Wednesday 6 July 2016

"The Battle of Britain is about to begin"

The Battle of Britain is unusual in that it was named before it was fought. Its name came from Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his famous speech of 18 June 1940:

What General Weygand has called The Battle of France is over. 

The battle of Britain is about to begin. 

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. 

Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. 

The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. 

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. 

If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. 

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. 

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour".

The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign fought entirely by air forces. British historians have defined the duration as from 10 July 1940 to 31 October 1940.

The primary objective of Nazi Germany was to achieve a negotiated peace settlement with Britain.

In July 1940, an air and sea blockade began with the Luftwaffe mainly targeting  coastal shipping convoys, ports and shipping centres.

On 1 August 1940, the Luftwaffe was directed to achieve air superiority over the RAF with the aim of incapacitating RAF Fighter Command.

Twelve days later the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. 

As the Battle progressed, the Luftwaffe also targeted factories involved in the aircraft production and strategic infrastructure. 

Eventually, it employed terror bombing on areas of political significance and civilians.

By denying the Luftwaffe air superiority over England, the British forced Hitler to postpone and eventually cancel an amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain, Operation Sea Lion.

by Steve Dunster

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Why did the Ju 88 Germany's newest bomber suffer so many losses?

During the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe employed three types of level bombers and one type of dive bomber.

The dive bomber was the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. It was primarily designed for troops support and it was devastatingly successful in this role during the Battle of France. But during the Battle of Britain, the Stuka suffered heavy losses due to its slow speed and it being vulnerable to fighter interception after diving on its target. The Stuka had limited payload and range and when its losses increased they were removed from operations over England.

The Luftwaffe had three bomber types it used for medium and high altitude level bombing, they were the Heinkel He 111, the Dornier Do 17 and the Junkers Ju 88.

Of these the He 111 was used in the greatest numbers and was the slowest. The Ju 88 was the newest and the fastest once it had dropped its mainly external bomb load. The Do 17 had the smallest bomb load.

All three level bomber types suffered heavy losses from British fighters but the Ju 88 disproportionately so.

Germany's newest bomber

The Junkers Ju 88 was developed in the late 1930s as a "fast-bomber" - a concept based on the fact that the Ju 88 would be supposedly so fast that fighters couldn't intercept it.

When the prototype Ju 88 V1 first flew, it achieved 360 mph. Georing (head of the Luftwaffe) was very impressed. Its streamlined fuselage was modelled on the Do 17 but with fewer defensive guns because of the belief that it could out-run late 1930s fighters.

Sadly by the time Luftwaffe planners like Ernst Udet had "improved" it with features added (including modifying it for heavy dive-bombing), the Ju 88's top speed had dropped to 280 mph.

The A-1 series prototypes were given Jumo 211B-1 or G powerplants and was the favoured variant by Georing for mass production. He was promised 300 Ju 88s a month.

Production was delayed terribly by developmental problems, causing service introduction to be over a year late. Only 12 Ju 88s were in service by the time Germany invaded Poland.

Even then, production was dreadfully slow with only one Ju 88 manufactured a week as problems continued.

How bad were the Ju 88 losses over Britain?

By August 1940 Ju 88 A-1s and A-5s were reaching operational units just as the Battle of Britain was intensifying.

Sadly for the Luftwaffe, the Ju 88s higher speed did not prevent its losses exceeding those of the Do 17 and the He 111.

Ju 88 losses over Britain between July and October 1940 amounted to 303 aircraft.
Do 17 losses over Britain between July and October 1940 amounted to 132 aircraft.
He 111 losses over Britain between July and October 1940 amounted to 252 aircraft.

Why did the Junkers Ju 88 suffer so many losses?

A considerable number of the Ju 88 losses were down to the aircraft's difficult behaviour compared with the proven He 111, and the crews' lack of experience on the type. Many crews had only converted to the Ju 88 only shortly before.

Of the 39 losses recorded for July 1940, only 20 were due to enemy action. The others were due to training accidents, crashes or malfunctions over mainland Europe.

A series of field modifications were implemented to make the Ju 88 less vulnerable, including replacing the single MG 15 rear machine gun with a twin-barrelled MG 81Z machine gun and fitting additional cockpit armour.

Arrival of the Flagship Ju 88 A-4

The Ju 88 A-4 went into service only during the closing days of the Battle of Britain. Although the A-4 was even slower than the A-1, it had ironed out nearly all of the problems of the A-1. The A-4 brought in additional improvements including more powerful engines.

