Fujimi 1/72 Ju-87D Stuka
KIT #: F-16
PRICE: $15.00 'used'
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Ryan Grosswiler

LF Decals and Blackbird Productions unspatted landing gear



   You already know about this airplane: In the days before precision-guided munitions, the way you got air-dropped ordinance exactly on target was to dive your airplane straight down--keeping the bull's eye motionless in dead center in your windscreen--release the bomb, and pull up sharply before hitting the ground. 


   The Stuka (an abbreviation for the long German word literally translating into "dive-fight-airplane") was actually only one of many designed for this method of attack, but certainly the one which would become the most infamous for doing it. Distinctive for its primeval, predatory appearance, imparted by that inverted gull wing--cranked to give the main bomb load sufficient ground clearance--and a burly set of fixed, spatted landing gear, this aircraft was used on all fronts by all German European allies except Finland. Stukas made newsreels across a frightened world in the autumn of 1939, Stuka ketten peeling off one by one out of formation, rolling inverted, and diving straight down with those diabolical propeller-driven sirens wailing away and laying waste to traffic-jams of trucks and hordes of panicked enemy troops.


   What you might not know is that the Stuka had to be fitted with an autopilot to pull the aircraft out of that dive, following an incident in which a Ju-87 squadron leader blacked out and impacted terrain, and his entire kette following him, one after the other, right into the ground. This is the first known use of an autopilot feature for tactical weapons delivery (Twenty-seven years later, the USAF would run into the same approximate problem deploying its F-111 in Vietnam. Awesome as it was, the 111's terrain-following radar-coupled autopilot could not adequately distinguish between ridgelines and the trees which covered them. At least, that's what my old boss who flew on that deployment told me!).


   When forced to operate without guaranteed fighter cover over Britain in the summer of 1940, the Stuka's sluggish performance was exposed. Without a direct replacement in the pipeline, however, the Luftwaffe was forced to make do and added the bigger engine, a more refined cockpit canopy, and pointy wingtips to create the 'D' version modeled here. Endurance and weapons load were both significantly increased by the improvements, but basic performance remained unchanged and the aircraft had to operate until the end of the war dependent on significant air superiority overhead, or at night. This is true of all close air support aircraft since.


   It was a captured example of this variant which famed Royal Navy test pilot Eric 'Winkle' Brown flew following the war, and issued a mixed review of the type: "...it gave the impression of being lot of airplane for one engine to pull...once settled down in cruise the feeling of vulnerability became almost oppressive, accentuated by the high position of the pilot's seat and the large glasshouse canopy." But he loved the aircraft's dive characteristics, stating, "maximum dive (for most dive bombers) is usually in the order of 60 degrees...(the Ju-87) is the only one you can truly dive vertically....for some indefinable reason it felt right, standing on its nose." And 'on its nose' is how the famous aircraft would be used in combat.


  The Bulgarians and the Stuka:

   Of all the combatants in the Second World War on either side, little Bulgaria probably had the loneliest war.


   This old enemy of Constantinople was also one of the world's first to establish an independent Air Force, in 1906. However, following World War One, it found itself economically wrecked, geographically isolated, deprived of territory, and its only friend found in traditional ally Russia--but now mutated into the form of the newly-communist and hyperactively revolution-exporting Soviet Union. A thinking, careful man, Tsar Boris worked to build a hopeful future for his nation by establishing a "royal dictatorship" to stabilize domestic unrest and sought in the late '30s to also regain Bulgaria's districts, Thrace and Macedonia, lost in the aftermath of the Great War, without becoming embroiled in the larger problem--the impending Second World War. Treading this dicey path, he shifted alliance to Nazi Germany by signing the 1940 Tripartite Pact, declared war on the US and UK, but declined Hitler's request to join the invasion of Russia and even went a step further under the influence of his cabinet to protect the core Jewish population of Bulgaria proper. 

   It was a logical strategy, but the way events unfolded, it didn't work out. Hitler, fighting an increasing costly war in the USSR, became angry with Boris' non-commitment to the Axis cause. Bulgarian forces moving in to occupy in Thrace and Macedonia found foreigners living in their old homes from 20 years earlier. The bitter reservists vented their frustrations on the local newbies, and guerilla fighting broke out. Worse, Hitler badgered Boris to help control the raucous Serbs in occupied Yugoslavia, attempting to get some utility out of his ally, and by Boris' acquiescence further guerilla war was opened. Turkey menaced as well, and more Bulgarian troops had to be sent to the south. As if all this wasn't bad enough, the Western Allies vented their feelings with a smattering of air raids on the country, becoming much worse in late 1943 when capital city Sophia began suffering the attentions of the great waves of USAAF B-24s shuttling to and from their bases in Africa to bomb Axis oil fields in Romania as part of Operation Tidal Wave.

