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The Infamous Junkers Ju 87 Stuka

Overview

In 1933 Hermann Pohlmann began work on the German dive bomber Sturzbomber program.[i] The Luftwaffes term for a dive bomber was Sturzkamppfflungzeug, abbreviated as Stuka. Hence the Ju 87 was most commonly known as the Stuka. Its fixed landing gear and bent wing appearance gave it a distinct appearance. The Ju 87 made its first flight in 1935.[ii] It had a dive angle of 80⁰ and had an accuracy of less than 30 yards (27 meters). [iii] The accuracy came at a cost in speed, especially when pulling out of a dive. This made it vulnerable to groundfire and fighters. They were equipped with rear firing and forward firing guns. They also had good maneuverability and were relatively sturdy. This offered some protection. Despite being obsolescent for most of World War II Ju 87s flew sorties until the end of the war.

[i] Warplanes of the Third Reich by William Green © 1970.

[ii] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Gide by Tony Holmes © HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 2005.

[iii] Warplanes of the Third Reich by William Green © 1970.

In Combat

Three Ju 87 A-1s flew with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War.[i] They flew missions supporting Nationalist ground forces and anti-shipping missions. Near the end of the war, they were replaced by five Ju 87 B-1s. The Ju 87 B-1s supported Heinkel He 111 level bombers in attacks on Republican positions. As with other Condor Legion aircraft the Luftwaffe learned lessons from their experience in Spain. The Condor Legion didn’t lose any Ju 87s.[ii]

On August 15, 1939 Ju 87s performed a mass dive bombing demonstration for senior Luftwaffe leaders. Low lying clouds and ground mist caused 13 Ju 87s to crash.[iii] Ju 87s attacked 11 minutes before Germany declared war on Poland on September 1, 1939. Ju 87 pilot Leutnant Frank Neubert shot down a PZL P.11c fighter, killing its pilot Mieczysaw Medecki. Captain Medcki was taking off when Neubert shot him down. This was World War II’s first air victory.[iv] Ju 87s flew missions against Polish ground forces. They also sank the destroyer ORP Wicher and the minelayer ORP Gryf. The Luftwaffe lost 31 Ju 87s in the Polish campaign.[v]

In the Norway invasion Stukas provided close air support to German paratroopers and other ground forces. They also damaged the destroyer HNoMS Æger. The destroyer ran aground and was later scuttled.[vi] Eight of its crew died in the attack.[vii] On April 30, 1940 Stuka pilot Oberleutnant Elmo Scafer severely damaged the sloop HMS Bittern.[viii] After the crew abandoned the ship the HMS Janus torpedoed the HMS Bittern. On May 3 Ju 87s sank the French destroyer Bison and the destroyer HMS Afridi, 171 sailors died in these sinkings.[ix] The next day a Stuka sank the Polish destroy Grom, killing 59 of its sailors.[x]

When Germany attacked the Low Countries and France they were fighting against a credible air-air threat. On May 12, six French Curtis H-75s attacked an unescorted formation of 12 Ju 87s and shot down 11 of them without loss.[xi] The Stukas provided good close air support to German ground forces during this campaign. During the Battle of Dunkirk, the Luftwaffe attacked ground forces and shipping. Ju 87s sank the French destroyer Adroit on May 21, 1940. The Luftwaffe credited a Ju 87 with shooting down a Morane fighter on May 22.[xii] Stukas sank the beached French destroyer Chacal, on May 25. That day Ju 87s heavily damaged the Allied citadel at Calais. After the bombardment and artillery shelling the 20,000 defenders surrendered to the 10th Panzer Division.[xiii] A Stuka attack sank the steamer Crested Eagle on May 28. The next day Ju 87s sank the destroyer HMS Grenade and damaged other ships. The Luftwaffe lost 120 Ju 87s, from all causes, most of the combat losses were to groundfire. This represented about 1/3 of the Ju 87 fleet.[xiv]

Stukas sank 4 freighters and damaged 6 others in the English Channel on July 4, 1940. This was a loss of over 15,500 tons of shipping. Ju 87s also sank the anti-aircraft ship HMS Foylebank, killing 176 of its crew. The Luftwaffe lost one Stuka in the Foylebank attack.[xv] On the first day of the Battle of Britain 87 Ju 87s attacked RAF Detling, destroying 20 aircraft on the ground and many buildings.[xvi] Two other Stuka missions failed that day, one with heavy losses from Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters. On August 16 the Luftwaffe lost 9 Stukas. Ju 87 pilots claimed two Hurricanes and a Spitfire.[xvii] Total losses for the day were 45 Luftwaffe and 21 RAF aircraft. The Luftwaffe flew over 1,700 sorties.[xviii] The Luftwaffe lost 18 Ju 87s to RAF fighters on August 18. After these defeats the Luftwaffe withdrew Stukas from the Battle of Britain.[xix] In November the Luftwaffe used Ju 87s in anti-shipping operations over the English Channel. Stukas sank seven merchant ships in 10 days.[xx]