It was the arrival of the A-4 that signalled the maturing of the Ju 88 into one of the most versatile combat aircraft of the Second World War. It was eventually used successfully as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft, heavy fighter and even as a flying bomb in the closing stages of the War.

by Steve Dunster

Sunday 30 August 2015

The Face of the Battle of Britain - Missing!

Over the Summer of 1940 one face in particular appeared on the pages of many picture magazines and newspapers. It depicted perfectly the face of a fighter pilot: young, keen and dashing - and it continues to be the iconic face of a Battle of Britain fighter pilot.

Sadly within weeks of this iconic photograph being taken, this young pilot was dead.

He was only 19 and was shot down only a few miles from the town he grew up in.

Despite his image being used extensively for articles, propaganda and recruitment, his identity was not released until long after the Battle. 

Perfect Portrait

It is easy to see how this image has stood the test of time and remained so iconic. It is difficult to imagine any photographer doing a better job.

 The camera height is low giving a heroic feel as the viewer looks up to him, it also puts what looks like clear blue Summer sky in the background.

He is looking up at that sky as if looking out for the enemy.

The shadows are high contrast and sharp-edged, which really makes it look like high Summer sun.

The camera is shadow-side, making the face almost 3D as the light rakes across it. 

And the way the sun glints on the equipment, you can almost feel the texture of the sun-warmed leather.

His face is beautifully framed by his equipment. Surely this is one of the finest portraits of a pilot from that era.

And then there's the pilot himself. He's young, dashing, cheerful and looking eager to get up into the Summer sky and do battle. But who was he?

Who Was He?

In July 1940 a photographic unit from Fox Photos visited RAF Hawkinge and took some iconic pictures of pilots from 32 Squadron. One of them, of P/O Keith Gillman was to become the face of the Battle of Britain and was soon to appear everywhere.

19 Years Old

Pilot Officer Keith Gillman was 19 years old and first flew with No 32 Squadron on 5 June 1940.

For much of July and August 1940, 32 Squadron was operating out of Hawkinge and took the real brunt of the Luftwaffe onslaught.

Gillman's First Victories

On 19 July 1940 twelve Hurricanes from 32 Squadron were involved in a big battle over Gillman's home town of Dover where he grew up. This from the Operations Record Book:

Dover area. At 19,000 feet a number of Ju87s observed bombing Dover. While evading AA fire, patrol was attacked by 12 Me109s and a dog-fight ensued. F/Sgt Turner was shot down in flames but baled out. Is now in hospital at Dover on danger list. Enemy aircraft were shot down by F/Lt Brothers (one Me 109), Sgt Henson (one Ju87), P/O Gillman (one Me109) S/Ldr Worral (one Me109 - unconfirmed).

In Gillman's own words on his Combat Report, this is how he "bagged" his first 109:

I was flying No 2 in Yellow Section, which was the Squadron rear guard. Three ME 109s dived in front of the section to attack Red Section, and I followed No 2 of the enemy formation who dived gently to port, and fired three bursts of approximately 50 rounds per gun, part of the aircraft was shot away, and it dived vertically towards the sea. It was obviously out of control but I had no time to follow it down, as I was attacked by another ME 109.

On 24 August 1940 he was involved in two big combats: at 20,000 feet over Dover when eleven of the squadron's Hurricanes were attacked by twelve Bf109s and shot down two for the loss of two of their own; and at 10,000 feet over Folkstone when ten Hurricanes took on fifteen Bf109s in the ensuing dogfight. No 32 Squadron's Operations Book recorded that Pilot Officer Gillman:

...attacked one which blew up and fell into the sea.

Pilot Officer Gillman Missing!

The following day (25 August) nine Hurricanes went forward from Biggin Hill to Hawkinge at 0825 hours. After one four-aircraft scramble from there they returned to Biggin Hill at 1420 hours; then at 1655 hours eight Hurricanes (led by Squadron Leader M N Crossley) took off again for Hawkinge. At 1820 hours they were scrambled from there and, in the words of the Operations Record Book:

...ordered to patrol Dover. Twelve Do215s escorted by about 26 Me109s were intercepted at 14,000 feet south of Dover. S/Ldr Crossley shot down a Do215 in flames and sent an Me109 spinning into the sea. F/Lt Proctor shot down an Me109 in flames off Cap Gris Nez. P/O Rose was shot down and baled out landing in the sea but was rescued uninjured after 1 1/2 hours. P/O Gillman missing.

