Hidden below the surface more than 70 years!
STUKA near Žirje Island in Croatia
On Saturday, April 12, 1941, a trinity of Ju 87 Stuka airplanes from the Royal Italian Air Force were heading to Jadrtovac gulf, the southeastern part of Šibenik city. The final destination for their 250 kg bombs hung under the fuselage should have been seaplanes and naval ships of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. None of these three bombardiers returned to the home camp called Jesi (near Ancone) except one. The second one was shot down by Yugoslav artillery and it blown up after broke down on the ground. Following day, the third bomber was considered missing. Finally, its destiny was resolved in September 2014.
Before 2014 it was known that in the southern area of Žirje Island in Central Dalmatia, there are some unfamiliar airplane fragments on the seafloor. The aircraft engine Jumo 211 was successfully found seven years ago, but it was not easy to make out what aircraft the engine belonged to. A local fisherman gave first extended information about the wreck. It was located by chance in the first half of September 2014 by two underwater hunters. At the time they trained for an underwater fishing championship. Subsequently, they notified the Croatian Heritage Institute about the ruin discovery.
An exploration crew leading by Željko Šižgorić from “Ruža Hrvatska” the Defence Association was urgently called for a wreckage investigation. The expedition occurred from 12th to 14th September 2014. After more than 70 years submerged, the wreck was in a great condition. Overgrown with seagrass, laid 28 meters underwater on sandy ground. A little structural harm showed that the captain emergency landed very successfully. The wreck was almost untouched by rust. Interesting thing is that the motor of the airplane was found far away from the other ruins. Possibly it broke away from the airplane during the surface blast and then fell to the bottom. The cabin was held on the sea level for some time, therefore the plane crew could escape.
The exploration team detected the production sticker with the serial number of the components. Aircraft enthusiasts from Zagreb and Opatija helped to solve the airplane´s origin. Probably it is Junkers Ju 87R-2 from the 239th class, the air flights of the 97th group of snarling bombers (239´Squadriglia, 97° Gruppo Tuffatori) from the Royal Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica Italiana).
News about discovered wreck spread immediately. Low wreck´s depth allows illegal collectors to reach the wreck. Numerous collectors started damaging the wreck. The control lever and also a part of the dashboard are missing. Because of that situation, diving in this place was banned. From April 2015 diving has been allowed again, but only for organized groups, guided by a member of a diving base with a valid license. However, gathering artifacts and ruin touching is strictly banned.
The exploration of the airplane Ju 87R-2 near Žirje Island is very treasured. Only two entire airplanes are exhibited in the world, one is in England (the RAF Museum in London), and the other one is in the USA (the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago). After several years of restoration, third extremely rare Stuka finally can be seen in Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in Everett USA.
Junkers Ju-87G-2 – London
Junkers Ju-87R-2 1941 Tropical Stuka – Chicago
Junkers Ju-87R-4 1942 – Everett
Wreckage and remains are in several countries, for example in France, Greece, Norway and also in Germany.
After my research I found few more pieces. Two are in Germany one Junkers Ju-87R-2 at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Berlin and Junkers Ju-87B-5 at the Auto und Technik Museum in Sinsheim. Last one Junkers JU-87D-3/Trop at the Hellenic Air Force Museum in Athens, Greece.
The wreck is simply available from Murter Island. A definite place is marked with a buoy, which is fastened to concrete block, approximately 12 meters from the backside of the plane. Diving begins from a freely drifting ship because anchorage in this area is banned. Usually is good visibility and the wreck is seen already after you go below the surface of the sea.
After two years the wreck´s condition is getting worse. The first reason is irresponsible or reckless divers´ behavior. The second reason is a threat of people nicknamed “souvenir” hunters who take away the parts of the wreck piece by piece.
To conclude, the Croatian government should think about picking up the wreck.
This particular aircraft would be for sure better decoration in a museum than in the sea.
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