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World War II: Junkers Ju 87 Stuka

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World War II: Junkers Ju 87 Stuka

Junkers JU 87 Stuka

Photograph Courtesy of Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), Bild 183-J16050

Junkers Ju 87 Stuka B-2 Specifications:

General

  • Length: 36 ft. 1 in.
  • Wingspan: 45 ft. 3.3 in.
  • Height: 13 ft. 10.53 in.
  • Wing Area: 343.37 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 7,086 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 9,524 lbs.
  • Crew: 2

Performance

  • Power Plant: 1 × Junkers Jumo 211D liquid-cooled inverted-vee V12 engine, 1184 hp.
  • Range: 311 miles
  • Max Speed: 242 mph
  • Ceiling: 26,903 ft.

Armament

  • Guns: 2× 7.92 mm MG 17 machine gun forward, 1 × 7.92 mm MG 15 machine gun to rear
  • Bombs: Standard load - 1 x 255 lb. bomb, 2 x 50 lb. bombs

Ju 87 Stuka - Development:

With the Nazi rise to power in 1933, Germany began to rearm. Among those weapons systems the new regime desired was an effective dive bomber. While this need was initially met by the Henschel HS-123, effort continued on other designs. At Junkers, designer Hermann Pohlmann worked on a new dive bomber drawing from the firm's earlier Ju K 47. These efforts were encouraged in 1935 when the German Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium - RLM) issued specifications for a new dive bomber. While four firms entered the competition, two were immediately eliminated and the Junkers design squared off against the Heinkel He-118.

Powered by an imported Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine, Pohlmann's design was designated Ju 87 V1. While the prototype was built and Sweden and secretly brought to German in 1934, issues with the airframe delayed is completion until late 1935. An ungainly looking aircraft, the Ju 87 V1 possessed inverted gull wings and a braced tail with twin tailfins. Testing with the prototype moved forward but was soon halted when chief test pilot Willy Neuenhofen was killed in a crash on January 24, 1936 when the aircraft's tail section collapsed. Re-tooling the design, Junkers changed the tail design to a single vertical stabilizer.

As the design progressed, the Ju 87 V1 met resistance from RLM who were unhappy with its use of an imported engine. To rectify this issue, plans were made to use the Jumo 210 instead. Though testing in early 1936 went well, some Luftwaffe officers felt the aircraft was underpowered and the program was threatened with cancellation. Rescued by Colonel General Ernst Udet, a World War I ace and RLM officer, work continued. The following month, the Ju 87 V1 won the competition after Udet was forced to bail out of his He-118 prototype when the propeller broke apart in flight.

Ju 87 Stuka - Design:

Designated the Ju 87 Stuka (short for Sturzkampfflugzeug), the new dive bomber was an all-metal, cantilevered monoplane that featured spatted, fixed landing gear. Early models mounted two 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns in the wings with a single, rear-facing 7.92 mm MG 15 machine gun for the radio operator/gunner. Capable of diving at angles of 60-90°, the Stuka possessed an automatic dive recovery system that engaged when the bomb was released. This allowed the aircraft to safely terminate the dive if the pilot succumbed to g-induced blackout.

Built largely of duralumin, the Ju 87 Stuka was constructed in such a way that large segments of the airframe were assembled as single units. This allowed entire sections of the aircraft to be quickly replaced and decreased the time required for major repairs. In 1937, testing of the Ju 87 Stuka continued as several variants of the Jumo 210 were tried in an effort to increase power. As efforts to improve the aircraft continued, production on the Ju 87 A began at Dessau. As these rolled off the line, Junkers completed the design for an upgraded Ju 87 B.

Ju 87 Stuka - Variants:

The first mass-produced model, the Ju 87 B saw an upgrade to the Jumo 211D engine and addition of sirens mounted on the wings. These were intended to frighten the enemy as the aircraft attacked. Other improvements included redesigned landing gear. A Ju 87 C variant was also created for naval use, though it was only built in small numbers. As World War II progressed, Junkers continued to evolve the Stuka as no replacement was available. In 1941, production began on the Ju 87 D which had an enhanced engine, greater range, and better defensive armament.

Ju 87 Stuka - Operational History:

The Ju 87 Stuka's combat debut came in 1937 with the German Condor Legion during Spanish Civil War. Initially flying the Ju 87 A, the Legion soon switched to the newer by Ju 87 B. During these operations, no aircraft were lost. Having learned invaluable lessons in Spain, Stuka crews were at the forefront of the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Aiding in opening World War II, they flew precision strikes and were a key element of the German blitzkrieg. Relentlessly attacking enemy positions, the Ju 87 Stuka inspired fear and inflicted heavy losses.

In 1940, the type continued to have success during the invasion of Norway and the campaigns in the Low Countries and France. Utilizing effective forward ground controllers, Stuka squadrons were able to provide fast, effective ground support to allow German forces to rapidly advance. In the course of these campaigns, the Ju 87 also proved itself as a deadly anti-shipping weapon. The Ju 87's run of success came to an abrupt halt during the Battle of Britain that summer. Lacking air superiority, Ju 87 units began taking heavy losses as British Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires took advantage of its slow speed.

As a result of these casualties, the Ju 87 Stuka was withdrawn from the battle in mid-August. No longer effective on the Western Front, the Stuka found new life flying in the Mediterranean where it continued to be effective against shipping. With the German offensives into the Balkans in early 1941, it reprised its role in blitzkrieg operations. This continued with the German victories in that Battles of Greece and Crete. Stuka units also aided Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in North Africa participating in engagements such as the Battle of Gazala and Second Battle of El Alamein. With the arrival of American forces during Operation Torch in late 1942, the Stuka again became vulnerable and losses mounted.

The Ju 87 Stuka's final heyday came with the invasion of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Eastern Front in June 1941. Flying at the leading edge of the German advance and possessing air superiority, the Stuka operated with impunity. In this role it saw effective use at notable engagements such as the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. As Soviet armor became more numerous, a final variant of the Ju 87 was created. Dubbed the Ju 87 G, this model entered service in early 1943 and possessed enhanced armor and two 37 mm cannon for destroying Soviet tanks. A successful aircraft, this variant remained in use until the end of the war. As Soviet fighter opposition grew, Stuka units began taking heavy losses. Obsolete and with numbers dwindling, the Stuka began to be replaced in the final months of the war by ground attack variants of the Focke-Wulf 190. Still in use at the war's end, over 6,500 Ju 87s were built during its production run.

Selected Sources

  • Military Factory: Ju 87 Stuka
  • Fighter-Planes: Ju 87 Stuka
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