Ju-390 flight to Japan

Flights to Japan commenced before Germany's invasion of Russia in July 1941 with Operation Barbarossa. Stalin had been keen in fact to join the Axis Pact prior to this but Japan objected citing the anti communist anti Comintern Pact. Stalin however had been allowing use of the trans Siberia railway for trade between Germany and Japan prior to Barbarossa.

Early flights had involved the giant Blohm und Voss Bv222 V1 aircraft operated by Deutsch Luft Hansa from Kirkenes, in occupied Norway and later from an unknown date these flights departed Nautsi Air Base in Finland. Horst Zoeller, a Junkers historian who maintains the Junkers website told me by email of at least one confirmed BV222 flight to Sakhalin. Deutsche Luft Hansa is known to have proposed a Bv222 mission to Japan as late as October 1943.

Bv222 in service with Deutsche Luft Hansa

Another aircraft prior to Operation Barbarossa (Nazi invasion of Russia) which was capable of flights to Japan was the Messerschmitt Me261. Outwardly it looked like a much enlarged Bf-110 twin engined fighter. In detail however it was much larger had an entirely novel airframe able to accomodate it's crew and between 7-8 passengers. It's role was as a long range courier aircraft for important passengers and documents. The Me-261's first flight was 23 December 1940. It proved it's range on various closed circuit trials over Europe, but it is uncertain whether it ever actually flew to the Far East.  

An early Fw200B aircraft in service with Deutsch Luft Hansa

One aircraft which did make flights to Harbin, Manchuria [Manchukuo] was the Fw200K "Kurrier" operated by Kommando Rowhel for the Abwher intelligence agency. It flew from Northern Finland in civil disguise as "D-AWCG." This aircraft began its career as the Fw200B V4 prototype and was subsequently rebuilt with two extra fuel tanks as the Fw200K V10 prototype. Missions were flown by Ob.Lt Wolgang Nebel. Upon the liberation of Allied prisoners at Harbin by the OSS Flamingo team in 1945, POWs recounted sightings of the aircraft throughout WW2 at Harbin  

From 1941 to 1943 Germany ran a highly effective fleet of surface blockade running freighters. Ships with famous names like Orsorno, Pietro Orseolo, Tannenfels, Weserland, Burgenland, Alsterufer and Rio Grande maintained an effective shuttle of supplies and personnel to and from Japan, but by 1943, assisted by Enigma interceptions, the Royal Navy began to sink these vessels. U-boats taking up to three month voyages maintained some sort of connection during 1944, but for high priority items and passengers a reliable air link needed to be created.

On 30 June 1942, a successful flight from Saporoshje (near Rostov) to Ninghsia (modern Ningxia) proved a link could be viable. The flight used a Savoia Marchetti S.75 RT (RT = Rome -Tokyo) trimotor aircraft. It's route was north of the Caspian and Aral seas then through the Altai Range past Lake Balkhash to Ningxia. The aircraft's navigator Dr Publio Magini was of the opinion that had they not been required to land at Ninxia, with the fuel aboard they could have continued on to reach Tokyo.

At that time the region around Ninghsia was largely controlled by Warlords, or Communists who co-operated with the Japanese Expeditionary Army out of self interest because their fight was with Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist Army. Out of self interest they practiced a live and let live policy with the Japanese.

Italian S.75 RT arrives at Ningxia 1 July 1942

Ju-290 Flights to Manchuria

The original authority on flights to Manchuria was British author and aviation historian William Green in his book Warplanes of the Third Reich, first published 1968. The most significant source for this story was the interrogation of a Luftwaffe photographer attached to the long range reconnaissance unit FAGr.5 at Mont de Marsan. Unteroffizer Wolf Baumgart, as a prisoner of war, was interrogated in August 1944 by the US Ninth Air Force, cited in A.P.W.I.U. Report 44/1945. Baumgart's accounts were apparently corroborated by a more senior Luftwaffe officer interrogated at the same time whom I have yet to identify.

