The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka (from Sturzkampfflugzeug, "dive bomber") was a two-man (pilot and rear gunner) German dive bomber and ground-attack aircraft. Designed by Hermann Pohlmann, the Stuka first flew in 1935 and made its combat debut in 1936 as part of the Luftwaffe's Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War.
The aircraft was easily recognisable by its inverted gull wings and fixed spatted undercarriage, upon the leading edges of its faired maingear legs were mounted the Jericho-Trompete ("Jericho Trumpet") wailing sirens, becoming the propaganda symbol of German air power and the blitzkrieg victories of 1939–1942. The Stuka's design included several innovative features, 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 acceleration.
Although sturdy, accurate, and very effective against ground targets, the Ju 87, like many other dive bombers of the war, was vulnerable to modern fighter aircraft. Its flaws became apparent during the Battle of Britain; poor manoeuvrability and a lack of both speed and defensive armament meant that the Stuka required heavy fighter escort to operate effectively.
The Stuka operated with further success after the Battle of Britain, and its potency as a precision ground-attack aircraft became valuable to German forces in the Balkans Campaign, the African and Mediterranean theaters and the early stages of the Eastern Front campaigns where Soviet fighter resistance was disorganised and in short supply.
Once the Luftwaffe had lost air superiority on all fronts, the Ju 87 once again became an easy target for enemy fighter aircraft. In spite of this, because there was no better replacement, the type continued to be produced until 1944. By the end of the conflict, the Stuka had been largely replaced by ground-attack versions of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, but was still in use until the last days of the war. An estimated 6,500 Ju 87s of all versions were built between 1936 and August 1944.
Some notable airmen flew the Ju 87. Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most successful Stuka ace and the most highly decorated German serviceman of the Second World War. The vast majority of German ground attack aces flew this aircraft at some point in their careers.
The Ju 87 B series was to be the first mass-produced variant. A total of six pre-production Ju 87 B-0 were produced, built from Ju 87 A airframes. Test flights began from the summer of 1937. A small number, at least three, served as conversion Cs or Es for potential naval variants.
The first production version was the Ju 87 B-1, with a considerably larger engine, its Junkers Jumo 211D generating 1,200 PS (883 kW, 1,184 hp), and completely redesigned fuselage and landing gear. This new design was again tested in Spain, and after proving its abilities there, production was ramped up to 60 per month. As a result, by the outbreak of World War II, the Luftwaffe had 336 Ju 87 B-1s on hand. The B-1 was also fitted with "Jericho trumpets", essentially propeller-driven sirens with a diameter of 0.7 m (2.3 ft) mounted on the wing's leading edge directly forward of the landing gear, or on the front edge of the fixed main gear fairing. This was used to weaken enemy morale and enhance the intimidation of dive-bombing. After the enemy became used to it, however, they were withdrawn. The devices caused a loss of some 20–25 km/h (10-20 mph) through drag. Instead, some bombs were fitted with whistles on the fin to produce the noise after release.
The trumpets were a suggestion from Generaloberst Ernst Udet (but some authors say the idea originated from Adolf Hitler). The Ju 87 B-2s that followed had some improvements and were built in a number of variants that included ski-equipped versions (the B-1 also had this modification[), and at the other end, with a tropical operation kit called the Ju 87 B-2 trop. Italy's Regia Aeronautica received a number of the B-2s and named them the "Picchiatello", while others went to the other members of the Axis, including Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. The B-2 also had an oil hydraulic system for closing the cowling flaps. This continued in all the later designs.
The tropicalised versions were initially named the Ju 87 B-2/U1. This was eventually designated the Ju 87 B-2 trop, equipped with tropical emergency equipment and sand filters for the powerplant.
Production of the Ju 87 B started in 1937. 89 B-1s were to be built at Junkers' factory in Dessau and another 40 at the Weserflug plant in Lemwerder by July 1937. Production would be carried out by the Weserflug company after April 1938, but Junkers continued producing Ju 87 up until March 1940. Total production amounted to 697 B-1s (311 by Junkers, 386 by Weserflug) and 225 B-2s (56 by Junkers, 169 by Weserflug). The last Ju 87B rolled off the production lines in October 1940.