It wasn't just his Image that was Iconic

Sadly it wasn't just young Keith's image that was iconic of the Battle of Britain...but also his fate. He'd only been with a front line squadron for a matter of weeks and had already shot down two enemy aircraft despite having less than glowing scores from his flight training only a few months earlier.

Within only a few weeks of joining his Squadron his was killed. He was nineteen...the same age as a youngster of today might leave college to go to university or finish an apprenticeship.

Sadly he was one of 449 fighter pilots who lost their lives defending the UK from widespread death and terror that would have resulted if Nazi Germany had succeeded in occupying mainland Britain.

Lest We Forget

by Steve Dunster

Monday 24 August 2015

What If Germany had Invaded Britain

The Battle of Britain was the huge air battle in the Summer in 1940 that was supposed to be the prelude to Germany's invasion of mainland Britain.

Pictures of Spitfires and dashing pilots and descriptions of the Battle of Britain as "the heroic struggle against Nazi tyranny" are so familiar that it is easy for them to lose their real meaning.

During the Battle of Britain pilots were for sure fighting for their country but do many of us actually  appreciate what would have happened to the UK population if Germany actually had invaded? 

We should remain grateful to the bravery and sacrifice of The Few...and here's why!

Nazi Germany had plans, detailed plans, as to what they would do with the UK had they invaded - and thank goodness it never happened.

Male Population Deportation

"The able-bodied male population between the ages of 17 and 45 will, unless the local situation calls for an exceptional ruling, be interned and dispatched to the Continent" according to captured documents. This represented about 25% of the male population. 

The deported male population would have most likely been used as industrial slave labour in areas of the Reich such as the factories and mines of the Ruhr and Upper Silesia. Living and working conditions would have been severe.

Terrorism, Hostages & Immediate Death Penalties

The remaining population was to be terrorised. Civilian hostages would be taken and the death penalty immediately imposed for even the most trivial acts of resistance.

Hitler had called the English lower classes "racially inferior". Presumably they may well have suffered similar treatment to that he had planned for the Russians, who the Nazis had regarded as sub-humans, fit only to be worked to death.


The UK was to be plundered for anything of financial, military, industrial or cultural value.

"Aero-technological research...and important equipment" was to be secured as well as "Germanic works of art."

There was even a suggestion that Nelson's Column should be moved to Berlin.

Control over the Media

Major news agencies would be closed and control taken of all newspapers. Anti-German newspapers were to be closed down.

Death Squads

Death squads were to be tasked with liquidating Britain's Jewish population, some 300,000 in number.

The Black Book

They were also to immediately arrest 2,820 people identified in a list, known as the Black Book. The list included British subjects and European exiles living in Britain.

Against each name was the Security Office to which the person was to be handed over. Churchill was to be placed in the custody of Foreign Military Intelligence but most people listed were to be placed in the custody of the Gestapo.

The list included politicians and their families, poets, writers, journalists, publishers, pacifists, trade unionists, diplomats, film producers, directors, actors and actresses.

Himmler's Intention

Heinrich Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and one of the people most directly responsible for the Holocaust. 

He is reported to have expressed his intention to kill about 80% of the populations of France and England by special forces of the SS after the German victory.

Chilling & Disturbing

It is chilling and disturbing to know what was planned for the UK population if Hitler's plan to invade Britain had been successful. 

Only the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the British Army stood in his way. 

Britain and her Empire stood alone. All her allies had already fallen and were starting to be subjected to similar plans to those intended for the UK.

"The Gratitude of Every Home in our Island..."

On 20 August 1940, whilst invasion of the UK was still in Hitler's plans, Churchill said that: 

"The gratitude of every home in our Island...goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion." 

Knowing now what Hitler had planned if he'd been successful, Churchill was certainly right to fight on and had certainly not over-stated the levels of gratitude of the wartime generation

but every subsequent generation might do well to remember
how bravery, heroism and sacrifice of a Few 
saved an entire population, an entire way of life, an entire country...from oblivion.

Lest We Forget

by Steve Dunster

Friday 21 August 2015

Some Squadrons had to be Replaced after a Week

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding was a big advocate of squadron rotation to give respite and time for training. The Luftwaffe on the other hand kept their units continuously in the front line.

