The Junkers Ju 88 became a workhorse medium bomber for the German Luftwaffe during World War 2 (1939-1945). The type emerged in the mid-1930s to fulfill a standing requirement for a fast bomber and went on to find tremendous success in the conflict - outfitted in a myriad of ways to fulfill a myriad of roles. The type flew as a level bomber, dive bomber, reconnaissance platform, tank-buster, heavy fighter, and night-fighter during the course of its wartime service life.
In 1943, a greater Allied commitment to the bombing campaign soon pushed new requirements for the Luftwaffe. A charge was laid down for a new fast bomber / heavy fighter with good performance at high altitude and capable of carrying a useful payload. Part of the driving force of this new design were rumors emerging from the United States of a new high-altitude heavy bomber - this to become the Boeing B-29 "Superfortress". With cabin pressurization, advanced systems, and a hefty bomb load, the B-29 severely threatened the German war effort and required a direct counter to be at the ready.
This provided the impetus for a new Junkers design based on the classic Ju 88 airframe. From this aircraft was also evolved the Ju 188 which served as a useful tactical bomber and reconnaissance platform from February 1943 onward and was produced to the tune of 1,234 aircraft. Junkers engineers modified a Ju 188T-0 for high altitude work and three prototypes followed, each mimicking a special mission version - photographic reconnaissance, night-fighter, and general bomber. Cabin pressurization assured high altitudes were reachable. The twin engine arrangement of the Ju 88/Ju 188 were retained and heavy glazing was used at the cockpit to promote excellent vision. The defensive armament featured in early Junker bomber marks were removed as a weight-saving measure. To cover the aircraft's critical "six" position, a remote-controlled turret fitting 2 x 13mm MG 131 heavy machine guns was added. The turret was added to the tail section and directed via a periscope arrangement in the cockpit. The standard operating crew numbered between two and three depending on mission type. Power was served through 2 x BMW 801J 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines developing 1,810 horsepower each and maximum speed reached 385 mph with a service ceiling of 44,100 feet. Rate-of-climb equaled 1,240 feet per minute.
Three primary production models were finalized, these as Ju 388J, Ju 388K, and Ju 388L. The J-model featured 2 x 20mm MG 151/20 series cannons along with 2 x 30mm MK 103 or MK 108 30mm cannons in a fixed, forward-firing underfuselage gun pod. This was in addition to the 2 x 13mm MG 131 machine guns carried in the remote turret at the rear. The design was intended as the definitive heavy fighter model and could be further outfitted with the necessary equipment and armament to undertake night-fighting sorties. The K-model held 2 x 13mm MG 131 machine guns in the remote turret as standard and could manage a bomb load of up to 6,615 lb - to serve in the medium bomber role. The L-model featured just the 2 x 13mm machine guns in the tail turret, the rest of its onboard storage used for camera equipment in the reconnaissance role.
Ju 388M was a proposed torpedo bomber model based on the Ju 388K general bomber model. This design was not significantly furthered.
The Ju 388 carried the name of "Stortebeker", named after one Klaus Stortebeker (1360-1400), a privateer of Wismar in Northern Germany.
First flight of the series was recorded on December 22nd, 1943. Controls were deemed good and improved some over the original Ju 88 and Ju 188 offerings. With further testing and some revisions pressed, the aircraft was formally adopted into service with the definitive production models becoming the Ju 388L airframe. This was decided upon when it became apparent that the B-29 would first be committed to the Pacific Theater against the Japanese mainland and not over Europe as originally expected by the Germans. Six total prototypes and 20 L-0 pre-production vehicles formed the Ju 388 finalization process. First-batch production became 10 x Ju 388K-0 models. 1944 saw 46 Ju 388L-1 aircraft completed with some eight or more following in 1945. Exact total production numbers proved elusive in the post-war years though it is believed that around 100 total Ju 388s were completed.
Availability of the Ju 388 over the fluid European fronts were scarce and only a few sorties are thought to have been undertaken before the end of the European side of the war completed in May of 1945. The series was primarily used in the high-altitude reconnaissance role. In at least one recorded action, a sole Ju 388 fell to the guns of a high-flying Supermarine "Spitfire" fighter who brought down the marauding aircraft over English Channel airspace from underneath (it could not match the Ju 388s altitude).
At least five German squadrons featured the Ju 388 at some point in the war. Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 managed four preproduction models. The Ju 388 - along with other more advanced German aircraft of the war - may also have had its blueprints sent to Japan for serial production - though none were realized by war's end. Captured German Ju 388 examples were tested at length by the Allies following the war. The Smithsonian Institution (National Air Museum) holds one airframe in storage awaiting restoration for proposed display at the Udvar-Hazey Center.