Luftwaffe airborne flamethrower??

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Profile picture for user turbo_NZ

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16 years 8 months

Posts: 1,612

Greetings,

I've just finished watching a documentary on Nat Geographic about the dig up of Ray Holme's Hurricane Merlin in the middle of London.
Absolutely fascinating programme but some thing unusual came out watching it.

They mentioned a top-secret weapon where a flamethrower was installed in the tail-end of a Dornier Do-17.

This is the first I've ever heard of this.
Anyone else have any information on this?

Cheers
TNZ

Original post

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17 years 3 months

Posts: 1,442

TNZ,

Our museum has a big interest in the 'flame-thrower' Dornier, as it too was shot down on the 15th September 1940, force-landing on Castle Farm, just outside the village where our museum is located. The following account, written by me, appeared about a year ago in 'FlyPast'.

Just after 10 am on the 15th September 1940, nineteen Dornier 17s of III/KG 76 took off from their airfield at Cormeilles-En-Vexin, near Paris. Once the Dorniers had formed up, they headed northwest towards London, to take part in what would be the fifth daylight bombing raid on the capital. The aiming point for the bombers was to be the maze of railway lines between the Thames and Clapham Common.

Amongst the III Gruppe Dorniers was Werk Nr 2555, F1+FS, of the 8th Staffel, flown by Fw R Heitsch. With him were Fw S Schmid, Fw H Pfeiffer, and Fw M Sauter. Also on board was a new ‘secret weapon’. An infantry flamethrower had been fitted in the Dornier’s fuselage, facing rearwards. Any RAF fighter attacking from close behind was going to be assured of a warm reception, or so it was intended. Controlled by the radio operator, Fw Schmid, the new weapon would see action for the first time. If it didn’t set the attackers on fire, it might at least deter them from getting too close. Should it prove successful, the weapon would be introduced on other bombers.

The Dorniers reached the outskirts of London without loss. The escorting fighters, and the advance guard of fighters ‘free hunting’ ahead, had done their job well. In the rear of the formation was Werk Nr 2555, it’s secret weapon as yet unused. In his book ‘Battle of Britain Day’, Alfred Price tells how Fw Schmid reported a British fighter closing in from behind. Sgt Ray Holmes, in his No 504 Sqdn Hurricane, closed in to four hundred yards before opening fire. As he did so, his windscreen was suddenly coated in black oil, which completely blocked his view.

The flamethrower, obviously intended for use on the ground, was not working properly at 16,000 feet, giving a jet of flame only some 100 yards long. A lot of the oil had not caught fire, and it was this that had found it’s way onto the Hurricane. Knowing that the airflow would clear the oil away, Ray Holmes waited for his view to be restored. As his windscreen cleared Ray realised that he was dangerously close to the Dornier, and ramming the stick forward, passed beneath the bomber.

If Ray Holmes had escaped the clutches of the secret weapon without damage, the same could not be said of the Dornier. The starboard engine had been hit by machine gun fire, forcing Rolf Heitsch to feather the propeller and leaving him to struggle with the controls.

With one engine out, Rolf was forced to drop out of the bomber formation. Below was a bank of cloud, and he headed the Dornier towards it, knowing that it would shield him from enemy fighters. Before they could reach the enveloping cloud, they came under attack from several RAF fighters. Each time one approached, the flamethrower was triggered, but perversely it seemed to have the wrong effect!

To the RAF pilots, the jet of flame and smoke made the Dornier look as if it was on fire, and sensing an easy victory they went in to attack! Several pilots reported attacking the Dornier. Sgt Robinson, of No 257 Sqdn reported that the Dornier ‘caught fire in the rear’, Pilot Officer Campbell, of No 242 Sqdn, stated that ‘When I opened fire, smoke was observed issuing from the lower part of the fuselage of the enemy aircraft’, whilst Sgt Suidak, of No 302 Sqdn noted ‘Black smoke pouring from the cockpit’. He also reported that as another pilot attacked, the Dornier caught fire BEFORE the pilot fired on it. Price says that no other Dornier caught fire in such fashion, and that the pilots must have been referring to Werk Nr 2555.

