Emotional moment for Dornier bomber veteran as plane arrives at RAF Cosford

For war veteran Karl Bettighofer the arrival of the historic Dornier 17 bomber plane at RAF Cosford was an emotional experience.

Watching the unloading was former German Dornier navigator Karl Bettighofer
Watching the unloading was former German Dornier navigator Karl Bettighofer

The 88-year-old now lives in Wombourne but served as a navigator for the German Luftwaffe and was flying in a Dornier when it was shot down over Normandy in 1944.

Mr Bettighofer was taken as a prisoner of war by American troops. He was at RAF Cosford at the weekend to see the arrival of the historic bomber which has been raised from the English Channel.

Thousands of aviation fans are expected to visit the RAF Museum near Wolverhampton over the next few weeks to see the painstaking conservation work carried be carried out on the last surviving Dornier.

It arrived at Cosford on Saturday afternoon following a £500,000 recovery operation to retrieve the plane from the watery grave where it has rested for some 70 years.

Karl Bettighofer, aged 18
Karl Bettighofer, aged 18

For grandfather-of-four Mr Bettighofer the experience proved overwhelming, family members revealed.

Mr Bettighofer, who served as a navigator for the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War between 1942 and 1944, was at Cosford with his family on Saturday.

His daughter Carla Burns,aged 57, of Short Heath, Willenhall, said: “I think he was a bit overwhelmed about it coming here. He was very interested when it came on the news.”

His grandson Robert Burns, 36, of Coventry, who works as a lorry driver, said: “It’s so awesome to see something like this. It’s going to get a full treatment and it will be nice to see how it turns out.”

After being taken a prisoner of war, Mr Bettighofer was shipped to a camp in America before being sent to Scotland to work on farms. He settled in the UK following the war.

Mr Burns explained: “Towards the end of the war he came to Scotland.

“They took the prisoners of war back to Germany but his ship went in the wrong order and he was sent back.

“He decided to stay, got married and had two children and four grandchildren.”

The Dornier was discovered after being spotted by divers in 2008 at a depth of 50ft lying on a chalk bed with a small debris field around it.

It had sank to the bottom of the Channel after being shot down by RAF fighters during the Battle of Britain. It was one of seven aircrafts which were carrying 16 112lb bombs which it had been due to drop on the airfields in Medway, Kent.

A number of staff from Cosford have been involved in the recovery project.

Darren Priday, deputy conservation centre manager at RAF Museum Cosford, was at the scene to see the plane, known as the ‘flying pencil’ because of its narrow fuselage. finally emerge.

He said: “It’s been a long and tiring week with highs and lows.

“It was a huge relief to see her for the first time. It was just pure excitement.”

Ready for restoration – the Dornier bomber inside its special protective shelter after arriving at RAF Cosford
Ready for restoration – the Dornier bomber inside its special protective shelter after arriving at RAF Cosford

Andy McGlynn, head of fundraising at the RAF Museum at Cosford, had also watched the plane emerge from the water while on a boat just over 300 feet away.

He said: “There was quite a slow movement where they had to swing it round under the water to get it on the barge. It was amazing when it came out of the water.

“It was surreal. It looked like a prehistoric sea creature rising from the depths.”

RAF technician Tony Pass, aged 62, of Essex Drive, Hednesford, was part of the nine-strong team which was sent to Kent last Monday to dismantle the German plane so it could be transported to the Midlands.

The grandfather-of-two said: “It was quite a lot of work with the state it is in. It was upside down so it was difficult. We were working all day into the evenings.”

Apprentice airframe technician Ella Middleton, 19, of Copse Crescent, Pelsall, was also part of the team.

She said: “We had to take bolts and parts away from each other and put the protective gel on the aircraft. Some of the work involved using hand tools.”

People flocked to the RAF Cosford museum to catch a glimpse of the plane.

Malcolm Dexter, who lives in Kenilworth Crescent, Walsall, and a former Birmingham Central Library worker, went with his wife Pat. Mr Dexter, aged 65, said: “We saw The Mary Rose at this stage of the conservation too. We had watched it on television because it was such an iconic thing.

“I think lifting the Dornier off the sea bed is keeping that part of history alive for future generations.”

Terence Hill, a site manager at Stow Heath Junior School, Willenhall, visited the bomber with three generations of his family.

He was with wife Kathleen Hill, who lives with him in Alamein Road, Portobello, as well as his daughter Rebecca Hickie, son-in-law David Hickey and grandchildren Freya, aged six, and Quinn, 19 months old. Mr Hill said: “It’s great to see with the family.”