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The Junkers Ju-87 Stuka

v1.0.0 / 01 jul 04 / greg goebel / public domain

* Some aircraft have a very specific place in history, and in no case is this more true than for the German Junkers "Ju-87 Stuka" dive bomber. Although it was nearing obsolescence even when World War II began, it proved highly successful in the initial German "Blitzkrieg" campaigns, and even today endures as a symbol of Nazi terror, despite the fact that by the middle of the war it was thoroughly out-of-date. This document provides a history and description of the Stuka, as well as its predecessor, the Henschel "Hs-123" biplane dive bomber.

[4] JU-87C / JU-87R
[6] JU-87F & JU-187 / JU-87G / JU-87H


* In the early 1930s, following the rise of Adolf Hitler to power, Germany began to rearm in earnest. One of the items on the military shopping list was a dive bomber, a "Stuka", short for "SturzKampfFlugzeug" (translated literally as "diving combat aircraft"). The German Air Ministry (ReichsLuftMinisterium / RLM) initiated a two-track effort in 1934, one to obtain a conservative solution as fast as possible, the other to obtain the weapon that was actually desired over the long run.

Henschel and Fiesler both built prototypes for the conservative requirement, which specified a single-seat biplane dive-bomber. The first prototype of the Henschel design, the "Hs-123 V1", where "V" stood for "Versuchs / Experimental Prototype", performed its initial flight in the spring of 1935, with General Ernst Udet, a World War I ace, taking it on its first public-demonstration fight on 8 May 1935. The broadly similar Fiesler "Fi-98" dive bomber prototype took to the air at about the same time, but proved clearly inferior to the Henschel aircraft and was quickly eliminated from the competition, with work on a second prototype cancelled.

The Hs-123 was of mostly metal construction, except for fabric-covered wings, rudder, and elevators, and featured a wide-span top wing and a shorter-span lower wing; taildragger landing gear, with the spatted main gear assembles fitted to the wings for a wide track; and an open cockpit. The Hs-123 V1 was powered by a BMW 132-A 9-cylinder air-cooled radial engine providing 485 kW (650 HP).

It was followed by two more prototypes, the "Hs-123 V2" and "Hs-123 V3". The Hs-123 V2 featured a new, more compact cowling with distinctive blisters over the engine valve gear. The Hs-123 V3 was similar, but swapped the three-bladed variable-pitch propeller of the first two prototypes for a two-bladed variable-pitch Hamilton Standard prop; it was also the first of the prototypes to be fitted with machine-gun armament. Dive bombing put an aircraft through serious structural stresses, and two of the three prototypes were lost when they shed their upper wing during dive-bombing trials, both pilots being killed. As a result, a fourth prototype, the "Hs-123 V4", was built that featured stronger wings, with this machine taking to the air in the late summer of 1935.

Further trials showed the revised machine to be sound, and the initial production model, the "Hs-123A-1", was delivered to the Luftwaffe (German air force) in the summer of 1936. It featured an uprated BMW 132Dc engine with 545 kW (730 HP) for take-off and twin MG-17 7.92 millimeter (0.309 caliber) machine guns firing through the upper part of the engine cowling, using synchronizer gear to avoid hitting the propeller blades. It could carry a 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb on the centerline, fitted to a crutch that swung the bomb out to clear the propeller on dive-bombing attacks; or four 50 kilogram (110 pound) bombs on underwing racks.

   HENSCHEL HS-123A:  
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                10.5 meters         34 feet 5 inches
   wing area               24.85 sq_meters     267.48 sq_feet   
   length                  8.66 meters         28 feet 5 inches
   height                  3.76 meters         12 feet 4 inches

   empty weight            1,420 kilograms     3,130 pounds
   normal takeoff weight   2,175 kilograms     4,795 pounds
   MTO weight              2,350 kilograms     5,180 pounds

   max speed at altitude   290 KPH             180 MPH / 155 KT
   service ceiling         4,100 meters        13,500 feet
   range                   750 kilometers      465 MI / 405 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Five Hs-123A-1s were sent to Spain in 1937 to fly with the German "Kondor Legion" of "volunteers" to support the Spanish Nationalists in the civil war there. The aircraft proved very successful in the close-support or "schlacht (slaughter)" role, and in fact it would rarely be used as a dive-bomber as such. The Spanish "inherited" all five machines and ordered 11 more, making them the only foreign user of the type. The Spaniards called it the "Angelito".

