The performance of the transport crews is beyond praise. Even though they had succeeded in getting their planes with the urgently required load safely into the cauldron, while refuelling, unloading, and reloading, they were exposed to uninterrupted bombing and low-level attacks. If they survived these they had to face the return journey which was no less dangerous than the fly-in. Landing at last in Sicily, they were often raided on their airfields.
– General Adolf Galland, quoted in Eagles over Husky
In the winter of 1942-1943, the Luftwaffe stretched its logistical capabilities to the breaking point. On the Eastern Front, the Russians had surrounded the German 6th Army at Stalingrad while the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa and the retreat of Rommel’s Afrika Korps into Libya and Tunisia also required attention. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring promised Hitler that Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 52 transports — supplemented by bombers — could keep the 6th Army supplied. In reality, the Luftwaffe could only supply a fraction of the 700 daily tons required.
At the same time, Ju 52s were busy building up a large German and Italian army group in Tunisia. Months later, when the Allied navies sealed the Sicilian Strait, these same transport aircraft attempted to maintain an air bridge between Europe and Tunis. They paid a dear price for their efforts. The Allied air forces destroyed 400 Axis transports and 32 fighters at the cost of just 35 Allied fighters.
The German transport fleet played an important role during Operation Husky. They airlanded the 1st Parachute Division in Sicily just in time to thwart General Montgomery’s push to Catania and Messina. The transport crews took another thrashing for their efforts and the Germans withdrew them after losing 10 percent of the force to RAF Spitfires on 25 July 1943. By the end of 1943, the Allies had decimated the German transport force and air mobility ceased to be a meaningful Luftwaffe capability.
Specifications (Junkers Ju 52)
Type: three-seat transport with accommodation for 18 troops, 12 litters, or freight
Powerplant: three 544kW (730hp) BMW 132T-2 nine-cylinder radial engines
Performance: maximum speed 286km/h (178mph); climb to 3,000m (9,845ft) in 17 minutes 30 seconds; service ceiling 5,900m (19,360ft); range 1,305km (811 miles)
Weights: empty 6,500kg (14,328lb); maximum take-off 11,030kg (24,317lb)
Wingspan: 29.20m (95ft 10in)
Length: 18.90m (62ft)
Height: 4.52m (14ft 10in)
Armament: one 13mm (0.51in) or 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable rearward-firing machine-gun in rear dorsal position, provision for one 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable machine gun in forward dorsal position and one 7.92mm (0.31in) trainable lateral-firing machine gun in each of the two beam positions.
The following Luftflotte 2 units flew the Junkers Ju 52 during Operation Husky:
- Transportgeschwader (TG) 1
- III/TG 1
- TG 2
- III/TG 2
- TG 3
- IV/TG 3
- TG 5
- I/TG 5
- II Fliegerkorps Transportstaffel