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Guillow's Ju-87 Stuka Kit #508

While some may think the word "Stuka" was the Ju-87's nickname, it is actually a shortened version of the word "Sturzkampfflugzeug," or "diving fighting aircraft." "Stuka" could actually apply to any German dive bomber, but it became associated exclusively with the Ju-87 until the two names were almost interchangeable. Dive-bombing, like many military tactics, cannot be credited to any one person or even a single country. France had experimented with it in World War I, and several others including Britain, but it was generally considered a high risk/low reward mission. For the most part, only the United States and Japan bought into its potential and continued tests in the 1920s. Germany had been successful in strafing trenches in World War I and therefore encouraged the creation of planes specifically designated for close air support. After the war, the most prominent became Junkers Flugzeugwerke AG, already a leader in civilian aviation. Finding a loophole in the Treaty of Versailles, Junkers set up offices in the Soviet Union, Sweden and Turkey with emphasis on ground attack aircraft. After several years of research and development, the Stuka program officially began in 1933, despite intense protest by some Aviation Ministry members. Like the Bf-109, a competition was held to award a contract for Germany's new dive bomber. Hermann Pohlmann, a former bomber pilot (and POW) himself, led the design team of the Junkers entry, the Ju-87. Aesthetically the Ju-87V-1 was ugly, even for a dive bomber. Its twin tailfins, small mouth-like radiator, two-blade propeller and large undercarriage frames weren't aerodynamic but were based on years of research. The Ju-87 had a strong reinforced fuselage with "W" shaped wings that minimized the drag of the fixed landing gear which reduced the total weight in lieu of retractable gear. The canopy frame was also strong in case of an accident. The entire aircraft skin was made of stressed duraluminum, making it incredibly tough in a high-speed dive. The only major deficiency was its engine, a 525 horsepower V-12 Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine. The Ju-87 went through several powerplant configurations but was never able to find one suitable for maximum flight performance.


[PIR] The Ju-87 was first flown on 17 September 1935, needing only an improvement of the radiator to avoid overheating, but a fatal crash occurred in January 1936. This setback looked promising for the three other planes in competition for Germany's new dive-bomber: the Arado Ar81, Blohm & Voss Ha 137, and the Heinkel He-118. However, the "competition" was mostly for show, and it was accepted that the Ju-87 was already being groomed for the position. Several Germans, including aviation legend Manfred von Richtofen, thought it to be too crude for combat and von Richtofen thought the whole concept was "suicidal." Still, the new Stuka was undeniably the best of the lot, and it had the support of other public figures such as WWI ace Ernst Udet. Once it had officially gotten the job, several corrections had to be made before it was service-ready. A thin bar was installed beneath each wing which, when set perpendicular to the wing, acted as dive brakes. Later, a thin rod would stand up from the top of the wing when the dive brakes were extended, giving the pilot visual confirmation. The tails and propeller were eliminated in favor of a large single tail and Jumo-Hamilton metal three-bladed propeller. For visibility, the engine fairing was lowered to give a better field of vision while a small window was installed on the floor of the cockpit. The view was limited but it allowed the pilot to see the target below him instead of diving blindly. For defense, a single 7.92mm gun was set in the right wing while a second was put in the rear cockpit as protection from fighters. For accuracy, the pilot aimed his bombs with a stukavisier, aka "Stuvi" gunsight. For safety, a bomb cradle was installed underneath the center fuselage so that when the pilot released the centerline bomb, it would swing forward and stay clear of the propeller. Perhaps the most ingenious feature was the diving mechanism that automatically pulled the plane out of its five after the bombs' release. The system started when the dive brakes were extended and had a preset altimeter setting, but the pilot could override the pullout if he pulled back hard on the control stick. The system prevented accidental crashes in case the pilot passed out or had a "red-out" from the effect of lower gravity rushing blood to his head.

