The Junkers Ju 52 was a German trimotor transport aircraft manufactured from 1931 to 1952. Initially designed with a single engine but subsequently produced as a trimotor, it saw both civilian and military service during the 1930s and 1940s. In a civilian role, it flew with over twelve air carriers including Swissair and Deutsche Luft Hansa as an airliner and freight hauler. In a military role, it flew with the Luftwaffe as a troop and cargo transport and briefly as a medium bomber. The Ju 52 continued in postwar service with military and civilian air fleets well into the 1980s.
The Ju 52 was similar to the company's previous Junkers W 33, although larger. In 1930, Ernst Zindel and his team designed the Ju 52 at the Junkers works at Dessau. The aircraft's unusual corrugated duralumin metal skin, pioneered by Junkers during World War I, strengthened the whole structure.
The Ju 52 had a low cantilever wing, the midsection of which was built into the fuselage, forming its underside. It was formed around four pairs of circular cross-section duralumin spars with a corrugated surface that provided torsional stiffening. A narrow control surface, with its outer section functioning as the aileron, and the inner section functioning as a flap, ran along the whole trailing edge of each wing panel, well separated from it. The inner flap section lowered the stalling speed and the arrangement became known as the Doppelflügel, or "double wing".
The outer sections of this operated differentially as ailerons, projecting slightly beyond the wingtips with control horns. The strutted horizontal stabilizer carried horn-balanced elevators which again projected and showed a significant gap between them and the stabilizer, which was adjustable in-flight. All stabilizer surfaces were corrugated.
The fuselage was of rectangular section with a domed decking, all covered with corrugated light alloy. There was a port side passenger door just aft of the wings, with windows stretching forward to the pilots' cockpit. The main undercarriage was fixed and divided; some aircraft had wheel fairings, others not. There was a fixed tail skid, or a later tailwheel. Some aircraft were fitted with floats or skis instead of the main wheels.
Before the Nazi Government seized control of Junkers in 1935, the Ju 52/3m was produced principally as a 17-seat airliner. It was used mainly by Luft Hansa and could fly from Berlin to Rome in eight hours. The Luft Hansa fleet eventually numbered 80 and flew from Germany on routes in Europe, Asia and South America.
In 1934, Junkers received orders to produce a bomber version of the Ju 52/3m to serve as interim equipment for the bomber units of the still-secret Luftwaffe until it could be replaced by the purpose designed Dornier Do 11. Two bomb bays were fitted, capable of holding up to 1,500 kg of bombs, while defensive armament consisted of two 7.92mm MG 15 machine guns, one in an open dorsal position, and one in a retractable "dustbin" ventral position, which could be manually winched down from the fuselage to protect the aircraft from attacks from below. The bomber could be easily converted to serve in the transport role.
The Ju 52 first saw military service in the Spanish Civil War against the Spanish Republic. It was one of the first aircraft delivered to the faction of the army in revolt in July 1936 as both a bomber and transport. In the former role, it participated in the bombing of Guernica. No more of the bomber variant were built after this war, though it was again used as a bomber during the bombing of Warsaw during the Invasion of Poland of September 1939. The Luftwaffe then relied on the Ju 52 for transport roles during World War II, including paratroop drops.
In service with Lufthansa, the Ju 52 had proved to be an extremely reliable passenger airplane. Therefore, it was adopted by the Luftwaffe as a standard aircraft model. In 1938, the 7th Air Division had five air transport groups with 250 Ju 52s. The Luftwaffe had 552 Ju 52s at the start of World War II. Even though it was built in great numbers, the Ju 52 was technically obsolete. Between 1939 and 1944, 2,804 Ju 52s were delivered to the Luftwaffe. The production of Ju 52s continued until approximately the summer of 1944; when the war came to an end, there were still 100 to 200 available.
