JU87 'Stuka' Divebomber, copyright RAF Museum Hendon

The Ju87 Stuka acted as the aerial artillery of the Luftwaffe. In battle, when the Luftwaffe had won control of the air, it was a hugely effective weapon. It was at its best against ground targets which it attacked with phenomenal accuracy. The technique of the dive-bomber saw to that. It involved the pilot putting the aircraft into a vertical dive from anything up to 10,000 ft. The pilot selected his target and dived directly at it, releasing his bomb a few hundred feet from the aiming point, allowing the bomb to continue on its trajectory while the pilot pulled the aircraft out from the dive at the last minute.

Stuka pilots were experts in the manoeuvre. To add to the effect, the aircraft was fitted with a siren which gave off a very audible scream that played its part in demoralising those on the ground who were being attacked.

When the Stuka was used in the Spanish Civil War and the early stages of the Second World War, it seemed to be a very effective weapon. But in the Battle of Britain this impression didn’t last. The fact was the aircraft was terribly vulnerable when having to perform amongst enemy fighters such as the Spitfire and Hurricane. It was in these circumstances that the Stuka was a veritable sitting duck. The Stuka only had a top speed of a little over 200 mph. It had the disadvantage of a fixed non-retractable undercarriage. As the Battle wore on, the Germans had to ensure that the Stukas, when deployed, were accompanied by large formations of Me109s. If caught without this protection, disaster followed.

By the end of August, it became necessary for the Luftwaffe to withdraw them from operations. Too many were being lost. They were to be held in reserve, save for a few isolated raids during the Blitz, henceforward awaiting the day that the Luftwaffe had cleared the skies of British fighters. That day never arrived. The Stukas had to wait for the Russian Campaign before they could resume their role.