On 11 November 1955 the "RAF Review" published an article by the historical writer Kenneth Werrell claiming a Ju-390 flew within 12 miles of New York and photographed the skyline. Author William Green was an editor of the "RAF Review" at the time. Later Green also referred to the claim in his two books Warplanes of the Second World War (1968) and Warplanes of the Third Reich (1970). Green asserted the Allies learned of the mission in June 1944, whilst Werrell claimed they originated with interrogations of two German POWs in August 1944. Werrell identified his source as two British Intelligence reports dated from August 1945 entitled "General Report on Aircraft Engines and Aircraft Equipment." These in turn refer to intelligence reports of the US IX Air Force Intelligence section.

It is possible that Green drew from various wartime Enigma decrypts prior to the interrogations of POWs. Enigma was still classified in 1955 and there may have been a mad scramble to cite POW reports to draw attention off Enigma decrypts. Because the British Government had re-sold captured Enigma machines to many African nations so it could read their diplomatic signals, any hint of wartime code-breaking had to be kept classified due to ongoing intelligence concerns. Details regarding Operation Ultra and Station X were not declassified until 1989 and various reports about Alan Turing's Enigma code-breaking not until 1996, so Green was unable to identify if Enigma decrypts were the original source for his RAF intelligence reports. 

What is known of Green however is that after quoting from the British intelligence reports an unidentified former German serviceman began a lengthy correspondence with him from New York which offered further background for Green's claims in his later books. 

In February 1944 when KG200 took over all long range special missions, Hitler tasked the head of his own VIP flight Hauptman Braun to form a Japan Kommando flying an air bridge to Japan. This unit was also known as 14/TGS.4 (or 14 Staffel/ Transportgeschwader 4).

A Ju-290 A-5 aircraft with the Stammkenzeichen codes KR+LA was requisitioned and modified at the DLH maintenance facility on Rusnye aerodrome at Prague. Not at the nearby Junkers factory in Prague. Deutsche Luft Hansa pilot Flugkapitan Rudolf Mayr was placed in charge of  the Manchurian flight operation. Aircraft were stripped of armaments, military markings and were given civil DLH markings.

A War Ministry report (AIR 40/203) detailed in mid October 1944, a POW gave information under interrogation that since the beginning of 1944, there had been "regular air travel between Germany and Japan established for the transport of high officials flown by old experienced Hansa pilots."

Deutsch Luft Hansa pilots thought to have flown these missions to Manchuria included Flugkapitan Nebel,
Flugkapitan Mattias (died April 1946 in Soviet captivity), Flugkapitan Erich Warsitz [1], Flugkapitan Hermann Quenzler [2] (Dornier Test Pilot), and test pilot Karl Patin. No record is available if flights terminated at Harbin or Shenyang where there was a major aircraft manufacturing plant. Given that Tachikawa was also involved in westbound flights with a Tachikawa Ki-77 aircraft to German held territory Shenyang was more likely. 

Japanese Long Range Tachikawa Ki-77

The first Ju-290 aircraft used to trial flights to Manchuria

Trial flights began with Ju-290A-5 werke # J900170 Luftwaffe code KR+LA. This aircraft also had KG200 codes 9V+DH. It was destroyed by air raids at Reichlin in 1945. It’s fuel capacity was increased and for long range operations, MTOW was increased from the Ju-290’s standard 41.3 tons to 45 tons.

In March 1944 three other Ju290 aircraft were transferred to Versuchsverband OKL carrying Luftwaffe codes T9+, thence they were stripped of all weaponry and civilianised for Deutsch Luft Hansa (DLH) service on flights to China. Modification included fitting fuel tanks for 23,800 litres. Each of the aircraft also then received civil registrations.

These three aircraft were Ju-290A-9  werke # J900183, former Luftwaffe code KR+LN. From February 1944 this aircraft became T9+VK. It was attacked on the ground at Finsterwalde in April 1944 and scrapped at Travenmunde in September 1944.

Also Ju-290A-9 werke # J900182, former Luftwaffe code KR+LM. From February 1944 this aircraft became T9+UK. This aircraft was lost whilst on the ground refueling to strafing fire by four Soviet flown Hurricanes near the village of Utta, near Astrakhan in July 1944. 