The first true Stuka, the Ju-87A-0, was given a 640 horsepower Jumo 210 Ca engine with additional oil cooling vents in the nose to ease its already cumbersome weight. The wing and rudder were slightly reshaped but the plane still only had a top speed of 199 mph and maximum range of 620 miles unloaded. The Ju-87 was so clunky it could only carry its maximum payload by leaving the rear gunner on the ground. The production model became the A-1 (designated "Anton"), some of which were given to the "Condor Legion" who gained their fame in the Spanish Civil War. The A-2 was not much of an improvement with its 680 horsepower Jumo 210 Da engine and reshaped rudder. The deficiency (or absence) of some features, like lack of an automatic propeller pitch were disliked by the pilots, but it was a short-lived model. By the end of 1938 the Ju-87A was a thing of the past with just 262 built; a few were given to Hungary and Japan but not in a combat capacity (Japan still copied the Stuka's dive brakes for their own "Val" dive bomber). These exports were given the letter designator "K." The B model (designated "Berta") underwent radical changes to the cockpit, landing gear and nose. The control stick went from an oval shape to the traditional straight column style. The "Stuvi" gunsight was removed in favor of the reflector Revi C-12-C, mounted on the top right of the instrument panel and could aim both guns and bombs. For the rear gunner, he was now tasked with operating the plane's FuG VIIa radio. Fortunately his cockpit, which was previously cramped and had little more than a skinny slot to fire through, had a new blister-style turret. Perhaps the most important addition to the B was the 1100 horsepower Jumo 211A, which doubled the payload yet increased the speed. Unfortunately the Stuka's range was dramatically curtailed to just 385 miles.

The cowling underwent a major change; most noticeably the "chin" radiator was rounded and given vertical "shutters" to control air flow. The top front was hollowed out as an inlet with a complimenting outlet flap behind it, while the supercharger and exhaust were modified. Converging white lines were painted on the canopy's right side to imitate angles on a protractor measuring out 30º through 90º, ensuring the pilot was diving at the proper angle. The most obvious change happened to its landing gear, which was streamlined by removing the support struts and cumbersome "trousers" and replacing them with claw-like "spats." These were fitted with shock absorbers and were much more aerodynamic, as well as giving the Ju-87 its distinctive bird-like appearance. Weapons configurations varied throughout its career, but the traditional payload was two SC 50 (110 lb) bombs on each wing, plus a SC 250 (551 lb) centerline bomb. On a side note, the Stuka's paint scheme was incredibly simple and unvaried throughout most of its career. While many other Luftwaffe aircraft had complicated paint jobs, the lowly Stuka was not obligated to follow suit. Instead it kept the same olive drab/dark green "splinter" camouflage for its upper surfaces and a pale blue/white for its underside. Exceptions were made for units in the Mediterranean and desert, which were tan, and eastern front units which were painted white in winter.

While the Ju-87 was already a veteran by the time war began on 1 September 1939, it didn't achieve worldwide fame until the invasion of Poland. The Stuka was the razor's edge of the blitzkrieg; sometimes nicknamed "flying artillery," the planes were crucial in supporting advancing ground troops by taking out specific targets with incredible accuracy. A favorite tactic was to fly in close groups of three about 30 meters apart, called a Kette, until the target was directly below them. Radiator shutters were closed, flaps were put down, dive brakes were activated as they eased back the throttle. One by one the Stukas rolled over until they were upside down, then pulled back so they were pointed straight at the target, which was aligned in their sights by using the rudder. The Stuka dropped the first bombs of the war and was also the first German plane shot down by a fighter, a Polish PZL P.11C. German aircrews liked it because it was easy to maintain and tough enough to withstand the wear and tear of continuous missions. Pilots liked it because it could precisely deliver its load within 30 meters as well as survive hits from ground fire and enemy fighters. Commanders, however, liked it for its ability to strike fear on those on the ground. When diving with extended dive brakes, the air rushing over its body made a horrible screaming noise. Later this was augmented by miniature twin-bladed propellers fitted on the landing gear, which produced a siren effect. Some bombs were even fitted with whistles so they made a piercing wail as they fell on their targets. This psychological warfare became just as effective as the plane itself, and soon both civilian and soldier came to fear the dreaded Stuka. Naturally the German propaganda machine made the Ju-87 into a superweapon until it was practically a symbol for Germany's strength.


