Junkers Ju 52/3m, Leros [+1943]

Wreck

Max Depth: 55m | Temp.: 18°C (Oct-21)

Historical research – Text: Dimitris Galon

The autumn of 1943 was particularly turbulent in the Aegean due to the war events that took place in the region, turning it again into a significant and active war front. The military conflicts that resulted from the Italian capitulation in September 1943 and the control of the Italian Dodecanese by the Allied Powers led to the organization of a campaign by the German Wehrmacht, known as the “Dodecanese Campaign” (Dodekanes-Feldzug), intending to recover the Dodecanese. Many battles were fought to capture the Dodecanese by the German army, but the fiercest among them is considered to this day, by all sides, to be the Battle of Leros.

Operation “Taifun”

The battle for the capture of Leros was planned, under the code name “Operation Taifun” (Unternehmen “Taifun”), thoroughly and in great detail after the German army’s conquest of Kalymnos. Lieutenant General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, commander of the airborne 22nd Infantry Division (22. Infanterie-Division) and military commander of Crete, was put in charge not only of the operation to conquer Leros but also of the general Dodecanese Campaign. All three arms of the Wehrmacht, infantry, navy, and air force, cooperated in the conquest of Leros. The battle for the occupation of Leros began at dawn on 12 November 1943, when the German ground forces, supported by the German Navy (Kriegsmarine), transported troops by water and landed them in areas of western and eastern Leros. The strong Allied resistance, with the exceptional Italian artillery units, initially pinned down the German army and caused many material and human losses. At noon on the same day, with the assistance of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), paratroopers began dropping into the narrowest part of the island, achieved in splitting the Allied Forces in half. The fierce fighting and the constant presence of German aircrafts in the skies of Leros continued for days until the British commander of the island, General Robert Tilney, pressured by the losses and the heavy pressure of the German army, ordered the surrender of Leros on 16 November 1943.

TG 4

One of the Luftwaffe units that participated in the Battle of Leros was the 4th Transport Wing (Transportgeschwader 4). This wing was established in May 1943 and consisted of two main staffs (Stab I and II), including eight squadrons. Staff I comprised the 1st to 4th Squadrons (1.-4. Gruppe), while Staff II comprised the 5th to 8th Squadrons (5.-8. Gruppe). During the Battle of Leros, the wing commander (Geschwaderkommodore) of the 4th Transport Wing was, from the establishment of the wing until July 1944, Oberstleutnant Richard Kupschus.  Major Kurt Schneidenberger was the commander of the First Staff from September 1943 until the disbandment of the wing in October 1944, while Oberstleutnant Werner-Eugen Hoffmann was the commander of the Second Staff from May 1943 to February 1944. The 4th Transport Wing was equipped with Junkers Ju 52/3m aircrafts, which operated from Tatoi, Kalamaki, and Tanagra airfields, and bore the “G6” markings as the 4th Transport Wing’s side insignia. All the officers of the Wing Command Squadron (Geschwaderstab) resided at the Hotel “Cecil” in Kifissia.

Two squadrons of the 4th Transport Wing, the 2nd Squadron (2. Gruppe) and the 6th (6. Gruppe), participated operationally in the Battle of Leros. The commander of the 2nd Squadron was Hauptmann Helmut Rammig, and of the 6th was Hauptmann Edmund Auer. These squadrons were involved in the events from the beginning of the airlift of German paratroopers to Leros, resulting in the loss of three Junkers Ju 52/3m aircrafts between 12 and 14 November 1943.

The first aircraft, with side markings G6+CH and production number (Werknummer) 6763, was lost off Leros by anti-aircraft gunfire on 12 November 1943. The aircraft belonged to the 2nd Squadron of the 4th Transport Wing (2./TG 4). Apart from the aircraft’s radio operator, all other crew members were killed in the crash. The crew consisted of Leutnant Helmut Günther (Flugzeugführer = Pilot), Feldwebel Johann Mahr (Bordbeobachter = Supervisor), Unteroffizier Fritz Näpflein (Bordfunker = Radio operator), Leutnant Werner Bockelmann (Bordschutze = Air gunner).

The second aircraft, with side markings G6+FP and production number (Werknummer) 6799, was lost off Leros by anti-aircraft gunfire on 13 November 1943. The aircraft belonged to the 6th Squadron of the 4th Transport Wing (6./TG 4). The aircraft’s engineer was lost during the crash, and several passengers were killed. They were paratroopers of the 12th Parachute Regiment (Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 12), most of whom were drowned due to their heavy armament. The crew consisted of Unteroffizier Günther Voigt (Pilot), Unteroffizier Max Ehrig (Supervisor), Unteroffizier Viktor Langos (Radio operator), Unteroffizier Andreas Huter (Air gunner), Friedrich Meyerdirks (Bordmechaniker = Engineer).

The third aircraft, with the production number (Werknummer) 640187, was hit on 14 November  1943 by anti-aircraft gunfire over Leros, resulting in it being shot down and sunk near the “Pano Zymi” promontory, northeast of Leros. The aircraft’s engineer Oberfeldwebel Georg Mehren was lost in the crash.

