The German Flying Boats Busting Japanese Tin Cans

Dornier Flugzeugwerke’s all-metal three-engined Do 24 flying boat was designed in the mid-1930s to replace the Dutch Navy’s Dornier Do J Wal (whale) aircraft flown in the Dutch East Indies.

Below we see a Dornier Wal, taking off next to the Dutch cruiser Java, somewhere in the Dutch East Indies. As pointed out by Georgios Nikolaides-Krassas, an avid LSOZI reader, the Wal was “Do-24s ‘grandfather,’ so to speak, and predecessor in the Netherlands Naval Aviation Service (Marineluchtvaartdienst-MLD). Judging by the presence of the 75 mm/55 cal. Bofors/Wilton-Fijenoord Mark 4 AA guns and the awnings, the photograph must have been taken in the Dutch East Indies at some point between 1926, when the Do-J was introduced in MLD service, and the refit in the early 1930s that saw the removal of said AA guns, a few years before the first flight of the prototype of Do-24 (which, it must be pointed out, was developed to meet a requirement by the MLD).”

The Do 24 was a big, beautiful aircraft, with an 88-foot wingspan– nearly as wide as the famed PBY Catalina. With a 150kt cruising speed, the ability to carry over 2,600-pounds of ordnance under its wings, and a 1,600nm range, they could pose a serious threat to approaching sneaky enemy fleets.

Dornier Do-24K-1 maritieme patrouillevliegboot X-13 (1938-1942).

Bomb suspension of the first Dornier Do 24K-1 maritime patrol flying boat (German: Hochsee-Aufklärungsflugboot) of the Naval Aviation Service (MLD), built by Dornier in Friedrichshafen (South Germany). They could carry six 200 kg (440-pound) bombs, three under each wing. Also, note the searchlight on the engine cowling.

The Dutch wanted 90 of the aircraft, with the first third built by Dornier in Germany and the rest under license by Aviolanda in Holland.

A formation of nine Dornier Do-24K maritime patrol flying boats and six smaller Fokker T.IV naval bombers over ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy, circa 1939.

However, by 1940, this plan was dead in the water.

When the Germans swept through the Lowlands in May 1940, they captured 26 incomplete aircraft in Holland and went on to build another 159 for the Luftwaffe on the Dutch line, substituting BMW-made Braamo engines– the same type used in the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, some 37 Do.24s were in service in the Dutch East Indies, concentrated mostly at Naval Air Station Morokrembangan near Soerabaja in eastern Java, and proved vital in the short three-month campaign for those islands.

De Dornier Do-24K-1 maritieme patrouillevliegboten X-2 (1938-1941) en X-3 (1938-1942)

It was a Do.24 that alerted the Dutch garrison at Tarakan that the Japanese invasion fleet was over the horizon, allowing the important oil fields there to be put to the torch.

Dornier 24 flying boat of the Royal Netherlands Navy sights the Japanese invasion fleet off Kuching, British Borneo, 23 December, 1941

The Japanese Fubuki-class destroyer Shinonome met her end on the morning of 17 December 1941 while part of the Borneo invasion force at the hand of a Do 24.

As detailed by Combined Fleet: 

  • 0650 [Tokyo time; Dutch time local 0550] While in distant company of HIYOSHI MARU and W-7 the SHINONOME was attacked shortly after dawn by Dutch flying boat X-32 of GVT-7 (GVT = Groep Vliegtuigen = Aircraft Group) off Miri, Borneo (04-24 N, 114 E). Five bombs were dropped, with two direct hits and one near-miss observed. One of them detonated an aft magazine: SHINONOME came to a stop, heeled over, and went down by the stern within five minutes.
  • 0700 HIYOSHI MARU and W-7 attacked by Dutch Flying Boat X.33. Attack ended.
  • 1020 MURAKUMO sees a huge column of white water erupting from the sea in the area of Baram Lighthouse and a huge underwater shock is felt at the same time. It seemed like a deep super depth charge in its concussion.
  • 1246 To investigate, MURAKUMO cast off from No.3 TONAN MARU after having first refueled. The destroyer thereafter discovered a ten-meter long patch of oil about fifteen kilometers off Baram Lighthouse containing relatively little debris. Most poignantly, the only recognizable item was a barrel of radishes, known to have been embarked by SHINONOME from the supply ship SURUGA MARU at Camranh Bay.
  • 1930 MURAKUMO gave up searching for survivors, having found not a single one. Returned to Miri and assigned patrol duties. Thus Lt.Cdr. Sasagawa and all hands – some 221 officers and men – perished.

After it became apparent that the Dutch East Indies could not be held in the face of the overwhelming Japanese effort, 11 surviving Dorniers were able to evacuate to Australia in late February 1942– some 80 years ago today.

Three days later, an air raid on Roebuck Bay left five of the remaining Do.24s sunk, along with four Dutch PBYs.

“A Japanese air raid on Tuesday morning 3 March 1942 resulted in the loss of nine MLD flying boats, which were moored in Roebuck Bay near Broome (Western Australia). These were the Dornier Do-24K-1 flying boats X-1, X-3, X-20, X-23, X-28, and the Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina flying boats Y-59, Y-60, Y-67, and Y -70. The photo shows the smoke development, which presented a sinister spectacle over the bay just after the attack.”

The final six Do 24s served with the Australians, absorbed in No. 41 Squadron RAAF as A49 1-6, serving as amphibian transports between Australia and New Guinea until late in the war.

Lake Macquarie, Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake, C. 1943. A Dornier Do 24 Of the Dutch Royal Marine Airforce flies low over the lake. AWM 044610.

The exiled Do.24s mirrored the work of the Free Dutch No. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF, which was formed from Marineluchtvaartdienst personnel that escaped from Holland to the UK with eight Fokker T.VIIIW twin-engined patrol seaplanes. The latter squadron finished the war flying Hudsons. 

All photos via the NIMH, which has a very nice photo collection of these aircraft in action, both in German and Dutch livery. 


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