A total of 604 Hs-123A-1s were built. By 1938, it was being phased out in first-line service, though one squadron continued to use it in the close-support role. It would serve in this role during the first years of World War II, fighting in the Polish, French, Balkan, and Soviet campaigns, and would prove an outstanding aircraft, being very rugged and able to operate under the worst conditions. It could take off from very muddy airfields if the landing-gear spats were removed.

The Hs-123 proved devastatingly effective against enemy troop concentrations, attacking them with a load of two cluster-munition canisters, each filled 92 2 kilogram (4.4 pound) SD-2 antipersonnel fragmentation "butterfly bombs", and the pilots learned that at a certain RPM the engine made a noise like machine-gun fire that terrorized troops on the ground. The Hs-123 could also carry the more traditional bombload of four SC 50 bombs on underwing racks, or an MG-FF 20 millimeter cannon in a pod under each wing; the centerline position was usually reserved for an external tank. Enthusiasm for the type was so great that even as late as 1943 there were calls that it should be put back into production.

Two prototypes of improved Hs-123 variants were built in 1938. The "Hs-123 V5" was a prototype for the "Hs-123B" series, and featured a further uprated BMW 132K engine with 716 kW (960 HP) in a longer cowling. It was followed by the "Hs-123 V6", which was the prototype for a projected "Hs-123C" series and was optimized for close support. The V6 featured the BMW 132K engine plus an enclosed cockpit, an armored headrest, and an extra machine gun under each wing. However, even before the outbreak of World War II the Hs-123 was seen as well behind the times, and improved variants of the Hs-123 were not put into production, though aircraft in service were retrofitted with the armored headrest. The Hs-123A-1 remained in service into 1944 until it was finally eliminated from service by combat attrition and lack of spares. It is unclear if any survive to this day.



* As mentioned, the Hs-123 was seen strictly as an interim solution, though it would turn out to be far more useful than might have been expected. As for the long-term solution, the RLM issued a specification in January 1935 and four firms submitted proposals, including Arado, Ha, Heinkel, and Junkers. The Arado and Ha proposals were rejected, leading to a flight evaluation between the Junkers "Ju-87" and the Heinkel "He-118". The He-118 did badly in trials at the Luftwaffe test center at Rechlin, and the Ju-87 was selected as the winner of the competition.

The Ju-87 not only won the flyoff, it would become one of the most famous Luftwaffe aircraft of World War II, and the service's most famous attack aircraft. Despite the fact that "Stuka" actually referred to any dive bomber, such as the Hs-123, the name would effectively become the exclusive property of the Ju-87.

* The first prototype of the Stuka, the "Ju-87 V1", had performed its initial flight in the spring of 1934. It was designed by an engineering team under Hermann Pohlmann. Professor Hugo Junkers, the founder of the firm, had little directly to do with the effort, having been removed from the company in May 1933 for his anti-Nazi views and other reasons. The government took over control of the firm and Junkers was sent off to enforced retirement in Bavaria, where he would die on 3 February 1935.

The Ju-87 V1 was not a very pretty aircraft -- none of its descendants would be, either -- with a somewhat untidy nose with an inline, water-cooled engine; a high-set canopy for a pilot and a rearward-facing gunner / radio operator; a braced tail with twin tailfins; an inverted gull wing, with a flap inboard and in mid-span and an aileron outboard on each wing; and fixed landing gear, with the main gear in oversized pant-type fairings. Since German industry couldn't deliver the needed powerplant at the time, the Ju-87 V1 was fitted with a British Rolls Royce 12-cylinder, supercharged, liquid-cooled vee Kestrel engine with 391 kW (525 HP), as was the first prototype of the famous Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter. The Kestrel engine drove a two-bladed fixed wooden prop. Engine cooling proved problematic, and so the V1 was refitted with a larger chin radiator, which did nothing to improve its looks.

