The Ju 87 was a Lethal Bomber and Psychological Weapon

The Junkers Ju 87, affectionately known as the Stuka (from Sturzkampfflugzeug, the German term for dive bomber), remains one of the most recognisable aircraft of World War II.

Designed by Hermann Pohlmann, the Ju 87 made its first flight in 1935 and became infamous for its role in the Blitzkrieg tactics employed by Germany during the early stages of the war.



The development of the Junkers Ju 87 began during a period of intense rearmament in Germany, under the direction of Hermann Pohlmann, who served as the chief designer.

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His vision was to create a robust dive bomber that could support blitzkrieg tactics, which emphasized rapid, direct engagement with enemy forces. The first prototype, known as the Ju 87 V1, took to the skies on 17 September 1935, marking a significant step forward in Luftwaffe capabilities.

The V4 prototype Ju 87.
The V4 prototype Ju 87.

The design of the Ju 87 was quite distinctive and included several innovative features aimed at maximizing its effectiveness in dive bombing. One of the most notable was the inclusion of an automatic pull-up system, a pioneering technology at the time.

This system automatically initiated the aircraft’s pull-out from a dive if the pilot became incapacitated or disoriented, thus safeguarding the crew and the aircraft from the potentially fatal consequences of a high-speed impact with the ground.

Another key design feature of the Ju 87 was its fixed, spatted undercarriage which contributed to its ruggedness and stability during rough field operations.

While this made the aircraft slower and less aerodynamic, it greatly enhanced its ability to operate from the improvised forward airfields close to the front lines, which was a crucial advantage in fast-moving ground campaigns.

The design was simple and  effective.
The design was simple and effective.

Jericho Trumpets

The Ju 87 also famously featured sirens mounted on the undercarriage—the Jericho Trumpets. These sirens exploited the psychological effect of noise as a weapon of war, producing a terrifying sound during the Ju 87’s dive.

The noise was intended to cause panic among troops and civilians alike, thereby magnifying the disruption caused by the bomber’s attacks.

Aerodynamically, the Ju 87’s design incorporated inverted gull wings, which facilitated the clearance needed for the large propeller while maintaining a low stance on the ground. This wing design also improved the pilot’s downward visibility, crucial for accuracy in dive-bombing operations.

Coupled with the noise, no wonder people were terrified of the Stuka.
Coupled with the noise, no wonder people were terrified of the Stuka. Photo credit – Gaijin War Thunder

The large flaps and dive brakes allowed the Ju 87 to perform controlled and steep dives, essential for delivering bombs with precision.

Hermann Pohlmann and his team continuously refined the aircraft over several variants to improve performance and survivability. Each variant of the Ju 87 included enhancements such as increased armour plating and more powerful engines to boost speed and payload capacity.

These improvements helped the Ju 87 adapt to evolving combat requirements and maintain its relevance throughout the war, despite advances in enemy air defences and aircraft technology.

Production Variants

The Junkers Ju 87A, the first production model of the Stuka series, known as ‘Anton’ in service, marked a significant milestone in the operational deployment of dive bombers by the German Luftwaffe.

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This initial variant emerged from the developmental prototypes that had demonstrated promising capabilities, particularly in precision dive-bombing, a technique the Luftwaffe was eager to exploit.

Engineers designed the Ju 87A with a focus on creating a reliable and effective dive bomber that could perform with remarkable accuracy. They equipped it with a relatively underpowered Junkers Jumo 210 engine.

Earlier variants had woefully underpowered engines.
Earlier variants had woefully underpowered engines.

While this engine sufficed for the early tests and limited engagements, it soon became apparent that the power output was inadequate to meet the demands of real combat scenarios, particularly under the load of full combat gear and in the face of enemy action.

The structural design of the Ju 87A included several key features intended to optimise it for its dive bombing role. The aircraft featured an innovative dive brake under each wing, which allowed it to maintain stability and manage speed during steep dives.

This characteristic was crucial for ensuring the bombs hit their target with precision. The cockpit layout in the Ju 87A was also streamlined for efficiency, providing the pilot and the rear gunner with good visibility and control, which were vital during combat operations.

Despite these innovations, the Anton variant had its limitations. Its performance was hampered by the lower-power engine, which affected its ability to carry heavier bomb loads and limited its speed and range.

Ju 87 and the Spanish Civil War

These deficiencies became particularly apparent during the Spanish Civil War, where the Ju 87A was tested in combat conditions. The experiences gathered from these operations highlighted the need for a more powerful engine and better defensive armaments.

A Ju 87 of the Condor Legion.
A Ju 87A of the Condor Legion.

As a result, the Ju 87A saw a relatively short service life and was quickly superseded by the more advanced Ju 87B, which featured a more powerful Jumo 211 engine. This upgrade addressed many of the shortcomings experienced with the Anton variant.

The Ju 87B could carry a larger payload, had improved armour for better survivability, and offered enhanced performance characteristics that made it a formidable force in the Luftwaffe’s arsenal.

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Recognising the need for more power and better payload capacity, designers equipped the Ju 87B with the Junkers Jumo 211 engine.

This new engine was not only more robust than its predecessor but also facilitated greater speed and an increased range, thereby extending the Stuka’s ability to engage with targets far from its bases. The improved power also allowed the Ju 87B to carry a heavier bomb load, making it a more formidable adversary.

Ju 87 B models.
Ju 87 B models.