Eventually, the flamethrower’s operator, Fw Schmid was hit by machine gun fire, and severely wounded, which put an end to its use. More bullets hit the Dornier, and Rolf Heitsch realised that the other engine was starting to lose power.

It was obvious that all hope of reaching France had gone. With the radio operator badly wounded, there was no question of bailing out, and leaving him behind, a forced landing was the only option. Price reports that the British fighters, seeing that the Dornier was going down, followed it without attacking. He credits the demise of the Dornier to Sgt Holmes (No 504 Sqdn), P/O Lawson (No 19 Sqdn), P/O Crossman (No 46 Sqdn), and P/O Mortimer (No 257 Sqdn).

However, the books ‘The Battle of Britain, then and now’, and ‘The Blitz, then and now’ which are widely accepted as having the most accurate listings of who shot down who, state that Werk Nr 2555, having been damaged by fighters and AA fire, was finished off by F/O J.C. Dundas, and P/O E.Q. Tobin, both of No 609 Sqdn!

During the research for ‘Battle of Britain Day’ Alfred price met and interviewed Rolf Heitsch, so even if there may be some doubt over who shot the Dornier down, the rest of his account must be regarded as reliable. Perhaps the two sources can be reconciled, and we can say that in evaluating the combat reports filed by pilots that day, they differed over the involvement of Dundas and Tobin, and that the pilots mentioned by Price were the pilots of the fighters that had damaged the Dornier before Dundas and Tobin attacked it.

In any event, the end result was the same. Just after mid-day, the Dornier came to rest, undercarriage up, on the brow of a field above Castle Farm, on the outskirts of Shoreham Village, Kent, narrowly missing the high-tension cables that ran over the field. Having released the escape hatch, the crew of the Dornier carefully brought the unconscious Stefan Schmid out of the cockpit, and laid him on the grass. The radio operator was badly wounded in the chest, and Rolf Heitsch, who had trained as a doctor before the war, could see that there was nothing that could be done to save him. Fw Martin Sauter, and the observer, Fw Pfeiffer had also been wounded, but less seriously. Schmid was taken to Sevenoaks Hospital, but was found to be dead on arrival.

Not surprisingly, as this incident occurred in our own backyard, the museum has long had an interest in these events. Several local people have been traced who remember that day. Jack Marriot, an ARP Warden recalls the incident: ‘We ran across a field to where a German Dornier 'Flying Pencil' lay on the ground with little damage except for a smashed undercarriage. Three of the crew who were not seriously injured had been taken away by the Home Guard. One was lying beside the aircraft. The First Aid crew applied dressings and bandages to the bullet wounds in his chest. We carried him to the ambulance, this was the first German I had seen close up. He was very young and ghostly pale, his uniform looked shabby and he had holes in his flying boots, not at all the ruthless superman type we had been led to expect. Colonel Greenwood and his Home Guard collected one of the uninjured airmen. He told me afterwards “the poor blighter seemed very shaken so the boys and I stopped off at the Crown and I bought him a pint before we turned him in".

Someone else who, in 1982, well remembered that day was Reg Hewitt; ‘I can remember the day of the crash vividly. I was a young boy of about fourteen living at 1 Castle Farm Cottages. My mother and I were in the back garden near the shed when a man who had walked along the footpath from Shoreham came down the road by the cottage and shouted “Look out madam, there’s a plane coming down”. We saw nothing of the plane but my mother and I rushed indoors and heard a plane fly past very low to the Eynsford side of the house. As soon as it had gone I ran outside and, with the man and a neighbour, ran up the bank opposite intending to run across the field and up the hill to where we could see that the plane had crashed. Almost immediately one of our own fighters circled overhead. It had its canopy open and the pilot waved a handkerchief at us apparently signalling for us to go back. We returned to our cottages. Within a few minutes we went up the back again and then we could see that many people had arrived and were in the field where the plane was.

After the crew had been taken away everyone dispersed and the army, which at that time was stationed at Lullingstone Castle, put a guard on the plane, and then they had a tent pitched under some trees where they kept watch day and night. Those of us who worked on the farm were not allowed to go near it. There was even talk that they thought the Germans might come and bomb the wreck.

