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Smith, Peter C. The Junkers Ju 87 Stuka: A Complete History. Manchester, UK: Crecy Publishing Ltd, 2011
Introduction; photos (some color); color profiles; charts; tables; diagrams; sidebars; Bibliography; Index
Appendices: Markings and Emblems; Personnel and Equipment; Comparative Ranks; Variants; Junkers Manual; Ju 87s in the Hungarian Air Force; Ju 87 Loss and Damage Reports for the Eastern Front
This is certainly not the first book about Ju 87 dive-bombersnot even, by far, Peter C. Smith's first book on the topicand it won't be the last book about Ju 87sprobably not even Smith's last on the subjectbut it might be the only one readers need on their bookshelves, if what they want is a broad, general survey of the topic, especially notes about Stukas in action.
Although fully illustrated, this volume is no photo album. Although covering development and production of the Ju 87, this is no technical manual. By far the bulk of the book comprises information about the aircraft in action on every front throughout the war.
Before delving into the operational history, however, Smith devotes five chaptersamounting to about 65 pages to origins, development, genus, and experimentation. The sixth chapter, "Theory and Practice," moves closer to wartime operations with descriptions of how individual pilots and aircraft, as well as formations of 87s, actually conducted attacks. Here's part of what Smith writes:
To facilitate the pilot's aiming during the dive and assist orientation in the heat of the attack, the right-hand side panel of the cockpit was marked with a series of engraved angle lines, exactly like a protractor, highlighted in red, so that the pilot could line up his horizon. Experienced pilots would, of course, develop a natural 'feel' for this and could confidently dispense with such aids.
It took about half a minute from push-over at 15,000 feet (49,212.59 metres) [sic] to the bombs-off height of 3,000 feet (9842.519 metres) [sic], although most Stukas pushed on down well past this altitude before release, dependant on bomb-fuse settings and requirements. Maximum dive speed was about 350mph (563.28kmph), which was achieved in a descent of 8,000 feet (26,246.719 metres) [sic].
Four seconds before the pre-set release height was reached an audible horn alarm sounded, which automatically stopped at the ordained altitude. The control-column-mounted button was depressed, which returned the elevator trim-lab to neutral and automatically brought the nose up. The automatic bomb-crutch swung out after the set time interval, swinging the main bomb clear of the propeller arc.
On completion of the attack dive, the pilot had to retract his air brakes, readjust the bomb-release switches and throttle back, reopening the radiator shutter to stop the engine overheating. The aircraft was then trimmed for level flight. For the Stuka this was the moment of supreme vulnerability if any defending fighter aircraft were about. Although relatively immune from fighter attack while actually in the dive, when the Allied fighters just could not match it, either overshooting or misjudging, the pull-out at low level enabled them to pounce while the Stuka pilot was fully occupied and with no room to manoeuvre, and this led to an early request that, against fighter-protected targets, the Stukas' own fighter escort (when there was one -- and it was not as common as claimed) should dive with them to be on hand at this precise moment. Not surprisingly, this proved highly unpopular with the fighter boys, who soon found themselves in a similar vulnerable position and were soon requesting high-level cover for themselves!
The same chapter also describes the disastrous events in the demonstration of dive-bombing at Neuhammer in August 1939, when eleven Ju 87B-1s, due to changing cloud conditions, accidentally dove straight into the ground.
The following chapters for the most part each deal with Stuka operations on a specific front during a specific timeframe. Chapter Seven, for example, explores Ju 87 action during the German invasion of Poland. That chapter divides into several parts, including OB material, attacks on the Dirschau bridges, personal accounts of the first Stuka missions, and attacks on the Polish Navy. Chapter Seven also includes one of several sidebars with thumbnail biographies of notable officers involved with the 87, this one covering Frank Neubert, a pilot who flew more than 200 combat sorties and went on to serve in several command positions.
