Monday 5 April 2021

Humble Beginnings - Turkish Airlines’ Ju 52s

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 
Turkish Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the world, flying to more destinations than any other carrier in the world. It operates a fleet of more than 350 Airbus and Boeing aircraft that serve some 300 destinations domestically and internationally today, a huge leap from its humble beginning of four domestic destinations in 1933, and just 103 destinations in 2003. Over the past century, Turkish Airlines has operated a wide variety of aircraft that haven't always been in the spotlight as much as their more modern brethrens. One of these aircraft is the German Ju 52, which has long remained elusive in imagery and footage during its years of service in Turkey.

The Junkers Ju 52 is one of the most famous airplanes ever built. First conceived in Germany in the early 1930s as a single-engined airliner for the civilian market, the design of the aircraft was quickly reworked to feature a trimotor arrangement that we all know as the Ju 52 today. In this configuration the aircraft would quickly become popular with airlines all over the world, operating passenger services as far as South America and Asia. As World War II loomed, large numbers of Ju 52s were introduced into the Luftwaffe as bombers and transports. 
The first major combat operation for the Ju 52 came as a paratroop transport during the invasion of Denmark in April 1940. Although informed that a German invasion was on hand, the Danes were caught completely off guard and surrendered after just two hours of armed resistance. Emboldened by this remarkable feat, the Luftwaffe tried to replicate this success during the invasion of the Netherlands just a month later. However, as history would have it, the skies over Holland proved particularly harmful to the Luftwaffe, which lost approximately 250 Ju 52s in the timespan of a few days. [1] [2]   
Although by 1940 already seriously outdated, the Ju 52 remained the workhorse of the Luftwaffe throughout the rest of Second World War, hauling troops and supplies to just about any theatre the Germans were fighting in. Despite several attempts to replace the Ju 52 with a more modern successor (these being the Ju 252 and later the Ju 352), the aircraft remained in production until 1944. After the war, production of the Ju 52 continued in France as the Amiot AAC.1 Toucan (1945-1947) and in Spain as the CASA 352 (1945-1952), seeing use as passenger aircaft and military transports until the early 1970s.
But for our story we have to go back a few years – to the 2nd of April 1944 to be precise – when five Ju 52s landed at Yeşilköy Airport in Istanbul. Still in their original German markings, the arrival of the aircraft left no question as to their origin. The Ju 52s subsequently entered service with the Devlet Hava Yolları (Turkish State Airlines or DHY in short), the forerunner of Turkish Airlines (Türk Hava Yolları). [3] Very little is known about their career in Turkish service afterwards, and even photos of the aircraft are difficult to come by.

Devlet Hava Yolları was established on the 20th of May 1933 as a domestic airline to connect major population centers in Turkey. Initially taking delivery of an exotic mix of aircraft, including two German Junkers F 13s, two U.S. Curtiss Model 55 Kingbirds and a Soviet Tupolev ANT-9, a growing demand for domestic air travel sparked the start of a growth in DHY's fleet that would eventually see the acquisition of several types of de Havilland aircraft from the UK, including the four-engined de Havilland D.H.86 Express, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. [4] [5] However, due to a reluctance of the Allies to provide more aircraft in the midst of World War II, Turkey turned to one of the few sources that was still willing to supply it with aircraft: Germany.

A beautiful illustration featured on the cover of the airline's April 1946 timetable depicting a DHY Ju 52 over rural Turkey

