Junkers Ju 88 vol. II

The aircraft’s machine guns rattled again in short bursts. The fighters were already within range. Just three kilometers to safety. Weaving slightly, tracer bullets zipped past the bomber’s cockpit, raising small fountains of water ahead of the Ju 88. Another pass. The gunners now had their hands full. One of them shouted for the pilot to sideslip to the right. Hptm. Paepcke immediately put the Ju 88 into a skidding turn, almost sensing the bullets ripping into his left wingtip. A fighter swept close past the bomber on the port side. The gunners hammered out sharp bursts of fire in its direction. For a split second Paepcke caught sight of a shark’s mouth painted on the engine cowling of the enemy machine.
Just one kilometer left. Another fighter ­attack could prove more successful. Hptm. Paepcke counted down the meters separating him from the safety of the clouds ahead of him. The big gray bank drew ever closer. The pilot snatched one more rearwards glance to see two more fighters knifing down towards him. Their wings burst into sparkling flame as they opened fire from long distance. Some bullets hit the bomber’s tail but just at that moment the Junkers was swallowed up by the gray vapor. The gunners’ weapons fell silent, the shark-mouthed fighters had gone. Heinrich Paepcke took a deep breath of relief. The damage turned out to be minor – the machine was responsive and the engines were working evenly. He tried to contact the other bomber over the radio but there was no response. Only after several minutes did they make contact with much interference and crackling. So the other crew was also safe. Much calmer now, the Kommandeur of II./KG 77 slipped above the clouds and headed for Sicily.

Inspecting the engines of a Ju 88A-1 from II./KG 30. The emblem shield is red, which indicates II Gruppe KG 30. If it were white, it would indicate that the plane belonged to I./KG 30.[Kagero's Archive]


North Sea debut

On March 27 1939, the first ten Ju 88A-0s were delivered to the Luftwaffe Research Establishment at Rechlin. In order to test the aircraft under something like operational conditions, Erprobungskommando 88  was established the following day under Hptm. Helmut Pohle. A program of tests had been conceived to wring out the teething troubles of the new design. It was quickly discovered that the dive brakes were causing problems in the dive. They would at times get stuck in the engaged position, thus limiting the speed and rendering the plane unstable. The trials were monitored by a dedicated group of Junkers engineers, charged with making slight adjustments on the spot and preparing a detailed report for the designers.
In late May nine 3./KG 51 “Edelweiß” crews were sent to Lechfeld for training on the first Ju 88A-1s. In August the Ju 88A-0s were conditionally allowed to be used for operational training in order to work out the best possible attack techniques in both level and diving flight. Erprobungskommando 88 was then redesignated I./KG 25, consisting of only two Staffeln. With the outbreak of war on September 1, the unit transferred to Jever and was integrated into 3 Fliegerdivision , which entailed another redesignation. As of September 22, Hptm. Pohle’s crews were known as I./KG 30 “Adlergeschwader”. They moved to an operational base at Greifswald three days later. Two more Staffeln were added within a week, and now I./KG 30 was a full strength unit.
While the stalwart Ju 87 dive-bomber was earning its first plaudits in battle over Poland, its “big brother” Ju 88 was to be deployed over the North Sea against the Royal Navy. Although Greifswald was I./KG 30’s headquarters, coastal airfields were to be used in order to increase the bombers’ range. One of these was located on the isle of Sylt in the Frisian Islands, having been already used to fight British shipping during the First World War.
On September 26 the Royal Navy dispatched a heavy force to support a badly damaged submarine Spearfish. This force included: the battleships Nelson and Rodney, the battle cruisers Hood and Renown, the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, seven cruisers and six destroyers. By noon the British were discovered. Four Ju 88s led by Lt. Walter Storp and nine He 111s of I./KG 26 were dispatched – the sum total of strike aircraft that the Luftwaffe could deploy against the enemy on that day.
As the Heinkels were ineffectively trying to attack the British cruisers, the four Ju 88s hit the aircraft carrier. One attack was flown by Gefr. Karl Francke, who had been one of the test pilots at Rechlin and had volunteered for frontline service. He dived in from 2700 m, catching the gun crews unawares. They were expecting a level raid after the twin-engined bombers. As he drew closer the wall of defensive fire grew thicker. Two 500kg bombs were dropped but the already dense fire and clouds prevented Gefr. Francke from accurately assessing the effects of his attack. After the sortie he reported: “Two SC 500s dropped in a diving attack on the aircraft carrier. The first hit near her side, the other probably hit the bow. No effects were observed.”