Junkers Ju 87 D/G vol. 2

Junkers Ju 87 D/G vol. 2

Dive Bomber Aces of the Luftwaffe
Hans-Ulrich Rudel
Hans-Ulrich Rudel was born on July 16, 1916 in a Silesian town of Konradswaldau (today’s Grzędy in Poland) in the family of Johannes Rudel, a Lutheran minister. There was nothing in Rudel’s adolescent years that might suggest he would one day become a highly decorated Luftwaffe officer.

In fact, both his elder sisters used to say: “Nothing will ever become of Uli. He’s even scared to go into the cellar by himself.” On April 4, 1922 Rudel entered primary school, but never excelled as a student. He was always more interested in sports than academics. Having passed the entry exams he began his secondary education in the spring of 1926 at Schweidnitz (Świdnica) Grammar School. It was during that time that Rudel became a promising decathlon athlete with an Olympic potential (at least according to his coach). Even before his final high school exams Rudel knew he was going to be a pilot, so right after graduation he applied to the Luftkriegsschule at Wildpark-Werder near Berlin. Having passed a complex series of tests he was accepted for general military training on December 4, 1936, followed by the flight training that he completed in June 1937. With his pilot’s certificate in hand Rudel reported to the I./St.G 168 at Graz-Thalerhof. It was there that he first took controls of a Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber. He later recalled that experience: “The squadron which is stationed outside the town in the village of Thalerhof has recently received the type 87 Junkers; the single -seater Henschel will no longer be used as a dive-bomber. Learning to dive at all angles up to ninety degrees, formation flying, aerial gunnery and bombing are the fundamentals of the new arm. We are soon familiar with it. It cannot be said that I am a rapid learner; furthermore the rest of the squadron have already passed all their tests when I join it. It takes a long time to ring the bell, too long to please my squadron leader. I catch on so slowly that he ceases to believe that it will ever ring at all.”

Ju 87 Ds from III./SG 2 “Immelmann” return from another combat mission. [Kagero Archive]

The CO was right and in December 1938 Rudel was withdrawn from training and transferred to the air observers school at Hildesheim. Having received his commission on January 1, 1939 Rudel reported on June 1, 1939 to the 2.(F)/121 based at Prenzlau. Later that year Rudel saw combat during the Polish campaign and was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In March 1940 he was posted to the Flg.-Ausb.-Rgt. 43 stationed at Wien-Stammersdorf airfield, where he served as the unit CO’s adjutant. Throughout the French campaign Rudel continued to bombard his superiors with requests to be transferred to a dive bomber unit. His pleas were finally answered and Rudel arrived at the I./St.G 3 stationed at Caen. Despite receiving a lot of extra instruction, Rudel made a painfully slow progress mastering the control of the Ju 87, so in the early spring of 1941 he was sent to undergo additional flight training at Stuka-Ergänzungsstaffel Graz-Thalerhof. After three months of intensive flying Rudel finally achieved the required level of airmanship and passed his final exams with flying colors.
In mid-April, 1941 Rudel reports to the I./St.G 2 “Immelmann” operating in the Balkans, but due to some personal issues with his superiors he ends up spending most of his time on terra firma. When the war against the Soviet Russia begins Rudel joins the 1./St.G 2 and finally gets his chance to fly his first combat mission as a Stuka pilot. The unit’s commander, Oblt. Ewald Janssen (who would later receive the Knight’s Cross), allows the rookie pilot to fly on his wing. “During operations I stick like a burr to the tail of my No. 1’s aircraft so that he becomes nervous of my ramming him from behind until he sees that I have mine thoroughly under control. By the evening of the first day I have been out over the enemy lines four tines in the area between Grodno and Wolkowysk. The Russians have brought up huge masses of tanks together with their supply columns. We mostly observe the types KW I, KW II and T 34. We bomb tanks, flak artillery and ammunition dumps supplying the tanks and infantry. Ditto the following day, taking off at 3 A.M. and coming in from our last landing often at 10 P.M. A good night’s rest goes by the board. Every spare minute we stretch out underneath an aeroplane and instantly fall asleep.”
On July 18, 1941 Rudel receives the Order of the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Gold Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe (Frontflugspange in Gold). On the same day he is posted to the III./St.G 2 as the Gruppen-TO (squadron’s technical officer). The unit, led from August 6, 1941 by Hptm. Ernst-Siegfried Steen, is tasked with interdiction of enemy traffic along the Smolensk – Dnieper – Moscow route. During a raid against the railway yards at Chudovo, on the main Moscow – Leningrad line, Rudel flies in torrential rains and very poor visibility. He pulls out of the dive so low that on his return to base the ground crews discover two pear tree trunks imbedded in his Stuka’s wing leading edges.