The second prototype, the "Ju-87 V2", featured a Junkers Jumo 210Aa 12-cylinder liquid-cooled vee engine with 455 kW (610 HP) driving a three-bladed variable pitch propeller. The V2 was originally designed with the twin-fin tail, until the V1 went into a spin during a dive and crashed, killing the pilot, Willy Neuenhofen, and an observer who happened to be in the back seat for the ride. The V2 was completed with a single tailfin, which increased the aircraft's length slightly. It was also fitted with underwing dive brakes, in the form of a pivoting slat under the leading edge of the wing outboard of the main landing gear. The lack of dive brakes had been a contributing factor to the loss of the V1. The V2 was rolled out in March 1936.

The V2 was quickly followed by the "Ju-87 V3". The V3's major changes from the V2 was a lowering of the Jumo engine to improve the pilot's forward view over the nose, plus a larger rudder and a tailplane with small endplate fins. The flight test program for the Stuka went on through mid-1936 and the aircraft proved very satisfactory. It did have its opponents but it was approved for production, with the backing of Ernst Udet, by then a senior RLM official, heavily contributing to the aircraft's political success. The fact that Udet had been forced to "hit the silk" when the He-118 prototype broke up in mid-air no doubt influenced his thinking on the matter.

The "Ju-87 V4", completed in the late fall of 1936, was close to production spec, featuring such improvements as a further lowered engine; a bigger tailfin and rudder; revised landing gear pants; a modified rear canopy; and full operational kit. It led to directly to the preproduction "Ju-87A-0" machine, with the first of ten delivered before the end of 1936. The Ju-87A-0 was much like the V4, but featured an uprated Jumo 210Ca engine with 475 kW (640 HP) plus a slightly reprofiled wing to simplify manufacturing, eliminating a leading-edge "kink" that had been featured in the four prototype aircraft.

The Ju-87A-0 led in turn to the "Ju-87A-1" full production variant, with initial deliveries to the Luftwaffe in early 1937. The two variants were generally identical externally, the only difference being that the Ju-87A-1 featured changes in airframe construction to simplify manufacturing. Three Ju-87A-1s were provided to the Kondor Legion, proving devastatingly effective in attacks on Republican shipping and ground targets. The Luftwaffe's enthusiasm for the Stuka increased accordingly. Incidentally, although Kondor Legion aircraft such as the Hs-123 and the Bf-109 were often passed on to the Nationalists, the Germans kept the Ju-87 strictly to themselves and refused to allow the Nationalists to inspect them, and the Spaniards never flew them.



* The Ju-87A-1 was of metal stressed-skin construction and was very ruggedly built, a basic requirement for a dive bomber considering the flight stresses and combat environment it faced. Its handling was excellent and it was very responsive to its controls. It was, unsurprising given its cluttered lines, not very fast, even in a dive. Armament consisted of a single fixed forward-firing MG-17 7.9 millimeter (0.312 caliber) machine gun in the right wing; an MG-15 of the same caliber on a flexible mount in the rear of the cockpit; and a single 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb on a belly crutch. A 500 kilogram (1,100 pound) bomb could be carried if the rear gunner was left behind.

In a dive bombing attack, the pilot would fly until the target disappeared under the left wingroot. He would then shut the engine cooling vents; set the propeller to coarse pitch; open the airbrakes; and then nose over to the left and dive at about an 85% angle. Red lines painted on the canopy side panels helped the pilot determine the bombing angle. Bomb release was a matter of pilot judgement, with the bomb swinging out on its crutch before release. An automatic flight assistance system was fitted to help the pilot deal with the stressful pull-out maneuver after bomb release. The Stuka was said to be very comfortable in a dive, and pilots didn't have the perception that they were falling past the vertical as they did in other dive bombers.

The Ju-87A-1 was followed by the "Ju-87A-2", which was similar but featured a Jumo 210Da engine with 507 kW (680 HP) with an improved propeller with broader blades, plus updated radio gear. By May 1938, there were about 200 Ju-87A-1s and Ju-87A-2s had been built and were in Luftwaffe service, staffing four "Stukagruppen", relegating most of the Hs-123As to second-line roles.

