The Junkers Ju 86P was a high altitude bomber and reconnaissance aircraft that gave an extra lease of life to the otherwise unsuccessful Ju 86 medium bomber. By September 1939 the Ju 86 had been withdrawn from front line service with the Luftwaffe, but in the same month Junkers received an order to produce forty high altitude aircraft based on the Ju 86D.
By 1939 Junkers had ten years worth of experience with high altitude flight, starting with the Junkers Ju 49, probably the first aircraft to fly with a pressurized cabin, and then the Junkers Ju EF61.
The first design for the new high altitude aircraft retained the standard fuselage and wings of the Ju 86D. The cockpit and nose was removed and replaced with a much shorter two-man pressurized cabin, which reduced the length of the aircraft by more than three feet. The Jumo 205 engine of the original was replaced by the Juno 207A. This engine used two centrifugal superchargers driven in series and powered by an exhaust gas turbine. One of the superchargers also provided air for the pressurized cabins.
The first prototype (variously recorded as the Ju 86 PV 1 or Ju 86P V1) made its maiden flight in February 1940. It was joined in March by the PV 2. Both of these aircraft could reach 32,800ft (10,000m). The same month also saw the maiden flight of the PV 3, which had an increased wing span of 83ft 11 7/8in (up from 73ft 9 ¾in). The PV 3 was able to reach 39,360ft (12,000m).
By August 1940 forty three test flights had reached 10,000m, and a total of 40 flying hours had been logged. In the summer of 1940 one of the prototypes underwent service trials, making at least one flight over Britain. After this success an order was placed for forty P-1 high altitude bombers and P-2 reconnaissance aircraft, to be produced by converting existing Ju 86Ds.
The two production versions of the Ju 86P both featured the longer wings of the PV 3, the pressure sealed high altitude cabin, and were powered by two Jumo 207 engines. Both versions were initially unarmed, but after the first Ju 86P was shot down by a Spitfire at high altitude the remaining P-2s were given a single rear firing remote controlled 7.9mm MG 17, also known as the 'Spitfire'.
P-1 high-altitude bomber
The Junkers Ju 86P-1 high altitude bomber was equipped with four bomb bays, each capable of carrying one SC 250 or four ZC/SC 60 bombs, giving it a total bomb load of 2,205lb (1,000kg).
The Ju 86P-1 was used as a bomber by 14./KG 6 from August 1942. A dozen sorties were carried out over Britain, but although the P-1, flying between 29,520ft and 39,360ft, was immune to interception, it had very little impact and was soon withdrawn.
P-2 reconnaissance aircraft
The Junkers Ju 86P-2 reconnaissance aircraft was equipped with three automatic cameras carried in place of the bomb load.
The Ju 86P-3 was to have been a high altitude bomber with better performance than the P-1. One prototype (the Ju 86 V37) made its maiden flight in November 1941, but it is not clear what changes were made and P-3s were produced.
The first P-1s and P-2s were delivered to 2./Aufklärungsgruppe in 1940, and were used over Britain. Flying at up to 41,000ft they were immune to interception at this date, and would remain very difficult to intercept over Britain at all times.
During 1941 the Ju 86P was used by 4./Aufkl.Gr.33, an experimental unit which operated them over Britain as well as over the Soviet Union in the period before the German invasion. After the start of Operation Barbarossa the reconnaissance groups moved to the eastern front, where once again they were immune to interception.
This immunity would disappear in the skies over North Africa. In May 1942 a number of P-2s were issued to 2.(F)/123 (or Auflk.Gr.23), based at Kastelli on Crete. From Crete the P-2s were able to reach Egypt and North Africa, where at first they were still safe.
On 24 August 1942 a specially modified Spitfire V, taking advantage of the more favourable atmospheric conditions in North Africa, intercepted and shot down the first Ju 86P to be lost to enemy action at 12,800m (42,000ft), in the skies over Cairo. This loss triggered the introduction of the rear firing machine gun, but over the next few days two more Ju 86Ps were lost over Aboukir, and the high altitude reconnaissance flights came to an end.
In the following month the first interceptions were made over Britain. Although no Ju 86Ps were lost it was clear that their period of immunity was over. Daytime reconnaissance flights stopped then, and in May 1943 the type was withdrawn.
Junkers Ju 86P-1
Engine: Two Jumo 207A diesel engines
Power: 907hp each
Wing span: 83ft 11 7/8in (25.6m)
Length: 54ft (16.46m)
Height: 15ft 5in (4.7m)
Empty Weight: 14,685lb (6,660kg)
Loaded Weight: 22,930lb (10,400kg)
Max Speed: 224mph at 19,680ft
Cruising Speed: 161mph at 36,090ft
Service Ceiling: 39,360ft (12,000m)
Range: 621 miles
Armament: None (one rear firing machine gun added later)