A Brief History
On December 21, 1936, the Nazi German concept of a “schnellbomber” (fast bomber) that could outrun most fighter planes took to the air when the prototype Junkers Ju-88 made its first flight, achieving a remarkable (for the time) speed of 360 mph.
Modifications to the requirement for the Ju-88 centered on the insistence of the Nazi regime that the plane be capable of dive bombing instead of merely acting as a level bomber, thereby necessitating greatly strengthening the wings and structure, adding weight to the plane. The crew was increased to 4, further increasing weight and complexity.
The finished product went into service in 1939 and was perhaps the premier twin engine bomber of that time. Speed had decreased to 317 mph, and the bomber was minimally protected by 2 separate forward firing 7.92mm machine guns on flexible mounts, twin rear firing 7.92mm machine guns in the cockpit, and a single 7.92mm machine gun in a rear facing ventral position. This area was the greatest weakness compared to the heavily armed American medium bombers that bristled with 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Various other configurations of machine guns and 20mm cannon were also mounted on some Ju-88’s, even external gun pods, especially for those intended as ground attack or heavy/night fighters.
Capable of carrying 3100 pound of bombs internally in 2 bomb bays and another 3000 pounds externally, the Ju-88 lost much of its 1429 mile range and speed when carrying external bombs. Take off was also adversely affected, and rocket assisted pods were used when taking off at maximum weight.
A reliable and sturdy aircraft, the Ju-88 was adapted for use as a level bomber, dive bomber, ground attack, night fighter (342 mph top speed equipped with radar), heavy fighter (bomber buster with either twin 37mm or a single 75mm cannon!), tank buster (with 2 X 37mm cannon), torpedo bomber, trainer and reconnaissance aircraft. The Ju-88 was even adapted as a drone filled with explosives.
Available to the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) for the duration of the war, around 16,000 of these fine bombers were built, more than any other twin engine bomber in history, and second only to the American B-24 as the most produced bomber ever. The last operational Ju-88’s were retired by France in 1951. During the Continuation War (1941-1944) the Ju-88 was also used by Finland against the Soviets.
A versatile and highly useful airplane, the Ju-88 goes down in history as one of the best and most successful medium bombers of all time, one that instilled fear in the hearts of opponents and admiration by those who flew them. Perhaps its greatest fault was that it was indeed a twin engine bomber and not the 4 engine bomber Germany so desperately needed during World War II.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite bomber of World War II? How about your favorite German warplane? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Medcalf, William A. Junkers Ju 88, Vol. 1: Schnellbomber: Development, Production and Technical History. Crecy Publishing, 2015.
Medcalf, William A. Junkers Ju 88 Volume 2: The Bomber at War – Day and Night Operations. Crecy Publishing, 2014.