Chapter Eight detours into information about development and specifications of the long-range JU 87R model with increased internal fuel storage and external tanks that could be carried at the expense of much of the aircraft's bomb load. Chapters Nine, Ten, and Eleven in combination detail Stuka operations over Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, including anti-shipping strikes during the BEF's evacuation from Dunkirk, which occupies an entire chapter. These chapters are all constructed much like the pages on the Polish campaign, but with somewhat more details, including a liberal sprinkling of first-hand accounts. Here's a short excerpt about ops against RN warships at Calais:
Operating from Guise were I. and III./St.G.2, commanded by Major Oskar Dinort, and although the Channel coast represented the extreme limit of their range, two Gruppen were ordered to deal with the troublesome ships. Although still without an established routine for hitting fast-moving vessels, the Stukas were proving extremely effective at the job and on arrival over the coast Dinort ordered his two Gruppe commanders, Hauptmann Hubertus Hitschhold and Hauptmann Heinrich Brucker, to pick their targets and attack.
Totally unopposed by any Allied fighter aircraft, the Stukas were able to concentrate on the task in hand, and found six of the destroyers steaming at high speed at 1630 hours that afternoon. In their clover-leaf formations of Ketten, the thirty-nine Ju.87s peeled of and dived down towards the small ships below them, and as they did so the destroyers accelerated and their creamy wakes cut tortuous patterns on the steel-plate sea. Despite doubts as to their ability to hit destroyers turning at speed, St.G.2 completed its dive-bombing attacks, and, although jumped by some Spitfires, returned to its base without loss. On the previous day, however, eight Ju.87s had been claimed as shot down by British fighters. The British lost the destroyer Wessex (1,120 tons), and the Vimiera (1,120 tons) and Polish Burza (1,540 tons) were badly damaged during these and subsequent attacks. Although the latter vessel claimed to have shot down one of her attackers, the Stukas, in fact, look no losses whatsoever.
Chapter Twelve moves on to the Battle of Britain, with Smith providing his usual exposition about Stuka operations. Of course, the Ju 87s were famously withdrawn from ops before the conclusion of the air campaign. According to this account, Winston Churchillspeaking in the House of Commonshugely exaggerated the number of Stukas downed. Smith goes on to enumerate actual losses and write some analysis of the plane's performance, debunking the Prime Minister's claims and putting the numbers into context. He also notes that, given the Stuka's designed role, it was not entirely unexpected to have the 87s withdrawn and concentrated in preparation for providing close air support to the panzers during and following anticipated amphibious landings. The chapter concludes with brief sections on Stukas back in action against shipping during the winter of 1940-1941 and night operations over England, plus a short note about the making of the "Stukas" film in 1940.
The next two chapters discuss the air war over Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete as well as early ops in the Mediterranean. Chapter Fifteen, weighing in at about twenty pages, tackles the opening phases of the Russo-German War, including quite a bit about air-naval action and missions in the far north. Among the sections in Chapter Fifteen: OB material, notes about improved close-support methods, the drive on Leningrad, a biographical sketch of Hans-Joachim Lehmann, the advance on Moscow, and problems encountered during the first winter in the Soviet Union.
Chapter Sixteen provides quite a bit of information about Italy's acquisition of German-produced Ju 87s and their service with the Regia Aeronautica. That includes notes about training, as well as participation in action over Malta, Greece, North Africa, and Sicily, plus post-Armistice sorties. The text covering operations proves to be quite brief and general, but Smith writes substantially more about the purchase and transfer of aircraft. He also devotes two full pages to a detailed table of Italian Stuka losses with date, unit, location, circumstances, crew, etc. The following chapter continues with similar notesnot terribly extensiveand photos about Ju 87s in service with Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, and Rumania. The last two entries in the chapter explain that it's possible, but not likely, that Ju 87s serving with Vlasov's Russian Liberation Army flew two sorties against the Soviets, and that the two Stukas acquired by Japan for evaluation were destroyed in US air attacks on Tokyo and never utilized in combat.
Chapter Eighteen leaves the battlefields to discuss development and production of the Ju 87D. The next three chapters return to operations in the Mediterranean, North Africa, Italy, and the Russian Front. Chapter Twenty-Two looks at the tank-busting Ju 87G while Chapter Twenty-Three, only six pages in length, offers a cursory look at Stukas during the Battle of Kursk.
