The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka (from Sturzkampfflugzeug, “dive bomber”) was a German dive bomber and ground-attack aircraft. Designed by Hermann Pohlmann, which first flew in 1935. The Ju 87 made its combat debut in 1937 with the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War and served the Axis forces during World War II.
The aircraft is easily recognisable by its inverted gull wings and fixed spatted undercarriage. Upon the leading edges of its faired main gear legs were mounted the Jericho-Trompete (Jericho trumpet) wailing sirens, becoming the propaganda symbol of German air power and the so-called Blitzkrieg victories of 1939–1942. The Stuka’s design included several innovations, including automatic pull-up dive brakes under both wings to ensure that the aircraft recovered from its attack dive, even if the pilot blacked out from the high g-forces.
The Ju 87 operated with considerable success in close air support and anti-shipping at the outbreak of the war and led air assaults in the invasion of Poland in September 1939. Critical to the rapid conquest of Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and France in 1940, the Stuka was a sturdy, accurate, and very effective machine against ground targets but like many other dive bombers of the period, it was vulnerable to fighter aircraft. Indeed, during the Battle of Britain, its lack of manoeuvrability, speed and defensive armament meant that it required a heavy fighter escort to operate effectively.
After the Battle of Britain, the Stuka was used in the Balkans Campaign, the African and Mediterranean theatres and the early stages of the Eastern Front, where it was used for general ground support, as an effective specialised anti-tank aircraft and in an anti-shipping role. Once the Luftwaffe lost air superiority however, the Stuka became an easy target for enemy fighter aircraft. It was produced until 1944 for lack of a better replacement but by 1945, ground-attack versions of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 had largely replaced the Ju 87 although it remained in service until the end of the war. An estimated 6,500 Ju 87s of all versions were built between 1936 and August 1944.
Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most successful Stuka pilot and the most highly decorated German serviceman of the Second World War.