Ju-290 A7 werke # J900185, former Luftwaffe code KR+LP was the third conversion to become T9+WK. Later in it's career it was attacked over the southern eastern front in May 1944 and returned from the mission beyond all hope of repair.*

On 2 September 1944 Ju-290A-3 werke # J900163 Luftwaffe code PI+PQ was ordered to be converted for a mission to China to carry VIP Ulrich Kessler, but work on the aircraft was interrupted by general anti Nazi uprisings in Bulgaria where the aircraft was to fly from. The aircraft was eventually blown up in May 1945 to prevent it's capture.

Me-264 flights to Japan

In his book "Messerschmitt Me264, Amerika Bomber, The Luftwaffe's Lost Transatlantic Bomber," author Fobert Forsyth cites various sources for regular Me264 flights from a frozen runway on Lake Inari (Petsamo) in northern Finland to Tokyo carrying important persons, documents and cargo. Such flights became impossible after September 1944 when threatened with US bombing raids on Helsinki, Finland was forced to capitulate to Russia. 

Prior to the Normandy landings, an earlier British interrogation of another Luftwaffe POW in April 1944 disclosed that the Me-261 had already made a flight to Tokyo in August 1943. This flight appears to have departed from Petsamo in Northern Finland.

J-390 flights to Japan

On Tuesday 23 May 1944 Reichsmarshall Goering convened a conference. It was attended by Minister for armaments and War production Albert Speer, Air Marshall Erhard Milch, General der Flieger Gunther Korten, Petersen, Diesing, Knemeyer and Saur to confront the he-177's failings. Goering demanded other options for long range reconnaissance be developed urgently. From this meeting was set up a special long range reconnaissance unit, or Aufklarungsgruppe. It is noteworthy that following this meeting the Ju-390 and He-177 were no longer deemed available for long range reconnaissance and were already placed under control of KG200. 

With the fall of France, 2 Staffel, Fernaufklarungsgruppe 5 (2/FAGr.5) based at mont de Marsan had been disbanded in August 1944   and reassigned to Kommando Nebel for development of long range reconnaissance and communications flights under the command of Hauptmann Georg Eckl. Hitler's new Luftwaffe chief of staff Generalleutnant Werner Kreipe recorded in his war diary that on 5 August 1944 that hitler called for renewed efforts to prepare the Me-264 for a bombing raid on New York.

Aviator and pre war explorer Hans Bertram was commissioned by RLM apparently in July 1944 to write a report called Ostasienflug (east Asian Flight Project) to plan for a regular courier service to Tokyo using the Me-264.The mission called for a duration of 33 hours flown at 188 knots. Two routes were proposed. The longest from Berlin to Linz, Hungary, Roumania, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Tsitsihar in china and finally to Tokyo. The other route proposed was through northern India and Burma to Rangoon.

Evidence of a Ju-390 flight to Tokyo in 1944  

The first public hint of a Ju-390 mission to Japan arose in the memoirs of Hitler's former armaments minister Albert Speer "Inside the Third Reich" In his book Speer referred to Ju-390 flights to Tokyo "via the Polar Route" in 1945. Speer had little to gain by revealing these flights and in fact made the comment quite non-chalently almost in passing.

Speer also mentioned the Ju-390 flight to Tokyo being flown by civil test pilots which seems to identify them as Dornier Test Pilot Flugkapitan Quenzler, and test pilot Karl Patin.

The author Frederich Georg has written about this Ju-390 flight. Though I have never read his books, I understand from a person who claims to know him that
Frederich Georg is a false pen name, however the actual individual is said to have access to files not available to most people. That author however claims the polar route led from Bardufoss, Norway to the Bering Strait and down to the island of Pamushiro along the Kamchatka Peninsula.  

In 1995 the radio operator from U-234, Wolfgang Hirschfeld wrote his book "Atlantik Farewell, Das Letzte U-boot" (Atlantic farewell, The Last U-boat) In his book Hirschfeld notes that following a collision in the Kettegat between Denmark and Sweeden with another U-boat, surfacing beneath her, U-234 was forced into a Norwegian port for repairs in March 1945. Hirschfeld noted that urgently needed cargo had to be offloaded and flown on to Japan.

