|PRICE:||$12.00 twenty years ago|
|NOTES:||Frog main parts. Monogram detail parts. Lots of aftermarket. Lots of work. And all just in time for that beautiful new Airfix kit!|
In 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, there’s a memorable scene in which Evil Bad Guy Archeologist René Belloq, ready to seal hero Indiana Jones plus girlfriend in an ancient tomb, holds up a common pocket-watch at him: “Look at this…it’s worthless. Ten dollars from a vendor on the street. But I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years; it becomes priceless.” And just before the lid is slid shut, he taunts, “Who knows? In a thousand years, even you might be worth something!”
In a much similar fashion, Dornier Do-17Z Werknummer #1160 became just such a priceless object when it broke the surface of the English Channel in the early summer of 2013, raised by the Royal Air Force Museum from the shallow Goodwin Sands off the extreme southeastern coast of England. Simply another ‘grunt’ Luftwaffe bomber shot down into the ocean by angry swarms of RAF fighters during the Battle of Britain some 73 years prior, the RAFM has very tenderly recovered the badly-corroded but 90% complete aircraft, and the ongoing— and expert—conservation efforts for what Mark Twain would have referred to as “remainders” is testament to the fact that this is the last specimen of one of the most important aircraft from the early years of WWII. It makes for fascinating perusal, and if you’re not familiar with these goings-on I highly recommend you type something like “Dornier Recovery UK” or similar into your search engine.
Unlike other German aircraft of this period, the Do-17 did not start life as a concealed military project but legitimately as a high-speed 6-seat airliner/cargo plane to fulfill a 1934 requirement. While it was truly fast for the time, passengers did not like the 55”-high interior space and Deutsche Luft Hansa did not like the maintenance costs of two engines. Heinkel’s competing single engine He-70 was the winner. The three prototypes hung about the Dornier factory idle for a year or so until a Luft Hansa captain happened by the facility and decided to give one of them a test hop. His glowing report and recommendation that the design be redeveloped as a bomber was forwarded to the Air Ministry in Berlin. Shortly afterward and now sprouting guns, twin tails, a bomb bay where the passengers were supposed to go, and a clear nose for the bombardier, the airliner debuted in its new guise as a combat machine at the 1937 International Military Aircraft Competition held in Zurich. There it caused a stir by thoroughly outclassing the French Dewoitine D.510, at that time considered the best fighter in Europe: a bomber outperforming a fighter! Simultaneously sent straight to the bloody civil war raging in Spain, it arrived there as the Do-17E bomber and -17F reconnaissance plane, and in a twist of irony replaced the competing He-70 which had in the meantime also been pressed into military service. The slender plane soon garnered the nickname Das Fliegender Bleistift: The Flying Pencil.
Reality doing what it does to theory, the Spanish adventure soon exposed weaknesses in the airliner-turned-bomber: by surprise the Soviet’s potent and previously-ignored Polikarpov I-16 fighter was met in combat, a huge leap ahead in offensive punch from that wispy French Dewoitine previously thought to represent the state-of-the-art. The Dornier was now a tad slow and weakly defended. 750 HP BMW in-line engines were swapped for a pair of 1000 HP radials from the same firm, and the sleek nose and cockpit were redesigned and ‘deepened’ to accommodate a new 4th crewmember: a gunner firing his weapon below and aft to cover the bomber’s vulnerable belly. The new, angular, and rather ugly front end closely grouped the entire crew together for communications and morale and caused the airplane to lose its svelte “flying pencil” look.
This final, main version went into service in 1939 as the Do-17 ”Z”, and owing to Germany’s exponential industrial ramp-up in preparation to (essentially) invade the world, very quickly supplanted earlier versions of the plane in first-line combat units. Its first sortie was launched 45 minutes after the outbreak of WWII on 1 September 1939 and (alongside Heinkel’s sinister He-111) was the main bombardment aircraft in every single Blitzkrieg campaign except the invasion of Norway. However, while popular with both air and ground crews for its good handling and reliability, the more skeptical eyes of the Luftwaffe’s strategic bean-counters could only note that it lacked both the load-carrying capability of the He-111 and the speed and adaptability of another aircraft, Junkers’ wondrous new Ju-88, which was just starting to enter service. After all this work, doomed by the lack of growth potential, the Dornier Do-17 departed Luftwaffe service rapidly after the invasion of the USSR in June 1941, replaced by Dornier’s own and far more up-to-the-task Do-217 for the rest of the war, passing on to secondary roles and to Germany’s allies, notably Hungary, Croatia, and Finland.
