Dornier Do 19 – The Bomber Designed to Win the War
The Dornier Do 19 was a long-range strategic heavy bomber that faced off against the Junkers Ju 89 as part of Nazi Germany’s Ural Bomber Program. A promising and highly advanced combat plane, the Do-19 was shelved not because of any technical issue, but because of the death of the greatest and most influential proponent of the heavy bomber, General Walther Wever.
The resulting Luftwaffe shift to fighter planes, tactical medium bombers, and ground support craft would prove disastrous for the Germans in World War II, who would lose the air war to the Allies because of a distinct lack of heavy bombers.
Ural Bomber Program
In 1934 the Luftwaffe commenced a project called ‘Langstrecken-Grossbomber’ which called for the creation of a long-range heavy bomber originally meant to be used against the Soviet Union.
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The ‘Ural Bomber’ program was actually named after the prophesied eastern border of Hitler’s expansionist ‘lebensraum’ push, the Ural Mountains, where a four-engine bomber carrying a suitable bomb load was expected to be able to reach.
The program’s existence owed much to the efforts of General Walther Wever, the Luftwaffe’s first-ever Chief of Staff, who felt that strategic bombing raids were the future of air warfare. Wever’s vision borrowed heavily from the theories of Italian General Douhet, who hypothesized in his 1921 book ‘The Command of the Air’ that a strategic bomber fleet could inflict untold psychological and physical damage via the continuous bombardment of enemy cities and industrial facilities.
Douhet’s work would also influence chief of British Air Staff, Hugh Montague Trenchard and William Mitchell of the US Army Air Service, both of whom developed their own versions of the long-range heavy bomber at the same time as Germany in the mid-1930s.
Ultimately, Wever believed that the Junkers Ju 52/3M was not ideal for the bomber fleets he envisioned would win Germany the next war, and so he advocated for its replacement.
In 1935 as a result of Wever’s heft, the Ministry of Aviation’s (RLM) Technical Office issued a list of specifications for a new heavy bomber which would be able to carry a bomb load of two tons over a distance of 2,500 kilometres, to which aircraft manufacturer’s Dornier and Junkers eagerly responded.
While Junkers started the Ju-89 from scratch, Dornier’s submission would be a bomber that had already been in the works for several years. The first blueprints of the Dornier 19 had been made all the way back in July 1933, originally being the schematics for the Dornier P-30.
The Dornier P-30 had next taken the form of a mock-up craft which was inspected by the RLM, who then awarded Dornier a contract for 3 production units designated DO-19A.
Dornier Do 19
The Dornier Do 19 was a mid-wing cantilever design that was 25.45 meters in length, 5.77 meters in height, and 11,850 kilograms in empty weight. Mostly metal in construction, it also had a rectangular-section fuselage and a tail unit with braced twin fins and rudders, as well as a retractable landing gear that folded up the tailwheel. Its wings were enormous, having a span of 35 meters and an area of 162 square meters.
At the leading edge of the wings mounted on nacelles were 4 Bramo 332H-2 engines, which gave it a maximum speed of 315 kilometres per hour, a service ceiling of 5,600 meters, and a maximum combat range of 1,600 kilometres.
The Do was equipped with a weapon layout that included two 7.92 mm MG-15 machine guns installed in the nose and tail and two 20 mm cannons situated on two-man-operated ventral and dorsal turrets. This was complemented by a bomb load of up to 1,600 kilograms which was housed in the internal bays.
Overall, the Do-19 had space for a crew of nine comprising a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator, and 5 gunners. It was also the first bomber in the world to be installed with an Askania-Sperry autopilot.
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After accepting a contract from the Luftwaffe on January 24th 1935, on October 30th 1936 the unarmed Dornier 19 V1 took to the skies for the first time without incident, lifting off from an airfield at Löwenthal near Friedrichshafen.
As a result of this initial success, two more prototypes were ordered. The V2, with serial number Wk-Nr 702, was to be fitted with more powerful BMW 132F nine-cylinder radials.
The V3, with serial number WK-Nr 703, was the first variant to feature the armament load-out and would include 20 mm MG FF cannons situated in two hydraulically powered turrets, and two MG15 machine guns located in a bombardier-operated nose turret and in an open tail position.
