Dornier Do.217E-4 Unit: III/KG 2 Dieppe raid, on August 19th, 1942.
Dornier Do.217E-4 Unit: 6./KG 2 Summer 1942.
Dornier Do.217M Unit: 2./KG 2 Netherlands, Winter 1943-1944.
Dornier Do.217M Unit: 9./KG 2 The aircraft equipped with DB.603 engines.
I & II./KG2, Oberstleutnant Karl Kessel, CO 18 May 1943 – February 1944
By this time, large scale German air attacks on Britain had come to a halt with the transfer of the bulk of the bomber force to the Eastern front. Do 217s concentrated on anti-shipping work. However, this quiescent period came to an abrupt halt following the powerful RAF attack which destroyed much of Luebeck on 28 March. Hitler demanded retaliation and in the month that followed German bombers, for the most part Do 217s of KG2, launched two sharp attacks on Exeter and two more on Bath. On the very night that Bath was under attack, however, the RAF was engaged in a series of four destructive raids on the German town of Rostock. Hitler was apoplectic at this affront and in an impassioned speech he spoke of taking a copy of Baedeker’s guidebook and marking off each British city as it was razed to the ground. Because of this the series of attacks became known in Britain as the Baedeker Raids. During the late spring of 1942, Bath, Norwich, York, Cowes, Hull and Poole, Grimsby and Exeter, all suffered varying degrees of damage. But the German bombers had to penetrate the increasingly powerful British night fighter and gun defenses, and suffered heavy losses. The series of attacks ended with three raids on Birmingham and one on Hull at the end of July, which cost the Luftwaffe 27 aircraft and caused only minor damage.
Following this battering Kampfgeschwader 2, which was now the only bomber unit operational with the Do 217, was withdrawn from operations over Britain to make good the losses suffered. But the respite was to prove short lived. On 19 August Allied forces launched the large-scale seaborne raid on Dieppe and virtually all operational Luftwaffe units in France and Belgium went into action in defense of the port, Operating by day, the Dorniers came up against powerful standing patrols of Spitfires. The Germans suffered catastrophic losses. Out of a total of about 80 planes committed by KG2 many of them flown by trainee crews 20 were shot down. Having started the year with an average strength of 88 trained crews, by September 1942 KG2 was down to 23.
KG2 took little part in operations for the rest of the year. At the end of 1942 two improved versions of the Do 217 entered service the K and the M. Both of these had more powerful engines and a redesigned low drag nose profile. The K model was fitted with the new BMW 801 D radial engine developing 1,700hp, while the M employed the similarly powerful liquid cooled Daimler Benz 603 in line. The two new variants were about 20mph faster than the earlier E model. In addition to their greater speed the new Dorniers had the advantage of carrying tail warning radar to reduce the chances of surprise fighter attack at night, and radio altimeters to make possible a low-level penetration of defenses at night or in poor visibility.
With these technical improvements the revitalized KG2 recommenced its operations over Britain early in 1943.
During these night attacks the Do 217s exploited every possible stratagem to avoid the attentions of the defenses: a low-level approach, climbing to medium level to bomb then letting down to low level for the withdrawal; a high-level approach, bombing during a shallow descent and making the withdrawal. Since the bombers’ targets were rarely more than 50 miles inland, these methods helped a lot to keep the German losses down. Even so, the defenders were able to take their toll. During March 1943 alone, Kampfgeschwader 2 lost 23 complete crews.
Typical of the German raids on Britain in the summer of 1943 was that by 91 planes on Portsmouth, on 15 August. The Dornier 217s of the First and Third Gruppen of KG2 operated from St Andre and Dreux respectively, both near Paris. After takeoff the bombers funneled together over Cap D’Antifer near Le Havre and headed NW across the sea flying at an altitude of 200ft, beneath the prying beams of the British radar. At a point 24 miles south of Brighton the bombers commenced their climb, aiming to arrive over Portsmouth at 15,000ft. The actual attack was delivered soon after 0100 on the morning of the 16th. It lasted about 10 minutes. Afterwards the bombers turned to port and withdrew along the route they had come. Such a low-level approach to a coastal target should have given the raiders the advantage of surprise. But the RAF night fighters proved their alertness by shooting down five of the attackers – all Do 217s. Four of the bombers fell to the Mosquitoes of No 256 Squadron, based at Ford near Bognor, Sussex.
The Dornier 217 was involved in the resurgence of air activity over Britain in early 1944. But the units operating the type represented less than a fifth of the force involved. By that time the performance of the Do 217 was not good enough to enable it to survive without heavy losses in the face of the powerful defenses.