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Operation Dora and the Bavarian Typhoon — the Bf 108 Taifun, clandestine

15 May 2013

Operation Dora and the Bavarian Typhoon — the Bf 108 Taifun, clandestine

Operation Dora occurred in early 1944, during World War II,  and was an effort by the Germans to insert personnel to observe British air supply efforts in West Africa, Fort Lamy (Chad) and Cairo — information needed to protect Axis efforts in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The desert regions of North Africa seemed criss-crossed at the time by Major Bagnold’s famed “Desert Rats” (formally the Long Range Desert Group, or LRDG) whether behind enemy lines or not — Italians and Germans were also patrolling as well but not with the same fantastic results won by the Desert Rats. Ralph Alger Bagnold was famous in the prewar years as a desert explorer and scientist (his observations and calculations are used today by NASA on the Mars rover missions) and he was part of a club which searched for many years for a lost oasis named, Zerzura.

Count Lazlo Almsay was also part of this gentleman’s club but served the Axis (the sole member to do so, though he was from Hungary) during World War II and brought his considerable knowledge of desert exploration and land navigation to bear for Operation Dora. Kampfgeschwader 200 (KG 200, the special operations branch of the Luftwaffe) was charged with inserting personnel into Libya from Greece and then a further 1750 miles (2800km) from landfall westward across Africa. The Bf 108 Taifun (Typhoon) had demonstrated reliability as well as long range during international air races in the prewar years, but even its long legs could not carry it the distance required. Additionally, though it had seating for four it would not carry sufficient cargo to build and supply covert air strips which were to be hidden in the vast desert spaces of northern Africa. KG 200 planned to use a captured B-17 Flying Fortress for supply and with that aspect of the challenge solved went to work on the problem of getting an advanced party into place.

The solution arrived at was no less than a bit of daring as well as superb airmanship — the range of a Bf 108 (loaded with fuel, a pilot, a navigator and two soldiers as well as equipment) would be greatly extended by having it under aerial tow behind a Heinkel He 111 while flying from Greece across the Mediterranean Sea to the coast along the Gulf of Sirte. Once making landfall, the Bf 108 pilot started its engine and began a flight leg utilizing only basic navigation skills first to an abandoned airstrip previously built by Italians in Libya, then successively westward. The  long flight was accomplished without autopilot and required pinpoint navigation using dead reckoning — all in hostile air space. A daring mission by anyone’s measure. The operation was logistically a success but Operation Dora was undone when an Axis agent was discovered in an Allied bar smoking a brand of cigarette unavailable in the area — sharp eyes were about — and, under interrogation he made the Allies aware of Operation Dora.

Bf-108 Taifun — photo by Joseph May

Bf 108 Taifun during a flypast at an airshow— photo by Joseph May

Designed and produced by Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Aircraft Works or Bf) — later to be known as Messerschmitt — in the late 1930 the Taifun (Typhoon) is a sleek four seat trainer and liaison aircraft with a few flying still flying in the current day. This aircraft was photographed at an airshow in the late 1970s or early 1980s and was owned by author Martin Caidin at the time.

— photo by Joseph May

Bf 108 Taifun in World War II markings — photo by Joseph May


The material regarding Operation Dora was found in this well written book — The Hunt for Zerzura: the lost oasis and the Desert War, Saul Kelly, 2002, ISBN 0-7195-61671, 302 pp.

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