Ju 52/3m G6+? (Werknummer 640187)

This third aircraft belonged to the 6th Squadron of the 4th Transport Wing and is still submerged at a depth of about 55 meters in the area where it crashed. Although its unit markings are known (G6), the aircraft’s full side markings remain unknown to date. According to the historical researcher Peter Schenk, its identification came from Andreas Huter, gunner and survivor of the Ju 52/3m G6+FP (Werk-Nr. 6799), when he visited Leros in the 1980s. Huter was taken prisoner after the downing of the Ju 52/3m G6+FP on 13 November 1943 and was initially held in Leros and subsequently transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in the Middle East.

The Ju 52/3m, in the “Pano Zymi” area, is upside down on the seabed. The visual material brought to the surface by the TOP2BOTTOM diving team shows precisely the wreck’s condition some 80 years after it was shot down. The fuselage, which is covered with a variety of fishing gear, is covered, for the most part, by a large trawl net, but is in good condition, except for the tail area, and the main fins are still attached to the aircraft. The 392 kW, BMW 132 A-3 type radial towed engine of the Ju 52/3m has collapsed, probably due to fishing activities, and is lying on the seabed next to the aircraft.

The port on the left side of the Ju 52/3m is missing, allowing penetration of the fuselage interior. Ammunition is spread in this area. Among them are the D.T. 15 double membrane magazines of the M.G. 15 (Maschinengewehr 15) machine gun, which was the primary defensive weapon of the Junkers Ju 52. The D.T. 15 magazines are still to this day suspended in their mounts on the roof of the aircraft. The metal frames of the passenger seats are immediately discernible, as is the double door separating the cockpit from the rest of the fuselage. As the aircraft is lying upside down on the seabed, it was impossible to ascertain whether it still carries the M.G. 15 machine gun. The aft fuselage area is badly damaged as it is cut off and is at a perpendicular angle to the longitudinal axis of the aircraft with the right wing raised perpendicular to the surface. All parts of the Ju 52/3m are heavily covered in benthos, which, combined with the existing fishing gear, makes further investigation to find the metal plate bearing the aircraft’s production number difficult.

Technical characteristics

The Junkers Ju 52/3m three-engine transporter, as this type of aircraft is precisely known, represents one of the most famous types of aircraft mass-produced and supported the operations of the German Army during World War II. In Greece, this type was used in two major combat operations, the Battle of Crete in 1941 (Unternehmen “Merkur”) and the Battle of Leros in 1943 (Unternehmen “Taifun”). Apart from the first major combat operation at Narvik, Norway, in 1940, where paratroopers were dropped on a large scale for the first time, the Battles of Crete and Leros were the only operations in which German paratroopers were also dropped on a large scale. The battle of Leros was the last operation where the elite units of German paratroopers was used.

The Junkers Ju 52/3m had the following technical characteristics.

Type  transport aircraft
Crew  Three persons (usually two pilots and a radio operator)
Manufacturer  Junkers
Length  18,90 metres
Wingspan  29,25 metres
Height  4,50 metres
Wing area  110,50 square metres
Weight (empty)  6,510 kg
Max. takeoff weight  10,990 kg
Engines  Three BMW 132 radial (nine cylinders)
Power  660 PS each
Maximum speed  290 kilometres per hour
Range  1200 km
Maximum altitude  6,300 metres
Armament  one 7.92 mm M.G. 15 machine gun with 75-round D.T. 15 double-drum D.T. 15 magazines
Carrying capacity  18 fully armed soldiers

Epilogue

The Junkers Ju 52/3m of 6./TG 4, at the location “Pano Zymi” of Leros, is undoubtedly a material historical witness of the fierce battles that took place in the Aegean in the autumn of 1943. With the research carried out so far on it, another tile is added to the historical mosaic of the war events in the eastern Mediterranean during the Second World War. Within the overall picture, the relations of this aircraft with other historic Ju 52s of the time are also discernible, such as the Ju 52 4V+BT (Werk-Nr. 7607) of the 5th Squadron of the 2nd Transport Wing (5./TG 2) of the Luftwaffe, which was shot down on 14 November 1943 at Portolago (Laki) of Leros and which is now in the aircraft museum of Dhekelia, as well as the Ju 52/3m (Werk-Nr. 6590) of the island of Kea which was lost due to mechanical reasons north of Kea on 6 November 1943. This aircraft, as well as the Ju 52/3m of the “Pano Zymi”, belonged to the same wing, the 4th Luftwaffe Transport Wing.

Acknowledgment

In October 2021, our diving team visited the historic and much-loved island of Leros. In collaboration with Kostas Kouvas, owner of the Hydrovius Diving Centre based in Krithoni, and his son Tasos, on 28/10/2021, we dived one of the most important finds of this period. The Ju52/3m transport aircraft, in the area of Pano Zymi, on the eastern side of the island, was a silent witness to this day of the horrors of war.

We want to thank them warmly for their support, hospitality, and knowledge which they always conveyed to us with a smile and good mood.

We want to acknowledge the historical researcher Dimitris Galon for the archival research, the writing of the text, and the excellent cooperation we have had to date.

Finally, we thank the German historical researcher and author Peter Schenk for the valuable information.

Divers: Akis Seasidis, Christos Michael, Vassilis Tsiairis, Nikolas Margaritis, and Andreas Andrikopoulos.

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Junkers Ju 52/3m_Leros

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Junkers Ju 52/3m_Leros 37.187809, 26.852732
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