Designed in 1933, the Junkers
Ju. 87 Stuka
remained in production until 1944. More than 5,700 of these aircraft were completed in a dozen variants and went down in history as one of the most widely used combat planes in the entire German
aeronautical arsenal. Apart from this purely quantitative view point, this ugly
and awkward aircraft played a major role in the gloomy events of World War II
. It became, at least in the early years of the conflict, the very symbol of the Luftwaffe
's strength. The Stuka, short for Sturzkampfflugzeug (the word for dive bomber), was the real protagonist of Germany's early success during the first two years of the war. Apart from its actual fighting potential, the aircraft sowed terror into the hearts of its adversaries with a characteristic whistling sound that accompanied its rapid dive toward a target. This was not by accident, to demoralize and terrorize the enemy the Stuka had a device that would produce the screaming sound in a dive built into the structure of the aircraft.
The Ju. 87 had an all-metal airframe and covering. The wings were shaped in an "inverted-gull" shape with fixed landing gear housed in large fairings. The main bomb load was installed on a support at the center of the fuselage. The initial defensive armament consisted of a single fixed 7.9 m machine gun mounted in one wing and a similar flexible weapon in the rear of the cockpit.
The first production variant of the Ju. 87, the A-1, appeared at the beginning of 1937 and was used mainly as a trainer. Later, these aircraft saw limited combat service during the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, the initial version of the B-1, characterized by the use of a more powerful Jumo engine and by modifications to the fuselage. This was the first version to be built in any great number. The second most produced variant was the D model, in which the aircraft was further improved from structural, powerplant, and armament perspectives. Deliveries of the first series D-1's to the units of the Luftwaffe commenced in the spring of 1941; the following year the final G version was developed from this basic variant and specialized in the antitank role.
In 1942, the need for an effective antitank weapon led to the construction of the final variant. The Ju. 87 G-1 was characterized by the installation of two 37 mm BK 3.7 cannons beneath its wings. The cannon proved to be a deadly and effective weapon and the G-1 a stable platform for its role. The cannon weighed 801 lbs (363 kg) and was fed by six-shot loaders. The G-1 was derived from mounting the cannon on a D-5 airframe. Most of these aircraft were used against Russia and on the eastern front. It was in this aircraft that Hans Ulrich Rudel scored his remarkable record of no fewer than 519 Soviet tanks destroyed during 2,530 combat missions while only being shot down (no fewer than) 30 times.
As the aircraft aged, it was difficult to find a role for which the Stuka had not been tested. Many attempts were made to replace the aircraft with a newer more modern design, but all of these failed to produce an adequate replacement. The Stuka remained in front-line service until the last day of the war.
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