The Junkers Ju88 is considered to be the most versatile combat aircraft of the Second World War, and was utilised by the German Luftwaffe throughout the conflict and across all fronts.
The first prototype was airborne in December 1936, attracting military attention immediately, with the Ju88 entering service with the Luftwaffe in late 1939, as a tactical medium range bomber. The aircraft was produced by Junkers Flugzeug und Motorwerke AG, which by the end of the war in 1945 produced approximately 15,000 aircraft.
Throughout the Second World War Malta was the only Allied base between Gibraltar and Alexandria, and with the arrival of the German Luftwaffe in Sicily, Malta become a prime target for Axis bombings. The short distance between Malta and Sicily enabled the German aircraft to participate in several air raids a day, with an average of 200 aircraft bombers over the island every day, the vast majority of which were Ju88’s. However, aerial support and defence arrived in early May 1942 which saw the Allied forces regaining aerial superiority over Malta. The Ju88 aircraft wreck located off the coast from Salina Bay could have been a victim of this renewed Allied dominance in the air, although this is not confirmed.
The wreck of the Ju88 was discovered in 2009 during an offshore remote sensing survey. The aircraft is well-preserved, with a broken tail that lies a small distance away from the main site, and the forward-looking machine gun still mounted in the cockpit. The wreck lies approximately 3km outside Salina Bay at a depth of 57 metres on a sandy seabed.
The design of the Ju88 as a dive bomber introduced a number of other features on the aircraft. This included reinforcing the entire structure for diving bombing attacks, which significantly increased the weight of the aircraft. However, larger internal bomb bays made space for some twenty 50kg bombs and external bomb racks that could carry up to four 500kg bombs.
An emergency dinghy forms part of an aircraft’s maritime emergency equipment, designed to be used during a landing on water. The Ju88 was designed in such a way that the emergency dinghy was located in a special compartment placed on top of the rear fuselage, that could be remotely ejected and expanded from the cockpit. In the event that an aircraft was forced to ditch in water, prior to landing, a crew member would operate the dinghy release level, which would fill the dinghy with carbon dioxide and release it from the compartment, ready for use upon ditching. Once the aircraft landed on the surface of the water, the dinghy could be pulled close with a chord located on the outside of the fuselage, and 3-piece oars available for use. Once the emergency dinghy was boarded by the crew, the pull chord could be released and the dinghy pushed clear of the sinking aircraft.
Junkers Ju88 aircraft were mounted with MG 81 machine guns. These were a belt-fed 7.92mm Mauser machine guns, often used in Luftwaffe combat aircraft. The MG 81 replaced the MG 34, widely considered to be the first general-purpose machine gun, which upon its introduction to the Heer (German army) was immediately sought after by the Luftwaffe for use in combat aircraft. The new design for the optimisation of the MG 34 for use in aircraft was accepted in 1938, with production starting in 1939 and the new weapon being designated MG 81. This new machine gun had a high rate of fire and was the first machine gun to be installed by the Germans in twin mountings. In the Ju88 these were placed singly, often numbering up to six machine guns on each aircraft. The 7.92mm cartridge was adopted by Germany at the beginning of the 20th century and was in service throughout both world wars, since the cartridge belonged to the group of ammunition that Germany could still use as per the Treaty of Versailles. The cartridge’s high performance led to its adoption in a number of armed forces around the world, making it the most popular and widely used cartridge in the world at the time, and also one of the few that was used by both Allied and Axis forces.