* However, by this time the Luftwaffe was receiving numbers of the much improved B-series Stuka, which featured the new, more powerful Junkers Jumo 211 engine; a completely reengineered fuselage; a still larger tailfin; sliding canopy elements, replacing the side-hinged elements of earlier variants; and neat spat fairings replacing the pants fairings on the main gear. Considerable attention was paid to making the machine easier to maintain in the field.

A Ju-87A-1 was fitted with the Jumo 211 engine for evaluation in early 1938, with this machine redesignated "Ju-87 V6", leading to a more extensive modification designated the "Ju-87 V7", which was the prototype for the B-series. It led to a batch of ten "Ju-87B-0" preproduction machines, which led in turn to the initial "Ju-87B-1" full production machine. Although the V7 prototype and the preproduction Ju-87B-0 were fitted with a Jumo 211A engine with 746 kW (1,000 HP), the Ju-87B-1 featured a fuel-injected Jumo 211Da engine with 895 kW (1,200 HP), providing almost twice as much power as the Jumo 210Da of the Ju-87A-2.

A Ju-87B-1 could carry two crew and a 500 kilogram (1,100 pound) bomb on the belly crutch; or a 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb on the belly crutch and four 50 kilogram (110 pound) bombs on wing racks. A second MG-17 gun was fitted in the left wing, giving the Ju-87B-1 a total of two forward-firing guns; the rearward-firing MG-15 was retained. Five early production machines were sent to Spain, where they proved even more effective than the three Ju-87A-1s sent there earlier, though one of the B-1s was lost in action. The Ju-87B-1 quickly replaced the A-series in frontline service, with A-series machines relegated to training roles. Manufacturing and engineering for the type was passed on from the Junkers plant in Dessau to the Weser firm, with its plant at the Berlin Tempelhof airport; Weser built 557 Ju-87B-1s.

* There were still some doubters about the Ju-87 in the German military when World War II broke out in September 1939, but the Stuka proved its worth in the invasion of Poland. The Luftwaffe's nine Stukagruppen had a total of 322 B-series Stukas in service for the campaign, 13 having been lost just before the beginning of the conflict during a demonstration that had been interrupted by a ground fog that arose abruptly.

In any case, the Stuka proved entirely devastating, performing strikes at the opening of the offensive, sinking most of the Polish Navy's vessels, almost annihilating a Polish infantry division that was caught changing trains, and smashing Polish resistance in front of German ground forces. The Stuka was part of the new "Blitzkrieg (Lightning War)" tactics developed by German generals such as Heinz Guderian: fast-moving armored columns would move rapidly through enemy defenses, communicating with Stukas over radios for the removal of obstacles to the advance.

B-series Stukas were usually fitted with a prop-driven siren on the front of each main gear spat, using the wail of these "Trumpets of Jericho" to terrorize enemy troops in attacks. The sirens were apparently Ernst Udet's idea. The ugly Stuka with its banshee wail became one of the most feared symbols of Nazi power, and remains so even today, exceeded only by the swastika in its notoriety.

By the end of 1939, the Ju-87B-1 had been replaced on the production line by the "Ju-87B-2", the first new variant to be built by Weser. The Ju-87B-2 was similar to the Ju-87B-1 but had a slightly uprated Jumo 211D engine; an improved propeller with broader blades; ejector exhausts to provide a slight amount of thrust; and hydraulically-operated radiator cooling gills. The Ju-87B-2 could carry a 1,000 kilogram (2,200 pound) bomb if the back-seater was left behind. A number of factory conversion kits, or "Umruest-Bausaetze", were created for the Ju-87B-2, resulting in several subvariant modifications:

A "tropicalized" modification, the "Ju-87B-2/Trop", was built for service in North Africa, and featured sand filters and a desert survival kit. The same kits conversion kits were used with the Ju-87B-1, and similar conversion kits would also be available for later Stuka versions.


