By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos and video: © Marinos Giourgas, published under license
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Mr. Marinos Giourgas B.Eng, M.Sc., DSAT Tec Trimix Instructor and a team of experienced scuba divers have tentatively identified the ill-fated Ju52 found off Rodos island, as the DR + UA ditched off Rodos island on March 31, 1944.
The wreck is in excellent condition considering its age and construction material.
The whole structure remains generally intact.
The leading edges of the wings and the wingtips show signs of damage that are consistent with impact in the water and the subsequent impact on the seabed.
The propeller tips of the left engine show no damage leading to the conclusion that the engine was not operating at the moment of the crash.
Engine no2 is detached and is laying 1.5-2 m off the nose of the aircraft.
Examination of the propeller could not be performed as it was buried in the silt.
The right engine shows damage consistent with the engine operating at the time of the crash.
The presence of both tyres and the landing gear struts under the aircraft leads us to the assumption that the landing gear did not collapse on ditching.
Damage from fishing nets is located mostly on the wingtips, the left wing and one of the horizontal stabilizers in the tail. Nets cover a large part of the fuselage and the cargo door.
The aircraft does not have combat or fire damage on the fuselage or engines so the possibility of enemy action is considered unlikely.
Also both MG15s were found intact on their positions and were not loaded with their magazines.
Although the interior was covered in silt no magazines or expended ammunition was observed. The cockpit is in excellent condition.
All cockpit instruments and equipment are clearly visible under the marine growth.
On further inspection the position of the thrust levers indicates an abnormal engine power setting with engine no2 being at idle and the other 2 at a high power setting.
The mixture levers are all at the same setting. Fuel pump lever position could not be confirmed. This can be attributed to an abnormal engine condition that required a reduction in power of only engine 2.
Engine no2 (middle engine) was supplying critical functions of the aircraft like electrical and was never put into idle on purpose during the flight except in abnormal conditions.
The absence of combat damage ,the power setting observed at the cockpit and the condition of the engines and forward section of the aircraft lead to the following 2 hypotheses.
The aircraft suffered an abnormal engine condition during its mission that required the selection of idle power and or shutdown of the middle engine and upon returning to Gadurra reaching the airfield was impossible and the aircraft ditched in close proximity to it.
The aircraft departed Gadurra and had engine difficulties after departure with at least the middle engine being affected and failing to return to Gadurra ditched in the sea near the airport.
Any additional reasons that could have affected the aircraft and made returning to Gadurra impossible cannot be confirmed at this time.
This mission was of particular importance to the Aegeantec team as it was the first organized mission exclusively with closed circuit rebreathers on the island of Rodos and the challenge was particularly great, as there is no CCR-friendly diving center on the island, able to support this type of technical diving. Therefore, all the necessary equipment, materials and related gases had to come from Athens.
Our project was a success, as the participants, who were experienced divers with thousands of hours of diving each in different parts of the world, expressed their satisfaction for the perfect organization despite the challenging logistics.
The goal of our team was to find out whether it is possible to organize missions to places far from our base, which is located on the coast of Athens and to offer high quality services undertaking entirely all aspects of the project.
The smiles on the faces of all those who participated in the diving mission of Aegeantec in Rodos proved that we offered unique experiences and unforgettable moments always guided not only by the safety of our divers but also by the respect for the underwater cultural heritage of our country.
There was significant support from individuals who embraced this effort not only during our dives in Rodos but also iwhile attempting to decipher the history that this particular WW2 aircraft wreck is trying to tell us.
Therefore we have to thank the support divers Thomas Zova, Zeta Costopoulou and Spyros Chrysanthopoulos, our captain Petros Nikolakos, the Waterhoppers Rhodes diving center, especially Andre Busstra and Ryan Eames and the Haraki Mare and Eleftheria Koufou who made our stay exceptionally comfortable.
We found out that the Ju52 wreck is still in the same condition as it was 3 years ago, when it was initially located by our diving team.
