BERLIN – It looked like a Stuka, partly buried in the muck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, but researchers now say the wreck German military divers have been recovering for the past week is a totally different — though nearly as rare — World War II aircraft.
German Military Historical Museum spokesman Capt. Sebastian Bangert said Friday that enough of the plane has now been recovered to make clear it is not a single-engined JU87 Stuka divebomber, but a twin-engine JU88 aircraft.
The two Junkers planes shared several parts — including the engines on many models — and from the way it sat in the seabed Bangert says it appeared to have been a JU87.
But now that a wing section is up, it's clearly the larger JU88, he said, talking from the deck of the German Navy ship being used in the recovery.
Instead of looking at the partially-buried whole wing and the engine on the front of a JU87, it was clear they had been looking at the tip of a JU88 wing and the engine that once hung underneath it, he said.
"It looked just like the Stuka in the underwater pictures — everything that we had brought up had been pieces that were used in the JU87 — so there was no reason to doubt it," he said. "But this find is perhaps historically even more important."
Perhaps more importantly, the divers have also found human remains, including a partial skull, which they hope to be able to identify.
"Right now there is someone who just knows that their grandfather or great grandfather went missing in the war, to give that person closure is our goal," Bangert said. "And for us as a history museum, the aircraft is the only way to convey the information ... the history behind it, the personnel, how did they live, what did they experience, that is what we want to tell."
The Junkers JU87 — known by most as the Stuka, which is short for the German word for dive bomber or "Sturzkampfflugzeug" — is better known than the JU88, though far more of the latter were produced.
The JU87 was a single-engine monoplane that carried sirens that produced a distinctive and terrifying screaming sound as it dove vertically to release its bombs or strafe targets with its machine guns.
The twin-engined JU88 also served as a dive bomber, but took on multiple roles, including as a tactical bomber and a night fighter.
There are only a few intact or virtually intact JU88s still in existence — including one at the RAF Museum in London, which coincidentally has one of two complete JU87 Stukas on display.
There are also several recovered wrecks of both planes. The recovery operation is wrapping up on Friday, but with more than half the plane still buried at the bottom of the Baltic, Bangert said the hope is that they will be able to return to the site at a later date to complete the job. It will eventually be displayed at the German Historical Museum's Air Force Museum at the former Gatow airport in Berlin.