1 September 1939: At 4:40 a.m., without provocation or warning, the German Luftwaffe attacked the town of Wieluń, Poland, in the first combat action of World War II.
Three waves of Junkers Ju 87 B Stuka dive bombers from Sturzkampfgeschwader 76 and Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 Immelman attacked the defenseless town and dropped 46,000 kilograms (101,413 pounds) of 500 and 50 kilogram bombs.
The first target was the Szpital Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints Hospital), which was marked with red crosses. 26 patients and 6 nurses were killed.
In just over one hour, 75% of the town was destroyed and more than 1,200 people were killed. The death rate was twice that of the infamous attack on the Spanish town of Guernica by the Nazi Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War.
By the time the war ended six years later, over 78,000,000 people had died.
15 August 1939: As Nazi Germany prepared for a war now just weeks away, the Luftwaffe gave a demonstration of its Junkers Ju 87 B-1 Stuka dive bombers for a group of generals at a test range near Neuhammer-am-Queis, Silesia :
. . . scores of generals were assembled at the training area at Neuhammer to watch a dive-bombing demonstration. Already, said Rudolf Braun, who took part with his unit (I St. G 3) there was a feeling of war in the air.
Normally the order of attack was the Kommandeur’s Stab Kette (Staff Flight) first, followed by Staffels 1, 2, and 3. For some unknown reason Staffel I, led by Oberleutnant Peltz, was this time ordered to attack last. It would save Rudolf Braun’s life.
The Met. reported cloud from 6,000 feet down to 2,500 with clear visibility below. At 6.00 a.m. Hauptmann Sigel led his Gruppe into attack at 12,000 feet. Half-rolling his Ju. 87 he plunged nearly vertically earthwards, with Oberleutnants Eppen and Mueller on each side.
On the ground below, the generals (including Wolfram von Richthofen, the Stuka’s chief) listened to the whining crescendo of the dive-bombers as they plummeted towards the ground. Horrified, they knew that nothing could avert disaster. The Met. report was wrong. Cloud base was at three hundred feet.
Hauptmann Sigel, yelling into his microphone, “Pull out!” managed to do so himself a few feet above the trees. But Eppen went in, Mueller went in, and both burst into flames. The nine Ju. 87s of Staffel 2 and two of Staffel 3 all went in.
Rudolf Braun and his comrades of Staffel I had heard Sigel’s warning and remained circling above the cloud layer through which columns of black smoke were now rising from the wreckage of thirteen dive bombers. I St. G 3 lost twenty-six young aircrew that day.
— Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, C.V.O., D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force. Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003, Chapter 14 at Pages 171–172.
The Junkers Flugzeug-und-Motorenwerke AG Ju 87 B-1 Sturzkampfflugzeug (“diving combat aircraft”) was a two-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear, designed as a dive bomber. The airplane, commonly known as the “Stuka,” has a blocky, unstreamlined appearance. Its most identifiable feature is its sharply-tapered, inverted “gull wing.” ¹
The Ju 87 made its first flight 17 September 1935. Among the tests pilots who flew it during pre-production testing were Hanna Reitsch and aeronautical engineer Gräfin Melitta Schenk von Stauffenberg.
The Stuka was used in the murderous attacks on the Spanish market town of Guernica, 26 April 1937, and Wieluń, Poland, 1 September 1939.
The Ju 87 B-1 was the first variant to be produced in large numbers and was in service at the beginning of World War II. The airplane is 11.000 meters (36.089 feet) long with a wingspan of 13.800 meters (45.276 feet) and height of 3.770 meters (12.369 feet). The total wing area is 31.9 square meters (343.4 square feet). The B-1 variant had an empty weight of 2,745 kilograms (6,052 pounds), and gross weight of 4,235 kilograms (9,337 pounds).
The Ju 87 B-1 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged 34.989 liter (2,135.190 cubic-inch-displacement) Junkers Jumo 211 A inverted 60° V-12 engine. The 211 A had direct fuel-injected and the cylinder heads were machine for four spark plugs per cylinder. The compression ratio was 6.57:1, requiring 88-octane gasoline. It was rated at a maximum 900 Pferdestärke at 2,200 r.p.m. at 5,500 meters (18,045 feet). The engine turned a three-blade Junkers-Verstelluftschraube propeller with a diameter of 3.4 meters (11.2 feet) through a 1.55:1 gear reduction. The Jumo 211 A weighed 660 kilograms (1,455 pounds).
The Stuka B-1 had a maximum dive speed of 600 kilometers per hour (373 miles per hour). The Ju 87 B-1 had a service ceiling of 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), and range of 550 kilometers (342 miles).
