The Junkers 87 was better known as the Stuka dive-bomber. The Junkers 87 first saw action in the Blitzkrieg attack on Poland in September 1939. Against a poorly equipped enemy, the Junkers 87 did well with its pinpoint bombing accuracy. Against a more formidable opponent, such as the Spitfire and Hurricane during the Battle of Britain, it did not do as well.
The Stuka got its nickname from the German word Sturzkampfflugzeug or dive-bomber. The idea for a dive-bomber first started in 1934. The first prototype was powered by a Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine but due to a design fault (a double rear fin), the plane crashed. The next prototypes had a Junkers Jumo 201A engine fitted. The first plane that would be recognised as a Stuka flew in 1936 and the plane was blooded in the Spanish Civil War. When war broke out on September 1st 1939, the Luftwaffe had 336 Stuka dive-bombers available. In the initial phases of the war, the Stuka proved to be extremely effective at pin point bombing of a target. By diving nearly directly onto its target, the Ju 87 could all but guarantee a direct hit and its tell-tale gull-wings gave it this ability to dive at such a steep angle. Straight wings would have been ripped off by the sheer force put on them. However, this shape, so effective in Poland and Western Europe, was to be its downfall as it hindered its speed when confronted with faster opponents.
In the Battle of Britain, the 255 mph (410 km/h) Stuka was no match for the Spitfire or Hurricane and suffered so many losses that it was withdrawn from campaigns in Western Europe for the rest of the war. It did make an initial impact on the radar bases right on the British southern coastline. But once it had to venture further inland, its lack of speed and manoeuvrability showed up and many were shot down.
When used in Operation Barbarossa, the Stuka had many successes - but again, it was up against an ineffective enemy. But by the time of the Russian advance in 1943, it was no match for the Stormaviks and other Russian fighter planes (including Hurricanes sent out in the Arctic convoys). For a short period of time, the Stuka proved a very successful tank buster on the Eastern Front but this version again fell victim to more advanced and faster Russian fighter planes.
By the end of the war, more than 5,700 Stukas had been built.