The Stuka got its nickname from the German word Sturzkampfflugzeug or dive-bomber, the official designation was Junkers Ju-87.
The first plane that would be recognized as a Stuka flew in 1936 and the plane was blooded in the Spanish Civil War.
Between 1936 and Aug 1944, more than 6,000 Stuka bombers were built in 5 variants: A-G
The Ju 87 Stuka aircraft’s fixed undercarriages provided sturdy platforms for takeoffs and landings on improvised airfields in the field.
On the morning of 15 August 1939, during a mass-formation dive-bombing demonstration for high-ranking commanders of the Luftwaffe, 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.
By the outbreak of World War II, the Luftwaffe had 366 Ju 87 ready for service, 3 of them carried out the first bombing mission of the war, attacking 11 minutes before the official German declaration of hostilities.
The aim of this mission was to destroy the Polish demolition charges wired to the bridges over the Vistula River at Dirscha. However, the mission failed and the Poles destroyed the bridge before the Germans could reach it.
In Norway the Stukas were given the role of ground attack and anti-shipping missions, proving to be the most effective weapon of the Luftwaffe for carrying out the latter task.
In the Battle for France the Stuka proved its worth in pin-point accurate bombing but it also showed for the first time that they were vulnerable. For example, on 12 May, near Sedan, six French Curtiss H-75s fighters attacked a formation of Ju 87s, shooting down 11 out of 12 unescorted Ju 87s without loss.
In the Battle of Britain, the 255 mph Stuka was no match for the Spitfire or Hurricane and suffered so many losses that it was withdrawn from campaigns in Western Europe for the rest of the war.
At the invasion of the USSR the Stuka again showed its worth, it took a huge toll on Soviet ground forces, helping to break up counterattacks of Soviet armour, eliminating strongpoints and disrupting the enemy supply lines.
The Stuka was used at all battles of the Eastern Front, mostly in the anti-tank variant (Ju-87G). This was the final operational version of the Stuka, and was deployed on the Eastern Front. The reverse in German military fortunes after 1943 and the appearance of huge numbers of well-armored Soviet tanks caused Junkers to adapt the existing design to combat this new threat.
The anti-tank Stuka carried two 37 mm cannons in under-wing gun pods, each loaded with two six-round magazines of armour-piercing tungsten carbide-cored ammunition.
Stuka Ace Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most highly decorated German serviceman of the war. Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions claiming a total of 2,000 targets destroyed; including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery pieces, 70 landing craft, nine aircraft, four armored trains, several bridges, a destroyer, two cruisers, and the Soviet battleship Marat.
In May 1944 production wound down and ceased completely in December 1944
Only 2 Stukas remain intact, one at the Chicago Museum of Science and one at the Royal Air Force Museum in London.
All images courtesy of Wikipedia / Bundesarchiv