February 1941 was a full 10 months before the United States of America officially entered into World War II. Prior to that time, we were providing assistance to England in the form of "Lend - Lease," whereby equipment, supplies, and training were provided, but no fighting forces were engaged. Doing so formally excused us from being considered part of the brawl. The U.S. was taking a more active role in the South Pacific with aiding the Chinese in fending off a terrible Japanese invasion. Germany was renown for its engineering prowess in all things mechanical, be they, submarines, cannons, trains, planes, or automobiles. The Stuka dive bomber was particularly feared because of its ability to fly straight down, giving its pilot a dead-on target that did not require adjustment for horizontal displacement. Accuracy was greatly improved, but the tactic did result in more than a few inexperienced Nazis not pulling up in time to keep from adding himself and his airplane to the wreckage - unintentional Kamikaze flying, you might say. This report from behind the enemy lines gives valuable insight into the Stuka's strong and weak points.
The Stuka in Action
by Lieutenant Thomas McBride
Author of "We Were Bombed in Paris!"
Dive-bombers, according to Nazi propaganda, are the most destructive war machines in the Luftwaffe. But what is the, real story of these infamous craft? Lieut. McBride tells you here.
Going down! German Junkers Ju. 87 "plummet planes" start their screaming dive toward an Allied target. Ships of this type destroyed 26,000 buildings in Rotterdam in two and one-half hours.
I am not a military expert by any stretch of the imagination. I am, however, a pilot, and all I intend to write about are the things I saw in France. I have no intention of trying to interpret them in the cold glare of military strategy. I'll leave that to the "experts."
I was sent to France by a representative of the French Government to organize the Second Lafayette Escadrille, made up of American pilots flying American planes for France. Out of the thirty-six boys sent over, only eight of us saw action. Of the others, six were torpedoed on the way over, two were captured and are prisoners in Germany today, and five escaped from Bordeaux before the Armistice and got to England and are now flying Spitfires on the Channel patrol, and I am, so far, the only one that succeeded in returning to this country.
Since my return, I've heard so many wild and extravagant stories of the methods used to force France's capitulation, particularly in reference to aviation, that I find it almost a duty to step in and tell the truth about some of the happenings. Here I will deal with the famous - or infamous-Stuka. I'll explain all I saw of this weapon in action and will give a few experiences my friends and I have had with dive-bombers.
In the first place, there is no definite make of plane known as the Stuka. The word "Stuka" is the condensation of Sturzkampfflugzeug, which means "diver, bomber, fighter" and can be applied to any ship answering those specifications. The machine to which this name is most often applied, however, is the Junkers Ju. 87. It is a low-wing, all-metal, two-place ship, powered with an inverted Junkers Jumo engine. It is capable of about 170 m.p.h. in level flight.
The pilot has two machine guns firing forward and the gunner has one weapon on a swivel mount in the rear. Between the landing gear legs is an ejector-type bomb rack that throws the bomb outside the propeller arc when the release is pulled. The Ju. 87 carnies either one large bomb or one medium bomb and eight or ten small bombs in external racks fastened to the underside of the wing.
In the little town of Beauvais, which is north of Paris, the Nazi Stukas had a field day. They bombed this one small town continuously for about two weeks. This was the method used: Just after sunrise a lone bomber would come howling out of nowhere and drop his load of concentrated death. He would then pull up to about10,000 feet and swing in a circle over the center of the town. Immediately following him would come several flights of six or seven ships, spaced about fifteen minutes apart and a thousand feet or so above the first machine.
When the Nazis spotted the original plane circling, they would break formation and approach in single file. As they reached a point directly above the center of the circle they would peel off one by one and dive through the center of the ring formed by the circling ship. In this way they could send out green pilots in all but the first machine. He would do the spotting and mark the target for them by circling.
Of course, after the first flight had dropped its bombs, there was no longer need for the target-spotting ship, as the smoke and flames rising thousands of feet become a perfect marker visible for miles.
Snapped over Poland, this dramatic air shot shows a railroad junction being bombed by the Nazis. Note bomb craters near train tracks. (Photo from March of Time)
With all this pounding, however, Beauvais was not damaged materially as much as should have been expected. You will notice that I said "actual" damage, for the accuracy of these Junkers was not of the best. It was an entirely different story, though, as far as the moral effect as concerned.
Imagine, if you can, standing on the ground and watching one of these coming directly at you. In the first place, the Ju. 87 is one of the ugliest airplanes ever put into the air. It looks like nothing so much as a railroad bridge gone mad and tearing through the sky. There seems to have been absolutely no coherent attempt to streamline the ship. The first thing you notice as it comes down out of the blue is the inverted gull wing. Usually, a cranked wing has smooth contours; on the Junkers, though, through some genius of the designer, it looks like a barn door broken in the middle.
As the machine dives out of the sky at you, the rear portion of the wing moves downward and forms flaps. Then, to slow it up more for bombing accuracy, right under the leading edge of both wings just about in the center are the diving brakes. From dead ahead these brakes look like a picket fence.
You can't imagine the horrible combination of noises made by all these things stuck out into the wind-stream. It sounds like a bunch of riveters having a jam session. As if that wasn't enough, the Nazis - who seem to be working on the theory that if they can't kill you with the bombs, they'll scare you to death - hang a siren on the ship to help the general din.
