James Kightly examines the story of Junkers thirties transports – almost as synonymous with airlines then as Airbus and Boeing are today.
It is often overlooked today that the aircraft developed by Hugo Junkers’ company in the interwar period were highly effective freighters and airliners, able to undertake tasks that no other aircraft of the period managed.
The development of the revolutionary all metal aircraft (in an era when most machines were wood or metal framed with fabric covering) gave Junkers a practical advantage with robust, weatherproof machines. In some ways they set the standard and outlined how the future of airline and cargo aircraft would work.
Junkers airliners feature widely in advertising of the period, but freighters were never promoted to the same degree, and if it were not for Australia’s work in New Guinea, that aspect may well have been totally forgotten.
The remarkable story of the New Guinea goldfields airlift was a world record achievement of aviation in the era, and is too well known to need retelling here, but the performance of the Junkers G.31 (supported by other types including other Junkers machines) is highlighted by a selection of photographs. Australia’s use of several Junkers airliners is another near-forgotten chapter of history, and this photo survey illustrates this story.
Junkers Commuter Liner – The F.13
The Junkers F.13 was the world’s first successful all-metal airliner and, while rare today, examples were used all over the world. This radial-engined example with Sky Travel, [ABOVE] and first registered in November 1930, is seen outside Hart Aircraft Service hangar at Essendon. It carries an advertisement to ‘Stay at the Gresham Hotel’ on the cabin door, and a long list of the advantages of an all-metal aircraft, including: ‘All Metal, No Wood, No Fabric, and No Fire’ on the rudder.
While these advantages were significant, they came at a greater initial cost. This machine had moved on by mid-1932, it was registered to Union Airways Ltd. in South Africa, and passed onto South African Airways in 1934, and was impressed to the South African Air Force in 1940, and written off in a crash near Darling in 1943.
The Junkers F.13 normally came with an inline engine, and this example also has the standard suspension as supplied. However it seems likely that the normally plush four-seater passenger cabin interior has been removed for its work in New Guinea.
This machine had a fascinating history, earlier as ‘Mt. Wedge’ of Eyre Peninsula Airways being used in ‘the first documented use of flight for Masonic purposes’ – this ‘occurred on 6th November 1929, when a team of Grand Lodge Officers flew from Parafield Aerodrome across Gulf St Vincent to Yorketown, for the purpose of taking part in the Installation meeting of Melville Lodge No. 36.’
The Grand Master was ‘much concerned at the possible loss of the Grand Lodge regalia and ...suggested that a buoy might be attached to the tin trunk.’
Later on, the same Junkers is seen re-engined with a Bristol Jupiter and with Guinea Airways Ltd. Before arriving in New Guinea, it was the first all-metal aircraft to fly into Kalgoorlie on 18 December 1930, and went to the Goldfields Air Navigation Co. Ltd. in 1931, being acquired by Guinea Airways in 1931 and being re-engined with a 425hp Bristol Jupiter VI in 1932 – this in turn being replaced by a Pratt & Whitney A2 engine in 1935 to achieve commonality with the G.31s.
After a couple of repairs following accidents, it was finally written off after a crash on 26 August 1939, at Narakapor, after engine failure.
A Bigger F.13 – the W.33/4
The W.33 and W.34 were a step up in carrying capability to the Junkers F.13, and saw heavy use as a bush plane around the world, as exemplified by VH-UNM here. From Canada (often with skis) to New Guinea, and as seen here in this Bristol advertisement, on floats as well. The Junkers W.33 and 4 where equipped with a wheel undercarriage with low-pressure tyres on a non-standard Junkers suspension) and VH-UOX had a Pratt & Whitney Wasp tuning a three bladed propeller, while the others had Bristol Jupiters.
Derelict at Alexishafen, this aircraft was strafed by Japanese attackers during the Pacific war. After the war, only the fuselage section remained, without the wings or tail. It is often identified as an F.13 – and, confusingly, sometimes specifically as VH-UKW, which it certainly is not, as this is a W.34, identified by the proportions and the window locations. The wreckage remained in situ until the early 1980s, when, after recovery by the PNG Defence forces, it subsequently seems to have disappeared from storage.