On the other hand, during static testing of the V3, it was discovered that the dorsal and ventral turrets were too heavy, their inclusion making the craft seriously underpowered. Another issue that arose related to the Do 19 Bramo engines, which were not considered powerful enough to propel the craft in a satisfactory manner.
Consequently, specifications for the production model of the Dornier Do 19 were amended in light of these revelations. Now, the Do 19A was to have more powerful engines and lighter turrets; changes which were predicted to increase the bomber’s top speed to 370 kilometres per hour and its maximum range to 1,995 kilometres.
In addition to this, the 1,600-kilogram bomb load was now to contain either 16 100-kilogram SC 100 bombs or 32 50-kilogram SC 50 explosives.
Cancellation & Aftermath
The demise of the Dornier 19 was largely caused by the unexpected death of its biggest supporter, General Walther Wever. In 1935 the Heinkel He 70 Blitz became the personal craft of Wever, a man who despite being a member of the upper echelons of the Luftwaffe, was not an experienced pilot and had only learnt to fly the previous year.
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As such, Wever’s lack of expertise meant on June 3rd 1936, while strapping himself into the He 70 to get home after a conference in Dresden, he was unaware of an important lever situated in the cockpit that locked the control column while the craft was grounded.
As a result, as the He 70 took off at high-speed Wever found it impossible to control the ailerons of his craft. Unable to get any height the plane stayed perilously low and crashed, killing General Wever instantly.
The passing of this most influential proponent of strategic bombing sounded the death knell for the entire Ural Bomber program and the future of heavy bombers in the Luftwaffe.
This was facilitated by the accession of Wever’s successor, General Albert Kesselring, who argued that the Luftwaffe’s primary role in a war waged in Western Europe should be tactical rather than strategic. As a result, Kesselring emphasized that the Luftwaffe should concentrate on producing fighters and medium bombers rather than heavier equivalents.
His argument was also practical, for at the time raw materials were scarce. In 1937 for example records indicate that of the 4500 tons of aluminium required monthly, only half was available.
It was an opinion also shared by Kesselring’s superior, Herman Göring, who wanted the Luftwaffe to produce more planes with the resources available to please Hitler. In a recorded exchange, Göring had asked Kesselring the question: “How many twin-engined aircraft can we make for each four-engined one?”, to which the reply was: “about two and a half”. In response Goering famously quipped:
“The Führer does not ask me how big my bombers have, but how many there are.”
Together, Goering and Kesselring supplanted the heavy bomber with a new focus on ground attack support and quick, sharp blitzkrieg attacks, both of which would come to define military German air policy throughout World War Two.
However, as the Nazis began to lose air superiority to the Allies it became apparent that their ground-attack strategy was ineffective. The Germans were painfully learning that without a long-range bomber they were unable to wage a protracted war, leading some to speculate that the cancellation of the promising Dornier 19 was a huge mistake.
In a letter dated November 1st 1942, the President of the Association of the German Aviation Authority, Admiral Lahs, would lament in regard to the Do 19 and the Ju 89 that:
“Had they been properly developed, both types would have been far superior to all American and English long-range bombers.”
Surprisingly, the Dornier 19 limped on for nearly a year more following General Wever’s fatal accident, completing 83 test flights. On July 18th 1936 the RLM officially terminated Do 19 development since there were no production versions of the bomber planned. This was followed up on April 29th 1937 by the formal cancellation of the entire Ural Bomber program.
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Consequently, the uncompleted V2 and V3 variants of the Do 19 were scrapped, while the V1 was converted into a transport that saw service with the Luftwaffe during the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.
- Crew: 10, pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator and five gunners
- Length: 25.45 m (83 ft 6 in)
- Wingspan: 35 m (114 ft 10 in)
- Height: 5.76 m (18 ft 11 in)
- Empty weight: 11,865 kg (26,158 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 18,500 kg (40,786 lb)
- Powerplant: 4 × Bramo 322H-2 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, 533 kW (715 hp) each for take-off
- 447 kW (599 hp) maximum continuous power
- Maximum speed: 315 km/h (196 mph, 170 kn) at sea level at 18,000 kg (40,000 lb)
- Range: 1,600 km (990 mi, 860 nmi)
- Service ceiling: 5,600 m (18,400 ft)