Ironically the cargo referred to may itself have been production drawings for the Ju-390 which are often cited as having been dispatched on a U-boat which never reached Japan. Since the Ju-390 licensed production agreement agreement for the Ju-390 was not signed until 28 February 1945, the only U-boat which this could refer to was the U-234.

Russian aviation historian Sergey Platov notes on his website that these Ju-390 production plans were accompanied by a Japanese military attache from Berlin, Major General Otani all flown to Tokyo with aboard a Ju-390.

A Post war report by the War Department, entitled "NA/HW 13/47 - German Technical Aid to Japan" dated 31 August 1945 at pages 134-145, discussed how three Messerscmitt engineers with technical documents for Japanese construction of the Me-209; Me 309; Me 264, Me 262; Me 410 and me 323 would be flown to Japan. Technical drawings would be accompanied by engineers. 

Luftwaffe Generalmajor Fritz Morzik, Chief of Air Transport for the Armed Forces in WW2 Germany wrote in an article for an official post war USAF study paper, that the Ju-390 was used for courier flights to Japan during the war.

A Magic decrypt of a diplomatic signal from the naval attache at the Japanese embassy in Berlin dated 21st March discussed an impending flight to Japan within the week, which Speer claimed occurred on 28 March 1945. 

Evidence on a Japanese air base in the Pacific 

Perhaps a final note that in intercepted MAGIC traffic late in the war the possibility of flights to Petsamo in the Northern Kurile island chain is also mentioned. The large islands of Petsamo and nearby Shimshu are both peppered with various sealed runways, however these islands are also beset by fog for perhaps 80-90% of the year, making them unreliable for long range flights. Russian intelligence mentions the use of Usiro (Ushiro) on Sakhalin Island's west coast.

Far more likely however is the airbase on Matua Island, known to the Japanese as Matsawa Jima. The island is dominated by an active volcano called Sarychev. The natural heat of this volcano keeps fog away. An airbase on the island is on a ledge high above most sea fog. Moreover by late 1944 most Japanese forces in the Kuriles were withdrawn from Parumshiro and Shimshu to defend Matua. Why was this island much more important? 

From springs on this island Plutonium bubbles to the surface. The Japanese drove long complexes of tunnels into the mountain mining just what exactly, we still don't know, but reputed to include Sulfur for explosives production. A power station on the island has German 200W capacitors made in Silesia and inscribed in Polish. Unless these were for a radio station the other explanation for their use is some form of metal refinery.

Matua island has a shelf 124 metres above the sea with no natural causeway to the shoreline, nor any natural landing or wharf. It is claimed that during WW2 the Japanese used slave Korean labour to cut an underground submarine pen into the cliffs. It is also suggested in Russian language commentaries that U-534 made more than one secret voyage to the island through Arctic seas.  

The Island was heavily fortified with two concrete airstrips allowing take off and landing in all wind directions. Furthermore quite unusually these runways were lit for night operations and had hot geothermal water ducted beneath them to keep them snow free all year around. A company of tanks was based on this small island along with a whole infantry division. The plateau was crossed by numerous tank tracks visible from space. There were numerous large underground hangers and store houses. 

The most surprising detail of all this however is that this relatively inaccessible plateau is littered with 200L Nazi fuel drums mostly 1943 manufacture. Why here of all places and nowhere else in the Pacific?

There was no purpose for the Soviets to transport these drums there and Russian historians have no clue for the existence of Nazi drums there either.

Sergey Platov operates expedition tours to the island for anybody interested:




  • "Messerschmitt Me264, Amerika Bomber, The Luftwaffe's Lost Transatlantic Bomber," by Fobert Forsyth
  • Ju-290 aircraft converted, Sweeting and Boyne, p. 125
  • "Inside the Third Reich" by Albert Speer
  • "Atlantik Farewell, Das Letzte U-boot" by Wolfgang Hirschfeld

[1] In April 1983, Flugkapitän Erich Warsitz suffered a stroke and as a result died at the age of 76 years 12 July 1983 at Barbengo Switzerland.

[2] Hermann (aka Henry, aka Ivan) Quenzler was recruited as a test pilot for Lockheed's CIA Skunk Works. He later went to Seattle and worked there for Boeing on the Boeing 707 and SST. He died in 9th September 2002 survived by two daughters.