The B-1 was armed with two fixed 7.92 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG17 machine guns with 1,000 rounds of ammunition per gun, and one MG 15 machine gun on a flexible mount with 900 rounds of ammunition. It could carry a single 500 kilogram (1,102 pound) bomb under the fuselage.
An interesting feature the the Stuka was its automatic pull-out system. Once the bomb had been dropped, the airplane automatically began a 5–6 g recovery. This could save the airplane if the pilot became target-fixated, or blacked out.
The Ju 87 was equipped with a Zeiss gyro-stabilized bomb sight. According to an article in Air Force Times, the Stuka was a very accurate dive bomber. “. . . even the worst drops typically landed within 100 feet [30.5 meters] of the target. Good hits were either on target or no more than 15 feet [4.6 meters]off-center.”
In the same article, the legendary Royal Navy test pilot, Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., is quoted:
“A dive angle of 90 degrees is a pretty palpitating experience, for it always feels as if the aircraft is over the vertical and is bunting, and all this while terra firma is rushing closer with apparent suicidal rapidity. In fact I have rarely seen a specialist dive bomber put over 70 degrees in a dive, but the Ju 87 was a genuine 90-degree screamer. . . the Ju 87 felt right standing on its nose, and the acceleration to 335 mph [539 km/h] was reached in about 4,500 feet [1,372 meters], speed thereafter creeping up to the absolute permitted limit of 375 mph [604 km/h], so that the feeling of being on a runaway roller coaster experienced with most dive bombers was missing. I must confess that I had a more enjoyable hour’s dive-bombing practice than I had ever experienced with any other aircraft of this specialist type. Somehow the Ju 87D did not appear to find its natural element until it was diving steeply. Obviously the fixed undercarriage and large-span dive brakes of the Junkers were a highly effective drag combination.”
Only two Stukas still exist, one, a Ju 87 G-2, at the RAF Museum at Hendon, and the other, a Ju 87 R-2, is at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.
¹ TDiA has not found any source that provides the details of the Ju 87’s most characteristic feature: the angles of anhedral and dihedral of its wings. TDiA estimates that the wings’ inner section has -12° anhedral, while the outer wing panels have approximately 8° dihedral.
Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.
The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.
Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that though both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.
During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,
“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, 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. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”
Royal Air Force aircraft:
Highly recommended:Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.
1 June 1939: At Bremen, Germany, Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG chief test pilot Hans Sander took the first prototype of a new fighter, Fw 190 V1, W.Nr. 0001, registration D-OPZE, for its first flight.
The Fw 190 was designed as a fast, light-weight fighter with a powerful engine, easy to maintain under field conditions and able to absorb a reasonable amount of combat damage. The landing gear had a wide track which improved ground handling and was an advantage when operating on unimproved airfields. The mechanism used the gear’s own weight to lower it into place. Another interesting feature was to use of pushrods and bearings in place of the common cables and pulleys used to operate the flight controls. This gave a more precise, responsive operation. Also, the recent introduction of vacuum forming allowed a large one-piece “bubble” canopy to be used rather than the acrylic plastic/metal framework which was used in other fighters, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
Focke-Wulf frequently named its airplanes after birds. The Fw 190 was known as the Würger, or Shrike.
Fw 190 V1 (Versuchsflugzeug 1) was 8.730 meters (28 feet, 7¾ inches) long with a wingspan of 9.500 meters (31 feet, 2 inches). It weighed approximately 3,000 kilograms (6,615 pounds).
D-OPZE was powered by an experimental air-cooled, supercharged 55.4-liter (3,380.4 cubic inch) BMW 139 two-row, 18-cylinder, radial engine which produced 1,529 horsepower. This engine had been developed from the nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney Hornet (R-1690) which Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) built under license. (A redesign of the BMW 139 engine resulted in the 14-cylinder BMW 801 which was used in the production Fw 190.)
The propeller was a three-bladed Vereingite Deutsche Metallwerke (VDM) variable-pitch unit with a diameter of 3.460 meters (11 feet, 4¼ inches). It was driven at 54% of engine speed through a gear reduction unit.
To minimize aerodynamic drag, the large radial engine was tightly cowled and a large propeller spinner used. Cooling air entered through an opening at the center of the spinner and a fan between the propeller and the front of the engine circulated air. This was unsatisfactory and was significantly changed with the second prototype.
After testing by Focke-Wulf at Bremen, Fw 190 V1 was flown to the Luftwaffe test site at Rechlin-Lärz Airfield. Its identification markings were changed to FO+LY. Later, they were changed again, to RM+CA. V1 continued to be used for testing until 29 March 1943.