The Ju 52 could carry 18 fully equipped soldiers, or 12 stretchers when used as an air ambulance. Transported material was loaded and unloaded through side doors by means of a ramp. Air dropped supplies were jettisoned through two double chutes; supply containers were dropped by parachute through the bomb-bay doors, and paratroopers jumped through the side doors. SdKfz 2 kettenkraftrad (half-track motorcycles) and supply canisters for parachute troops were secured under the fuselage at the bomb bay exits and were dropped with four parachutes. A tow coupling was built into the tail-skid for use in towing freight gliders. The Ju 52 could tow up to two DFS 230 gliders.
The first major operation for the aircraft was in Operation Weserübung, the attack on Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940. Fifty-two Ju 52s from 1. and 8. Staffel in Kampfgeschwader 1 transported a company of Fallschirmjäger and a battalion of infantry to the northern part of Jutland, and captured the airfield at Aalborg, vital to support the operation in southern Norway. Several hundred Ju 52s were used to transport troops to Norway in the first days of this campaign.
Later, Ju 52s participated in the attack on the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, where they were deployed in the first large-scale air attack with paratroops in history during the Battle for The Hague. No fewer than 295 Ju 52s were lost in that venture and in other places in the country, due to varying circumstances, among which were accurate and effective Dutch anti-aircraft defences and German mistakes in using soggy airfields not able to support the heavy craft. On 10 May alone, 278 were downed or disabled.
Thus, almost an entire year's production was lost in one day in the Netherlands. The lack of sufficient numbers of aircraft most probably heavily influenced the decision not to invade England following the Battle of Britain.
After the campaign in the West, the air transport units were brought up to their pre-Netherlands strength and were assembled at airfields in the Lyon, Lille, and Arras areas in August 1940.
The next major use of the Ju 52 was in the Balkans campaign, most famously in the Battle of Crete in May 1941. Lightly armed, and with a top speed of only 265 km/h – half that of a contemporary Hurricane – the Ju 52 was very vulnerable to fighter attack and an escort was always necessary when flying in a combat zone. Many Ju 52's were shot down by anti-aircraft guns and fighters while transporting supplies, most notably during the desperate attempt to resupply the trapped German Sixth Army during the final stages of the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943.
During the North African Campaign, the Ju 52 was the mainstay reinforcement and resupply transport for the Germans, starting with 20 to 50 flights a day to Tunisia from Sicily in November 1942, building to 150 landings a day in early April as the Axis situation became more desperate. The Allied air forces developed a counter-air operation over a two-month period and implemented Operation Flax on 5 April 1943, destroying 11 Ju 52s in the air near Cap Bon and many more during bombing attacks on its Sicilian airfields, leaving only 29 flyable. That began two catastrophic weeks in which more than 140 were lost in air interceptions, culminated on 18 April with the "Palm Sunday Massacre" in which 24 Ju 52s were shot down and another 35 staggered back to Sicily and crash-landed.
The seaplane version, equipped with two large floats, served during the Norwegian Campaign in 1940, and later in the Mediterranean theatre. Some Ju 52's, both floatplanes and landplanes, were also used as minesweepers, known as Minensuch — literally, "mine-search" aircraft in German — fitted with a 14m diameter current-carrying degaussingring under the airframe to create a magnetic field that triggered submerged naval mines and usually given an -"MS" suffix to designate them, as with the similarly equipped Bv 138 MS trimotor flying boat.
Hitler used a Deutsche Lufthansa Ju 52 for campaigning in the 1932 German election, preferring flying to train travel. After he became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hans Baur became his personal pilot, and Hitler was provided with a personal Ju 52. Named Immelmann II after the World War I ace Max Immelmann, it carried the registration D-2600. As his power and importance grew, Hitler's personal air force grew to nearly 50 aircraft, based at Berlin Tempelhof Airport and made up mainly of Ju 52s, which also flew other members of his cabinet and war staff. In September 1939 at Baur's suggestion, Immelmann II was replaced by a four-engine Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, although Immelman remained his backup aircraft for the rest of World War II.
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