[PIR] The Ju-87B-2 followed the B-1 although it was essentially the same machine. The engine was upped to 1200 horsepower, and for optimal thrust the propeller was now made of compressed wood, whose pitch was adjustable. Since the plane was nose-heavy, its center of gravity was adjusted by altering the undercarriage angle with the intention to prevent tip-overs. The problem was never solved, so pilots tried to make a "three point landing" whenever possible to avoid the dreaded Kopfstand, or "headstand," with the propeller digging into the runway and tail sticking up in the air. Other minor changes included an inlet for fresh air, deeper radiator and optional muzzle covers for the wing guns. Conversion kits, known as Umrüst-Bausätze, gave squadrons the option of adding on special features. The U-2 kit had an improved communications system, the U-3 had increased cockpit armor, and the U-4 replaced the wheeled undercarriage with skis for winter missions. A long range version was also adopted, known as the Ju-87R, for Reichweite ("range"). The R had three sub-variants which carried 300 L external fuel tanks in lieu of wing bombs and were very successful in anti-shipping missions which often required long flights. Some R-2 models were tasked with towing gliders, something it was surprisingly good at. The Ju-87 "Trop" was used in the Mediterranean and North African campaigns, featuring paint schemes, equipment and modifications that were better suited for a desert environment. There was even a naval variant, the Ju-87C, which was intended to be assigned to the Graf Zeppelin, Hitler's unfinished aircraft carrier. The C, or "Cäsär," was simply a modified Berta, with folding wings, catapult equipment and an arresting hook, but all production and design was halted in 1942 when it became clear there would be no need for it. Starting with a great idea, Luftwaffe had successfully turned the awkward Stuka into a multi-role attack plane with a significant contribution to German military superiority. This continued into the invasion of western Europe, when the Ju-87 rained hellfire on the ill-prepared Allied defenses, and then their retreats. By the summer of 1940, it seemed Hitler and his forces were unbeatable.

What the world didn't know, however, was that the Ju-87 had serious deficiencies that could easily be exploited. Allied fighter pilots learned that when it pulled out of a dive, it lacked the speed, maneuverability or armor to withstand a concentrated attack. It was so slow that it had little chance of escaping a chase, and its rear gunner was hardly a deterrent. Certainly Luftwaffe pilots and their commanders knew of these weaknesses, but any losses were far outweighed by the success of the blitzkrieg, of which the Stuka was a vital component. Perhaps the idea of Allied air superiority seemed laughable to Göring, but when the Luftwaffe met the Royal Air Force head to head in the summer of 1940, the Stuka myth was shattered. The British were also guilty of Stuka propaganda, claiming many more kills than were possible, but Ju-87Stukageschwaders undoubtedly suffered heavy losses. To compound the Stuka's own weaknesses, pilots often found themselves without adequate fighter protection because of the Bf-110 was not a dogfighter, and the Bf-109's poor range cut their missions short. The Luftwaffe gradually accepted the fact that their beloved Stuka had a questionable future. The Ju-87 would never again be an effective weapon in the west and would have to find a new theater of operations in eastern Europe. While unimproved airfields and extreme seasonal weather were strenuous on the planes and their crews, the eastern front was the only place the Germans had total air superiority and therefore was the only place the Ju-87 could safely operate. Early campaigns in the Balkans, Mediterranean and USSR were very successful, and by January 1942 the newest Stuka made its debut.