[4] JU-87C / JU-87R

* A carrier-capable variant of the Stuka, the "Ju-87C", was planned for the aircraft carrier GRAF ZEPPELIN. The Ju-87C featured a catapult attachment; arresting hook; manually folding outer wing panels; flotation gear built into the airframe; a rubber life raft; full cockpit heating; and jettisonable main landing gear. The jettisonable landing gear was a puzzling feature. It clearly made ditching at sea easier, since the fixed landing gear would pitch the aircraft nose-over, and it apparently was also intended to help the crew escape if their Stuka was jumped by enemy fighters, allowing them to get away alive even if they had to splash or belly-in their aircraft. However, Germany never completed any aircraft carriers, and though some preproduction "Ju-87C-0" machines were manufactured beginning in the summer of 1939, the production "Ju-87C-1" variant was never built. It would have featured automatic wing folding.

Some of the Ju-87C-0s saw action in Poland; one had to drop its main landing gear, and German propaganda played up pictures of the machine to suggest that they had been shot off, with the Stuka proving so tough it made it back home anyway. Some of the Ju-87C-0s were also used for various trials. One was fitted with a recoilless forward-firing 88 millimeter gun under the fuselage, with the weapon firing a counterweight backwards to balance the recoil of the shell. However, this scheme came to ruin when the gun misfired and ripped itself out of the belly of the aircraft. The pilot was able to land safely.

* A series of long-range antishipping Stuka variants, the "Ju-87R-1" through "Ju-87R-4", was introduced into service in the spring of 1940. The "R" stood for "Reichweite (Range)". The Ju-87R had fuel tanks in the outer wings and could carry two 300 liter (80 US gallon) external tanks, though it was restricted to carriage of a single 250 kilogram (550 pound) bomb. The R-series were otherwise identical to the Ju-87B-2, and the subvariants in the R-series differed only in minor details, such as radio fit and tropicalization. One was tested with the "Dobbas" collapsible cargo container. This looked like a chunk cut out of a very large airfoil, carried between landing gear. It was intended to carry to carry useful kit when Stukas redeployed to another site, or for use in emergency cargo missions. It does not appear that it entered service.

The Ju-87R was built in limited numbers, but some took part in the German invasion of Norway in April 1940. The British Royal Navy (RN) was surprised by the appearance of the Ju-87R, and the type sank the RN destroyers HMS AFRIDI, BISON, and GROM, as well as the anti-aircraft ship BITTERN. BITTERN's sister ship, the BLACK SWAN, was hit by a Stuka, but the bomb was dropped too low and armed too late, passing through the ship before exploding; the BLACK SWAN survived.



* During the invasion of France in May 1940, the Stuka proved as terrifying as it had in Poland, helping to bring about the quick collapse of French resistance. However, this was the high tide of the Stuka. During the Battle of Britain over the summer of 1940, the Ju-87 proved far too vulnerable to British Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters. One out of five Stukas was shot down and the type was withdrawn from the effort on 19 August 1940. There had been a faction in the Luftwaffe that had recognized even before the outbreak of war that the Stuka was an obsolescent aircraft and likely to suffer heavily in the face of effective air opposition. Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, had sided with the advocated of the Stuka, but now the beliefs of the doubters were starting to prove justified. The writing was on the wall for the Ju-87, but its career was far from over.

After the Stuka's bloodying in the Battle of Britain, it went on to achieve its former successes in the Mediterranean theater. Stukas badly damaged the Royal Navy carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS on 10 January 1941, and sank the cruiser HMS SOUTHAMPTON on 11 January. The Ju-87 also put in very useful service in the capture of the Balkans and Crete in the spring of 1941. Stukas devastated Royal Navy vessels during the Crete campaign, helping to send the cruiser HMS GLOUCESTER to the bottom; sinking the destroyers GREYHOUND, KELLEY, and KASHMIR; and badly damaging several other RN ships.

The Ju-87 also proved highly effective in North Africa, at least initially. With the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the Stuka was as destructive as ever, leading the Blitzkrieg deep into the USSR while Red air power was completely crushed. Red Army troops nicknamed it the "Musician" or "Screecher".

