PZL P-23
PZL P37A/B
Bloch MB-210
Potez Po-633B2
Heinkel He-111
Junkers Ju-88
Junkers Ju-87D
Henschel Hs-129B
Savoia-Marchetti SM 79B ( JRS-79B )
Bristol Blenheim I

The Junkers Ju-87D dive bomber

 

The Junkers Ju-87, better known by its famous nickname of "Stuka", was without any doubt the symbol of Luftwaffe's glory days of 1939-1940. It was soon outclassed by other bombers and fighters, but it remained a formidable weapon nevertheless right until the end of the war.
In 1933, Germany had no dive bombers, but the still secret Luftwaffe was eager to experiment with such airplanes. The man who pushed forward the dive bomber concept was Ernst Udet, the head of Luftwaffe's aircraft development program. He traveled to the USA in 1933 where he witnessed the demostrations of several dive bombers of the American Navy. Udet purchased two Curtiss Hawk dive bombers and shipped them home for study. In October 1933 the development of a plane capable of dive bombing was made officially a priority as a The first dive bombing unit was equipped with the Heinkel He 50, a sturdy biplane, very similar to those who had fought in the First World War. It was soon followed by the Hs 123, who was also a biplane, so it wasn't much better than its predecessor. Trials were also carried out using a modified Junkers K 47, an all-metal, low-wing monoplane with twin tail fins, that had been originally designed as a two-seat fighter. But all of these were considered "interim" solutions, adopted only for a short period of time, until a real dive-bomber could be designed.
Finally, in 1936, the Luftwaffe announced all major German aircraft producers that it was looking for a modern dive-bomber. Four companies responded to the challenge : Arado presented their Ar-81, Blohm & Voss came up with the Ha-137, the Heinkel proposed the Heinkel He-118 and Junkers the Ju-87.

 

Picture taken from the TOP GUN magazine

A Romanian Ju-87D on the east front. Summer 1943

Of these, Arado's AR-81 was doomed from the start because it was a biplane, although it was initially faster than its competitors thanks to its clean lines. The Ha-137 was a modern, single-seat monoplane with inverted gull wings and trousered undercarriage. Handling characteristics were good as well as overall performance, and it was recommended for production, but it still wasn't chosen.The Heinkel He-118 with its smooth elliptical wings and fuselage contours, was a typical product for Heinkel's main designers, the Gunther brothers. It bore a strong resemblance with some of their other designs, like the He-70 or the He-111. Without doubt, it was the most beautiful of all competitors, and was also the only one to have a fully retractable landing gear. Powered by the superb DB600 engine, the He-118 prototype seemed to be the finest of all designs submitted. However, it failed to convince after it proved incapable of reaching diving angles over 50 degrees ( when Udet tried to force it outside these limits the propeller was simply blown away so he had to bail out ).
Finally came the Junkers Ju-87, who had flown for the first time on the 17th of September 1935. It was by far the ugliest of all : a two-seat monoplane with inverted gull wings, but with fixed landing gear covered with ugly trousers. The fuselage had quite beautiful lines, tapering upwards from the nose to the cockpit, so that the pilot had a good forward view ; a roomy "greenhouse" type canopy gave excellent all-around perspective to the crew. Slotted flaps were mounted along the entire trailing edge of the wing, giving good low-speed handling characteristics, but also generating a lot of drag, which, of course, slowed down the aircraft a lot. The Ju-87's most advanced feature were its automatic dive brakes, who consisted of pairs of long, rectangular strips attached to stubs under the wing leading edges. These strips rotated perpendicularly to the airstream to reduce the speed of the aircraft in a dive, allowing the pilot to concentrate on its target. Although the Ju-87 was initially powered by a Rolls Royce Kestrel engine, when the third prototype (Ju 87V3) proved its ability to dive and pull out at 90 degrees, and to resist a force of 6G during the pullout, it was immediately selected by Udet as the winner.
Once the new Jumo 210 engine was ready, the Ju-87A entered mass-production. Three of these planes were sent to Spain to see how they performed in action. Reports were encouraging so a second production version, the Ju-87B, appeared in 1939. Performance was up again, thanks to the much more powerful Jumo 211 fuel-injected engine, so the B remained the standard model during the early years of WW2. Another innovation was fitting a siren ( "the Jericho Trumpet" ) on the undercarriage legs, earning the Ju-87B the infamous knickname "screaming Stukas". Initially, the Stuka performed brilliantly as close air support aircraft, achieving near-legend status for its superb potential as dive-bomber. Such was the impression that the Ju-87 had made on the higher levels of command of the Luftwaffe that from then on virtually every German bomber was expected to have dive-bombing capabilities ! But after the Battle of Britain, where the Ju-87B's had failed miserably, a new and improved version, the Ju-87D entered service. It had an even more powerful engine, and could carry almost twice the payload of the Ju-87B. The rear gunner now manned two belt-fed MG81 machine guns instead of a single MG15, and the plane's armour was increased ( starting with the D-3 ) in an attempt to give the Ju-87 additional protection.
The ARR monitored closely the war on the west during from 1939 to 1940, and the crucial contribution of the Ju-87 to the success of the "Blitzkrieg" did not go unnoticed. Almost immediately after the German victory, they tried to order some "Stukas", as they had become known, from Germany but were turned down because Romania had long since been an ally of France and Britain. After Romania was forced to change sides and join the Axis, the Germans promised to deliver some Ju-87's but no Stukas arrived until the start of Barbarossa, so the ARR was forced to turn to the Romanian aircraft industry, who adapted the IAR-80 fighter for dive-bombing, producing the IAR-81 fighter-bomber. Still, it wasn't as good as the Stuka when it came to dive-bombing, so the ARR remained eager to buy some Ju-87's. The opportunity came in 1943, when amongst many other modern planes, Germany finally handed over a number of Ju-87D's ( D3 and D5's ) to the Romanian 1st Air Corps.
In the spring of 1943, the 3rd Bomber Group was redesignated as the 3rd Dive Bombing Group as it was to be equipped with the new Ju-87D's. On the 30th of March 1943, the group's three squadrons (the 73rd, 81st and 85th ) arrived at the Nicolaev airfield in southern Ukraine, to start training. After two months of intense training, the group was sent to Kirovograd, where they demonstrated their capabilities in front of Marshal Antonescu and the commander of Luftflotte IV, the German Field Marshal von Richtofen, as well as several more senior officers. The group performed a dive-bombing attack using training bombs on an army range a few kilometers off the airfield. All things went smoothly, so the group was declared ready for action and sent immediately to the Mariupol-west airfield, on the north bank of the Azov Sea.