The Ju-87D (designated "Dora") integrated all that had been learned since the first days of the war. Once again the canopy and cowling were the focal points of change, starting with a sleeker canopy design and 50mm armored windshield. The cockpit was also enlarged and armor plating of various thicknesses and locations were installed. A second rear machine gun was added, and the old ammo canisters were replaced by a belt-fed system. Undercarriage strength also became an issue, so late-production models of the D-1 had special leather compression sleeves around the struts, looking like legwarmers. The most noticeable change was the elongated cowling, which also had an elongated supercharger. The oil cooler moved from the top to underneath where the radiator used to be, while the radiator system went underneath the wings, one under each wing, close to the fuselage. This new look streamlined the Stuka and allowed it to carry heavier loads. Munition options were also increased when the bomb rack was redesigned, providing for flare/smoke dischargers, strafing machine guns and anti-personnel bombs. A 1400 horsepower Jumo 211 J engine helped bring the top speed up to 255 mph (unloaded), although the Stuka had hardly corrected any of its old vulnerabilities.

While it remained an effective aircraft, the Ju-87 fell victim to the same trappings as it had in 1940: the Germans lost air superiority. Their fighters could not hold off the growing number of Soviet squadrons while their own losses mounted at an alarming rate. Even if the crew managed to bail out, Soviet hatred for Stukas meant that capture might be worse than death. By mid-war, Ju-87 insignia was simplified to an absolute minimum to prevent identification--pilots did not want to advertise their planes, much less their units or themselves. Its value as a psychological weapon had also diminished, and it wasn't long before the siren propellers disappeared altogether. However, "Dora" production continued with the D-2 (a glider tower) and the D-3, which was nearly identical to the D-1 but with several minor changes, such as increased armor. Then there were even changes from the early D-3s to late-production D-3s, including modifications to the non-skid wing walks, exhaust fairings, and elimination of the siren mountings themselves. One special D-3 prototype had oblong pods on each wing which were designed transporting and covertly delivering secret agents. Needless to say the D-3Ag (Agentenflugzeug, or "agent plane") was a headache for everyone involved and was soon abandoned. The torpedo carrying D-4 was a better idea but could never compete with the He-111 or Ju-88 and was also terminated before production.

1943 was a transitional year on the eastern front as the Red Army began their drive west, and the Ju-87 was forced to adapt. Dive bombing was now considered obsolete as the ground troops needed conventional air support to stop the flood of Soviet armor. Thus the D-5, which appeared in July 1943 as the Germans mounted their last offensive in the USSR, was the last true Ju-87 dive bomber. This interim Stuka had slimmer wingtips to ease munition loads, twin Mauser 20mm cannons, sliding canopy windows, better crew protection, gunsight adjustments, spent cartridge chutes, and an improved ordinance release mechanism. By October the divebombing stukageschwaders had been replaced with low-level gound attack wings known as schlachtgeschwaders. Dive brakes were removed and it was not uncommon to completely eliminate its trademark wheel covers. Like the Bf-109 fighter, the Ju-87 stayed in service long after its heyday, so the D-5 was not the last Ju-87, or even the last Dora. The D-6 was conceived but never used, while the D-7 and D-8 were both used in Nachtschlachtgruppen, night attack groups, taking a cue from the Soviet practice of sending biplanes to harass German ground troops at night. The D-7 was essentially a modified D-3 while the D-8 was a successor to the D-5. Both featured a vast array of special equipment and custom modifications, depending on the crew, unit, and/or mission. Some of these included communications gear, muzzle flash suppressors, and exhaust flame dampeners, which made the D-7 and D-8 easy to identify by the long tube on the cowling. The tactics they employed were fairly advanced for the time; targets were identified by special ground units with flares and/or radio equipment. Thus the Ju-87 found an additional role in the Luftwaffe as their predecessors were gradually replaced with the faster, more maneuverable fighter/bomber Fw-190. The hazardous night missions had fewer ground fire casualties but high accident rates made veteran crews scarce.