However, the signs of erosion were visible on the fuselage after 75+ years on the seabed, as the areas of the aircraft affected by the conditions have increased.
The identification of this aircraft can not be considered complete but we speculate that the JU 52 that was discovered and dived in it for the first time in July 2018 by Aegeantec is the DR + UA which ditched approximately 1 nautical mile from the coast of Gadoura in Rodos on 31.03.1944, according to historical records.
Credits go to the people who were actively involved in our effort to identify the history of the plane, namely Thanos Antonelos, Vassilis Mentogiannis, Nikos Karatzas, Bernd Pirkl, Luca Gabriele Merli and Gyorgy Litauszky. We also thank Dimitris Galon who offered to contribute to our effort.
The location of the aircraft is 1 nautical mile from Gadoura airport in Kalathos, the construction of which began in 1937 and was completed in 1939.
The strategic importance of this airport was great as, due to its geographical location, it faced the coast of Crete and of Lebanon, theaters of large military operations of WW2.
It has been an air base of the Italian Air Force, the Regia Aeronautica since June 1940 for missions throughout the Eastern Mediterranean including Cyprus, Palestine and Suez.
The Luftwaffe used it for its aircraft missions as a stopover but also as an important center for the preparation and execution of air raids in Crete and North Africa.
The importance of this airport is reinforced by the fact that it was a point of intense interest for the British Forces who bombed it with Wellington bombers that flew from Egypt.
In August 1942, British commandos on board the Greek submarine “Papanikolis“ sailed from Beirut to the island of Rodos, in order to destroy the airport facilities scattered in the Gadoura area and the aircraft stationed there.
We were fortunate to have with us the experienced pilot and diver D. Chaliasos, whose expert knowledge helped us find interesting facts about the Ju52 and how it ended up at the seabed of Rodos.
Alan Whitehead of Techwise Malta was also with us and his knowledge and experience have helped resolve some of the technical issues that always arise in such projects.
The wreck is located at a maximum depth of 75 meters, on a muddy seabed with its nose facing SW and with the exception of the main engine and the cockpit cover, which we assume detached during the ditching of the aircraft at sea, is in one piece and is a great diving spot.
The aircraft wreck has nothing to envy from wrecks located in other countries, such as Malta, where wreck diving is at a very high level and could very easily be an attraction for high-level technical divers who have the knowledge and experience to dive it.
The wreck is like a clock that stopped on March 31, 1944 as all the areas of the aircraft, as shown in the photos, are intact.
Such wrecks are not easy to see as usually after so many years, nature undertakes to erase many of the elements that testify to their history, while human vanity intervenes and alters them, as scavengers and thieves are quick to steal items from wrecks.
The Ju52 wreck in Rodos is in very good condition, considering the years it is at the seabed and remains generally intact.
The wings have damage that are attributed to their impact with the sea as well as with the seabed.
The propeller of the left engine is intact, indicating that this engine was not in operation at the time of impact.
The engine number 2 that was in the nose of the plane has been detached and is approximately 2 meters away from it with its propeller buried under the bottom sediment, so it was not possible to examine it closely.
The right engine has signs of damage indicating that it was operating during the ditching.
The presence of the two tires and the landing gear under the aircraft leads to the assumption that the aircraft “sat” on the seabed at a depth of 75 meters.
Destruction by fishermen’s nets is located on the left wing as well as on a horizontal stabilizer in the tail of the Ju52.
Nets also cover a large area of the fuselage and the door used to load and unload the aircraft.
The aircraft shows no signs of damage due to enemy fire on its fuselage and engines so the chance of it being shot down is considered unlikely.
Also, the two 7.92mm MG15 guns were found intact in their positions as shown in the photos while they are not loaded with their ammunition magazines.
Although its interior is covered with a thick layer of sediment, no ammunition or cartridges were visible on the aircraft floor.
