Rise of the Arctic Eagle
Mark Sheppard details the remarkable discovery and retrieval of a Messerschmitt Bf 109G from a remote Arctic lake
It has now been more than 25 years since the thawing of relations with communist Russia, the days of ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ which saw the nation become less secretive. With its adoption of a more ‘open’ policy, numerous crashed warbirds were found and retrieved from its vast areas of wilderness, and later from its many lakes.
Following World War Two, hundreds of such airframes were destroyed by the military or cut up by locals for scrap. After the majority of those remaining in substantially complete condition were located and recovered from the tundra, the focus of investigation turned to Russia’s lakes.
A select number of Russian groups typically spend a few months over the summer scanning with sonar. There are literally thousands of lakes in the Russian Arctic so it’s not a quick task – the priority is always to investigate those nearest to wartime airfields. This involves speaking to local fishermen, asking if their lines have ever snagged on anything suspiciously warbird-shaped.
Russian research and recovery group IKAR had been searching lakes for four years before locating Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 Wk Nr 14232 in the summer of 2017. They had been tipped off by a fisherman and, indeed, the remains of torn fishing nets were found on the wreck.
A recovery was scheduled for June 21-24, 2018, taking advantage of 24 hours of daylight. The fighter was resting at a depth of around 28ft (8.5m), its nose in the sediment with the airframe embedded almost to the mid-wing point.
From a watery grave
Because the Bf 109G had settled in the middle of the lake it needed to be lifted and towed ashore using a floating pontoon. Connected to some heavy-duty former military trucks, an A-frame, winch and pulley were used to bring the remains to land. Once this task was accomplished, the fighter’s data plate was found, confirming its identity.
With the fuselage now resting on the edge of the lake, the team turned its attention to recovering the Daimler-Benz DB605A engine, which had separated from the airframe due to the magnesium engine bearers dissolving in the water.
The same process had affected the engine reduction casing, which was also missing, in turn causing the propeller hub to come loose. It remains in the mud of the lake bed, but the team is planning to return and collect it in April this year.
Owing to its submersion in silt, the camouflage scheme on the wings’ leading edges are still visible – the fighter clearly had white winter markings, evidence that assisted those researching its final mission. The white wavy lines indicated that this was likely to be a fighter from Luftwaffe unit JG 5 ‘Eismeer’ (Arctic).
This type of colouring was generally adopted by III/JG 5, whereas II Gruppe used slightly different white ‘blobs’ as camouflage. An initial examination also revealed the fighter carried a centreline rack suitable for installing either a 300-lit drop tank or a 250kg (550lb) bomb…
The rest of this article is in the current issue of FlyPast, cover dated February 2019. It’s available in UK shops now or can be purchased via the website – www.flypast.com. Alternatively, you can download a digital edition from www.pocketmags.com – simply search ‘FlyPast’.