Human Journey

Raising a World War II Bomber From the English Channel

Being in London and driving its streets, you’re simply struck by the city’s deep history. Wars were fought over the course of centuries in Northern Europe. And one of the primary reasons London still exists in such a similar form is because of the way Britain repeatedly defended its land.

That’s the premise behind a project taking place off the eastern shore of England this week to raise a Nazi bomber that threatened London during World War II. The bomber, a Dornier 17 aircraft, was shot down by British air defenses during the Blitz in 1940, and it’s been sitting on the floor of the English Channel covered by sand and water ever since.

Now it’ll see sunlight again—and eventually find a new home in a British museum somewhere. We asked Peter Dye, the man spearheading the project with the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum to tell us about the process of raising a drowned aircraft, and especially the challenges of doing it after the plane had undergone more than half a century of corrosion.

The frame being built around the underwater aircraft will help lift it in one piece. Then it will be partially dismantled to be transported on land. Sketch courtesy RAF Museum.
The frame being built around the underwater aircraft will help lift it in one piece. Then it will be partially dismantled to be transported on land. Sketch courtesy RAF Museum.

Dye’s team is building a rig at the bottom of the channel, 60 feet down. Fortunately the bomber is made mostly of aluminum, which makes it lighter. But sitting under water for so long has allowed chloride to build up, and sea life has turned the aircraft into an makeshift reef. When it’s out of the water, the plane will be partially dismantled and taken to shore. Then it’ll sit in an acidic bath of lemon juice for months or even years, Dye said, to prevent exposure to more oxygen and remove the corrosive chemicals from the Channel’s waters.

Unearthing a Nazi plane obviously comes with some emotional implications. In England, and many countries around the world, there are certainly people who’d like to close the door forever on the Nazi chapter of history. Yet Dye explained that the bomber tells a bigger story. “More than 40,000 Londoners died in the blitz,” he said. “The battle of Britain was a complex story with many participants from around the world. It was an international struggle. Although this one plane didn’t win the war, we could have lost it in 1940. This project really encapsulates that whole period.”

To my ears, it sounds like he’s right. History, even ugly history, is worth preserving for the sake of navigating the future. The cost of the bomber project is a steep $750,000. But when you consider that it’s the only captured Nazi bomber that still exists—all of the others were burned in a smelter and turned into new British planes to help finish the war—it seems quite worth the price.

  • Michael

    People need medicine, dentistry, college education and some need food on a regular basis. Leave the war plane alone.

  • Shelby

    Smart comment there Michael from NC, USA. Why don’t we skip all museums and theaters and opera houses. Stop all archeological work! People need education, medicines, dentistry and some even need food. But, one thing doesn’t have to exclude another one.

    Don’t you think it would be an even better idea for your country to decrese it’s war and defens budgets and forsee that the people get free education, helthcare and dentistry instead?!

    Mark well that i’m neither communist nor socialist, but in EU we have a different view of perspective than you guys ‘n gals in US.

    So of course the aircraft shall be rescued and restored and put into a museum. It’s the last piece of it’s kind.

  • Anthony Jordan

    This bomber is a tangible relic of a crucial epoch in British, European and even world history as well as a fine work of aviation engineering in its own right. It should not be left for corrosion to claim it.

  • Tomas

    I too, believe that this aircraft needs to come to the surface, and be displayed for the world to see. We need to never forget the horrible atrocities that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party did to millions of people. Thousands of England’s finest soldiers and citizens died because of him. Jews slaughtered by the millions, and you Michael, have the audacity to say, “Leave the war plane alone.”?? really? Sure, cover up a murderous plan under the guise of education. Bring it up for the world to see and remember what and insane dictator can do….never forget the lives give for our freedom……NEVER!!!!!

  • The Right Michael

    Besides, these days a college education is not only over-rated, it’s generally amounts to little more than leftist indoctrination.

    Raise the plane. Remember the past. Fight the re-writing of history.

  • Chuck

    Relics, especiall those reminding us of our past human conflicts, which lie on the bottom of the sea are fascinating. They are an amazing portal into history. This is much similar to the B-25 Mitchell pulled from the mud in Lake Murray, Columbia, SC over a decade ago which crashed during the preparation for the Doolittle raid on Tokyo. It now sits restored in a Columbia museum. Nobel effort to retrieve this articact of the past, regardless of which side it flew for… and allow it to illustrate a story that should be shared with future generations.

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