Already a fairly pro-German state, the Finns had gambled that, by allying themselves with Germany for the invasion of Russia, they could regain territories lost in the unprovoked Soviet attack eighteen months earlier, and the 15 Dorniers provided by Germany supplemented their overused Bristol Blenheims and nearly doubled the power of their bomber force upon arrival. These were in service for a couple of years before being relegated to mapping duties, replaced again by that ubiquitous Ju-88. This tiny force achieved results far out of proportion to its numbers with raids on Soviet airfields and supply lines, helping the Finns hold their frontier (to its credit, Finland advanced only to its old border—no further) until the gamble turned into a bust at the end of 1944 and the ceded borders were affirmed with the Soviets after all.
As for the German ‘17s, a dependable airplane is a dependable airplane, and all variants would continue doing various rear-echelon jobs throughout the war, the “Zs” making one final appearance tugging gliders to supply the desperate defenders of Budapest in early 1945. Of absolutely zero technical interest to the victorious Allies, none were consciously preserved for posterity, with the Finns scrapping the last of theirs in the early 50s to comply with postwar treaties forbidding that nation to possess aircraft with an internal bomb bay.
By this sequence, it falls on an innocuous set of remains and a very dedicated team of experts to see that a notable aircraft type will not fall into oblivion. Serendipitously, the fact that much of this aircraft’s skin has dissolved in the salt water has inadvertently made it an intriguing cut-away display, revealing interesting and otherwise-invisible interior details.
While the 1/48 community has been provided with the Hobbycraft kit with its banana-shaped fuselage and the far better Classic Airframes release, and the 1/72 crowd has had a variety of the early versions from RS, Airfix, and ICM, a definitive kit of the main “Z” version has been oddly lacking. Frog released one in the early 1960s (available for the vast majority of its 40-year production life under the Revell-Germany label and briefly in the 90s under Matchbox) and Monogram another about 1968. Therefore, your choice was this: The crude but accurate Frog kit, or the far crisper and better-detailed Monogram kit which nonetheless was cursed with a wing far too broad in chord. Therefore, for decades, the standard procedure to get your “Z” was to start with the Frog kit and give it more alterations than an aging spinster heiress. Ray Rimmel, known more for his extensive work in Great War modelling and documentation, wrote an article back in the 80s for Scale Models magazine detailing his process doing so (as part of a series, and it was reproduced in book form in 1990 entitled Modelling Battle of Britain Aircraft and included lots of useful artwork and documentation). I used this as my starting point, taking it quite a bit further.
(Side-bar note: this wasn’t my first experience with this kit. Sometime in the late ‘70s, Todd and Jeff, twin teenage-surfer neighbor boys and United Airlines brats like me, brought themselves with their blond-mushroom hair over to kid-sit my seven-year-old self one evening while the rest of my family was out—and this kit along as entertainment. Though it was missing its nose piece, we built the model over that evening, and they resourcefully replaced the missing clear part with the excess forward turret left over from Revell’s Jacques Cousteau PBY Catalina. “This’ll keep the wind off the pilot’s face, man” said one of them [“dude” wasn’t a part of the lingo yet]. Though they departed telling me this was just a fun model and I was free to throw it around or let Duchess the Terrier chew it up, it in reality builds into such a durable model that I think it’s still intact somewhere in my parents’ attic.)
As implied, this is a very involved undertaking and I took it on an overseas deployment as a time-killer. My planned parts breakdown ended up as follows: fuselage, wing, engine nacelles and cowlings: Frog. Tail surfaces, landing gear w/ doors, engine faces, propellers, ventral gunner’s canopy, and other small bits: Monogram. Cockpit detail: Eduard photoetch (intended for the Monogram kit) and scratch. Canopies: Falcon. MG-15 guns: Aeroclub. Wheels: True Details (re-inflated).
Modelers of the Do-17 will note that you needn’t do any work on the cockpit until the airframe is all assembled, such is the accessibility provided by that nose and massive greenhouse canopy. There are lots of delicate do-dads in the cockpit vulnerable to breakage during the gross filling and sanding operations which lay ahead and it’s best to leave the cockpit out until all this is done.
Accordingly, I began work by cutting and installing the bomb bay skylights, then followed by main airframe assembly and grafting the Monogram tail and gunner’s glazing to the Frog airframe with lots of sawing, grinding, and epoxy putty. All gaps (including ailerons) were filled and a comprehensive general sanding followed (the delicate raised detail on the Monogram tail was masked and retained) to give me a smooth surface. The second phase involved re-scribing the lost detail and I used various 3-view drawings found online for reference in this. Monogram engine faces were glued in the place of the sliced-off Frog cowling lips, though they’re a tad shallow upon reflection.
