Second World War
Ju 87 Stuka – this machine bombed Hitler’s lightning victories
The sirens of the Ju 87 were the accompaniment to the German victories in World War II. But the machine’s limits soon became apparent. As a tank cracker and cannon bird, she remained dangerous.
An airplane became a symbol of the Blitzkrieg. Their howling sirens panicked soldiers and civilians. Like a bird of prey, the small bombers rushed directly at their target to fire or drop a bomb. Resistance was impossible, on the ground you could only throw yourself to the ground and hope that the danger would pass. The German newsreels got intoxicated by the pictures of the planes that flew in formation only to tip over a wing and plunge into the depths.
Accurate attack on ground targets
The concept of the dive bomber was comparatively new and ensured a high level of accuracy for the time. Because the aircraft as a whole was aimed at the target, during the approach the bombs were released and flew in a straight path towards the target. For this to work, the aircraft had to be very stable. From the very fast dive, the pilot had to come back up an incline. And as close as possible to the ground. To withstand the load, the wings of the Ju 87 were angled and relatively wide. The landing gear was rigid and could not be retracted into the wings. Sirens were mounted under the wings. They produced the panic-inducing howl.
The first model took off in 1935. The construction has been optimized for maximum strength. Special air brakes were able to slow the fall speed to 540 km / h. This enabled the Ju 87 to actually reach a diving angle of 90 degrees. The disadvantage: Despite the engine output of 1420 hp later, the maximum speed was only 395 km / h.
The Ju 87 was first tested in the Spanish Civil War. In the German campaigns against Poland and France, special dive-fighting squadrons bombed the centers of resistance, clearing the way for the German tank spearheads. The bombers also proved deadly against troops on the march and against supply convoys. As a support weapon for the ground operations, the squadrons carried the bombing war far behind the enemy lines.
The Ju 87 became a symbol of the German lightning victories. The success made the German leadership blind to the weak points of the machine. The Ju 87 could only be used if the German side had absolute control of the air. That was the case in Poland and France. The enemy planes were mostly devastated. The machines that did rise were easy prey for the German hunters. At that time the German Messerschmitt 109 was the best fighter aircraft of the war.
At the mercy of hunters
But at the Battle of Britain in 1940 the limits of the German Air Force became apparent. The British Spitfire, even if only available in small numbers, was clearly superior to the Messerschmitt. In addition, the range of the German machines was limited. Due to the long flight to and from the island, the time the German hunters were deployed over the island was short. They could therefore not offer the bombers adequate escort protection.
For attacking fighters, the Ju 87 was an easy target with its low speed. It is true that the machine had a rifleman who sat backwards to the direction of flight. But he could do little with his single MG 15. Especially when several fighters grabbed a bomber. In addition, the crew was not as protected as in the “Flying Tank”, the Ilyushin Il-2 of the Red Army. Here the pilot and the gunner sat in a tub made of armored steel. The Junkers did not offer this protection.
The losses over England were disastrous. Nevertheless, the Ju 87 remained in service until the end of the war. However, the role of the machine changed, it was now mostly used as an attack aircraft and as a tank cracker. Quite with success – at least in the theaters of war, where the Germans had not lost control of the air and their own fighters were able to protect the bombers.
Most famous pilot of the Stuka
In this phase the Ju 87 meets its most famous pilot. Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most highly decorated soldier of the III. Rich. Rudel had difficulties in the beginning to be accepted in a dive squadron at all, but then became the master of the Ju 87. Rudel is said to have destroyed three warships, about 70 landing vehicles and 519 tanks in the course of the war. He worked tirelessly and made 2530 enemy flights – he was shot down 30 times. When Rudel met the chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring, he asked in astonishment “And you are still alive?” When Rudel gave him his machine.
Rudel remained a fanatical National Socialist throughout his life. An inaccessible loner by character, Rudel was prone to vanity. The then editor-in-chief of the time, Josef Müller-Marein, drew a dazzling portrait of the egocentric between megalomania and complete ignorance in the article in “Der Fall Rudel” in 1953. In February 1945 Rudel was shot off a leg, in the hospital – the Russians were just before Berlin – he is said to have exclaimed in surprise: “It is clear that we will win the war; but sometimes I ask myself: How?” And Rudel didn’t mean that as a cynical joke.
Rudel and his gunner Ernst Gadermann used the later Ju 87 G as a tank cracker. This machine did not carry any bombs. Two 3.7 cm FlaK 18 cannons were mounted under the wings. Each cannon had twelve rounds. The 3.7 caliber had long been retired as an anti-tank gun, and the projectiles could not break through the front of the tanks. The 3.7 was mocked as a Reichsanklopfgerät. However, the penetration power was sufficient to penetrate the weak reinforcement on the top or back. The approach no longer took place in a fall, but in a slight descent. At the crucial moment, the pilot had to give the machine a gentle blow downwards. The last propaganda film by the Luftwaffe shows how Stukas attacked Soviet tanks on the outskirts of Berlin and smoke poured from their anti-tank guns.
The German artist Joseph Beuys attributed his transformation to artist to the crash of his Ju 87. Gunner Beuys survived the crash in heavy snowfall over the Crimea in 1944. After that, nomadic Tartars are said to have picked him up and tended him with ointments in a yurt for eight days. According to Beuys, this is how the central materials felt and fat came into his life. Unfortunately, Beuys came up with this great story, as recent research shows. In reality, he was rescued by a Wehrmacht search team shortly after the crash.
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