* At this time, Junkers was working on the definitive "Ju-87D" series. The initial "Ju-87D-1" subvariant featured a Jumo 211J-1 engine with 1,045 kW (1,400 HP), driving a new VS-11 propeller. The new engine permitted a much cleaner installation than its predecessors, and the airframe was redesigned accordingly with a new engine cooling scheme, eliminating the older "broken nose" appearance of the Stuka. An entirely new canopy with better aerodynamics was fitted, and the main landing gear fairings were reduced in size and tidied up. The fairings would actually be generally removed in service, since they didn't make much difference in speed and were a nuisance in muddy field operations. The tailfin was once again enlarged.

Greater engine power also permitted more protective armor and fuel capacity, with the Ju-87D-1 featuring the outer wing tanks pioneered by the Ju-87R series. The Ju-87D-1 retained the twin fixed forward MG-17 guns, but replaced the single MG-15 gun in the rear with twin MG-81 guns of the same caliber, ganged together side-by-side on a common flexible mount, for a total of four guns. The MG-81 had a faster rate of fire than the MG-15, and had belt instead of magazine feed. (Very early production apparently had twin rear MG-17 guns instead.)

The Ju-87D-1 could carry a 1,800 kilogram (3,970 pound) bomb over short ranges, and the airframe and bomb crutch were reinforced appropriately. A more typical bombload was a 1,000 kilogram (2,200 pound) bomb on the crutch and two 50 kilogram (110 pound) bombs under each wing, though when used in the close-support role the wings were usually fitted with "Waffenbehaelter (weapons containers)", including a container with six MG-81 machines guns, or a container with twin 20 millimeter MG-FF cannon. As with the Hs-123, cluster munitions with butterfly bombs were also a popular weapon for schlacht missions; the container was released and promptly disintegrated, to scatter its munitions over a wide area.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                13.8 meters         45 feet 3 inches
   wing area               31.90 sq_meters     343.37 sq_feet   
   length                  11.5 meters         37 feet 9 inches
   height                  3.9 meters          12 feet 10 inches

   empty weight            3,900 kilograms     8,600 pounds
   normal loaded weight    5,842 kilograms     12,880 pounds
   MTO weight              6,600 kilograms     14,550 pounds

   max speed               410 KPH             255 MPH / 220 KT
   normal speed            320 KPH             200 MPH / 175 KT
   service ceiling         7,300 meters        24,000 feet
   range, internal fuel    820 kilometers      510 MI / 445 NMI
   range with tanks        1,535 kilometers    955 MI / 830 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The Ju-87D-1 began to replace the Ju-87B-2 in production in mid-1942 and was put to use in combat in the East and in North Africa (in the form of the "Ju-87D-1/Trop" modification). A similar variant, the "Ju-87D-2", was built in parallel, differing only in having a strengthened rear fuselage and a stronger tailwheel with a glider tow attachment, to be used in North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Production was heavy enough to allow the D-series to replace the less capable B-series in frontline units. The D-series was mostly used in the close-support role, since it was tough and could carry and deliver a lethal warload, though it had to dodge enemy fighters by hiding at low level if fighter cover was not available.

* By this time, the sunshine days of the Stuka were clearly over. In the first year of the war in the East the Red Air Force had been ineffective, but by mid-1942 Soviet air power was beginning to recover. Similarly, at the same time, Allied air power in North Africa was beginning to make itself painfully felt against the Ju-87. By 1943 the Stuke was clearly on the defensive on all fronts, unable to survive in the face of effective fighter opposition.

The D-series Stuka had been regarded as the end of the line, an interim solution to be manufactured until something better was available. Production of the Stuka had tapered off through 1941, with a total of only 476 Stukas of all types delivered in that year. Unfortunately for the Reich, it quickly became apparent that nothing better was going to be available any time soon. The planned replacement, the Messerschmitt "Me-210" twin-engine heavy fighter and attack aircraft, turned out to be almost completely "snakebitten", and it took a long time and a lot of effort to work out its bugs. It was ultimately produced in relatively small numbers as the much more workable "Me-410", but it was a case of too little and much too late. Stuka production ramped back up again, heavily, in 1942, with 917 D-series machines delivered; 1,844 were delivered in 1943.

