The Junkers Ju 88 formed a third of the German Luftwaffe medium bomber triad of World War 2 (1939-1945) and, like its sister aircraft, the Dornier Do 17 and the Heinkel He 111, went on to be developed for a myriad of battlefield roles that went far beyond her original categorization of "fast bomber". Roles ultimately included dedicated night-fighters, torpedo bombers, and special mission aircraft. The Ju 88 was the most-produced of the three bombers with 15,183 examples completed prior to war's end in 1945. It saw its final days in service to the French Air Force where it was retired in 1951.
Design of the Ju 88 fell to W.H. Evers and Alfred Gassner and was developed along the lines of a bomber flying fast enough to evade enemy interceptors and ground-based fire. Junkers engineers had interested the German Air Ministry with their Ju 85 prototype, a conventional twin-engine form with a twin vertical tail fin arrangement. From this was evolved a new Ministry requirement of August 1935 which called for a three-crew fast bomber capable of up to 2,200lb payloads and a prototype contract was handed to Junkers for the work in June of 1936. Five prototypes - V1 to V5 - then followed, differing mainly in proposed armament fittings and V6 then followed with a revised undercarriage design. A formal first flight ensued on December 21st, 1936 and this was prototype V1 with civilian markings to hide the aircraft's true military bombing role from the world.
Development continued and the design evolved into a heavier form with reinforced wings, a four-man crew, and a lengthened fuselage. The aircraft now proved stronger for the rigors of dive bombing and the extra crewmember aided in general operation of the aircraft and its defense. The type proved an operational range of 620 miles and could reach speeds of 320 miles per hour while under the stresses of a 4,400lb war load. While Luftwaffe authorities pursued the design with a certain level of vigor - even as its pursued competing designs from Dornier and Heinkel - developmental issues delayed finalization of the product which was initially intended for service during 1938. The type was formally adopted in 1939 and on call in limited numbers during the German invasion of Poland to begin World War 2 (September 1st).
The Ju 88 sported a rather ungainly appearance but was consistent with the German bomber design trend of the period. The heavily-framed cockpit was held in a stepped arrangement overlooking a short, glazed nose section. The fuselage was expectedly tubular and terminated in a single rounded vertical tail fin at rear. The wing mainplanes were low-mounted along the forward section of the aircraft with the engine nacelles installed at each wing leading edge. The engines sported large spinners and drove three-bladed propeller units. Most Ju 88 versions held a belly gondola for a defensive machine gun position. The undercarriage arrangement was of the typical tail-dragger configuration featuring two main legs.
Primary bomber models were designated collectively as "Ju 88A" and came with 2 x Junkers Jumo 211 series engines while including six subvariants. Ju 88A-0 marked pre-production aircraft which led to the A-1 model and its Junkers Jumo 211B-1 series engines of 1,200 horsepower output each. A-2 models followed with Jumo 211G-1 engines while A-3 served as dual control trainer platforms. Ju 88A-4 was an improved A-model form and introduced rounded wingtips at the ends of extended wing mainplanes. A-5 models were earlier A-model marks no brought up to the A-4 model standard complete with its changes.
A-4 models featured a crew of four made up of the pilot, a bombardier who doubled as the nose gunner, a radio operator also serving as the rear gunner, and a navigator doubling as the ventral gunner. Dimensions included a length of 15.3 meters with a wingspan of 20 meters and a height of 5 meters. Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) neared 30,870lb while power was served through 2 x Junkers Jumo 211J series liquid-cooled inverted V12 engines of 1,400 horsepower each unit. Maximum speed reached 317 miles per hour with a range out to 1,430 miles, a service ceiling of 29,500 feet, and a rate-of-climb in the 770 feet-per-minute range. Armament was centered on six 7.92mm MG81 machine guns - one at the nose, another at the cockpit windscreen, two set at the rear of the cockpit flightdeck, and the pair fitted to the ventral gondola facing rear. Bomb load capacity reached 3,100lb through in the internal bomb bay though up to 6,600lb could be fielded along external hardpoints at the expense of drag and increased weight.
The Ju 88B was a revised form in which the original stepped cockpit was replaced by a completely glazed frontal section. Ten pre-production models appeared and these went on to influence the related Junkers Ju 188 aircraft - another medium-class form serving in the tactical bomber role and reconnaissance role - 1,234 were produced of this special mark.