Even as far back as July 1915 after the Battle of the Somme, Dowding was a strong supporter of pilot rotation.  When Dowding was commanding officer of No 16 Squadron, he clashed with General Trenchard, commander of the RFC, over the need to rest pilots exhausted by non-stop duty.

Here's how squadron rotation worked during the Battle of Britain, in Dowding's own words:

A fresh squadron coming into an active Sector would generally bring with them sixteen aircraft and about twenty trained pilots. They would normally fight until they were no longer capable of putting more than nine aircraft into the air, and then they had to be relieved.

This process occupied different periods according to the luck and skill of the unit. The normal period was a month to six weeks, but some units had to be replaced after a week or ten days.

By the beginning of September, the incidence of casualties became so serious that a fresh squadron would become depleted and exhausted before any of the resting and reforming squadrons was ready to take its place.

Fighter pilots still could not be turned out by the training units in numbers sufficient to fill the widening gaps in the fighting ranks. Transfers were made from the Fleet Air Arm and from the Bomber and Coastal Commands, but these pilots naturally required a short flying course on Hurricanes and Spitfires and some instruction in formation flying, fighter tactics and interception procedure.

by Steve Dunster

Hugh Dowding, architect of the Battle of Britain

Hugh Dowding won us the Battle of Britain 

Was he rewarded? 

No! He was sacked!

The Battle of Britain was never part of Germany's war plan. If it had of been they would have built a strategic bomber force but their intent was to subdue the UK into taking no part in hostilities.

Hitler had assured Goering in 1938 that "War with England was quite out of the question". Even as late as August 1940 Hitler was hoping that the UK would sue for peace and forbad terror bombing of English cities.

The Battle of Britain was not even in the fore-minds of many of those at the Air Ministry or high up in the Royal Air Force. In 1932 British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin declared that "The bomber will always get through" and many people in positions of authority agreed with him.

There was a popular view that there was little point having a fighter defence system and that the only way to win an air war was to have sufficient bombers at your disposal so as to be able to deliver a "knock-out" blow to the enemy in response.

Dowding disagreed with Baldwin and all his supporters. He could foresee an air war that Baldwin thought would never happen but an air war that we now call the Battle of Britain.

Dowding was right. He confronted the political heavy-weights who advocated "the bomber will always get through" and won, but not without making political enemies.

The "Dowding System"

In July 1936 Dowding was appointed commanding officer of the newly created RAF Fighter Command. The integrated air defence system he put together had the following elements:

1. Radar (Dowding was one of the first to see its potential)
2. Royal Observer Corps (who filled in the gaps of radar coverage)
3. Raid Plotting
4. Radio control of aircraft

He ensured that the network was linked by dedicated telephone cables buried sufficiently deeply to provide protection against bombing. The network had its centre at a converted country house on the outskirts of London, RAF Bentley Priory.

The system as a whole later became known as Ground Control Interception (GCI) but is still referred to as the "Dowding System."

Introduction of New Aircraft

Dowding introduced modern aircraft into the service including the Spitfire and Hurricane. He was not a supporter of the Defiant, instead he felt that the best fighters were those that were forward firing and aimed by the pilot.

He is credited with having taken on the Air Ministry and won to ensure that fighter aircraft were equipped with bullet proof wind shields.

Battle of Britain

Dowding resisted repeated requests from Prime Minister Winston Churchill to weaken the home defence by sending precious squadrons to France before it fell.

Yet again, Dowding had determined a carefully thought through path and faced-down political heavy-weights, but with political cost.

During the Battle itself the Dowding System worked as a force-multiplier, getting much greater benefit from the small forces at his disposal.

Dowding's major contribution during the Battle was to marshal resources behind the scenes including replacement aircraft and air crew. He left his subordinate commanders more or less a free hand to run the battle in detail.

Dowding's Downfall after Victory

Dowding had foreseen the Battle of Britain, prepared for it, fought it and won it. At each of these stages he had carefully considered his options, chosen what turned out to be correct choices but in the process he made resentful political enemies.

"The bomber will always get through" supporters thought money should be spent on building a stronger bomber force not wasted on his Fighter Command approach.

During the Battle of Britain it became clear to all that Bomber Command was nowhere near strong enough to be capable of delivering the "knock-out blow" required to deter Germany from bombing England. As Dowding's Fighter Command approach was seen to be succeeding, resentment against him grew.