When this bundle of concentrated horror starts its dive it is just a speck in the sky. As it approaches at several times express train speed, the conglomeration of screams, moans, and whistles rising to a crescendo seems to precede it. As it pulls out of its dive, usually with all machine guns yammering, at about one thousand to fifteen hundred feet, the bomb is dropped from the telescopic bomb rack. And as the ship with an unearthly howl levels out, the bomb with Mr. Hitler's little screamer whistle adds its own contribution to the general racket. Then the whole thing is crowned by the shattering explosion and the screaming of fragments. Before you have a chance to recover and pull yourself together, the whole thing is repeated by the next Stuka in the formation.
These three pictures depict the havoc wrought in Poland by German dive-bombers. "Against aircraft, such antiquated weapons as armored trains are utterly useless," say the Nazis.
The remains of a bombed bridge.
A train wrecked in a Warsaw junction. (Photos from March of Time)
I've been in the middle of several of these little tea parties, and believe me it's one thing you never get used to. No matter how often you hear it, every one of those bombs seems to be aimed directly at your head. That's what I meant when I said that the psychological far outweighed the actual damage done by these dive-bombers. Although it took two full weeks to level Beauvais, the troops in the vicinity were mental wrecks at the end of that period.
I noticed that a great number of Stukas never pulled out of their dives but flew right into the ground to explode with a roar destroying plane and crew.
There are several logical explanations of this, but after putting the facts together and talking it over with several high ranking French Air Officers and other observers, one fact seemed to stick out above everything else. Whenever there was enough left of the wreckage so that it could be examined properly, it was noticed that the ship was equipped with telescopic sights. This, of course, is standard equipment on practically all military planes of almost any country and if correctly used is a boon to the fighting pilot. However, if improperly used and particularly by a green pilot - which the Nazis obviously were as witness the method of sending a competent flyer ahead to locate and mark the target for the following flights - the same telescopic sight could be a curse.
For example, the Nazi pilot, we will say, commences his dive at approximately 10,000 feet. The average French small town usually consists of nothing more than fifteen or twenty houses clustered around the intersection of two dirt roads. At 10,000 feet such a target is pretty small. In a dive-bombing attack the pilot must line up his plane on the target early in the dive, as once the dive is well under way it is very difficult to change the track if the pilot finds the target is to the right or left of his dive path.
The natural thing to do in such a case would be to use the telescopic sight to line the ship on the proper track. This is what was usually done. On the face of it, this seems to be the correct procedure and it would be if the telescopic sights were used only at the beginning of the dive.
A considerable number of the young Nazi pilots, though, evidently used these seemingly helpful sights all through the dive. Any person with normal eyesight can judge distance well enough to tell when he is getting too close to the ground to be able to pull out. It is foolish to suppose that the Nazi pilots' eyesight was anything but the best, but even the most perfect eyes in the world cannot judge distance through a telescope. That's what telescopes are for: to make distance an illusion. And trying to gauge your height from the ground, and at the same time keeping the cross hairs lined up on a specific target while traveling at nearly 200 m.p.h., is impossible.
This evidently is what happened in numerous cases in France. The young Nazis, thankful for the aid of the extra sights and not realizing that they were approaching too close to the ground, tried vainly to pull out of their dives and flew right into what had been their targets a moment before. Sometimes they destroyed the target, but usually, because they tried to pull out at the last second, they missed the target but destroyed themselves and plane.
One of the boys who was in France with me and who, incidentally, is a prisoner in a German camp at the present, according to information I have received since my return, told me a story that illustrates my point.
This chap, whose name is Pat Slanders, was born in Canada and at seventeen, with a little judicious lying, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. After due instruction, with which he had no trouble, being already a pilot before his enlistment, he was assigned to a pursuit squadron near Quebec.
The particular squadron to which Pat was ordered was equipped with Hawker Furies, which were among the fastest military ships in the world.
Complete with camouflage. A Junkers Ju. 87 sits on its home base "somewhere in France." McBride says that these ships are the ugliest machines ever built for air-war purposes.
One day they were sent out to do some practice strafing on ground targets. For this work the Fury had a camera gun mounted on the nose. Alongside, with the rubber eyepiece inside the windshield, was a telescopic sight.
One by one, as they arrived at the vicinity of the target, the boys peeled off and started their dive, forming a gigantic chain of follow-the-leader. They all made their first dive successfully and chandelled up and around for their second and last shot at the target, which was located on a beach.
This time as they dived, Pat decided he was going to get a good shot at the target from close quarters. And as the leader started down, he realized that everyone seemed to have the same idea.
Each succeeding ship seemed to come closer and closer to the target. Pat, who was fourth in line, held his dive until the circle of the target entirely filled his sight. He clicked the shutter on his camera gun and at the same instant hauled back on the stick. As he did so, his head seemed to have been driven down between his shoulder blades by a tremendous shock. It was several seconds before he realized that he had hit his landing gear on the beach.
When he took his position in formation at 5,000 feet he was bathed in a cold sweat. He looked around at his comrades to see if anyone had noticed his near crack-up. As he glanced dazedly around he realized that something was wrong; then he saw that the formation was lopsided - one of the ships was missing! As they circled the target he looked down and realized with horror that the pile of wreckage that was burning about fifty yards from the target was his best friend's ship, the one that had followed him in that last dive!
The next day Pat was called into the C.O.'s office. He. was shown the pictures taken from his camera gun, and the C.O. told him that by measuring the size of the target they figured he was approximately only 18 to 20 feet from the ground when the trigger had been pulled!
The following day an order was posted that all pilots were hereafter to use only open sights when diving on ground targets. That order still stands in the R.C.A.F.
Posted August 15, 2015