In the early 1930's the German Lufthansa company was rapidly
expanding, and its managers desired to buy only state of the art planes.
Many German aircraft conceived initially for the Lufthansa would later
see service with the still secret Luftwaffe. Some were truly excellent
designs, like the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long-range passenger / mail
airplane, who went on to become the only long-range, four-engine German
bomber of WW2. In 1933, the Dornier company decided to enter the competition
for a new six-passenger / mail aircraft. This would later become the
Dornier Do-17 light bomber.
Lufthansa had one major requirement : any plane that entered
the competition had to be really fast. To meet this demand, all three
prototypes were built with a very small cross-section, in order to reduce
drag as much as possible. By 1935, the three prototypes begun their
test flights, but the passenger space was so cramped and uncomfortable
that it was clear the plane had no future as an airliner.
Luck, however, was on Dornier's side. At that moment the RLM
( the German Air Ministry ) was looking for a plane capable of illustrating
its schnellbomber concept ( a bomber faster than any existing
fighters ). A former Dornier pilot, now a Flugkapitan in the young Luftwaffe, flew one of the prototypes and reported
that although better stability was needed, the Do-17 was a serious candidate
for this part. The twin-rudder was redesigned and seven more prototypes
were built before the aircraft was finally accepted into service, as the first schnellbomber of the Luftwaffe. By
this stage the Do-17's had already acquired the famous nickname of "flying
pencil" because of its small cross-section. RLM's idea of a schnellbomber
seemed to be paying off when the Do-17M prototype present at the Zurich
International Military Aircraft Competition in 1937 probed capable of
outrunning any fighter present there.
By the start of the war, over 600 different versions of the Do-17 (M, P, L and Z - the final one ) were in service with the Luftwaffe. During the battles over Poland and France, they performed well although trouble signs had begun to emerge. However, it was during the Battle of Britain that disaster struck. Both British fighters ( Spitfire and Hurricane ) were much faster and since the Do-17's were not carrying much defensive firepower, they got slaughtered.
After the battle, the Luftwaffe realized that with
the Junkers Ju-88 entering mass-production, the Do-17 was not needed any
more. Production ended in June 1940 and all surviving aircraft were sold
( or simply handed over ) to Germany's allies by 1942.
The ARR received ten Dornier Do-17M in early 1942. Previously
they had been used as bombers, but ARR already had better aircraft for
this job. Instead, the planes were fitted with internal extra fuel tanks
in order to give them a longer range and employed as long-range reconnaissance
aircraft. The 2nd Long Range Reconnaissance Squadron of the 1st Long Range
Reconnaissance Group was equipped with the Do-17M's and saw a lot of action
throughout the Stalingrad campaign. The squadron
remained on the front until mid 1943, when all Do-17M's left were replaced
by Junkers Ju-88D1's.