World Record Weightlifters – The G.31s
One of the goldfields’ Junkers G.31s VH-UOU at Bulolo about to be loaded. The Junkers G.31 freighters (VH-UOV, VH-UOU and VH-URQ) were used to ship parts to the gold fields at Bulolo in what is now present day Morobe Province. They were used by Guinea Airways to ferry dredge parts for Bulolo Gold Dredging Ltd. The dredge parts were designed to fit through the cargo door of the Junkers. A fourth Junkers G.31 used in the gold fields was owned by Guinea Airways and was registered VH-UOW.
The loading hatch through the roof of the fuselage measured 11ft 10in (3.6metres) by 5ft (1.5 metres) while the removable hatch itself was also domed, increasing the height of the compartment, which measured a remarkable 24ft (7.3 metres) long by 6ft 5in (1.9 metres) wide and 5ft 9in (1.7 metres) high.
The only problem was that it was obstructed by structural A-frames.
The domed hatch being removed (or replaced) from G.31 ‘Bulolo 1 / Paul’ VH-UOU, still marked on the tailplane as a ‘J.31go’ before the type designation was changed. The extended centre engine mount is evident here, to assist centre of gravity requirements after the type’s conversion from an airliner to a freighter.
This Junkers survived a crash landing after a full 44 gallon drum broke loose from the tie downs and rolled into the aircraft’s rear fuselage. It was repaired and returned to service.
It wasn’t just heavy machinery and human passengers that were carried, but sometimes other items like this cow!
The cockpit of the G.31has taps that look like they would be more at home in a ship’s engine room, and an increased number of instruments because of the three engines (but limited blind flying equipment). Contrast with the single thickness of corrugated skinning, and the cockpit was open to the elements as was the common standard in the day. Just on either side of the cockpit were the outer engines’ propellers.
The Goldfields G.31s had three American Pratt and Whitney A2 Hornets, nine cylinder radial air-cooled direct-drive engines of 525 hp. These engines had to be hand started via an inertia starter which was a series of geared cogs turning a flywheel. Incidentally the pilot in this shot is Ian Grabowsky.
The Lae aerodrome, with Guinea Airways hangar centre, with three Junkers G.31 freighters visible (VH-UOU & W on the left) and two more Junkers (W.34 type) in between them. A monoplane Westland Widgeon is in the foreground, and two de Havilland Moths complete the aircraft present list.
The rare sportster
Australia was also lucky enough to have an example of the rare Junkers A.50 Junior sportsplane for many years (another example seen here in this 1933 advert for the engine builders). Returned to Germany by current owner Albrecht Würker in 2008 (as covered in Flightpath V.20 N.4) VH-UCC is under restoration to fly once again, and, as he told Flightpath, he would be delighted to hear from anyone with material relating to this machine.
Australia’s first Diesel-powered aircraft
The most modern Junkers type to serve or visit Australia was the Ju 86. Over 20 hours between 22-3 of August 1936, Ju86A-1, D-AXEQ ‘Buckeberg’ flew non-stop from Dessau in Germany to Bathurst in Gambia, a distance of 5,800km. Afterwards, flights to South America followed, as well as to Melbourne, Australia, and North Africa.
In 1937, under a unique set of circumstances, Australia temporarily acquired the illustrated Junkers Ju 86B-1. [TOP] It was built in 1937 at Dessau and was described as a ‘Ju 86B-Australien’ by the company. Flown to Australia by Hans Kommoll as D-AGEY and named ‘Lawrence Hargrave’, on arrival it was registered VH-UYA. One of the engines failed on final into Darwin but the landing was made without incident. After replacing the engine, it flew to Charleville in Queensland before a non-stop flight to Melbourne, where it arrived on 27 April.
The aircraft was in Australia as part of barter agreement with a Sydney wool broker, Mr H. Beinssen. Apparently the trade was for £23,000 worth of wool going to Germany and Mr Beinssen got the aircraft for sale in Australia. It was fast for the period, taking ½ of the usual Sydney-Brisbane time, and was intended to take a regular (stopping) passenger run north from Sydney to Townsville, operated by Airlines of Australia. With diesel engines, it was also expected to be very economical with the added benefit of non-flammable fuel.
The trouble was that the Jumo 205 engines proved unreliable, with a number of failures. It was finally dismantled in Melbourne and shipped back to Germany on 25 August 1937.