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
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
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
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
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
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
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