The Dornier 17, along with the Heinkel III and Junkers Ju 88, were the mainstay of the German bombers during the Blitz on Britain and especially London. In the days of the Battle of Britain, the Dornier 17 had been an easy target for the Spitfires and Hurricanes of Fighter Command but had proved itself to be a valuable part of the Luftwaffe in campaigns that led up to this battle.
The first prototype of the Dornier 17 flew in 1934 as part of a competition to provide Lufthansa with a passenger plane that could fly passengers around western Europe. However, its fuselage proved to be too slim for passengers but its military potential was soon spotted. The plane’s narrow fuselage gave it the nickname ‘flying pencil’ and the first military variant flew in 1935. It was capable of flying with a 1,102 lbs (1500 kg) bomb load and with most German warplanes of this time, saw service in the Spanish Civil War in 1937.
The first public appearance of the plane was at a military air show near Zurich, also in 1937. Here it proved to be an agile and manoeuvrable plane – when it is taken into consideration that it was designed as a bomber.
The Luftwaffe valued the plane as was shown by production levels for the plane at the start of the war. 1,700 Dornier 17’s were built between 1939 and 1940. It made its mark in the attack on Poland in September 1939 and its versatility was such that it was used as a bomber, reconnaissance plane and as a pathfinder by the Luftwaffe. Its limitations were shown in the Battle of Britain, however, when it became clear that the plane was very vulnerable to attacks from the rear and from below and that its defensive armaments were poor. As with other German bombers, against a poor air force, the Dornier 17 did well and the Luftwaffe clearly was over-confident as to its capabilities. Against the formidable opponents of Fighter Command, the Dornier 17 was a lot more vulnerable.
The plane was withdrawn from service in 1941.
Maximum speed: 255 mph (410 km/h) at 4000 feet (1220 meters)
Maximum ceiling: 26,905 feet (8,200 meters)
Maximum range (721 miles (1160 km)