German Stuka being pulled from Baltic
The Stuka dive bomber gained notoriety in the opening hours of World War II when the German aircraft, with sirens wailing, dropped bombs on the Polish town of Wielun, killing some 1,200 civilians in what is considered one of the first terror bombings in history.
Stukas produced a distinctive wail as they dove nearly vertical to release their payload or strafe civilians or military targets with their machine guns. The piercing siren is still a mainstay of World War II videos shown today.
This week, German military divers are working to hoist the wreck of a Stuka dive bomber from the floor of the Baltic Sea, one of the few known Stukas still in existence in any condition, according to The Associated Press.
Divers have been working over the past week to prepare the bomber to be hoisted to the surface, using fire hoses to carefully free it from the sand. They have already brought up smaller pieces and also hauled up its motor over the weekend, the wire service reported.
They are now working to free the main 30-foot fuselage piece and expect to bring it up on today if weather permits, said Capt. Sebastian Bangert, a spokesman from the German Military Historical Museum in Dresden, which is running the recovery operation.
Initial reports are that the fuselage is in good condition despite having spent the last seven decades at the bottom of the sea, he said.
“From my perspective there’s a lot of damage – it’s been under water for 70 years – but our restoration crew says it’s in really good condition for being restored,” Bangert said. “That’s our goal – a complete restoration and not conservation as a wreck.”
The Stuka wreck was first discovered in the 1990s when a fisherman’s nets snagged on it. It lies about six miles off the coast of the German Baltic island of Ruegen, in about 60 feet of water.
So far, little is known about this particular plane — when it crashed, who its pilot and gunner were and whether they survived the crash, Bangert said. Once the plane is brought to the surface, researchers will use the serial number to track down all of the information.
Although an estimated 6,500 Stukas were built between 1936 and 1944, there are only two complete examples remaining.
One is on display at the Royal Air Force Museum in London and the other at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Both are later models.
Bangert said it appears that one found in the Baltic, judging from its motor, is also a later model.
To find such a complete example is “terrific,” said Andrew Simpson, curator of the aircraft collection at the RAF Museum.
“You are still talking about less than a dozen in the world, even if you include every back end and center section found on the Russian steppes,” he said. “Any Stuka is good.”
Officially called the Junkers Ju87, Stuka is short for the German word for dive bomber “Sturzkampfflugzeug.” The aircraft first saw service in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War, being sent by Hitler to help the fascists, according to The Associated Press.
German ace Hans-Ulrich Rudel claimed to have destroyed more than 500 tanks, mostly on the Eastern Front, and several ships including a Soviet battleship, primarily in the Stuka.
The Stuka was used throughout the World War II, but for all its successes in the early days on the Western Front and in the later invasion of the Soviet Union, the aircraft was later overmatched by quicker and more maneuverable Allied fighter planes.
As museum pieces today, they’re a big draw for visitors and also important for researchers and historians, said Kathleen McCarthy, director of collections at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. The Stuka on display in Chicago was shot down over Libya in the last year of the war.