The design of the Ju 87B focused keenly on improving survivability and operational efficacy. The airframe was reinforced to withstand the stresses of dive bombing, which involved pulling out of steep dives at low altitudes—a manoeuvre that placed enormous strain on the aircraft’s structure.

Moreover, the inclusion of larger dive brakes enhanced the aircraft’s stability during dives, allowing for more accurate bomb deployment.

An Upgrade to Defence

One of the most significant enhancements in the Ju 87B was its armament. The aircraft featured two forward-firing 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns and a rear-mounted machine gun of the same calibre, operated by the rear gunner.

This configuration provided it with better defensive capabilities against enemy fighters, a vulnerability that had been starkly evident in earlier models.

The Ju 87B’s armour was also upgraded. Additional plating protected critical areas such as the oil tank and coolant system, which were vulnerable to enemy fire. This protective measure improved the Ju 87B’s resilience in the face of increasingly effective anti-aircraft defences encountered over European battlefields.

Later models had much needed upgraded defensive armament.
Later models had much-needed upgraded defensive armament. Photo credit – Gaijin War Thunder.

In combat, the Ju 87B proved its mettle during pivotal moments of World War II, most notably during the Blitzkrieg campaigns in Poland and France. The aircraft’s ability to deliver precise and devastating bombing strikes made it an integral component of the German air strategy.

Its psychological impact was magnified by the use of sirens, which, although initially introduced in the Anton, became a hallmark of the Stuka’s terror tactics.


Designers equipped the Ju 87D with the powerful Junkers Jumo 211J engine, which significantly increased its speed, range, and payload capacity compared to earlier models.

This upgrade allowed the Ju 87D to carry up to 1,800 kilograms of ordnance, including a 1,000-kilogram bomb, which greatly expanded its role from tactical dive bomber to a more strategic threat capable of destroying larger and more reinforced targets.

The airframe of the Ju 87D underwent comprehensive modifications to enhance its structural integrity and survivability in combat.

These modifications included increased armour plating around vital areas such as the cockpit and fuel tanks, providing better protection for the crew and aircraft’s critical systems against ground fire and enemy interceptors.

The B and D models were the most produced.
The B and D models were the most produced.

In action, the Ju 87D proved highly effective on the Eastern Front, supporting the German advances and retreats throughout the conflict.

Its ability to deliver heavy payloads with precision made it a key asset in targeting Soviet tanks, fortifications, and troop concentrations.

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Despite the increasing presence of more capable Soviet aircraft and anti-aircraft systems, the Ju 87D continued to play a critical role in ground support and anti-tank warfare, adapting to changing combat conditions with modifications like armour skirts and winter equipment.

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Operational History

With the onset of World War II, the Junkers Ju 87 became integral to the Blitzkrieg strategy, contributing decisively to the rapid German conquests of Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

In these campaigns, the Stuka operated as the aerial spearhead, striking critical enemy positions and spreading terror with its sirens. The aircraft’s precision bombing proved particularly effective in disabling key points of resistance and infrastructure, thereby hastening the collapse of enemy defences.

However, the Battle of Britain exposed the Ju 87’s vulnerabilities. Facing the Royal Air Force, one of the most capable air forces at that time, the Stuka suffered heavy losses. Its slow speed and poor manoeuvrability made it an easy target for British fighters.

The intense and effective British air defence forced a reevaluation of the Stuka’s role in such highly contested airspace.

A squadron of Ju 87 aircraft.
A squadron of Ju 87s.

Consequently, its deployment was scaled back in areas where German air superiority was not assured, marking a significant shift in its operational use.

Despite these setbacks, the Ju 87 found a renewed role on the Eastern Front, where its capabilities as a tank buster were put to extensive use.

Tank Buster

The Junkers Ju 87G was known as the “Kanonenvogel”. This variant emerged at a time when the German military required a more effective method to combat the increasing number of Soviet armoured vehicles on the Eastern Front.

Engineers equipped the Ju 87G with two formidable 37mm BK 3,7 cannons, mounted under each wing. These cannons were capable of firing armour-piercing tungsten rounds, which allowed the aircraft to engage and destroy even heavily armoured Soviet tanks.

The addition of these cannons transformed the Stuka from a general dive bomber into a dedicated tank destroyer, a role that was becoming increasingly vital as the war progressed.

A Ju 87 G Kanonenvogel.
A Ju 87G Kanonenvogel.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel, a highly decorated German pilot, was instrumental in demonstrating the Ju 87G’s potential.

Rudel, who flew more than 2,500 combat missions, almost exclusively in the Ju 87, contributed significantly to the development and tactical employment of this variant. His exploits included the destruction of hundreds of tanks, proving the effectiveness of the Ju 87G in the anti-tank role.

Rudel’s experiences also helped refine the tactics used by Stuka pilots, focusing on targeting the weaker top armour of tanks during steep dive attacks.

Close Air Support

The Ju 87G saw extensive use on the Eastern Front, particularly during the German defensive campaigns following the Battle of Kursk in 1943.

As the German military faced the relentless advance of Soviet armoured forces, the Ju 87G units were frequently called upon to provide crucial support. These aircraft were able to slow down or even halt Soviet armoured thrusts, buying critical time for German ground forces to regroup and counterattack.

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Despite its successes, the Ju 87G faced significant challenges. Its slow speed and poor manoeuvrability continued to make it vulnerable to enemy fighters. By this stage of the war, Soviet air defences had also become more effective, and the presence of enemy aircraft increased.

To mitigate these threats, Ju 87G operations often required substantial fighter escort to protect the vulnerable dive bombers during their attack runs.