Ju 52/3m, Lufthansa Traditionsflugzeug D-AQUI Author: Gero Brandenburg
Ju 52/3m, Lufthansa Traditionsflugzeug D-AQUI
Author: Gero Brandenburg

80th anniversary of trailblazing airmail flight across the South Atlantic.

On 3 February 1934, the predecessor of today’s Lufthansa launched a scheduled transatlantic airmail service from Germany to South America – a pioneering achievement that received international acclaim. Lufthansa covered the distance of more than 13,000 km from Berlin to Buenos Aires in just six days. The route was made up of numerous stages, and a wide range of aircraft types was deployed. This marked the beginning of a new era in airmail transport, ushered in by Lufthansa.

In the first year of the new airmail service, Lufthansa and Syndicato Condor – a Brazilian airline which Lufthansa had founded and also operated – carried 5,085 kg of mail on 47 flights. This connection opened up entirely new business opportunities for German industry in South America, a market which until then been mainly accessible to American companies.

Prior to this, however, Lufthansa had to do a great deal of pioneering work. Bridgeheads had to be expanded, new sections of the route mapped out, crews trained, health risks clarified and postal concessions negotiated. The transatlantic crossing was part of a perfectly organised relay flight comprising several legs. The first of these was flown by a Heinkel He 70. Carrying 37.53 kg of mail, it took off from Berlin for Stuttgart, and then continued on via Marseille to Seville in Spain. There a Junkers Ju 52 took the mail on board and, after a stopover on Las Palmas, flew on to Bathurst in British Gambia, where Lufthansa transported the mail sacks to its “floating relay station” based in the city’s harbour. This converted former steam liner, which served as a catapult ship, then set sail for South America carrying a Dornier Wal flying boat on its deck. Thirty-six hours later the aircraft was catapulted into the air, as if from an aircraft carrier. In Natal in Brazil, a Junkers W 34 seaplane awaited the arrival of the flying boat, the “Taifun”. The Ju W 34 was, so to speak, the final link in this relay chain, which brought the sacks of mail to their destina­tions: Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

As early as year-end 1934, transit time was reduced to three days, thanks to the deployment of a second catapult ship. By the end of the 1930s, an efficient airmail system had been established, linking the most important countries in South America with major European cities. Some 100,000 letters were carried on each flight. A few days before the outbreak of World War II, which resulted in the suspension of all Lufthansa flights, a Lufthansa flying boat with a cargo of mail crossed the South Atlantic for the last time. Aircraft and support ships returned to Germany via circuitous routes.

Since the first scheduled airmail flight on 3 February 1934, Lufthansa had crossed the South Atlantic 481 times.

Even today, airmail remains the first choice of postal services, as it is the fastest and most reliable way to send mail around the world. A total of 200 postal companies rely on the services of Lufthansa Cargo. Last year, Europe’s leading cargo carrier transported more than 40,000 tonnes of mail safely and quickly. The busiest mail runs are routes to and from China and to the United States. But mail from more “exotic” places – including letters from Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuata in the South Pacific – is also carried in the bellies of Lufthansa’s passenger aircraft.

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