|Before this tank killer came on the scene...|
(U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt William Greer)
There was this beast...
|Ju-87 Stuka Flight over Poland, 1939|
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1987-1210-502, Polen, Stukas by Hoffmann, Heinrich CC
The Ju-87 Stuka (which is a German abbreviation for Sturzkampfflugzeug, which is simply the German word for dive bomber) did not begin World War II as a tank buster. That came later in the war and only on the Russian front.
At the beginning of the war the Stuka was mainly responsible for close air support and was pretty effective at that job. As long as there weren't any enemy fighters in the neighborhood. For the Stuka was kind of slow and ungainly with those fixed landing gear and a top speed of only 242 mph. Though there was a rear gunner, he only had a single machine gun.
Not something to sneeze at, but not much use against a good man in a fighter.
The Stuka was very effective in both Poland and France in the early part of the war when the Luftwaffe had air superiority over the front. And that siren you hear so much about (well, you hear about it if you're a WWII buff, as I am) it was a real thing. The Germans mounted one on either landing gear strut, usually both. They called it the Jericho-Trompete, or Jericho trumpet. Like the horn that brought down the walls of Jericho in the Old Testament.
It was kind of eerie and rather demoralizing to men who have been pounded by German artillery, strafed and bombed, attacked by tanks and are generally on the run as their generals try to figure out this Blitzkrieg thing.
The Battle of Britain opened up with the Stukas going after shipping in the English Channel, heavily escorted by Me-109s as the Germans wanted the RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes to react to those shipping attacks in order to wear the RAF down.
Later, the Stukas went after the aerials of the Chain Home radar stations along the southeast coast with very little effect. Little effect on the radar aerials that is. The Stukas were shot to pieces by the nimble Spitfires and Hurricanes.
This clip from the film Battle of Britain shows this nicely. (Though the Stuka attack profile isn't "quite right" as they say. Since when does Hollywood ever get it right?)
It's my understanding that the film company actually had a flyable Stuka used sparingly during filming. So those scenes above used a lot of special effects. Those effects seem primitive now but I remember being impressed when I saw this movie in the theater back in the '70s. (Let me see, I think I went and saw that film six times. Have watched it many times since. It's not bad. Oh yeah, I loved Trevor Howard's portrayal of Air Vice Marshal Keith Park. He's in that clip.)
Here's the "proper" technique for "moving mud" with a Stuka -
Flying at 4,600 m (15,100 ft), the pilot located his target through a bombsight window in the cockpit floor. The pilot moved the dive lever to the rear, limiting the "throw" of the control column. The dive brakes were activated automatically, the pilot set the trim tabs, retarded his throttle and closed the coolant flaps. The aircraft then rolled 180°, automatically nosing the aircraft into a dive. Red tabs protruded from the upper surfaces of the wing as a visual indicator to the pilot that, in case of a g-induced black-out, the automatic dive recovery system would be activated. The Stuka dived at a 60-90° angle, holding a constant speed of 500–600 km/h (350-370 mph) due to dive-brake deployment, which increased the accuracy of the Ju 87's aim.
When the aircraft was reasonably close to the target, a light on the contact altimeter came on to indicate the bomb-release point, usually at a minimum height of 450 m (1,480 ft). The pilot released the bomb and initiated the automatic pull-out mechanism by depressing a knob on the control column. An elongated U-shaped crutch located under the fuselage swung the bomb out of the way of the propeller, and the aircraft automatically began a 6 g pullout. Once the nose was above the horizon, dive brakes were retracted, the throttle was opened, and the propeller was set to climb. The pilot regained control and resumed normal flight. The coolant flaps had to be reopened quickly to prevent overheating. The automatic pull-out was not liked by all pilots. Helmut Mahlke later said that he and his unit disconnected the system because it allowed the enemy to predict the Ju 87s recovery pattern and height, making it easier for ground defences to hit an aircraft.
Physical stress on the crew was severe. Human beings subjected to more than 5 g forces in a seated position will suffer vision impairment in the form of a grey veil known to Stuka pilots as "seeing stars". They lose vision while remaining conscious; after five seconds, they black out. The Ju 87 pilots experienced the visual impairments most during "pull-up" from a dive.
Eric "Winkle" Brown RN, a British test pilot and Commanding Officer of Captured Enemy Aircraft Flight section, tested the Ju 87 at RAE Farnborough. He said of the Stuka, "I had flown a lot of dive-bombers and it’s the only one that you can dive truly vertically. Sometimes with the dive-bombers...maximum dive is usually in the order of 60 degrees.. When flying the Stuka, because it’s all automatic, you are really flying vertically... The Stuka was in a class of its own." Wikipedia
|Stuka dive attack|
(Ju87V2 by Aleksej fon Grozni Public Domain)
In 1943 in the East, the ever increasing numbers of Soviet tanks required an answer, the Stuka returned to combat in it's G variant sporting a couple of 37mm cannon. It was known as the Kanonenvogel, the "cannon bird."
|Ju-87G Kanonenvogel of Schlachtgeschwader 2|
(Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-655-5976-04, Russland, Sturzkampfbomber Junkers Ju 87 G by Grosse CC)
Probably the most famous Stuka pilot was Hans-Ulrich Rudel. There was a bit of a kerfuffle regarding this man recently due to his input being sought on the design of the A-10. It was much ado about nothing. The man was an expert ground attack pilot, you do solicit the opinions of experts when designing something. Of course, there are certain types who will wet their knickers at the thought of asking a former Nazi for anything.
From whom do you think we learned a great deal about rocketry? It wasn't the Boy Scouts. You do what you gotta do sometimes. As Rudel died back in 1982, seems fishy that the anti-A-10ites bring that up now.
Anyway, Oberst Rudel knew his business and practised it very well indeed.
Oberst, Deutsches Luftwaffe
(Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HansUlrichRudel.jpeg)
Hans-Ulrich Rudel (2 July 1916 – 18 December 1982) was a Stuka dive-bomber pilot during World War II. The most highly decorated German serviceman of the war, Rudel was one of only 27 military men to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, and the only person to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten), Germany's highest military decoration at the time.I had a model of the Stuka when I was a kid. 1/24 scale by Airfix. It was a big model, I'm surprised it survived as long as it did. But I had it for a long time. I'm sure it's still somewhere in The Olde Vermonter's attic. Or was. I do wonder what happened to that bird?
Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions claiming a total of 2,000 targets destroyed; including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery pieces, 70 landing craft, nine aircraft, four armored trains, several bridges, a destroyer, two cruisers, and the Soviet battleship Marat. Wikipedia
|Chase this link to see a beautiful rendition of this model. Lots of great photos.|
Needless to say, mine was not this nice, nor this detailed!
So there you have it, another Old AF Sarge favorite. (I know, I know. I have so many favorites, but hey, if it flies...)
|"Junkers Ju 87B-2 Stuka" by Kaboldy - Own work.|
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons CC