Top and bottom view of Ju 87G-2 of III./SG2 piloted by Oberst Hans Ukrich Rudel. Hungary, September 1944.  [Visualisation 3d Marek Ryś]

On August 29, 1941 Rudel’s squadron deploys to Tyrkovo airfield, south of Lugi. The unit’s main task is to provide close air support to the elements of the German 16th and 18th Armies pressing their offensive towards Leningrad. In mid-December 1941 the III./St.G 2 begins combat operations against the port city of Kronstadt, home of the Soviet Baltic Fleet. German troops driving towards Leningrad were being harassed by the artillery fire laid by two Baltic Fleet vessels: the Marat and the Oktryabrskaya Revolutsya. The destruction of both ships became the priority for Stuka crews operating in the area. The first raid against the Marat took place on September 16, 1941. This is how Hans-Ulrich Rudel remembers those events: “Our wing has just received orders to attack the Russian fleet in the Gulf of Finland. There is no question of using normal bomber-aircraft, any more than normal bombs, for this operation, especially as intense flak must be reckoned with. The CO tells us that we are awaiting the arrival of two thousand pounder bombs fitted with a special detonator for our purpose. With normal detonators the bomb would burst ineffectively on the armored main deck and though the explosion would be sure to rip off some parts of the upper structure it would not result in the sinking of the ship. We cannot expect to succeed and finish off these two leviathans except by the use of a delayed action bomb which must first pierce the upper decks before exploding deep down in the hull of the vessel. A few days later, in the foulest weather, we are suddenly ordered to attack the battleship Marat; she has just been located in action by a reconnaissance patrol. The weather is reported as bad until due South of Krasnogvardeisk, 20 miles South of Leningrad. Cloud cover over the Gulf of Finland 5-7/10; cloud base 2,400 feet. That will mean flying through a layer of cloud which is 6,000 feet thick where we are. The whole wing takes off on a Northerly course. Today we are about thirty aircraft strong; according to our establishment we should have eighty, but numbers are not invariably the decisive factor. Unfortunately the two thousand pounders have not yet arrived. As our single engined Stukas are not capable of flying blind our No. 1 has to do the next best thing and keep direction with the help of the few instruments: ball, bank indicator and vertical speed indicator. The rest of us keep station by flying close enough to one another to be able to catch an occasional glimpse of our neighbor’s wing. Flying in the dense, dark clouds it is imperative never to let the interval between the tips of our wings exceed 9-12 feet. If it is greater we risk losing our neighbor for good and running full tilt into another aircraft. This is an awe-inspiring thought! In such weather conditions therefore the safety of the whole wing is in the highest degree dependent on the instrument flying of our No. 1. Below 6,000 feet we are in a dense cloud cover; the individual flights have slightly broken formation. Now they close up again. There is still no ground visibility. Reckoning by the clock we must pretty soon be over the Gulf of Finland. Now, too, the cloud cover is thinning out a little. There is a glint of blue sky below us; ergo water. We should be approaching our target, but where exactly are we? It is impossible to tell because the rifts in the clouds are only infinitesimal. The cloud density can no longer be anything like 5-7/10; only here and there the thick soup dissolves to reveal an isolated gap. Suddenly through one such gap I see something and instantly contact Hptm. Steen over the radio.
‘König 2 to König 1 ... come in, please.’ He immediately answers: ‘König 1 to König 2 ... over to you.’ ‘Are you there? I can see a large ship below us ... the battleship Marat, I guess.’ We are still talking as Steen loses height and disappears into the gap in the clouds. In mid-sentence I also go into a dive. Pilot Officer Klaus behind me in the other staff aeroplane follows suit. Now I can make out the ship. It is the Marat sure enough. I suppress my excitement with an iron will. To make up my mind, to grasp the situation in a flash: for this I have only seconds. It is we who must hit the ship, for it is scarcely likely that all the flights will get through the gap. Both gap and ship are moving. We shall not be a good target for the flak until in our dive we reach the cloud base at 2400 feet. As long as we are above the unbroken cloud base the flak can only fire by listening apparatus, they cannot open up properly. Very well then: dive, drop bombs and back into the clouds! The bombs from Steen’s aircraft are already on their way down . . . near misses. I press the bomb switch . . .dead on. My bomb hits the after deck. A pity it is only a thousand pounder! All the same I see flames break out. I cannot afford to hang about to watch it, for the flak barks furiously. There, the others are still diving through the gap. The Soviet flak has by this time realized where the ‘filthy Stukas’ are coming from and concentrate their fire on this point. We exploit the favorable cloud cover and climb back into it.”