The local Afghanis, hired for sentry work (!) and other menial jobs on my forward operating base, would gather to patiently watch me doing all this in the USO club, sometimes for hours. The sight of a Western person spending such time on handicraft was unfamiliar to them, and some of the English-speaking ones possessed a surprising knowledge of World War II history (finding something to eat and a little safety is a more pressing concern there--not to mention the decades-long lack of a functional public education system) and understood the context of the object concerned. “Yes, a German airplane” said one of them, sitting with legs pulled up under his long kameez tunic, “made to fight England!”
My attention turned finally to the cockpit. The Eduard photoetch parts, intended for the Monogram kit, were adapted to the very different Frog fuselage and supplemented with some scratch building and white metal MG-15 machine guns from my dwindling supply of Aeroclub bits. I spent a lot of time not only painting the RLM 02 Grau but with highlights and shadows, as this is one cockpit that remains pretty visible in normal light on the completed model. It was all then closed up under those jewel-like Falcon vac-form canopies, masked over several sessions with Tamiya tape. Antennas, pitot tube, and elevator mass balances were then attached and it was packed in my duffel for home and the paint shop.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
I found out about the imminent availability of the all-new (and impressive-looking) New Airfix kit about this time, so I moved into high gear to get this stinker finished. After all the work, I wanted to do something different than the same ‘ol three-tone German splinter scheme, and thus selected the hideous Finnish winter camouflage depicted. A mix of Testors and Xtracolor paints—and about 8 hours of total masking (and 20 minutes of airbrushing) with more Tamiya tape yielded it. That elusive Finnish hue of green was represented by an approximate 50/50 mix RAF Dark Earth and RLM 83 Lichtgrun, also from dwindling supplies, with a little white for scale effect.
Decals came from a variety of sources, all over twenty years old—Monogram for the technical stencils on the lower surfaces (Photographic evidence confirms this for Finnish use, but I couldn’t find a clear upper-surface shot of a Finnish machine so I left them off up top), Tally-ho (the old Canadian firm) for the individual aircraft markings, and Aviation Usk for the national markings. Modelers wanting to ‘do’ this aircraft will note that decals for this scheme are available at this writing from both the Polish firm Techmod as product #72136 and the UK’s Xtradecal as #72206.
Finnish use of the swastika as national identity for their military aircraft dates back to 1919 when a Swedish nobleman, who used it as a personal emblem, gifted the Finnish air force its first aircraft and the Finns used this marking in their national colors as a gesture of gratitude. About the same time, an angry former German Air Service officer by the name of Herman Goering, finding itinerant charter pilot work in the area, showed up at this same nobleman’s home and became infatuated with the man’s sister-in-law, Carin von Kantzow—later to be Goering’s famous, grieved wife. The story goes that he also first noted the swastika on this visit and suggested it to another disgruntled Great War veteran buddy of his who was busy starting a violent, radical ultranationalist political party in Bavaria. The timing is off by a couple of years for this last to likely be true, but the minor crossing point of history is nonetheless fascinating.
Paint and decals were sealed in with Future floor coating. A wash was applied with some thinned Testor’s enamels to all panel lines, allowed to dry for a few hours, the excess then wicked away in the direction of airflow with some denatured alcohol on Q-tips. I find this represents well the subtle overall ‘grub’ carried by all working aircraft. This was supplemented with some mixed pastels sanded to powder and brushed on for the exhaust smudges, and a light Testor’s Metallizer Aluminum dry-brushing to accentuate some prominent edges. All was locked in under a coat of Aeromaster semi-gloss clear enamel…haven’t found an adequate replacement for this product yet. Landing gear and doors were attached and she was off the bench and on to the dining room table, to my family’s bemusment.
I’m generally pleased with the result. But I don’t recommend you go about things this way at all to get that 1/72 Dornier in your lineup. Keep a crystal ball or some other kind of clairvoyant device handy so when a newly-resurgent legacy model kit company starts thinking about cutting molds for a long-neglected subject you can save yourself a whole lot of trouble and go their route!
Gunston, Bill. Classic Aircraft Cutaways. 1995
Rimmel, Ray. Modelling Battle of Britain Aircraft. 1982 and 1990
Keskinen and Stenman. Finnish Air Force 1939-1945. 1998
Green, William. Warplanes of the Third Reich. 1970
Taylor, William. Combat Aircraft of the World. 1969
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