The next chapter explores an assortment of variants and prototypesincluding, among others, the 87F, 187, and 287with approximately one paragraph each.
Chapters Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six complete Smith's survey of Stukas in combat with information about the final years of the war on all fronts, including night operations. These two chapters also include tables and charts showing production figures, an OB of Stuka-equipped formations at war's end, and numbers of missions flown by some of the most distinguished pilots.
When the surrender came on 8 May 1945, large numbers of flyable and damaged Stukas were found abandoned around Munich by the advancing Americans, but some units kept on fighting to the very end, especially on the Eastern Front, where every hour gained meant escape for thousands of German civilians. Such Stuka rearguards including those of Rudel, who defiantly flew three Ju.87s together with four Fw.190s from the Stab and II./SG.2 of his battered but unbowed 'Immelmann' unit intact out of Hradcany airfield in former Czechoslovakia and surrendered to the Americans at Kitzingen airbase as an undefeated Gruppe on 8 May. Rudel forewarned the American occupiers, the US XIX Tactical Air Command, of his coming, so the AA defences held their fire. After a flight time of about 2 hours, the three Stukas evaded vengeful Soviet fighters and reached the airfield late in the afternoon; they were Rudel's Ju.87G-2 (Werk Nr 494110) of Stab SG.2; Oberleutnant Hans Schwirblat's D-5 (T6+VU) and a second D-5 (T6+TU), Feldwebel pilot's name unrecorded, with a female civilian passenger embarked, from 10.(Pz)./SG.2. Both Rudel and Schwirblat deliberately damaged their aircraft after touchdown. It was a last defiant gesture.
Other 'Doras' and 'Gustavs' were found by advancing Allied troops at locations as far apart as Plzen (Pilsen) Bory in Western Bohemia, Montainville and Norway, where the RAF Air Disarmament Unit found an R-2 (Werk Nr 5762, RN+FG) of Fliegerzielstaffel 50 abandoned at Bodo one of two discarded when that unit was disbanded on 10 December 1944. Another (Werk Nr 5832) was similarly found at Vaernes, Trondheim.
Thus ended the Stuka story.
In the end, though, it was the men, as well as the machines they flew, that made the aircraft what is was in combat. Some incredible mission totals were racked up by the Stuka aircrews during the war, and some of the leading pilots are listed in Table 30. It is ironical to note that of the many famous Stuka veterans included, which is only a selection and not a definitive list, no fewer than thirty-two were killed when flying the Focke-Wulf Fw.190, introduced to replace the 'vulnerable' and slow Ju.87 in which they had performed most of their missions safely. So much for speed being the saviour in the ground-attack mission! Similarly, it is a fact that 106 of these high-mission-total Stuka men survived the war in an aircraft that had been written off by some as early as 1940.
One fact worthy of inclusion is that the absolute final film showing the Luftwaffe in combat action during the Second World War showed Soviet tanks being picked off by Ju.37Gs near the River Oder in March 1945. From the first hours to the last, the Stuka just kept fighting.
The last chapter deals with Ju 87s in post-war service and museums.
In addition to photos, color profiles, tables, charts, and biographical sidebars, Smith expends a fair amount of energy on a variety of appendices. These range from markings and emblems to the complete establishment (aircraft, equipment, and personnel) for a Stuka staffel to loss and damage reports for Ju 87s on the Russian Front in July and August 1943.
The author provides a "Select Bibliography" of only sixteen titles, which seems rather thin for a book covering such a wide range of information about Stukas. And that's symptomatic of a larger issue. The author's coverage is undeniably wide, but it's not very deep.
Thus, it's a nice book, but it has its limitations. The subtitle calls it "A Complete History." That, however, could be an exaggeration. The author certainly touches on just about every aspect of the Ju 87's existence, but some parts receive only sketchy treatments. This might be the best book on the Stukas at this moment, and it's definitely the most complete of Smith's multiple works on the dive-bombers, but it's probably not the ultimate volume on the topic. Maybe Smith himself will eventually compose the last word on the subject.
Until then, this isn't bad, but it's not great.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Crecy or its US distributor, Specialty Press.
Thanks to Specialty for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 25 September 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone