Junkers Ju 88 – Introduction and Development

The Junkers Ju 88 was one of the best aircraft to see service with the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. It had just entered service, in small numbers, when war broke out in 1939, and remained in front line service until the last days of the war in 1945. It served as a dive bomber, level bomber, ground attack aircraft, anti-tank weapon, night fighter, torpedo bomber, flying bomb and long range reconnaissance aircraft. Its long service career was partly due to the aircraft’s impressive performance but also due to the failure of aircraft designs intended to replace it, amongst them the Ju 288.

The Ju 88 was designed in response to an RLM requirement for a fast medium bomber. When first issued, this called for a twin engined bomber capable of a top speed of 310mph, and with a bomb load of 1,765lb. Defensive armament was to be provided by a single 7.9mm dorsal mounted machine gun. Messerschmitt, Henschel and Junkers each produced designs to satisfy this requirement – Messerschmitt the Bf 162 and 163, Henschel the Hs 127 and Junkers the Ju 85 and Ju 88. The Ju 88 won the contest and gained a contract to produce prototypes.

The Ju 88 was a modern stress-skin aircraft, designed with the help of Alfred Gassner, an American consultant then working in Europe. The first prototype (Ju 88 V1) flew on 21 December 1936, eleven months after detailed design work had begun in January 1936. It featured a low streamlined canopy and a smooth pointed nose with clear Plexiglas panels under the nose. It was powered by 900hp DB 600 engines. The V1 was destroyed in early 1937 during initial tests. One of its most distinctive features was that the radiators for the liquid cooled engines were arranged in segments around the front of the nacelles. As a result the inline engined Ju 88 looked like a radial engined aircraft.

Junkers Ju 88V-3 prototype
Junkers Ju 88V-3 prototype

A series of prototypes followed. The V2 of April 1937 achieved a top speed of 289mph, slightly below the expected speeds. V3 saw the use of Jumo 211A engines, capable of providing 1,000hp at 17,000 feet and featuring direct fuel injection and two stage superchargers. V4 saw the familiar Ju 88 nose appear for the first time. The tapered nose of the early prototypes was replaced with a blunt “beetle’s eye” nose, made up of twenty optically flat panels. A gondola was added below the starboard side of the cockpit, with space for a prone gunner manning a rear-firing MG 15 machine gun.

The V5 specifically designed to break speed records. It used the original nose, which created less drag than the “beetle’s eye”. It was given a pair of 1,200hp Jumo 211B-1 engines. In March 1939 it set an endurance speed record, carrying a 2,000kg pay load for 1000km at an average speed of 321.5mph, faster than most fighter aircraft could manage. 
The V6 was the production prototype. It used the same Jumo 211B-1 engines as the V5, and had a top speed of 301mph when loaded, with a range of 1,522 miles. It was followed by the pre-production A-0 series, which entered service trials with Erprobungskommando 88 in the spring of 1939. The A-1 series was not entirely satisfactory, and it would not be until the appearance of the A-5 with longer wings that the Ju 88 would live up to expectations.  

The Ju 88 would be produced in ten main series, of which the A series bombers (7,500 plus) and G series night fighters (over 2,500) would be the most numerous. In all 15,000 Ju 88s were produced with limited production continuing into 1945.


Bomber (main series)



Alternative nose



Early Fighter variant



Long range reconnaissance



Fighter (main series)



Ultra-long range reconnaissance



Anti-tank version



Night fighter



Faster bomber



Faster reconnaissance


Aircraft of the Luftwaffe 1935-1945, Jean-Denis G.G. Lepage. Combines a good background history of the Luftwaffe with a comprehensive examination of its aircraft, from the biplanes of the mid 1930s to the main wartime aircraft and on to the seemingly unending range of experimental designs that wasted so much effort towards the end of the war. A useful general guide that provides an impressively wide range of information on almost every element of the Luftwaffe (Read Full Review)
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 June 2007), Junkers Ju 88 Introduction and Development, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_ju88_development.html

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