The cockpit is in excellent condition as all instruments and controls are clearly visible despite the overlap by marine life.
Further investigation of the position of the cockpit controls indicates that number 2 engine is in idle mode while the other two engines are in high power mode.
The mixture adjustment levers are all in the same setting while the position of the fuel pump control lever cannot be confirmed.
This is probably due to a mechanical problem that made it necessary to reduce the power only of engine number 2.
This engine (central no. 2) is necessary not only to propel the aircraft but also to supply power to its critical functions, such as electrical systems and is not intentionally put into “idle” or “shutdown” mode during the flight except in abnormal operating conditions.
In conclusion, we are convinced that the absence of signs of downing by enemy fire, the position of the engine controls and the condition of the muzzle of our aircraft leads to two assumptions:
1. The aircraft during its mission had a problem with its engines which led the captain to put engine number 2 in “idle” or shutdown position and while trying to return to Gadoura airport he ditched it at sea possibly with its starboard side and at a relatively low speed, just at a short distance from the shore.
2. The aircraft after its departure from Rodos presented a mechanical failure with the engine number 2 being significantly affected, as a result of which it forced the pilot to ditch it in at sea and at a short distance from the airport in Gadoura. Further reasons that could have influenced the course of the plane and led it to Gadoura cannot be ruled out but cannot be confirmed by the available data at this stage.
I consider the Aegeantec team extremely lucky both because not only it found and dived first in this rare find in July 2018, but also because the team’s efforts to promote it as a diving destination is embraced by many members of the diving community and beyond.
Guided by the safety of our divers, with absolute respect for our underwater cultural heritage and despite the fatigue, personal costs and adversities that accompany such demanding projects, we remain eager and optimistic to contribute to the effort made by our diving community, in order to make Greece one of the top diving destinations worldwide.
According to respected researcher Ioannis Mylonas, in the losses report DIE DEUTSCHE LUFTWAFFE IN GRIECHENLAND IM II. WK 1941−45_v.2 31.03.44 Ju.52 W.Nr. 501111 100% crash into the sea 1 km from the coast of Gadura, BO. Ofw. Hans Beck (missing), BF. Fw.Josef Gillitzer, BM. Uffz. Rudolf Karl, BS. Uffz. Willi Janson, all (+ Killed) in crash 31.03.44 at Gadura
Capacity: 17 passengers
Length: 18.90 m (62 ft 0 in)
Wingspan: 29.248 m (95 ft 11.5 in)
Height: 5.550 m (18 ft 2.5 in)
Wing area: 110.5000 m2 (1,189.412 sq ft)
Empty weight: 5,720 kg (12,610 lb)
Gross weight: 9,500 kg (20,944 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 10,499 kg (23,146 lb)
Powerplant: 3 × BMW 132A-3 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, 541 kW (725 hp) each for take-off(525 PS)
Propellers: 2-bladed variable-pitch propeller
Maximum speed: 265.5 km/h (165.0 mph, 143.4 kn) at sea level
276.8 km/h (172.0 mph; 149.5 kn) at 910 metres (3,000 ft)
Cruise speed: 246 km/h (153 mph, 133 kn) maximum continuous at 910 metres (3,000 ft)
209 km/h (130 mph; 113 kn) economical cruise
Range: 998 km (620 mi, 539 nmi)
Service ceiling: 5,900 m (19,360 ft)
Rate of climb: 3.9 m/s (770 ft/min)
Time to altitude: 910 metres (3,000 ft) in 17 minutes 30 seconds
Wing loading: 83.35 kg/m2 (17.07 lb/sq ft)
Power/mass: 7.95 kg/kW
Guns: * 1 × 7.92 mm (0.312 in) MG 15 machine gun or 13 mm (0.512 in) MG 131 machine gun in a dorsal position
1 × 7.92 mm (0.312 in) MG 15 machine gun in a semi-retractable dustbin turret
Bombs: up to 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) of bombs