The Condor Legion and the Spanish Civil War
Among the many German aircraft designs that participated in the Legion Condor, and as part of other German involvement in the Spanish Civil War, a single Ju 87 A-0 (the V4 prototype) was allocated serial number 29-1 and was assigned to the VJ/88, the experimental Staffel of the Legion's fighter wing. The aircraft was secretly loaded onto the Spanish ship Usaramo and departed Hamburg harbour on the night of 1 August 1936, arriving in Cadiz five days later.
The only known information pertaining to its combat career in Spain is that it was piloted by Unteroffizier Herman Beuer, and took part in the Nationalist offensive against Bilbao in 1937. Presumably the aircraft was then secretly returned to Germany.
In January 1938, three Ju 87 As arrived. Several problems became evident - the spatted undercarriage sank into muddy airfield surfaces, and the spats were temporarily removed. In addition, the maximum 500 kg (1,100 lb.) bomb load could only be carried if the gunner vacated his seat, therefore the bomb load was restricted to 250 kg (550 lb.). These aircraft supported the Nationalist forces and carried out anti-shipping missions until they returned to Germany in October 1938.
The A-1s were replaced by five Ju 87 B-1s. With the war coming to an end, they found little to do and were used to support Heinkel He 111s attacking Republican positions. As with the Ju 87 A-0, the B-1s were returned discreetly to the Reich.
The experience of the Spanish Civil War proved invaluable - air and ground crews perfected their skills, and equipment was evaluated under combat conditions. Although no Ju 87s had been lost in Spain, however, the Ju 87 had not been tested against numerous and well-coordinated fighter opposition, and this lesson was to be learned later at great cost to the Stuka crews.
The Second World War
All Stuka units were moved to Germany's eastern border in preparation for the invasion of Poland. On the morning of August 15, 1939, during a mass formation dive bombing demonstration for high ranking commanders of the Luftwaffe at Neuhammer training grounds near Sagan, 13 Ju 87s and 26 crew members were lost when they crashed into the ground almost simultaneously. The planes dived through cloud, expecting to release their practice bombs and pull out of the dive once below the cloud ceiling, unaware that on that particular day the ceiling was too low and unexpected ground mist formed, leaving them no time to pull out of the dive.
On 1 September 1939, the Wehrmacht invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe records indicate a total force of 366 Ju 87 A and Bs were available for operations on 31 August 1939. At exactly 0426, a Kette ("chain" or flight of three) of Ju 87s of 3./StG 1 led by Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Bruno Dilly carried out the first bombing attack of the war. The aim was to destroy the Polish demolition charges wired to the Tczew bridges over the Vistula River. The Stukas attacked 11 minutes before the official German declaration of hostilities and hit the targets. However, the mission failed and the Poles destroyed the bridge before the Germans could reach it.
A Ju 87 achieved the first air victory during World War II on the morning of 1 September 1939, when Rottenführer Leutnant Frank Neubert of I./StG 2 "Immelmann" shot down a Polish PZL P.11c fighter while it was taking off from Balice airfield; its pilot, Captain Mieczysław Medwecki, was killed. The Luftwaffe had a few anti-shipping naval units such as 4.(St)/TrGr 186. This unit performed effectively, sinking the 1540-ton destroyer ORP Wicher and minelayer ORP Gryf of the Polish Navy (both moored in a harbour).
On one occasion, six Polish divisions trapped by encircling German forces were forced to surrender after a relentless four-day bombardment by StG 51, 76 and 77. Employed in this assault were 50 kg (110 lb.) fragmentation bombs, which caused appalling casualties to the Polish ground troops. Demoralized, the Poles surrendered. The Stukas also participated in the Battle of Bzura which resulted in the breaking of Polish resistance. The Sturzkampfgeschwader alone dropped 388 tonnes (428 tons) of bombs during this battle.
Once again, enemy air opposition was light, the Stukawaffe (Stuka force) losing just 31 aircraft during the campaign.
