid and Sodium hydroxide to remove encrustation and chloride that have formed on the aluminum air frame from 70 odd years of being submerged in salt water. The solutions are being sprayed 3 times an hour onto the remains by a system of hoses rigged up in the Hydration Tunnels. The hoses in the tunnels are adjustable as is the pattern in which the solution is sprayed to provide the best cover possible. The solutions used with be collected, analysed and the reused in the process. The Analysis of the solution will help the team involved with further conservation of the air frame and help with any future projects that may require a similar approach. Analysis will also allow the team to check that the Ph. level being used is correct and not damaging any of the remains. The conservation being used for the Dornier was carried out on the carrack-type warship, Mary Rose after the ship was raised. After just a few days of spraying the process started to soften some of the encrustation, which in turn is starting to reveal what is underneath. It is hoped that the processes used will eventually lead to some of the original paint being revealed, some off which has been found on the lower surface of one of the wings just inboard of the engine.
As the aircraft was built before a shortage of materials in Germans, it is believed that higher quality and higher grade materials may have been used. This in turn, means that’s the stabilising required to prevent anymore corrosion may vary somewhat. For that reason pieces of the aircraft have been used as ‘Test’ pieces to study and analyse the effects of the work being carried out. The RAF Museum has experience in stabilising and exhibiting aircraft immersed in water for an extended period of. Teams at the Museum have taken part in such conservation work on the Halifax Mk II recovered in 1973 from Lake Hoklingen in Norway and the Hurricane Mk I retrieved from the Thames Estuary in the same year. Conservation techniques have advanced greatly in the last 40 years. With similar restoration efforts taking place in Norway and Australia over the past few years, the offer and prospect of less intrusive methods for stabilising and preserving aircraft structures immersed in salt or fresh water for extended periods have come to light.
For the next few years the work carried out on the remains will be primarily to conserve and stabilise the materials in preparation for the next stage of work on the remains. One the stablisation is complete the aircraft will be placed in the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre at Cosford where it will take its place alongside the center’s Vickers Wellington bomber currently undergoing an extensive restoration program. After a major conservation program that could take up to five years it is hoped that 5K+AR will be able to go on permanent display in RAF Hendon’s Battle of Britain Exhibit along with their He111H-20, Ju87G-2, Ju88R-1 and Bf110G-2.