* Manufacturing had moved on to the "Ju-87D-3" in late 1942, with this variant featured improved armor protection to optimize for the schlacht role. It did retain the underwing dive brakes but had no bomb crutch and no sirens. Some Ju-87D-3s were converted to "Ju-87D-4" torpedo bombers, but they were not used operationally and were later converted back to Ju-87D-3 configuration. The Ju-87D-3 was used in experiments with personnel pods, with one such pod carried on the top of each wing outboard of the landing gear. Two people could ride in tandem in each pod, and in principle the pods could be released in a shallow dive, to deploy parachutes for a soft landing. The whole scheme was questionable and though the Stuka was evaluated with the pods, apparently they were never paradropped.

Since the Stuka had undergone the "weight creep" that typically afflicts combat aircraft over their evolution, its wing loading had become unacceptable, and in early 1943 production moved on in turn to the "Ju-87D-5", which featured distinctive "pointed" extended wingtips to improve handling, as well as the jettisonable landing gear developed for the Ju-87C series. The dive brakes were deleted after initial Ju-87D-5 production since it was used almost exclusively in the schlacht role. The two forward-firing MG-17 machine guns were also replaced with twin MG-151/20 20 millimeter cannon.

* Confronted with a hostile air environment, by mid-1943 the Stuka was limited mostly to night operations. The Ju-87D-5 had no particular optimizations for flying at night, coming in low and slow and dropping antipersonnel bombs on clusters of incautious Allied troops. The Luftwaffe learned this trick from the Soviets, who had become fond of using little Po-2 biplanes on such harassment raids earlier in the war.

Although a "Ju-87D-6" subvariant was planned, with the focus apparently being the simplification of manufacturing, it was not built. The next variant, the "Ju-87D-7", was a Ju-87D-5 with night flight instrumentation and long flame-damper exhausts to hide the exhaust glow from the pilot or potential enemies. The Ju-87D-7 also featured a further uprated Jumo 211P engine with 1,118 kW (1,500 HP). There was also a "Ju-87D-8" variant, which was a conversion of the Ju-87D-5 to Ju-87D-7 specification. A "Ju-87E" torpedo-bomber was considered, but was cancelled after Germany gave up work on aircraft carriers in early 1943. The D-series Stukas were the last new-build Ju-87s, with the last of them rolled out in September 1944. Total production of all variants amounted to over 5,700 machines.


[6] JU-87F & JU-187 / JU-87G / JU-87H

* Junkers engineers had begun work on a improved successor to the Ju-87 in mid-1940, to be designated the "Ju-87F". As often happens in such circumstances, one change followed another and by the spring of 1943 the new aircraft was so unlike the Ju-87 that it was redesignated the "Ju-187".

The only major feature that the Ju-187 retained from the Ju-87 was the inverted gull wing, and even this was modified, featuring a longer span and revised layout. The fuselage was almost completely new and much cleaner, with the engine set low to give the pilot a good forward field of view, and the rear gunner controlling a gun barbette just behind the cockpit. The barbette was to be mounted with an MG-131 13-millimeter gun on top and an MG-151/20 20 millimeter cannon on the bottom.

The landing gear was to be fully retractable, with the main gear retracting backwards and rotating 90 degrees to lie flat in the wings, and the machine was to be powered by a Jumo 213 engine with 1,325 kW (1,776 HP) takeoff power. Offensive armament was to include a fixed MG-151/20 cannon in each wing, with typical bombloads consisting of a 1,000 kilogram (2,200 pound) bomb on the centerline and four 250 kilogram (550 pound) bombs under the wings. However, as the design evolved it became increasingly obvious that the Ju-187's capabilities were no great leap ahead of those of the Ju-87D-5, and so the Ju-187 program was abandoned in the fall of 1943 without a prototype being flown.