On January 10, 1941 Stukas attacked the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Malta. The Illustrious shot down 3 Ju 87s but sustained heavy damage and many casualties. The Illustrious did not return to operations until May 1942.[xxi]

Stukas provided close air support during the invasions of Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete. The Royal Navy sent a formidable force to prevent a seaborne invasion of Crete. From May 21-23 Stukas sank 5 destroyers and the cruiser HMS Gloucester.[xxii] Stukas damaged the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable and the destroyer Nubian on May 26.[xxiii] One of the Formidable’s Fulmar fighters shot down a Ju 87. The attack killed 12 of the Formidable’s crew and the Formidable underwent 6 months of repairs. On May 29, Stukas sank the destroyer HMS Hereward, damaged the cruiser HMS Orion and the destroyer HMS Dido.[xxiv] The attack on the Orion killed 100 of its crew and 260 troops who had been evacuated from Crete. Another 280 soldiers were wounded.[xxv] On June 24 Stuka pilot Hubert Pötz sank the HMS Auckland.

Germany attacked The Soviet Union at 0300 on June 22, 1941. Germany achieved complete surprise and destroyed over 1,800 aircraft, mostly on the ground, on the first day. This gave the Luftwaffe an initial air supremacy. Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel sank the Soviet battleship Marat on September 23.[xxvi] Stukas sank the Soviet light cruiser Chervona Ukraina on November 12.[xxvii] By November 30, the Luftwaffe credited Stukas with destroying 2,401 Soviet vehicles, 234 tanks, 92 artillery pieces, 21 trains, and other targets. The Germans lost 14 Ju 87 pilots.[xxviii]

Stukas took heavy losses in North Africa as allied fighters increased in numbers. On July 3, 1942 allied fighters shot down 13 of 15 Stukas, despite the Ju 87s having a heavy fighter escort.

On October 7, 1943 Stukas damaged the light cruiser HMS Penelope. The attack killed 12 sailors and wounded 29. The HMS Penelope sailed to Alexandria for repairs with an escort.[xxix] The next day Stukas sank the destroyer HMS Panther and heavily damaged the light cruiser HMS Carlisle. The HMS Carlisle never sailed again. The attack killed 60 sailors and wounded 55. Anti-aircraft shot down one Ju 87D. On the 9th American P-38s intercepted Stukas attempting to attack a convoy. The P-38s shot down at least 7 Stukas an 8th Stuka was reported lost to anti-aircraft fire. Another Ju 87 lost its tail gunner.[xxx] A Stuka attack damaged the light cruiser HMS Sirius on October 17. The attack killed 14 sailors and wounded 30. The HMS Sirius sailed to Massawa for repairs that lasted until February 19. 1944.[xxxi]

In 1943 the Luftwaffe conducted trials of 37mm cannon equipped aircraft for the anti-tank role. The first operational mission didn’t go well. Flack hit many of the Ju 87s. One fell to a Spitfire.[xxxii]

The next operation was against small boats. Soviet forces were ferrying troops across a marshland. The Stukas used anti-aircraft instead of anti-tank ammunition. The losses the Ju 87s inflicted caused the Soviets to give up the effort.[xxxiii]

The anti-tank Stuka’s normally flew with conventional Stukas. The conventional Ju 87s would deal with the flack batteries. Four Stuka pilots had tank kills exceeding 100. A few became air aces. Ju 87s continued flying on the Eastern Front until the war ended.

[i] Junkers Ju 82 A of “Legion Condor”, World War II Pictures In Details: Junkers Ju 87 A of “Legion Condor” (ww2images.blogspot.com), last accessed 9/9/21.

[ii] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[iii] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[iv] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[v] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[vi] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[vii] Uboat.net, HNoMS Aeger, HNoMS Aeger of the Royal Norwegian Navy - Norwegian Destroyer of the Sleipner class - Allied Warships of WWII - uboat.net, last accessed 9/26/21.

[viii] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[ix] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[x] World War I Database, Destroyer Grom | World War II Database (ww2db.com), last accessed 9/26/21.