I spoke to Mr Eric Watts, a man now in his seventies [1982]. He lived and worked on the farm at the time, and he told me that he remembered that Sunday morning and that his neighbour, Mr Sid Dines, was sitting outside reading the newspaper, and that he waved his paper to the German aircraft not knowing that it was an enemy plane.

There is no truth in the story that the Germans deliberately fired on hop-pickers at Castle Farm. A man was hit in the leg, but this was due to our own fighters firing at the German plane and forcing it down.

The plane lay in the field for two or three weeks and then was taken away in three separate lorry loads. Two engines went on one lorry, the fuselage was on another and the wings on the third. These went away as they dismantled the plane in separate loads spaced over several days. I found the undercarriage indicator gauge and recently [1982] donated it to the Shoreham Aircraft Museum, along with the forage cap belonging to one of the crew. These are the only surviving relics from the incident’.

The Castle Farm Dornier turned up at Lowestoft in late October 1940, when it was exhibited on the Crown Meadow in aid of the local Spitfire fund. Where it came from, or where it went is not a present know.

In 1982, Martin Sauter’s daughter Martina, visited our museum, and was taken to see the field where her father’s aircraft had come down.

Some twenty years ago, our curator, and artist, Geoff Nutkins depicted the Dornier being chased down the Darenth Valley by the Spitfires of Dundas and Tobin, in the print ‘Height of Battle’. Geoff has returned to this incident for the print, ‘The Castle Farm Dornier’, which this time depicts the Dornier after it had force landed.

Stefan Schmid
Born 27th November 1914
Died 15th September 1940
Buried
Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof
Cannock Chase
Staffordshire
Block 1, Row 7, Grave 250

(photo courtesy Kev35)

Profile picture for user turbo_NZ

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16 years 8 months

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Thanks for the info, very interesting.

In the documentary, it said that Ray Holmes had first fire upon the Do-17 whoch spewed oil out all over his windscreen.
Holmes thought this was from an engine but was actually from the oil supply which fed the flame-thrower.
So he went in again and rammed the Dornier after running out of ammo.

That Do-17 went down in pieces as did Holme's Hurri.

So, they must have installed it into a few of the Do-17's and Ray Holmes encountered this twice or the story on the Nat Geographic is a bit wrong ?

TNZ

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17 years 3 months

Posts: 1,442

TNZ,

Ray attacked the Castle Farm Dornier (WNr 2555, F1+FS) first . Afterwards, once the oil had cleared from his canopy, he then found and attacked the Dornier that he rammed (WNr 2361, F1+FH) , so they are definately two different Dorniers. The flamethrower was only fitted to the Castle Farm Dornier.

Geoff

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16 years

Posts: 150

TNZ,

Ray attacked the Castle Farm Dornier (WNr 2555, F1+FS) first . Afterwards, once the oil had cleared from his canopy, he then found and attacked the Dornier that he rammed (WNr 2361, F1+FH) , so they are definately two different Dorniers. The flamethrower was only fitted to the Castle Farm Dornier.

Geoff


Geoff, fantastic account, many thanx. The only thing that disappointed me about the documentary was the lack of credit given to other pilots who damaged the Victoria Dornier (i.e. Sgt Hubacek)

regards
TonyD

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17 years 3 months

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'The Blitz, Then & Now' volume two states 'Set alight in repeated fighter attacks during sortie over Central London, and abandoned by crew. Engaged by various fighters including Flight Lieutenant J Jeffries, Sergeants J Hubacek, R Puda, and J Kaucky of No 310 (Czech) Squadron. Pilot Officers J Curchin and A.K. Ogilvie of No 609 Squadron. Flying Officer T Parsons of No 504 Squadron, and possibly also attacked by Pilot Officer A.C. Cochrane of No 257 Squadron. Finally struck by Hurricane flown by Sergeant R.T. Holmes of No 504 Squadron during further attack.....'

Geoff.

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Thanks Geoff (Von P) for clearing that up.
The documentary made it sound like it was one and the same Dornier.

TNZ