A Junkers Ju-87D in Czehia. Spring of 1945

The group entered combat on the 15th of June 1943 in southern Ukraine, where it gave air support to Axis forces fighting on the river Mius. Tactics were generally the same as those employed by the Germans : the planes would fly in a tight formation, for better protection against enemy fighters. Once over the target area, the Ju-87's would turn so that they were flying towards the friendly territory ( a major advantage if you got hit ) and enter the dive one by one. They dropped their bombs and exited the dive at low level ( about 500 meters ).

From the 15th of June till the 4th of July, the 3rd Dive Bombing group flew 123 sorties, before moving on the 5th onto the Kerci airfield ( near the Kerci strait ). They were to provide air support to the Romanian Mountain Corps, who was fighting on the Kuban front, which they did, until the 30th of September 1943. It was a period of intense action, with as many as three or four sorties per day. By the 9th of August 1943, the group had flown 1000 sorties in 74 missions, during which close to 500 tons of bombs were dropped. 31 airplanes had been hit by Soviet AA artillery fire and 6 by Soviet fighters, but thanks to the skill and courage of Romanian crews, only three Ju-87D's were lost until the 1st of October 1943. The Romanian Stukas fought back courageously and on some occasions managed to shoot down their attackers, such as on the 19th of November when a Soviet Yak fighter was shot down by gunfire from a formation of Romanian Ju-87's. In October 1943, the 3rd Group was put once again under the command of the Romanian 1st Air Corps and changed its base two more times, first to Kerson, on the west bank of the Dniepr river, and finally to Karankut, in northeastern Crimea. The Ju-87's remained in Cerise until the peninsula was overrun by the Soviets in April 1944, by which time they had flown more than 300 bombing missions. One very successful day was October the 30th, 1943, when the bombers hit the Soviet troops attacking the German positions on the Perekop isthmus, claiming more than 60 Soviet tanks destroyed in a single day.

After close to a year on the frontline they were pulled back to Romania, and in May 1944 they returned to battle together with the 6th Dive Bomber Group who was also equipped with Ju-87D's. Both groups fought heroically against the Soviets and inflicted heavy casualties on them, particularly during their "Iasi-Chisinau" offensive. But the Red Army, with its huge reserves, couldn't be stopped. After the 23rd of August 1944, when Romania changed sides, the Germans captured or destroyed many of the Romanian Stukas ( the 6th group lost all of its Stukas ! ). The 17 survivors were merged into an improvised unit, the 3rd/6th Dive Bombing Group. They flew their first combat mission against the new enemy on the 29th of August , when the group bombed several German ships operating on the Danube. More missions followed, like that of the September the 11th, when the crews of the 86th Dive Bomber Squadron attacked German and Hungarian armored units in western Transylvania, knocking out 15 enemy tanks plus several other vehicles. Losses forced the ARR to finally reduce the group to a single squadron, the 74th one, who formed the 8th Assault / Dive-Bomber group together with the 41st squadron ( they had Henschel Hs-129B's ). This group remained in action until the end of the war, playing a significant part in Romania's war effort.

ARR's pilots who flew the Ju-87D were pleased with the aircraft. One of the 3rd Group's pilots, Costica Dragomir had this to say about the 'Stuka': " As pilots it gave us complete satisfaction, it responded quickly to the commands, it gave you confidence to fly it. We felt it to be a accurate, efficient weapon. We had a say between us, Stuka pilots : put the bomb through the window, meaning to aim quickly and precisely and then to press the bomb release button, which was on top of the stick. That meant maximum precision."

Technical data of the Junkers Ju-87D3

Wingspan
13.8 meters
Length
11.5 meters
Height
3.89 meters
Weight (empty)
3900 kg
Weight (loaded)
5842 kg
Maximum speed at 4000 meters
410 km/h
Maximum operational ceiling
7300 meters
Range
821-1535 km
Engine
Junkers Jumo-211J1 rated at 1410 HP
Armament
Two forward-facing 7.92 mm machine guns plus one rear-firing 7.92 mm machine gun
Payload
Up to 1800 kg of bombs attached on three hardpoints
Crew
2
Numbers received
30

Technical data of the Junkers Ju-87D5

Wingspan
15 meters
Length
11.5 meters
Height
3.89 meters
Weight (empty)
3900 kg
Weight (loaded)
5842 kg
Maximum speed at 4000 meters
410 km/h
Maximum operational ceiling
7300 meters
Range
821-1535 km
Engine
Junkers Jumo-211J1 rated at 1410 HP
Armament
Two forward-facing 7.92 mm machine guns plus one rear-firing 7.92 mm machine gun
Payload
Up to 1800 kg of bombs attached on three hardpoints
Crew
2
Numbers received
30

* Both versions could optionally carry two 20 mm canons mounted in gondolas underneath the wings instead of bombs

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