The Dornier Do 217 was a fairly undistinguished bomber (and eventually night fighter) that entered service in the summer of 1941, after the Luftwaffe’s bomber force had passed its peak, at least in the west. It was used to equip relatively few units, and spent most of its career operating as a night bomber in the years after the Blitz (mainly on small scale ‘nuisance’ raids), as an emergency night fighter and perhaps most famously as the launch pad for the Luftwaffe’s guided anti-ship missiles, a role that saw it sink the battleship Roma.
The title isn’t entirely accurate – rather than dealing with the Do 217 unit by unit, we actually get more of a month-by-month account of its combat record. The general focus rather varies depending on the nature of the air campaign – in fairly quiet periods we tend to get a series of accounts of Do 217 losses, while in busier spells, such as the Baedeker Blitz, there is more on the operations the aircraft took part in. One thing I did learn from these sections is that the Luftwaffe never quite stopped bombing Britain – although for most of the time these were nuisance raids on coastal towns or very small scale attacks on particular targets.
The first two chapters cover 1941-42, a period in which only two combat units used the Do 217, both of them operating against Britain, and mainly using the aircraft as a night bomber but with some daytime operations. Chapters three and four see the introduction of the night fighter versions of the Do 217, new bomber versions and the ability to carry the first guided missiles. The most impressive achievement of these new weapons was the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma on her way to surrender to the Allies, but they never quite equalled that again, and the launching Do 217s soon started to suffer heavy losses. Finally chapter five looks at the decline of the aircraft, partly because it was replaced by more modern designs and partly because production ended in October 1943, so by the end of the war not that many were actually left in service.
This is an interesting look at the record of a fairly undistinguished bomber that didn’t really have a chance to make a mark in its original role, notable for the amount of accounts of aircraft losses written by surviving aircrews, which thus gives us a real feel for the urgency which with things could unfold once a bomber was under attack.
1 – Design, Development and into action
2 – Need for Change
3 – New Developments
4 – Maximum Effort, Minimum Returns
5 – Decline and Disappearance