RAF Museum begins task of rescuing the last German Dornier bomber from the seabed

By Richard Moss | 03 May 2013

The RAF Museum's bold plan to recover and conserve the last remaining World War Two Luftwaffe Dornier bomber from beneath the sea at Goodwin Sands in Kent is due to begin.

a photograph of a plane flying low over the countryside with a tree lined road, fields and a farm below
A Dornier 17Z of the Luftwaffe flying low over the English countryside© RAF Museum
After a long fundraising campaign, the National Heritage Memorial Fund supplied the last £345,000 needed for the highly complex and delicate operation to go ahead.

The historic German bomber, the last intact example in the world, was shot down 72 years ago after it became separated during a bombing raid over Kent airfields at the height of the Battle of Britain.

Engaged by RAF Bolton Paul Defiant fighters, the stricken aircraft force-landed on Goodwin Sands off the eastern Kentish coast at low tide. It reportedly tipped over when its wing tip clipped the sea's surface and sank, upside down, with its bomb doors open. 

Of its four-man crew, two survived as prisoners of war and two were killed, but their aircraft remained beneath the shifting sands of the English channel until it was spotted by divers in 2008.

Sonor investigations revealed the heavily encrusted bomber to be largely intact, its main undercarriage tyres still inflated and the propellers clearly showing the damage inflicted during its final landing.

The project to raise it has been a complicated and expensive one. The RAF Museum says it is the biggest recovery of its kind in British waters and needs to be undertaken within a given timeframe due to weather and tide conditions.

A special cradle has been developed that will be carefully placed around the aircraft during the next three weeks.

It will then be gently raised from the seabed and transferred to RAF Museum Cosford, where expert conservators will begin the painstaking two-year process, which involves bathing the aluminium frame in a special citric acid and water solution, of conserving it.

Once complete, it will join a remarkable holding of aircraft in the Battle of Britain collection at Hendon - including some key Luftwaffe aeroplanes of the period.

They include the famous Heinkel III bomber, a Junkers JU-87 Stuka dive bomber, and a Junkers Ju88 bomber.

Interestingly, the collection also includes an RAF Bolton Paul Defiant plane which, despite its success in shooting down the Dornier Do 17Z in 1940, had mixed fortunes during the Battle of Britain - especially when faced with the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmidt 109 fighters.

Three Defiants were downed by Messerchmidts during the Kent dogfight that claimed the Dornier, which was known by the Luftwaffe as the flying pencil because of its sleek lines and manouverability.

Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye, the Director General of the RAF Museum. described the discovery and recovery of the last example of this iconic plane as being of “national and international importance”.

“The aircraft is a unique and unprecedented survivor from The Battle of Britain and the Blitz,” he added.

“It 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. It is a project that has reconciliation and remembrance at its heart.”

The aircraft display will be supplemented by an education centre which will offer a wealth of educational resources for primary, secondary and 16+ pupils.

More pictures:

a black and white photo of a fleet of German bombers in the sky
A large formation of Dornier Do 17Z bombers in flight© RAF Museum
an aerial photograph of a crane and hoist system resting on barges in a harbour
Aerial photo of lift platform preparing at Chatham© RAF Museum
a black and white photograph of a German Dornier bomber taxiing on an airfield
The Dornier 17 was first seen in public at Zurich in 1937© RAF Museum
Watch a 360 Degree Animation of the Dornier Sonar Scan:


Latest comment: >Make a comment
Does anyone know what happened to the RAF Museum's Beacon Battle of Britain plan? I can't find any mention of it on their website...
>See all comments
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at www.culture24.org.uk are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.