Recovery of part of a German Junkers 88 off Larissa Bay, Greece

On 23 March 2007, a trawler dragged a WW II historical aircraft along the sea floor off Larissa Bay at a depth of 120 metres. Its captain attempted to raise the wreck with the boat’s crane albeit most of it was cut and separated. As a result, only the tail eventually immersed leaving the rest of it at the bottom.

Upon arrival at Salonica harbour the captain handed the wreck to the Hellenic Air Force Museum personnel, who had already rushed there. Immediately after the plane’s tail came ashore, HAF museum technicians began to treat and clean it in order to prevent deterioration due to its exposure to the atmospheric air. The wreck has been transported to the HAF Museum at Dekhelia Air Base, Athens, where restoration has already commenced.

A preliminary inspection suggested that the tail belonged to a Luftwaffe twin engined, 4-seater, bomber Junkers 88. The unexpected discovery of a “crash tag” located on the trailing edge of the right horizontal (which reads: Junkers  4051  888…) duly confirmed the initial gesture.

According to the Hugo Junkers Homepage, the prototype Ju-88 performed its first flight in 1936. Line production commenced in 1938 and mass production in 1940. During the following 6 years a total of 15.000 Ju-88s were built. The standard bomber version of the Ju-88 was built as the “A”-series, in which possibly the recovered Ju-88 belongs to.

According to initial information, the aircraft was probably shot down in April 1941 during the air operations of the German invasion to Greece.  By that time the Royal Hellenic Air Force (RHAF), having fought gallantly  during the Hellenic-Italian War and left with only very few aircraft, was called to face the overwhelming superiority of the Luftwaffe, which had at its disposal over 1.000 aircraft for this campaign. According to Hellenic Wings: An Illustrated history of the HAF and its Precursors, the RHAF,  during the three-week war against the German Air Force undertook a total of 180 missions focussing on air attacks on enemy ground forces in support of the Hellenic Army. RHAF pilots claimed shooting down two German Henschel 126s and a Dornier 17. Alongside the RHAF fought seven bomber and fighter Squadrons of the Royal Air Force, which contributed a great deal by undertaking hundreds of reconnaissance and strategic bombing sorties aiming at destroying enemy’s ports of disembarkation and communication lines in order to delay Wehrmacht’s rapid advance to the Eastern Front.

Based on available historical sources, the recovered part of the JU-88 belonged either to no 30 Bomber Wing (KG30) or no 1 Training Wing (LG1) being either (Wreknr 8135, 4D+JR) or (Wreknr 3291, L1+UH). Initial information suggests that the Ju-88 in question was most probably shot down between 11-13 April by RAF no. 33 Squadron Hurricanes. It should be stressed at this point that the aforementioned are only indicative. Full verification of the aircraft subtype, the names of the crew and their fate will only become possible if the aircraft’s tactical or construction number (Wreknr) are ever revealed.

According to the Hugo Junker Homepage, only 35 Ju-88 wreckage have survived worldwide, of which 13 belong to aircraft which have suffered massive damages during their emergency landing or crash. Some of them have been recovered from their crash sites and their parts are stored or exhibited at various Air Force Museums. Only two complete Junkers 88s are currently on display wordwide: at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and the USAF Museum, Dayton. The Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin has the wreckage of two Ju-88s, which are currently under restoration. Other Air Force Museums worldwide exhibit only parts of original aircraft or have built replicas incorporating available genuine parts. Taken into account the above, it becomes evident that even the recovered tail per se is considered of significant historical importance.

Within the wider programme of salvage of important historical aircraft, the HAF Museum is currently evaluating all available information in order to determine the feasibility of its salvage and subsequent restoration with view to become one of the few Museums in the world exhibiting three versions of Junkers: a Ju-52/3m, a Ju-87 STUKA and a Ju-88 bomber.