The Fw 190 was the most effective of Germany’s world War II fighters. More than 20,000 were built in 16 variants. The Focke-Wulf factory at Marienburg and the AGO Flugzeugwerke at Oschersleben were frequently attacked by Allied bombers.
A Focke-Wulf Fw 190 G-3 fighter bomber, W.Nr. 160016, which had been captured in Italy, was flight tested by the U.S. Army Air Force at Wright Field, Ohio, from 25 March to 15 April 1944, flown by Major Gustav Edward Lundquist, U.S. Army Air Force. In a report dated 26 May 1944, it was described as having a length of 29.1 feet (8.87 meters) and wingspan of 34.5 feet (10.52 meters), and was tested with maximum gross weight of 8,535 pounds (3,871 kilograms).
This aircraft was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and fuel-injected 41.744 liter (2,547.4 cubic inch) BMW 801-D two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine which produced 1,750 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. with 41.1 inches of manifold pressure (1.39 bar). It could climb at 4,000 feet per minute (20.32 meters per second) and reach 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 7.3 minutes. 160016 had a maximum airspeed of 415 miles per hour (668 kilometers per hour) at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). The service ceiling was 36,100 feet (11,003 meters).
The fighter was described to have performance “definitely weaker than standard AAF fighters at altitudes above 28,000 feet.” [8,534 meters]
The Fw 190 G-3 was armed with two Waffenfabrik Mauser AG MG151/20 20 mm autocannon with 550 rounds of ammunition.
(Two months later, Major Lundquist was in Europe, flying with the 486th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group. On 29 July 1944, his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13395, was shot down by a Messerschmiit Bf 109 G-6 near Merseberg, Germany. Lundquist was captured and remained a Prisoner of War until the end of World War II. He was officially credited with 2 enemy aircraft destroyed. After the war, he returned to Wright Field and flight test. On 2 September 1946, Major Lundquist won the Thompson Trophy Race (J Division) while flying a Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star. Remaining in the Air Force for 29 years, he rose to the rank of brigadier general.)
22 May 1991: After nearly 30 years in service with West Germany, the F-104 Starfighter made its last flight before retirement. The Luftwaffe was the largest single operator of the Lockheed F-104 with nearly 35% of the total worldwide production in West German service. 915 F-104F two-place trainers and F-104G fighter-bombers were built, with most going to the Luftwaffe, but 151 were assigned to the West German Navy.
Designed by the legendary Kelly Johnson as a Mach 2 interceptor, the Starfighter was used as a fighter bomber by Germany. The F-104G was most-produced version of the Lockheed Starfighter. It had a strengthened fuselage and wings, with hardpoints for carrying bombs, missiles and additional fuel tanks. Built by Lockheed, they were also licensed for production by Canadair, Dornier, Fiat, Fokker, Messerschmitt and SABCA.
The F-104G is a single-seat, single engine fighter bomber, 58.26 feet (17.758 meters) long with a wingspan of just 21.94 feet (6.687 meters) and overall height of 13.49 feet (4.112 meters). The empty weight is 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) and loaded weight is 20,640 pounds (9,362.2 kilograms).
The F-104G was powered by a General Electric J79-GE-11A engine, a single-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbojet, which used a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-11A is rated at 10,000 pounds of thrust (44.48 kilonewtons), and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner. The engine is 17 feet, 4.0 inches (5.283 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,560 pounds (1,615 kilograms).
The maximum speed is 1,328 miles per hour (2,137.2 kilometers per hour). It has a combat radius of 420 miles (675.9 kilometers) or a ferry range of 1,630 miles (2,623.2 kilometers). The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,240 meters).
The Starfighter’s standard armament consists of a 20 mm General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling gun, with 750 rounds of ammunition, and up to four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air heat seeking missiles could be carried on the wingtips or under wing pylons. In place of missiles two wingtip fuel tanks and another two underwing tanks could be carried.
On NATO alert, the F-104G was armed with a B43 variable-yield nuclear bomb on the fuselage centerline hardpoint. The B43 could be set for explosive force between 170 kilotons and 1 megaton and was designed for high-speed, low-altitude, laydown delivery.
The Starfighter had an undesirable reputation for high accident rates. 270 German F-104s were lost in accidents, resulting in the deaths of at least 110 pilots. In reality, this was not unusual, and can be attributed the the nature of the mission: high-speed, low-altitude flight, in the poor weather conditions of Europe. The German press, however, gave it the name Witwenmacher (“Widowmaker”).
The last Luftwaffe F-104 to fly was 26+40 from Ingolstadt Manching Airport, 22 May 1991.