Revi C/12D sight with Schwenkplatte SP 2Aw. [Visualisation 3d Marek Ryś]

The Marat received a direct hit, but a single 500 kg bomb did not cause significant damage. On September 21, 1941 the armor-piercing PC 1000 weapons finally arrived and the Stukas from III./St.G 2 were ready to launch another mission against the Soviet vessels. “Now we are in a dive, close beside each other. Our diving angle must be between seventy and eighty degrees. I have already picked up the Marat in my sights. We race down towards her; slowly she grows to a gigantic size. All her AA guns are now directed at us. Now nothing matters but our target, our objective; if we achieve our task it will save our brothers in arms on the ground much bloodshed. But what is happening? Steen’s aircraft suddenly leaves mine far behind. He is traveling much faster. Has he after all again retracted his diving brakes in order to get down more quickly? So I do the same. I race after his aircraft going all out. I am right on his tail, traveling much too fast and unable to check my speed. Straight ahead of me I see the horrified face of Ofw. Lehmann, Steen’s rear-gunner. He expects every second that I shall cut off his tail unit with my propeller and ram him. I increase my diving angle with all the strength I have got - it must surely be 90 degrees - and sit tight as if I were sitting on a powder keg. Shall I graze Steen’s aircraft which is right on me or shall I get safely past and down? I streak past him within a hair’s breadth. Is this an omen of success? The ship is centered plumb in the middle of my sights. My Ju 87 keeps perfectly steady as I dive; she does not swerve an inch. I have the feeling that to miss is now impossible. Then I see the Marat large as life in front of me. Sailors are running across the deck, carrying ammunition. Now I press the bomb release switch on my stick and pull with all my strength. Can I still manage to pull out? I doubt it, for I am diving without brakes and the height at which I have released my bomb is not more than 900 feet. The skipper has said when briefing us that the two thousand pounder must not be dropped from lower than 3,000 feet as the fragmentation effect of this bomb reaches 3,000 feet and to drop it at a lower altitude is to endanger one’s own aircraft. But now I have forgotten that!—I am intent on hitting the Marat. I tug at my stick, without feeling, merely exerting all my strength. My acceleration is too great. I see nothing, my sight is blurred in a momentary blackout, a new experience for me. But if it can be managed at all I must pull out. My head has not yet cleared when I hear Schamovski’s voice: ‘Herr Oberleutnant, das Schiff explodiert!’
Now I look out. We are skimming the water at a level of ten or twelve feet and I bank round a little. Yonder lies the Marat below a cloud of smoke rising up to 1,200 feet; apparently the magazine has exploded.”
The bombs struck the Soviet battleships forward 305 mm gun turret. The entire bow section, all the way back to the No 2 main battery turret, separated from the rest of the hull and sank instantly. Heavily damaged ship settled at the bottom of the harbor.
Because the squadron commander’s aircraft sustained battle damage during the raid, Rudel had to give up his own machine and rear gunner for the next sortie of the day. Unfortunately, Hptm. Steen and Fw. Alfred Scharnovski were both killed in action when their Stuka was hit by a Russian AA shell during a raid against the Kirov. Rudel was now paired with a new rear gunner – Gefr. Erwin Hentschel, hailing from Saxony.
On October 20, 1941 Rudel receives the Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (Honor Goblet of the Luftwaffe) for “special achievement in the air war” and on December 8, 1941 he is awarded the German Cross in Gold. The cold winter months of 1941/42 do not stop Rudel from adding on more combat missions to his already impressive record. On January 6, 1942 the commander of the VIII. Fliegerkorps, General der Flieger Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, decorates Rudel with the Knight’s Cross in recognition of his 400 combat sorties and exemplary achievements against enemy naval targets at Kronstadt.
In February 1942 Rudel is rotated back to Germany for a short period of R&R. He uses the time to marry his fiancé and ski in the Tyrolean Alps. After the leave Rudel takes over as the commandant of a Stuka training center at Graz-Thalerhof and later at Sarabus in the Crimea. On August 15, 1942 Rudel reports back to his former unit for another operational tour. By September 24, 1942 Rudel has 500 combat sorties under his belt and in November he is appointed the CO of 1./St.G 2. During the heavy fighting at Stalingrad the Stuka crews had their work cut out for them. On November 25, 1942 Rudel flies no fewer than 17 combat missions defending his home airfield against the Soviet armor and cavalry units. On February 10, 1943 Rudel chalks up his 1,000th combat missions and is sent on a mandatory 14-day leave, which he spends skiing at St. Anton.

After the leave Rudel reports to the Rechlin flight testing center, where the trials of a new Ju 87 model are underway. The Ju 87 G-1 is equipped with a pair of BK 3.7 cannon mounted in streamlined, underwing pods. The self-contained pods housed the chamber, damping mechanism, the electro-pneumatic loading system and the electrically activated trigger mechanism. The guns were fed from box magazines holding two six-round clips. Each gun, complete with ammunition and the Lafette 36 mount, weighed in at over 400 kg, which significantly affected the aircraft’s maneuverability and decreased its top speed to 270 km/h.

