Ju 87B-1 Specifications
Crew: Pilot and gunner
Powerplant: One 1,184 hp Junkers Jumo 211D twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engine
Span: 45 ft 3¼ in (13.80 m)
Length: 36 ft 1 in (11.00 m)
Max Speed: 232 mph (374 km/h) at 13,500 ft (4,114 m)
Armament: Two 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine guns in wings, one rear-firing 7.92 mm MG 15 machine gun in rear cockpit
Bomb Load: One 250 kg (550 lb) bomb carried under fuselage plus four 50 kg (110 lb) bombs under the wings
Photo Description: A formation of Junkers Ju 87B Stuka dive bombers, 1940.
The Junkers Ju 87 Stuka (derived from Sturzkampfflugzeug, “dive bomber”), was a two-man German dive bomber and ground-attack aircraft that served with the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. It became a feared symbol of German air power during the early Blitzkreig (“lightning war”) campaigns. The Stuka was designed by a team led by Hermann Pohlmann at the Junkers Flugzeug und Motorenwerke in response to a request issued in 1935 by the German Ministry of Aviation (Reichsluftfahrtministerium, or RLM) for a new dive-bomber to replace the Henschel Hs 123 biplane. The request was strongly backed by the famed First World War German flying ace, Ernst Udet, who became a major proponent of the dive-bombing concept after acquiring two American-built Curtiss Hawk II biplanes in 1933.
The Ju 87 was an all-metal, cantilevered monoplane that featured inverted gull wings, fixed spatted undercarriage, and a braced tail with twin tailfins. Many characteristics were carried over from the earlier Junkers K 47 fighter. The first prototype, the Ju 87V1, was built in Sweden and secretly brought to Germany in late 1934. It first flew on 17 September 1935, powered by a British Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine. Testing was halted when the V1 crashed on January 24, 1936, killing Junkers’ chief test pilot Willy Neuenhofen and his flight engineer, Heinrich Kreft. The aircraft developed tail flutter during a diving maneuver, which caused the starboard tailfin and rudder to break away. As a result, the tail section was redesigned with a single vertical stabiliser. Hydraulic dive brakes were also fitted under the leading edge of the wing. The second prototype, the Ju 87V2, was powered by a Junkers Jumo 210A engine and carried a single 500 kg (1,102 lb) bomb attached to a specially-modified cradle underneath the fuselage, right behind the radiator. When the bomb was released, the cradle swung forward so the bomb would clear the propeller arc. Although the V2 performed well, Generalfeldmarschall Wolfram von Richthofen, chief of aircraft development at the Luftwaffe Technical Office, thought the aircraft was underpowered and ordered Junkers to halt development. However, this order was immediately overturned the next day by von Richthofen’s successor, Ernst Udet. The V2 was quickly followed by a third prototype, the Ju 87V3, which featured a larger rudder and a tailplane with small endplate fins. The engine was also lowered to improve the pilot’s forward view. In June 1936, the V2 competed in trials at the Luftwaffe Erprobungsstelle (testing center) at Rechlin. It was pronounced the winner after Udet crashed the rival Heinkel He 118 prototype during a test flight. Following the selection of the Ju 87 as the Luftwaffe’s primary dive-bomber, Junkers produced a fourth prototype, the Ju 87V4, which first flew in November 1936 and became the pattern aircraft for the pre-production Ju 87A-0. This was armed with a fixed 7.92mm (.312 in) MG 17 machine gun in the starboard wing and a rearward-firing 7.92mm MG 15 machine gun in the rear cockpit.
The initial production model, the Ju 87A-1 entered Luftwaffe service in the spring of 1937. It was powered by the Junkers Jumo 210Da engine and could carry a 250 kg (550 lb) bomb load with both the pilot and the gunner or a single 500 kg (1,102 lb) bomb with just the pilot. The Ju 87A-2 was virtually identical apart from the type of airscrew employed. In December 1937, three Ju 87A-1s were sent to Spain for operational trials with the German Condor Legion. The A-series was succeeded in the summer of 1938 by the improved and more powerful B-series, which became the most widely produced variant. The Ju 87B-1 was powered by the larger Junkers Jumo 211D engine and featured a redesigned cockpit and undercarriage. A second MG 17 machine gun was also fitted in the port wing. It could carry either a single 500 kg (1,102 lb) bomb under the fuselage or a 250 kg (550 lb) bomb in the same position with four 50 kg (110 lb) bombs under the wings, outboard of the dive brakes. The Ju 87B-2 was fitted with the uprated Junkers Jumo 211Da engine and could carry a 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bomb with just the pilot.
During the German Blitzkreig in 1939-40, the Ju 87 Stuka proved a devastatingly effective weapon capable of delivering precision bombing attacks against ground targets. The Stuka attacked at a 60-90º angle with its dive brakes extended to control its speed and increase bombing accuracy. When the aircraft was about 450m (1,500 ft) above the target, the pilot released the bomb and initiated the automatic pull-out mechanism. This ensured the Stuka recovered from its attack dive even if the pilot blacked out from the high g-forces. The aircraft was fitted with the infamous Jericho-Trompete (“Jericho Trumpet”) wailing sirens, which were used to weaken enemy morale during attacks. The sirens were eventually removed due to increased drag.
During the Battle of Britain, five Geschwader were equipped with the Ju 87 Stuka. After some initial success against British shipping operating in the English Channel, it soon became clear the dive-bomber required heavy fighter escort to operate effectively. Poor manoeuvrability and a lack of both speed and defensive armament made the Stuka extremely vulnerable to modern RAF fighters, resulting in heavy losses. On 16 August 1940, StG 1 and StG 2 lost nine Stukas between them in a raid on RAF Tangmere. Two days later, seventeen Stukas of StG 77 were lost attacking Ford and Thorney Island. In just six days of combat from 12 to 18 August, forty-one Ju 87s had been destroyed, forcing Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring to withdraw the aircraft from the Battle.