Air Pictorial February 1982

Biscarosse Do 24s




FOR SOME thirty-fire years, from August 1944 until February 1980, two Dornier Do 24 T-3 three-engined flyingboats lay unnoticed in shallow water just off the pre-war Air France trans-Atlantic terminal at Hourtiquets on the north-west shore of Lake Biscarosse-Parentis. Sunk by the retreating Luftwaffe during their abandonment of occupied France and rediscovered by local skin-divers searching for archaeological remains, the first of these machines (“W4+DH”, W.Nr. 1101) was raised last summer and is now displayed by the Association de Protection des Epaves du Lac de Biscarosse (APELB) near the yachting marina at Biscarosse.

                The recovery of the second aircraft (“W4+BH”, W.Nr. 1007) was given wide publicity in France, a team from the refional TV channel FR 3 “Aquitaine” filming various aspects of the salvage operation. This took place over the weekend of 19th-20th September 1981.

                Unfortunately it was found necessary to cut off the mainplanes, these being brought ashore earlier. Large airbags provided the main lifting component. The fuselage had to be dragged a considerable distance under water, sustaining some damage in the process. This slkow haul occupied the whole of Saturday. Towards evening, the Do 24 broke surface, much to the relief of the crowds of patient sighseers lining the old concrete slipway – all that now remains of the once-famous Latécoére factory at Biscarosse.

                Among those watching was former Feldwebel Heinrich Reif, late of 1. Seenotstaffel, the Bay of Biscay air-sea rescue unit to which the pair of Do 24’s once belonged, and the last pilot of “W4+BH” prior to its temporary consignment to a watery grave. Other guests of the Mairie and Les Amis du Musée des Hydravions came from Dornier G.m.b.H. Friedrichshafen, and the town of Forchheim north of Nürnberg with which Biscarosse is twinned.

                Also present were a number of former R.A.F. Mosquito aircrew and their wives invited by APELB, the group of boatmen, divers, ex-Resistance and other local volunteers charged with carrying out the complex task of both raising and preserving these heavy flying-boats. The British party was led by G/Capt. L. T. Bryant-Fenn, D.F.C., who took part in the first successful “instep” patrol to Biscarosse on 20th June 1943, when four Mosquitoes of No. 264 Squadron shot down a Blohm und Voss Bv 138, sunk another on the lake and destroyed two six-engined BV 222s moored there. British visitors also included W/Cdr. H. E. Tappin, D.F.C., of No. 157 squadron, who shot down another BV 222 south-west of the lake on the night of 8th February 1944.

                Early Sunday morning found Reif’s Dornier beached like a stranded whale. The long slow underwater tow had, however, taken its toll. The nose section was missing, its rear turret now folded incongruously under the aft fuselage. Although the port side of the fuselage was intact, the starboard side was badly damaged, especially in the centre-section where the effect of an explosive charge set off by the Germans to scuttle the aircraft were all too apparent. Also, within hours of being exposed, the dark camouflage paint began to flake away.

                Unlike the previous year, when a whole range of items including a mint MG 131 machine-gun, live ammunition, still-readable documents, parachutes, dinghies, a flare pistol and steel helmets wre recovered from the interior of “W4+DH”, nothing of value was discovered in this second Do 24. These relics, incidentally, are now displayed by APELB in a small temporary building on the old Latécoère site. Possibly the nose section, if located, might still yield something of interest.

                It is likely, that given sufficient funds work will start on wedding together the least corroded components of the two Do 24s, to make a single display specimen. Unfortunately the machine recovered in 1980 is now constantly exposed to the elements and there seems little prospect that this situation will change in the foreseeable future. In the long term, one can but hope that the unique facility across the lake at Hourtiquets with its two fine vintage hangars and “timeless” atmosphere will be preserved intact for posterity. Ideally this site might one day form the nucleus of a French national flying-boat museum.