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The Junkers Ju-88 was truly the backbone of the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, in World War II. The Ju-88 and its Ju-188 and Ju-388 derivatives served in multiple roles -- as night and day fighters, for reconnaissance, and as dive and level bombers -- wherever German forces were committed. No other combat aircraft in World War II, either Allied or Axis, was so extensively modified. This Junkers design exemplified the German philosophy of using a good basic airframe for many tasks to simplify production and combat operation.
The Ju-88 design originated in 1935, as part of the Luftwaffe's goal of equipping its growing inventory with a fast medium bomber. The original design was by W.H. Evers and Alfred Gassner, who was an American citizen. Both men had experience in the U.S. aviation industry. The aircraft's first flight was December 21, 1936, and its operational debut was in September 1939, as World War II began.
Production accelerated after the Luftwaffe losses in the Battle of Britain and the invasion of Russia in 1941. Junkers opened plants at Bernberg, Aschersleben, and Halberstadt and more than 3,000 Ju-88s were built in each year 1942 through 1944. Approximately 15,000 were built between 1939 and 1945.
More than 9,000 were bombers, a total equal to the production of all other German bombers. Production was increased to compensate for the failure of two four-engined bomber designs - the Heinkel He-177 and Junkers Ju-288. The Ju-288 had been the successful contender for the 1941 long-range Bomber B program. But both it and the medium-range He-177 were powered by the unsuccessful Junker Jumo 222 coupled piston engine. Problems with the engine, plus vacillation over long-range bombing strategy, caused the Ju-288 program to be terminated in 1943. In 1943, the versatile Ju-88 was also converted to a ground-attack fighter following failure of the Henschel Hs-129 design. The ground attack version saw wide service against Russian tanks.
Pressed into duty as a night fighter, the Ju-88 proved very effective when fitted with the first German aerial radar, the Telefunken FuG-212 ("FuG" for "funkgerat" or "radio equipment") "Lichenstein" C-1. These aircraft also scored many "kills" early in the war as night intruders, targeting British bombers over their own airfields, where they were very vulnerable while landing or taking off. At the height of the battle for the night skies over Germany, virtually the entire Luftwaffe night fighter force was Ju-88Cs and Gs and the bulk of Ju-88 production was night fighters.
The original Ju-88A bomber was replaced in production by the lightened, streamlined Ju-88S and T bomber and reconnaissance variants. These had more power and were fast enough to operate without fighter escort in an increasingly adverse combat environment. As Allied defenses strengthened, however, the Ju-88 became more vulnerable, and by 1944 the Luftwaffe had little effective tactical and strategic reconnaissance in Europe. This was a significant factor on June 6, 1944, when the D-Day invasion came as a surprise.
By the end of the war the Ju-88 had been built in some 60 versions involving more than 100 prototypes. The Ju-88S and T were in turn superceded in 1944 by the much-improved Ju-188, with increased bomb load, higher speed, and higher ceilings using pressurization. In August 1943, following the fire bombing of Hamburg, the Ju-188 night fighter was the first German aircraft to receive the jam-proof Lichenstein SN-2 radar. Using this radar, the Ju-188 acted as a pathfinder for other night fighters defending against the British night bombers. However, only 1036 of the Ju-188 were produced, in 14 variants, before this aircraft was supplanted towards the end of the war by the Ju-388.
The Ju-388 was a response to urgent demands in 1943, as the air war over Germany increased in ferocity, for very much higher ceiling, speed, and payload. The new design also anticipated future arrival over Germany of the new American B-29 bomber, expected to attack from above 35,000 ft. Designed by Bernard Cruse, who had also developed the Ju-188, the prototype Ju-388V (registered as PE+IA, with construction number 500001) was converted from a Ju-188T-0 and led to the Ju-388L high altitude photo reconnaissance aircraft. The second prototype, Ju-388V-2, was precursor to the Ju-388J high-altitude night fighter. And the Ju-388V-3 became the Ju-388K high-altitude bomber. In addition to higher performance, the Ju-388 exhibited much better directional stability than the Ju-88, but American pilots later found that its landing characteristics were worse. All models featured pressurized glazed cockpits and a notably compact, simple, engine installation. The name "Stortebecker", referring to a legendary and blood-thirsty Baltic Sea pirate, was assigned by Hitler in March 1945.
Under the "Hubertus" program of 1944, plans called for production of 300-400 Ju-388s a month at seven different manufacturers. But only 176 were completed by the war's end, mostly at Allgemeine Transportanlagen Gesellschaft in the Leipzig suburb of Mockau and at the Schonefeld, Berlin, plant of the Henschel Flugzeugwerke AG. The Ju-388J was produced in the greatest numbers, with 102 being built. A preproduction batch of 10 Ju-388L-0s was converted from Ju-188S airframes in 1944 and 48 Ju-388L-1s were produced at Junkers' Merseburg factory before the war ended in May, 1945. Ten Ju-388K-0s and six Ju-388K-1s were built by Henschel before production was cancelled in February, 1945. The Luftwaffe received only 23 Ju-388s in service. A very few Ju-388L-1 may have flown some photo reconnaissance sorties during 1944 and 1945, but the type was never fully operational. Soviet forces captured the Schonefeld site in May 1945, and it became the central airport for the new German Democratic Republic.
Although none of the Ju-388K fighters actually saw combat, several were used to test the first air-to-air guided missiles, the subsonic Ruhrstahl X-4 and Henschel Hs-298. The X-4 was a small, wire-guided, rocket-powered missile intended for use against B-17 formations. It had a range of 5.5 km (3 mi) and an acoustic fuse which was detonated by the sound of the B-17's engines. The Hs-298 was a less-successful radio-controlled missile, powered by a two-stage solid-fuelled rocket, which was cancelled in favor of the X-4.
Ten pre-production Ju-388L-0s were produced at Allgemeine Transportanlagen GmbH (ATG) at Merseburg near Leipzig, under a program which distributed production among German factories. The first Ju-388L-1 production aircraft were produced by October, 1944. Ju-388L production stopped in December 1944, by which time the Weser-Flugzeugbau company had joined the program but only produced 10 aircraft.
The Ju-388L-1 at the National Air and Space Museum, with construction number (werke nummer) 560049, was the eighth of the series manufactured at Weser Flugzeugbau's Nordenham plant. Parts of the airframe were built at ATG in Altenburg and at Niedersachsische Metallwerke Brinkmann & Mergel in Hamburg-Harburg. Completed early in 1945, the aircraft was captured by U.S. troops at Merseburg in 1945 and is the only Ju-388 known to exist. Under the U.S. Army Air Force's "Project Sea Horse," the Ju-388 was shipped to the United States aboard the Royal Navy ship HMS "Reaper" together with other captured German aircraft, for detailed evaluation. The Ju-388 was flown for 10 hours of tests at Wright Field, Ohio, with registration FE (for "Foreign Evaluation")-4010 (changed later to T2-4010). Following these tests, the aircraft was displayed at a Dayton, OH, air show in 1946. In October 1946, it was transferred to Orchard Place Airport, Park Ridge, Illinois, near the present O'Hare International Airport. This temporary storage facility was a vacant U.S. Government factory previously used by Dodge Automobile Company to build Douglas C-54s. Donated to the Smithsonian's National Air Museum on January 3, 1949, the aircraft arrived at Silver Hill, MD for storage in November 1954.