A rare German wartime bomber has been discovered on the Goodwin Sands, 70 years after it was shot down during the height of the Battle of Britain. With a crew of four and loaded with 2000 lbs. of bombs, the aircraft, a twin-engined Dornier 17 – known universally as “The Flying Pencil” – was part of a large enemy formation intercepted by RAF fighter aircraft at midday on Aug. 26, 1940, as they attempted to attack airfields in Essex.
Boulton Paul Defiant fighters attacked the Dorniers at 13,000 feet over Deal in Kent before they had reached their intended target. They claimed at least six Dorniers destroyed and one damaged for the loss of three of their own aircraft and two air gunners killed.
One of the Dorniers, flown by Feldwebel (Flt Sgt) Willi Effmert, attempted a wheels-up landing on the Goodwin Sands. He touched down safely and the aircraft sank inverted. Effmert and his observer were captured but the other crewmen died and their bodies were washed ashore later.
The aircraft is in remarkable condition – considering the events surrounding its loss plus the effects of spending so many years under water. Other than marine concretion it is largely intact, the main undercarriage tyres remain inflated and the propellers clearly show the damage inflicted during their final landing.
Since the Dornier emerged from the sands two years ago, the RAF Museum has worked with Wessex Archaeology to complete a full survey of the wreck site in preparation for the aircraft’s recovery and eventual exhibition at Hendon where it will form a center-piece in the recently announced Battle of Britain Beacon project.
Work to conserve and prepare the Dornier for display will be undertaken at the RAF Museum’s award-winning conservation centre at Cosford. Here the Dornier will be placed alongside the Museum’s Vickers Wellington which is currently undergoing long term restoration.
Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye, director general of the RAF Museum said that “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.”
The RAF Museum, with the support of English Heritage and the Ministry of Defence, is now developing a recovery plan to protect the aircraft from any further damage and to provide for its long term preservation. There is concern, however, that material has recently been removed illegally from the wreck site – although a number of items have now been retrieved.
Dye stated 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.”
More information about the recovery plan, together with film of the aircraft, will be available at the RAF Museum’s Battle of Britain weekend to be held at Hendon on Sept. 11-12 or by visiting www.rafmuseum.org.
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