General view into navigator’s cockpit from right side. Navigator’s seat was very simple and probably not very comfortable. [Visualisation 3d Marek Ryś]

The new model was to be used on the Eastern Front in the tank-busting role. To test the new system Rudel and a select group of pilots from Erprobungskommando zur Panzerbekämpfung (experimental anti-tank warfare unit) were sent to the Sea of Azov area. Once there, however, their main adversaries were not the Soviet tanks at all: “A fresh Soviet assault offers us the opportunity to initiate this important new departure. N.E. of Temjruk the Soviets are endeavoring to turn the Kuban front. They begin to ferry parts of two divisions across the lagoons in the hope of bringing about by this maneuver the collapse of the Kuban front. We have only isolated strongpoints with a very thin support line holding the marshland and the lagoons N.E. of Temjruk. Naturally their striking power is limited, and in no way a match for this new Soviet operation. Our reconnaissance confirms the presence of a strong assembly of boats in the harbour of Jeisk and near Achtary. These are attacked by our Stukas. The targets are so small and the boats so numerous that these attacks alone cannot deflect the Russians from their plan. Now at all hours of the day and night they swarm across the lagoons. The total distance they have to travel is something like thirty miles. The lakes are connected by little canals, and so the Russians edge nearer and nearer to Temjruk, behind the Kuban front and far in our rear. They pause at intervals to rest under cover of the tall reeds. When they keep themselves hidden in this way they are hard to locate and recognize. Yet if they wish to resume their advance they have again to travel across open water. We are in the air every day from dawn till dusk, racing above the water and the reeds in search of boats. Ivan comes on in the most primitive craft; one rarely sees a motor boat. Besides rifles he carries with him hand grenades and machine guns. He glides across in the little boats with a load of five to seven men; as many as twenty men are packed on board the larger craft. In dealing with them we do not use our special anti-tank ammunition, for a high potency is not required here. On the other hand one must have a useful explosive effect on hitting the wood, in this way the boats are most quickly smashed. Normal flak ammunition with a suitable fuse proves the most practical. Anything trying to slip across the water is as good as lost. Ivan’s losses in boats must be serious for him. I alone with my aircraft destroy seventy of these vessels in the course of a few days.”
On April 1 Rudel is promoted to the rank of Huptmann and on April 14, 1943 he becomes the 229th member of the German armed forces to be awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross. Rudel and twelve others receive their decorations from Hitler himself during a ceremony at the Reich’s Chancellery in Berlin. Within the next few days Rudel heads back to the Eastern Front and rejoins his old unit, 1./St.G 2 “Immelmann”.
As the Germans launch operation “Zitadelle” in the early days of July 1943, the fields around Kursk are witness to a massive clash of German and Soviet armor. “The sight of these masses of tanks reminds me of my cannon-carrying aircraft of the experimental unit, which I have brought with me from the Crimea. With this enormous target of enemy tanks it should be possible to try it out. It is true the flak defenses covering the Soviet tank units are very heavy, but I say to myself that both groups are facing each other at a distance of 1,200 to 1,800 yards, and unless I am brought down like a stone by a direct hit by flak it must always be possible to crash-land the damaged aircraft in our own tank lines. The first flight therefore flies with bombs behind me in the only cannon-carrying aeroplane. So the attempt is made. In the first attack four tanks explode under the hammer blows of my cannons; by the evening the total rises to twelve.”
On July 24, 1943 Rudel flies his 1,200th combat sortie. Just two weeks later, on August 12, he reaches the 1,300 mark. During one of the raids a 500 kg bomb dropped by Rudel scores a direct hit against a bridge at Kromy (40 km south-east of Orel) destroying it completely. The same bomb kills a Soviet tank that just happened to be crossing the bridge at that time. Several days later Rudel’s aircraft is hit by AA fire. Wounded in the face by shrapnel, Rudel manages to nurse the crippled machine back to the friendly lines, where he lands safely.
On September 18, 1943 Rudel is appointed the CO of III./St.G 2 “Immelmann”. On October 9, 1943 he launches for his 1,500th combat mission with 60 Soviet tanks to his credit. On October 18, 1943 the Stukageschwader 2 “Immelmann” is renamed to Schlachtgeschwader 2 “Immelmann” and on October 30, 1943 Rudel destroys another Soviet tank – his 100th kill. In recognition of his outstanding combat record he becomes the 42nd German serviceman to receive the Swords to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves. […]

Coming soon!

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