A heavy fighter model was born through the Ju 88C initiative and largely based on the original A-model line. Ju 88C-1 were twenty conversions of A-1 models and C-2 aircraft were pulled from stocks of A-5 aircraft. The C-3 incorporated BMW powerplants instead of Junkers Jumos to serve in the heavy fighter role but their serial production was not forthcoming. The C-4 was another heavy fighter form doubling in the reconnaissance role and sixty of the type were formed from existing A-5 models. Four examples of C-4 aircraft made up the C-5 with BMW 801 series engines. The C-6 was a dual heavy fighter/night-fighter model born from the A-4 bomber and outfitted with Junkers Jumo 211J engines of 1,420 horsepower. Some 900 of this standard were built.
Ju 88D models were photo-reconnaissance marks with D-1 and D-2 becoming long-range variants and D-3, D-4, and D-5 "tropicalized" forms for desert service.
The Ju 88G was a dedicated night-fighter based on the A-models but sans the drag-inducing ventral gondola. 4 x 20mm cannons were fitted along the belly in its place and the fuselage lengthened some. The airframe utilized the tail unit of the aforementioned Ju 188 offshoot. G-1 included BMW 801 radial piston engines of 1,700 horsepower as well as FuG 200 "Lichtenstein" radar. G-6 used Junkers Jumo 213A engines of 1,750 horsepower and FuG 218 "Neptun" or FuG 200 series radars. Aerials featured prominently in this design and some were fitted with oblique-firing (upwards angled) cannon armament. G-7 was based largely on the G-6 though with Jumo 213E engines for improved high-altitude performance.
Ju 88H was used in the long-range photo-reconnaissance role and relied on the G-model fuselage. H-1 was the over-water patrol model and H-2 a dedicated heavy fighter mark. H-3 was a long-range over-water patrol platform with H-4 another heavy fighter variant.
Requiring a heavy fighter to fulfill the tank-busting and bomber-destroyer role led to the Ju 88P line. P-1 fitted a sole 75mm BK cannon at the belly and the P-2 2 x 37mm BK 37 cannon in the same belly position. P-3 followed the P-2 design lines but added more armoring for improved survivability for the dangerous low altitude service expected of the attack-minded design. P-4 was finished with a sole 50mm BK 5 series cannon as its primary armament. P-5 outdid them all with its mounting of a single 88mm anti-tank/anti-aircraft field gun.
Night-fighters were also born through the Ju 88R mark which used C-model airframes outfitted with BMW 801 series engines.
The second to the end of the variant line became the Ju 88S which was developed along the lines of a high-speed bomber and born from the A-4 models. Again the ventral gondola was cut away for more aerodynamic efficiency and a new glazed-over nose section installed. Its BMW engines were further boosted for improved performance and speed at altitude. S-0 led the way with BMW 801G2 engines and provision for up to 14 x 145lb bombs. S-1 was similar though cleared for hauling 2 x 2,000lb bombs. S-2 featured turbocharged powerplants and S-3 was driven by Jumo 213A engines of 2,240 horsepower each with nitrous-oxide boosting.
The final Ju 88 form became the Ju 88T, a photo-reconnaissance platform based on the Ju 88S and featuring a crew of just three. Two subvariants were born as the T-1 and T-3 with the former born from the S-1 model featuring additional fuel stores for increased ranges and the latter formed from the S-3 production models of earlier.
Operators beyond the German Luftwaffe became wartime allies Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Italy, and Romania. Spain managed a modest collection of purchased aircraft and over a dozen airframes taken over during the war. French service was through captured examples during the war and some in service from post-war stocks. The British operated at least five Ju 88s actively during the war through Squadron No. 1426 of the Royal Air Force.
Beginning servicer in September of 1939, about a dozen Ju 88s were on hand for the assault on Poland but the line did not make a great impact until the subsequent invasion of Norway in the anti-ship bombing role. Again in the invasion of France, Ju 88s were available in number and engaged both land and sea targets as required though operational service here forced some revision to the wing design due to stability issues rising from increasing accidents. The Ju 88 was then pressed into action - along with Do 17s and He 111s - in the Battle of Britain (1940) where losses of medium bombers and fighters proved quite heavy for the attacking Germans. When the Germans committed to the Eastern Front in their invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), the Ju 88 was pressed into further service in all manner of roles. Some stock of the aircraft was delivered to German ally Finland as they pressed against the Soviet line in the "Continuation War" of June 1941 to September 1944. Further action saw the type over France during the Allied advance from the Normandy beachhead, over Italy, and over the Balkans.
As with other German aircraft of prewar design, the Ju 88 fought nearly wherever the German Army was in action. By the end of the war, some Ju 88 airframes were stripped of their bomber components and arranged as flying bombs released from fighter "carrier" aircraft (as part of the "Mistle" program).