[PIR] Despite the Stuka's inadequacies, Junkers continued to come up with exciting new prototypes, hoping to salvage the plane's tarnished reputation. The E series was basically another naval Ju-87 but with a proposed newer take-off and landing procedure, including a rocket-assisted take-off from the Graf Zeppelin. However, like the C model it was replacing, it never had a carrier to call home. The F series had intended to be a larger version of the Ju-87 with a larger payload capacity, but testing yielded little performance difference between it and the Dora and was promptly canceled. The next Stuka prototype was the Ju-187, which was slimmer, powered by a Jumo 213A 1776 horsepower engine, and had retractable landing gear. Its weaponry was much more powerful, including two 20mm wing cannons and a remote-control turret with a 20mm cannon and 13mm machine gun, which worked in synch with its adjustable tailfin. Even with the added power, the Ju-187 was still too slow and was abandoned. A streamlined, straight-winged follow-up was conceived, the Ju-287, but it still could not outperform existing aircraft and was also dropped.

The Ju-87 was in the twilight of its career, but attack aircraft were still desperately needed on the eastern front, so the Ju-87 continued on. As the Doras were being phased out in favor of the Fw-190s, the newest Ju-87s abandoned bombing missions altogether and focused on a tank-busting role. This involved transforming Doras into "Gustavs"--the Ju-87G. The bomb pylons were removed and refitted with 600 lb., 10 ft. long guns which turned the former dive-bomber into a flying anti-tank gun. These fired a three pound, 37mm tungsten-core round that was capable of knocking out all but the toughest tanks. Designated Ju-87G-1, many of these planes were assigned to Panzerjägdkommando Weiss, an elite unit of Stuka pilots whose symbol was a white T-34 emblazoned on the cowling. These were originally converted D-3s but the production model, G-2, was based on the old D-5. These beasts had several nicknames, including Stuka mit den Langen Stangen (Stuka with the long rods), or Kanonenvogel (Cannon bird), or Panzerknacker (tank cracker). Some found their way to the western front, but they were used almost exclusively in the east until Germany's borders were breached. The last Gustavs were produced in October 1944 and by spring 1945 only the most specialized units flew them, trying in vain to stop the Allied tide.

The last Ju-87 model was merely a trainer, the Ju-87 H. The Stuka's exceedingly high aircrew losses created a demand for new pilots, and a plane specifically designed to train them was needed. Several Ju-87Ds were then pulled from units to be converted into tandem-seated Hs, complete with twin control systems. All weapons were removed and the instructor's rear canopy was modified for greater visibility. Other than that, it the Ju-87H series (1-8) were nearly identical to their former Dora identities.

The Ju-87's time in the sun, as well as the dive-bomber concept itself, was brief but undeniably left its mark on history. For a short while, in the late 30s and early 40s, it seemed that the dive bomber was the herald of air power, and the Ju-87 was its icon. In the first year of the war, nothing put greater fear in a soldier's heart because its shrill dive meant certain death. The Stuka appeared invincible, until Allied air defenses discovered its Achilles heel--the Ju-87 was only effective with German air superiority. Once Allied fighters were in sufficient numbers, they drove it out of western Europe, then eastern Europe, until operating in daylight was a suicide mission. Stuka squadrons were virtually annihilated, and with them went the experienced pilots that Germany desperately needed. Approximately 6000 Ju-87s of all kinds were produced, and while they did not win the war for Germany, they certainly won many battles and will forever be remembered in military history. Even people who have never heard the words "Ju-87" or "Stuka" identify its infamous scream with a plane diving over a target. Its weaknesses overshadowed its early success, but the Stuka was just as deadly in 1945 as it was in 1939; the only difference was the lack of air cover and perhaps lack of trained pilots. In that respect, the Ju-87 was one of the greatest weapons of the war--tough, reliable, easy to build, and devastating in the hands of the right man. It defined an entire type of aircraft, one whose purpose has long since gone, but its legend remains.

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com

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