Operation Weserübung began on 9 April 1940 with the invasions of Norway and Denmark, Denmark capitulated within the day whilst Norway continued to resist with British and French help.
The campaign was not the classic Blitzkrieg of fast-moving armoured divisions supported by air-power as the mountainous terrain ruled out close Panzer/Stuka cooperation. Instead, the Germans relied on Fallschirmjäger (paratroops), airborne troops transported by Junkers Ju 52s and specialised ski troops. The strategic nature of the operation made the Stuka essential. The Ju 87s were given the role of ground attack and anti-shipping missions. The Stuka was to prove the most effective weapon in the Luftwaffe's armoury carrying out the latter task.
On 9 April, the first Stukas took off at 10:59 from occupied airfields to destroy Oscarsborg Fortress, after the loss of the German cruiser Blücher, which disrupted the amphibious landings in Oslo through Oslofjord. The 22 Ju 87s had helped suppress the Norwegian defenders during the ensuing Battle of Drøbak Sound, but the defenders did not surrender until after Oslo had been captured. As a result, the German naval operation failed. StG 1 caught the 735 ton Norwegian destroyer Æger off Stavanger and hit her in the engine room. Æger was run aground and scuttled. The Stukageschwader were now equipped with the new Ju 87 R, which differed from the Ju 87 B by having increased internal fuel capacity and two 300l underwing drop tanks for more range.
The Stukas, however, had numerous successes against Allied naval vessels. HMS Bittern was sunk on 30 April. The French large destroyer Bison was sunk along with HMS Afridi by Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 on 3 May 1940 during the evacuation from Namsos. Bison's forward magazine was hit, killing 108 of the crew. Afridi, which attempted to rescue Bison's survivors, was sunk with the loss of 63 sailors.
France and the Low Countries
The Stukawaffe had learned some lessons from the Polish and Norwegian campaigns. The failures of Poland and the Stukas of I.StG 1 to silence the Oscarborg fort ensured even more attention was paid to pin-point bombing during the Phoney War period. This was to pay off in the Western campaign. When Fall Gelb began on 10 May 1940, the Stuka helped swiftly neutralise the fortress of Eben Emael. The headquarters of the commander responsible for ordering the destruction of the bridges along the Albert Canal was stationed in the village of Lanaeken (14 km/ mi to the north). However, the Stuka demonstrated its accuracy when the small building was destroyed by four direct hits. As a result, only one of the three bridges was destroyed, allowing the German Army to rapidly advance.
The Sturzkampfgeschwader were also instrumental in achieving the breakthrough at the Battle of Sedan. The Stukawaffe flew 300 sorties against French positions, with StG 77 alone flying 201 individual missions. When resistance was organised, the Ju 87s were vulnerable. For example, on 12 May, near Sedan, six French Curtiss H-75s from Groupe de Chasse I/5 attacked a formation of Ju 87s, shooting down 11 out of 12 unescorted Ju 87s without loss.
The Luftwaffe benefited from excellent ground-to-air communications throughout the campaign. Radio equipped forward liaison officers could call upon the Stukas and direct them to attack enemy positions along the axis of advance. In some cases the Stukas responded in 10–20 minutes. Oberstleutnant Hans Seidemann (Richthofen's Chief of Staff) said that "never again was such a smoothly functioning system for discussing and planning joint operations achieved".
During the Battle of Dunkirk, many Allied ships were lost to Ju 87 attacks. The French destroyer Adroit was sunk on 21 May 1940, followed by the paddle steamer Crested Eagle on 28 May. The British destroyer HMS Grenade was sunk on 29 May and several other vessels damaged by Stuka attack. By 29 May, the Allies had lost 31 vessels sunk and 11 damaged.
In total, 89 merchantmen (of 126,518 grt) were lost, and the Royal Navy lost 29 of its 40 destroyers (8 sunk, 23 damaged and out of service). Allied air power was ineffective and disorganised, and as a result, Stuka losses were mainly due to ground fire. Some 120 machines, one-third of the Stuka force, were destroyed or damaged by all causes.