Throughout almost the entirety of World War II, Turkey managed to stay neutral as the war rapidly took hold of neighbouring Greece, Bulgaria, the Caucasus and the Middle East. Turkey's neutrality lasted until February 1945, when the country finally declared war on Germany and Japan and joined the war on the side of the Allies. Just shy of a year before, in April 1944, Turkey had already halted the export of chromite ore to Germany, later followed by a complete breakoff in diplomatic and trade relations in August 1944. Chromite ore, which is used for the production of steel, was of vital importance to keep the German war machine running. In return for guaranteeing deliveries of this valuable resource, Germany had provided Turkey with goods and war materiel which it had little chance of acquiring from the Allied powers. It thus seems plausible that the Ju 52s were acquired through this arrangement as well, possibly presenting the very last type of equipment received before relations completely broke off.
After the aircrafts' arrival to Turkey in April 1944, the large swastikas on the tails and other markings were hastily overpainted and replaced by a minimal livery. The previous livery of the aircraft indicates that at least some of the machines had been operated by Deutsche Luft Hansa, the national airline of Nazi Germany, rather than by the Luftwaffe. While the newly-acquired Ju 52s could only carry some 17 passengers, this was still twice the capacity of most of DHY's de Havilland aircraft that had meanwhile become the mainstay of the airline. 
The few photographs of the Ju 52s in Turkish service that exist show one of the aircraft 'TC-RUH' with the serial '18' and a crescent on the tail (presumably as part of the Turkish flag), while another photo shows 'Devlet Hava Yolları' stickering under the cockpit. As the Ju 52s were solely used on routes inside of Turkey during World War II, no large flags or bright identification markings indicating that the aircraft belonged to Turkey were needed. It is entirely possible that the aircraft continued operating in this bare-bone livery until eventually replaced by surplus U.S. Douglas DC-3s in the late 1940s.
Another possible livery for the aircraft comes from a more dubitable source: A commemorative postage stamp issued by the Turkish Red Crescent in 1946 depicting a Ju 52 as a medevac transport with large red cresents on the wings and fuselage. [6] It is unknown whether one of Turkey's Ju 52s ever operated in such a livery or if it was designed specifically for the stamp and thus purely fictional, though the latter theory seems more likely.

Aside from the Ju 52, two other types of Junkers passenger aircraft were operated in Turkey during the interwar period: the Junkers G24 and the smaller Junkers F 13. The G24 can be said to be the spiritual predecessor of Ju-52, featuring a similar tri-motor design and corrugated skin. Interestingly, the single aircraft that operated in the country was never actually owned by Turkey, but rather operated by Junkers as part of a (ultimately fruitless) marketing campaign in the mid-to-late 1920s. [7] 
The three F 13s on the other hand operated as passenger, liaison, aerial survey and postal aircraft before being retired in the late 1930s. [9] At one point the production of some twenty F 13s by Turkey's first aircraft manufacturing plant TOMTAŞ (Tayyare ve Motor Türk Anonim Şirketi) was planned, but financial difficulties ultimately led to the cancellation of this project and eventually the downfall of TOMTAŞ, ending what could have been a promising start of an indigenous aircraft industry. [8]

A Junkers G24 in Turkish markings. Although the aircraft was never actually owned by Turkey, it operated in the country for some two years (1925-1927)

The Ju 52's carreer in Turkish service may have been brief – spanning just a few years – the aircraft nonethless represent a unique chapter in the story of the Turkish aviation industry's humble beginnings, a story which deserves to be preserved for posterity. Though its humility would persist for a long time, some 30 years later, Turkish Airlines would be one of the first airlines to operate another tree-engined airliner: the DC-10. Nowadays, the country is a pioneer in the aerospace sector, outputting a vast variety of advanced aircraft types and prototypes, although its effort to produce domestic airliners through the TRjet project was cancelled in 2017. Nevertheless, the remarkable evolution from operating a handful of Ju 52s in a forgotten past to developments such as Baykar's Cezeri flying car (which, having to experience Istanbul's traffic congestion first hand, would be much appreciated) shows us this: Humble beginnings forebode the conception of greatness.

[1] Mei 1940 - de verdediging van het Nederlandse luchtruim
[4] Turkish Airlines History
[5] Turkish Airlines Fleet
[6] Kızılay uçak resimli pullar, Sanayi Kongresi ve ilk uçuş zarfları

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