[xi] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[xii] Asisbiz.com, Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 ‘Immelmann’, Asisbiz history section Luftwaffe Unit Sturzkampfgeschwader 2, last accessed 11/14/21.

[xiii] The Luftwaffe War Diaries by Cajus Bekker, © 1964 by Gerhard Stalling Verlag.

[xiv] Warbirds Resource Group, Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/21.

[xv] Warbirds, Resource Group., Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/2021. The ships were the Britsum, Dallas City, Deucalion, and Kolga.

[xvi] Warbirds, Resource Group., Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/2021. August 13, 1940 is officially the first day of the Battle of Britain. The Germans dubbed it “Eagle Day”.

[xvii] Asisbiz.com, Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 ‘Immelmann’, Asisbiz history section Luftwaffe Unit Sturzkampfgeschwader 2, last accessed 11/14/21.

[xviii] The Battle of Britain by Richard Hough and Dennis Richards, © 1989, P.360.

[xix] Luftwaffe Ground Attack Units 1939-45 by Martin Pegg, © 1977 Osprey Publishing, Ltd.

[xx] Warbirds, Resource Group., Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” Operational History, Luftwaffe Resource Center - Bombers - A Warbirds Resource Group Site, last accessed 9/26/2021.

[xxi] U-boat.net, HMS Illustrious (87) of the Royal Navy - British Aircraft Carrier of the Illustrious class - Allied Warships of WWII - uboat.net, last accessed 9/26/2021.

[xxii] Luftwaffe Ground Attack Units 1939-45 by Martin Pegg, © 1977 Osprey Publishing, Ltd. The destroyers were the HMS Juno, Greyhound, Kashmir, & Kelly.

[xxiii] Luftwaffe Ground Attack Units 1939-45 by Martin Pegg, © 1977 Osprey Publishing.

[xxiv] Luftwaffe Ground Attack Units 1939-45 by Martin Pegg, © 1977 Osprey Publishing.

[xxv] Naval-History.Net, https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-06CL-Orion.htm, last accessed 9/29/2021.

[xxvi] Stuka Pilot, by Hans Ulrich Rudel, © 1958 Ballentine Books, Ltd., The Marat sank in shallow waters and the Soviet Navy used the 3 serviceable main batteries for artillery support.

[xxvii] U-Boat.net, USSR Chervona Ukraina of the Soviet Navy - Soviet Light cruiser of the Chervona Ukraina class - Allied Warships of WWII - uboat.net, last accessed 10/3/21.

[xxviii] Luftwaffe Ground Attack Units 1939-45 by Martin Pegg, © 1977 Osprey Publishing, Ltd. Actual Soviet losses were likely considerably less.

[xxix] Naval History.net, HMS Penelope, British light cruiser, WW2 (naval-history.net),. Last accessed 11/10/21.

[xxx] Historynet.com, Slaughter of the Stukas Acie in a Day P-38 Pilot, by Anthony Rogers, November 2019, Slaughter of the Stukas: Ace in a Day P-38 Pilot (historynet.com), last accessed 11/10/21.

[xxxi] Naval History.net, HMS Sirius, British AA cruiser, WW2 (naval-history.net), last accessed 11/10/21.

[xxxii] Stuka Pilot by Hans Ulrich Rudel, © 1958 by Ballentine Books, Inc.

[xxxiii] Stuka Pilot by Hans Ulrich Rudel, © 1958 by Ballentine Books, Inc.

Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel

The highest award to anyone serving in combat in the German military went to Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel.[i] The Golden Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was a medal made just for him. He flew 2,530 combat sorties, the vast majority of them in a Ju 87. This was over 1,000 sorties more than any other pilot. He destroyed 519 tanks, more than 4 times as many as his closest rival. He also destroyed; 800 other vehicles, 150 gun positions, 70 landing craft, and many other targets. He is credited with at least 9 air victories.[ii]

His combat wasn’t one sided. Anti-aircraft shot him down 30 times. The last time he lost a leg. He returned to combat after losing his leg. Fighters never shot him down. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. While most of the pilots who opposed him lacked skill there were some that were very good. The Ju 87 was not a match for a fighter but a skilled Stuka pilot, aware of a single attacker’s presence, could make his Ju 87 a difficult target. A couple of other Ju 87 pilots scores over 5 air victories.


[i] Oberst is a rank equivalent to a U.S. or UK colonel.

[ii] Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe by Colonel Raymond F. Toliver and Trever J. Constable © 1977 gives his air victory score as 11.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Robert Sacchi

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