Battle of Britain
For the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe's Order of battle consisted of five Geschwader equipped with the Ju 87. Lehrgeschwader 2's IV.(St), Sturzkampfgeschwader 1's III. Gruppe and Sturzkampfgeschwader 2's III. Gruppe, Sturzkampfgeschwader 51 and Sturzkampfgeschwader 3's I. Gruppe were committed to the battle. As an anti-shipping weapon, the Ju 87 proved a potent weapon in the early stages. On 4 July 1940, StG 2 made a successful attack on a convoy in the English Channel, sinking four freighters: Britsum, Dallas City, Deucalion and Kolga. Six more were damaged. That afternoon, 33 Ju 87s delivered the single most deadly air assault on British territory in history, when 33 Ju 87s of III./StG 51, avoiding Royal Air Force (RAF) interception, sank the 5,500 ton anti-aircraft ship HMS Foylebank in Portland Harbour, killing 176 of its 298 crew. One of Foylebank's gunners, Leading Seaman John F. Mantle continued to fire on the Stukas as the ship sank. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for remaining at his post despite being mortally wounded. Mantle may have been responsible for the single Ju 87 lost during the raid.
During August, the Ju 87s also had some success. On 13 August the opening of the main German attacks on airfields took place. It was known to the Luftwaffe as Adlertag (Eagle Day) Messerschmitt Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 26 were sent out in advance of the main strike and successfully drew off RAF fighters, allowing 86 Ju 87s of StG 1 to attack RAF Detling unhindered. The attack killed the station commander, destroyed 20 RAF aircraft on the ground and a great many of the airfield's many buildings. However, Detling was not an RAF Fighter Command station.
The Battle of Britain proved for the first time that the Junkers Ju 87 was vulnerable in hostile skies against well-organised and determined fighter opposition. The Ju 87, like other dive bombers, was slow and possessed inadequate defences. Furthermore, it could not be effectively protected by fighters because of its low speed, and the very low altitudes at which it ended its dive bomb attacks. The Stuka depended on air superiority, the very thing being contested over Britain. It was withdrawn from attacks on Britain in August after prohibitive losses, leaving the Luftwaffe without precision ground-attack aircraft.
Steady losses had occurred throughout their participation in the battle. On 18 August, known as the Hardest Day because both sides suffered heavy losses, the Stuka was withdrawn after 16 were destroyed and many others damaged. According to the Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe, 59 Stukas had been destroyed and 33 damaged to varying degrees in six weeks of operations. Over 20% of the total Stuka strength had been lost between 8 August and 18 August; and the myth of the Stuka shattered. The Ju 87s did succeed in sinking six warships, 14 merchant ships, badly damaging seven airfields and three radar stations, and destroying 49 British aircraft, mainly on the ground.
On 19 August, the units of VIII. Fliegerkorps moved up from their bases around Cherbourg-Octeville and concentrated in the Pas de Calais under Luftflotte 2, closer to the area of the proposed invasion of Britain. On 13 September, the Luftwaffe targeted airfields again, with a small number of Ju 87s crossing the coast at Selsey and heading for Tangmere. After a lull, anti-shipping operations attacks were resumed by some Ju 87 units from 1 November 1940, as part of the new winter tactic of enforcing a blockade. Over the next 10 days, seven merchant ships were sunk or damaged, mainly in the Thames Estuary, for the loss of four Ju 87s. On 14 November, 19 Stukas from III./St.G 1 with escort drawn from JG 26 and JG 51 went out against another convoy; as no targets were found over the estuary, the Stukas proceeded to attack Dover, their alternate target.
Bad weather resulted in a decline of anti-shipping operations, and before long the Ju 87 Gruppen began re-deploying to Poland, as part of the concealed build-up for Operation Barbarossa. By spring 1941, only St.G 1 with 30 Ju 87s remained facing the United Kingdom. Operations on a small scale continued throughout the winter months into March. Targets included ships at sea, the Thames estuary, the Chatham naval dockyard and Dover and night-bomber sorties made over the Channel. These attacks were resumed the following winter.