Dowding's strategy of preserving his fighter reserve by using guerrilla tactics against large bomber formations as directed by his ground controllers proved highly successful. At the height of the Battle his approach was challenged strongly by 12 Group commander Leigh-Mallory and Acting Squadron Leader Douglas Bader. They strongly advocated the unwieldy and ineffective Big Wing approach of forming up three or more squadrons before engaging the enemy. As Keith Park pointed out, Big Wings were too slow to form up and usually in the wrong place.

History gives us the hindsight of knowing that Dowding's choices were correct but political momentum seemed again to have been with his adversaries.

As the RAF began to win the air war over England it was inevitable that the daylight skies would be cleared and German bombers would restrict their operations to night bombing. Dowding knew this would happen and also knew that the only answer to this lay in the development of Airborne Interception Radar. His efforts to bring AI radar into service had been frustrated by those around him but when the night Blitz of London started and AI radar wasn't ready, political pressure was applied to him.

A committee of enquiry chaired by Sir John Salmond produced a long list of recommendations to improve night air defence. Dowding approved only a selection of Salmond's recommendations. Churchill and Lord Beaverbrook decided it was time for Dowding to step down.

Personally I don't know what the recommendations were but it seems entirely in Dowding's character to have carefully considered all the options and only backed those he thought of value...and he may have been right...but those panicked by the politics caused by the dreadful bombings would have wanted to have seen every possible action taken.

Dowding was unwillingly replaced in command in November 1940 by Big Wing advocate Sholto Douglas.

If you want to know more about how Dowding and his 11 Group commander Keith Park suffered politically after their victory of the Battle of Britain, you may like to read our blog about it: 
Big Wing or Political Conspiracy

The Gratitude of Every Home in Our Island?

It seems sad that it was Churchill's words about the gratitude of the whole nation going out to those who'd eventually win us that Battle of Britain, and that it was Churchill who sided with Dowding's political adversaries in his sacking.

The lack of gratitude felt by Dowding when he was sacked by Churchill after he won the Battle of Britain must have been remarkably similar to that that Churchill wrote about after losing the 1945 General Election having won the War.

In the Words of His Pilots

Squadron Leader George Darley

Dowding was too nice a chap and he came up against a gang of thugs. Leigh-Mallory was very jealous of him. He felt he wasn't getting enough of the limelight and he got a lot of backing in the Air Ministry.

Flight Lieutenant Francis Wilkinson

It was entirely [Dowding's] foresight in being able to see where the strain was going to come, and to be able to take the measure of that strain, which allowed Fighter Command to bear the enormous, almost unbearable load that it had when the fighting came. Stuffy (the pilot's nickname for Dowding) had foreseen that our fighter squadrons were going to be depleted in strength. He had foreseen that Sector Operations Room would be bombed. And he'd made plans for the rapid interchange of squadrons between Scotland and Northern England and the South. If it hadn't been for his colossal foresight and meticulous planning right from the very beginning, we'd have had it.

Squadron Leader Sandy Johnstone

After Stuffy was made to retire the war blew up into a global thing. Great names arose - Eisenhower, Montgomery, Alexander, Bradley. Great battles were won - Alamein, D-Day, the crossing of the Rhine. But they were all courtesy of Stuffy Dowding. None of these people would even have been heard of if Stuffy hadn't been there, if he hadn't won the Battle of Britain. His statue ought to be standing atop a plinth in Trafalgar Square.

My Personal Opinion

Dowding was known for his humility and great sincerity and was widely considered by his pilots as a leader who cared for his men and had their best interests at heart.

He often referred to his "dear fighter boys" as his "chicks", in fact his son Derek was one of them.

Dowding seems to have been a thoughtful and clever man. A man who felt that the burden of command was to determine the best answer and fight for its implementation whatever the political cost.

All politics can do is get you sacked...but being wrong can get people killed!

Luckily for us he achieved great things, 
things that we could easily look back on and say that "This was our Finest Hour"
...sadly he suffered terribly at "man's ingratitude".