* That was not quite the end of Stuka development. Attacking moving tanks with conventional bombs was inaccurate, leading to a search for a way to improve the Stuka's antitank capability. In the summer of 1942, a Ju-87D-3 was fitted with heavy antitank cannon, resulting in the "Ju-87G-1", which featured a BK 3.7 / Flak 18 37 millimeter antitank gun with a six-round magazine mounted under the wing outside each main landing gear assembly. The gun pods were removeable and could be replaced with ordinary bomb racks.

Trials of the Ju-87G-1 were actually performed in late 1942 by the Luftwaffe's Hans-Ulrich Rudel, who would go on to rack up a score of 519 armored vehicles with the type. All Ju-87G-1s were modifications of Ju-87D-3 machines; a number of "Ju-87G-2s" were built as conversions of Ju-87D-5 machines.

The first of these "panzerjaeger (tank hunter)" Stukas reached the Russian front in October 1943. Although the G-series was very successful at first, racking up large numbers of kills against Soviet armor, it was not very survivable. The antitank gun pods had terrific punch and were accurate, but they were also heavy and draggy, doing little to improve the Stuka's already poor performance. Rudel's "III/SG.2" was the only Luftwaffe unit operating the Stuka on day operations at the end of 1944, with other Stukas flying night attack missions. Daylight close-support had moved on to heavily-armored versions of the Focke-Wulf FW-190 fighter, though there would never been enough of these to go around.

* Beginning in 1943, a number of D-series machines were converted to dual-control trainers for the Schlacht role, with these machines given the designation of "Ju-87H". They retained the subvariant number of the original D-series machine: a Ju-87D-1 became a "Ju-87H-1", a Ju-87D-3 became a "Ju-87H-3", and so on. All armament was removed and side blisters were fitted to the rear of the canopy to give the instructor a forward view.



* The Stuka was provided to most of Germany's allies. The Italians received 50 ex-Luftwaffe Ju-87B-2 and Ju-87B-2/Trop machines in the summer of 1940, with Italian Stukas seeing service in North Africa. They were quickly followed by a batch of Ju-87R-2 machines. Later, the Italians received 46 Ju-87D-2 and Ju-87D-3s, plus a few more Ju-87R-2s. The Allies honestly thought the Italians built the Stuka under license and so assigned a designation of "Breda 201 Picchiatelli" to Italian Stukas, but the Stuka was never produced by anybody but Junkers and Weser.

Hungary received ten Ju-87B-2s in 1941, though these machines were only used for training. The Hungarians received at least 12 D-series machines in 1942 and 1943, fighting against the Soviets beginning in August 1943. They were badly cut up, leading to the withdrawal of these squadrons in October. The Hungarian Stuka force was re-formed and thrown back into combat against the Red Army in June 1944, but within two months the Hungarians had begun to transition to the schlacht FW-190.

Rumania received 40 Ju-87B-2s in 1940, with these machines flying in support of Rumanian forces following the invasion of the USSR in June 1941. The Rumanians received 115 D-series machines in 1942 and 1943, using them to replace the less effective B-series aircraft. In August 1944 the Rumanian government was overthrown by a coup, with the new government allying itself with the USSR and turning on the Germans, with Rumanian Stukas apparently being used for attacks on the Nazis.

Bulgaria received 12 R-series machines in 1942, followed by 32 Ju-87D-5s in 1943. They were used in fighting partisans and may have seen some action against the Germans after the surrender of Bulgaria in September 1944. The Slovak puppet state received a few D-series machines, but it is unclear if they ever saw combat. The Croat puppet state received 15 Ju-87D-5s and some R-series machines, with a few of these aircraft possibly used against the Red Army in the summer of 1944, before most of the Croat forces deserted.

* A Stuka variant list follows. Initial prototypes and A-series machines included:

B-series through R-series Stukas included:

D-series through F-series Stukas included:



* The Stuka is, I think, one of the more unarguably ugly combat aircraft ever built. However, its ugliness is part of its mystique: it remains a symbol of Nazi power, screaming out of the sky to smash and destroy. George Lucas's STAR WARS movie series would exploit the legend of the Stuka, with Darth Vader's Imperial TIE fighters shrieking through space, as if they had been fitted with sirens that could work in a vacuum.

* Sources include:

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 jul 04 / gvg
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