Allied Dive Bombers Outclass Nazi Stuka

In three years of air warfare, more than two hundred combat planes have appeared over Europe. Of all these, no single design is quite so well known as the Stuka, a term which applies generally to any German dive-bomber, but which has come to imply specifically the Ju-87. Devastating France and the Low Countries, terrorizing civilians as the prelude to most German blitz attacks, this screaming Junkers is one of the oldest, most widely feared planes in service. A fearsome legend, the Stuka is less deadly in fact, moving rapidly toward obsolescence, not because ground forces are any less vulnerable to the dive-bomber than three years ago, but because Allied defenses have finally drawn a bead on the Stuka, have found it easy, cumbersome prey for its fighters and anti-aircraft artillery.

Dive-bombing in itself is neither new nor exclusively German. Despite the fact that Stuka is an abbreviation for sturzkampflugzeug, which means dive fighter airplane, it was America's Martin BM-1 which introduced the practice in 1931. But the Germans were the first to use the dive-bomber during this war and rate whatever credit is due for its tactical development. That it has ceased to function with the same effectiveness bears out what American experts foresaw in their own experiments a decade ago. The problems of dive-bombing, except in isolated cases, far outweigh any strategic advantages.

The dive-bomber rockets earthward at angles varying from 55° to 85°, with the latter angle of dive considered the practical limit for operations under wartime conditions. Contrary to general opinion, the plane does not suddenly shoot down from altitudes of tens of thousands of feet, but approaches the target over an erratic course at great altitude to avoid anti-aircraft fire, then descends in limited shallow dives to about 4,500 feet above ground before making the attack dive.

Although modern planes carry the bombs internally to increase aerodynamic efficiency, stowage still presents a major problem to the designer. Arrangements must be made so that bombs will clear the fuselage and propeller when released in the almost vertical dive. For this reason the bomb is suspended in a launching cradle which swings the projectile beyond the propeller arc.

At the lowest point of the dive, with the plane traveling at speeds up to 400 mph, the bomb is released. From then on, the pilot's main job is to regain altitude as quickly as possible, so the dive-bomber must be pulled out rapidly, causes great physical and structural strain. The centrifugal force created by this pull-out often results in blackout for the pilot, and produces temporary blindness and semi-coma. Although many dive-bombers are fitted with diving brakes or spoilers to keep the diving speed below 300 mph, Hurribombers now being used on vertical bomb attack have no extra equipment to slow the plane in its dive. On the other hand, stray ack-ack shrapnel frequently disables the Stuka's diving flaps and thus renders the entire wing useless. The tail drogue now used on the Dornier 217 was designed with a view to overcoming this vulnerability. Apparently, the best solution to the problem of pilot blackout is in prone position flying, which minimizes physical reaction to high-speed diving.

Obviously, the many problems attendant on the dive-bombing technique have resulted in major design changes. These usually involve external variances in structure and appreciably facilitate recognition. All new dive-bombers are included in the succeeding spotter's section. However, several of the planes still on Britain's secret list may be headed for dive-bombing service. The Axis has two new dive-bombers in the form of Italy's Breda 201, externally the same as the Junkers Ju-87, and the German Junkers 88-A6, on which no details are available. But dive-bombing as a major military force is rapidly giving way to the safer, more effective, low-altitude attack bombing performed brilliantly by America's two-engine light bombers. In this alternate strategy, fast-flying planes approach the target only a few hundred feet above the ground. Taking cover from trees, hills and valleys, they are invisible to fighter planes above and fly too fast for effective interception by ground batteries. Releasing their bomb load in a horizontal plane, they have proved more accurate than dive-bombers. Omission of the Blackburn Roc on current lists of first-line planes may well presage the end for the Stuka itself.

This article was originally published in the December, 1942, "Complete Spotter's Guide" issue of Air News magazine, vol 3, no 6, pp 66-67.
Air News was published on newsprint in 10½" × 13½" format.
The original article includes 4 diagrams of dive-bombing attack paths, 2 photos — BT-1, Do-217 — and a painting of two Stukas.
Credits are: Air News, William Larkins, European, Lt S Calhoun Smith.