The inscription at the foot of Dowding's statue outside St Clement Danes church on the Strand in London, is one of the finest tributes to him I have read and I share it with you:

Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding was commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, Royal Air Force, from its formation in 1936 until November 1940. 
He was thus responsible for the preparation for and the conduct of the Battle of Britain. With remarkable foresight, he ensured the equipment of his command with monoplane fighters, the Hurricane and the Spitfire. 
He was among the first to appreciate the vital importance of R.D.F. (radar) and an effective command and control system for his squadrons. 
They were ready when war came. 
In the preliminary stages of that war, he thoroughly trained his minimal forces and conserved them against strong political pressure to disperse and misuse them. 
His wise and prudent judgement and leadership helped to ensure victory against overwhelming odds and thus prevented the loss of the Battle of Britain and probably the whole war. 
To him, the people of Britain and of the Free World owe largely the way of life and the liberties they enjoy today

If you want to know more about how Dowding and his 11 Group commander Keith Park suffered politically after their victory of the Battle of Britain, you may like to read our blog about it:
Big Wing or Political Conspiracy

by Steve Dunster

Wednesday 19 August 2015

The Attack Dive of a Ju87 Stuka

The Junkers Ju87 Stuka dive-bomber was one of the most iconic German aircraft of the early part of the war. With its inverted gull-shaped wings, fixed undercarriage and distinctive spats over its wheels, visually there was nothing else like it.

At first sight the Ju87 looks to be ungainly, unlikely and dated. Actually it was a thorough-bred and the work that Junkers put into its development was extraordinary. It was designed as a precision dive-bomber for close-air support for the German army and in this role it reigned supreme.

The Ju87 was not only incredibly accurate but also truly terrifying. The troops being bombed by it knew they were the target because it was screaming and pointing at them. To augment the Ju87's well-known whistling, the crews attacked sirens, "Trumpets of Jericho", to the landing gear as an added psychological weapon (though this wasn't used much during the Battle of Britain). For troops defending a strong point, a Ju87 attack was truly a terrifying experience.

The German air ministry had declared that all German bombers must be capable of dive bombing. This was because dive bombing was so much more accurate than level bombing and Germany was critically short of munitions.

In the Ju87, Junkers developed a dive-bomber that was un-matched by anything else in the world. With its strengthened airframe and attack dive autopilot system, it could maintain control whilst accurately diving at 90 degrees onto its target at a constant speed of over 300mph.

Here's an insight into the procedures the pilot went through during his attack dive:

The pilot approaches his target at between 13,000 and 15,000 feet and locates his target through a bombsight window in the cockpit floor.

He sets the chosen altitude for bomb release and pullout into the autopilot system (usually at a minimum height of 1,500 feet) .

He moves the dive lever to the rear, limiting the "throw" of the control column.

He opens the dive brakes,  sets the trim tabs, retards his throttle and closes the coolant flaps.

The aircraft rolls 180 degrees onto its back and then noses into a dive.

Red tabs protrude from the upper surfaces of the wing as a visual indicator to the pilot that, in case of a g-induced black-out, the automatic dive recovery system would be activated.

The Stuka dived at an angle between 60-90 degrees, holding a constant speed due to dive brake deployment which increases the accuracy of the Ju87's aim.

The pilot would manually fine-tune the dive angle (often 90 degrees) by reference to the visual horizon out the side of his canopy.

At about four seconds before the release altitude is reached, a horn in the cockpit would sounds. When the horn stops, a light on the contact altimeter comes on, the pilot releases the bomb and initiates the automatic pull-out mechanism by depressing a knob on the control column.

An elongated U-shaped crutch located under the fuselage swings the bomb out of the way of the propeller and the aircraft automatically begins its 6g pullout causing the crew's sight to grey out. Once the nose was above the horizon, the dive brakes retract, the throttle opens and the propeller is set to climb.

The pilot regains control and resumes normal flight.

He must reopen his coolant flaps quickly to prevent his engine from overheating.

With the target area now behind the aircraft, the rear gunner would spray the area with machine gun fire, keeping the defenders' heads down to help ensure the success of the next Stuka dive bomber in line.

The automatic pull-out was not liked by all pilots. Helmut Mahlke said that on his unit they disconnected the system because it allowed the enemy to predict the Ju87's recovery pattern and height, making it easier for ground defences to hit an aircraft.

Ungainly? Yes! 

Vulnerable to attacks but fast Spitfires and Hurricanes? Yes!

...but as an accurate and terrifying bombing system it was unmatched. 

In the Ju87 Stuka dive bomber, the German army must surely have had the most effective artillery in the world.

Perfect for the prosecution of a lightning war, or Blitzkrieg!

by Steve Dunster