   Thus, rather than a costly foreign war, Bulgaria was rewarded with a costly domestic war--on all its borders and overhead! Besides interceptors, it desperately needed effective counter-insurgency aircraft, and the now-aloof Germans finally allowed them first a dozen obsolete Ju-87Rs for training and then 40 Ju-87Ds, all secondhand from Luftwaffe stocks. These were delivered in 1944, making Bulgaria the last recipient of the type, and ensuring that the Bulgarian pilots finished their conversion training (from their worn-out S.328s and PZL P.43s) just in time to turn on those who had trained them. 

   Pushing the Axis inexorably back, the Soviets arrived at the Bulgarian border by September of 1944, and in a single week of panic there were three successive governments in Sophia, the Communist insurgents after a bloody uprising finally gaining full control and surrendering to the USSR. The predictable Bolshevik script of denunciations and abduction/execution followed, the military split in two, Bulgarian servicemen often having literally only seconds to figure out whose side they were on. The Soviets ordered their new ally into combat straight away against the Axis. A few Bulgarians fled to the Germans, including at least one Stuka crew with their airplane. The majority sided with the Communists, following the tried-and-true survival strategy of aligning oneself with those likely to remain in charge. 


   In Bulgarian service, the Ju-87 was therefore to primarily serve in the long, bitter, westward fight alongside Soviet forces pursuing the Axis all the way into Austria. In a weirdly anachronistic replay of the equipment lineup of 1939, the Bulgarian Stukas went to work in immediately upon declaration of war against Germany by supplementing Do-17s covered by Avia B-534 biplanes and French-made Dewoitine D.520s in attacks of Luftwaffe airfields. With so much German/Western equipment, the Bulgarians and Soviets had to use careful time-and-space separation tactics to prevent 'incidents'. But the USSR was able to sweep the weakened Luftwaffe from the skies at this late stage, and the Bulgarians were able to fight without threats from above.

   So--the Stuka ended its career in 1945 as it had begun six years earlier: safe under an air-superiority umbrella, causing mayhem among enemy troops and ground transportation. Only this time for the Allies! In six months of combat, the Bulgarian Stuka pilots acquitted themselves very well, referring to their mounts by the same name as the Germans: it means 'pike' (the fish, not the weapon) in Bulgarian. 


   Afterward, the Ju-87's technical non-supportability and cultural association with the Nazis/Blitzkrieg assured prompt replacement with Shturmoviks and Tupolev Tu-2s by Bulgaria's obliging new patrons.


The Stuka, having made such an indelible impression on all involved during the events of 1939-45, has never been poorly served in styrene. Until the issue of these Fujimi kits around 1986, the two standouts in 1/72 were the old Airfix "B" and Frog/Revell "G", both of which still build up into decent models.

However, Fujimi's kits gave us all the wartime variants of the Stuka from a common set of molds and are still unique in that way. Lots of parts in light grey on 4 sprues, one in clear. Typical of the generation of recessed-panel-line kits coming out of Japan in the late '80s, this one came out in B, D, G, and R versions in at least six different boxings, including one under the Testor's label, and features the modular construction/open-this-hole-to-depict-this-version engineering characteristic of this approach. Two decal options to do a D-1 or a D-5, the difference being in two different types of 20mm cannon. The D-5 is in a striking overall white scheme. 


This was actually a refinish project. I had built this kit originally as a "G" with the big gun pods sometime in the '90s, but found out later that I had made some boo-boos in subvariant specifics and paint scheme, plus I really wasn't happy with my over-weathered finishing job and the model had gotten damaged in my many relocations during the years that followed, to boot. But my basic build was sound, and giving old models new life with a little work really satisfies the frugal Midwesterner in me. Plus I've been on a Small Air Forces kick of late.

As I remember it, the initial build was totally straightforward with no problems. Just remember to read the instructions closely so you open the right holes before you close things up. I sprinkled a little extra detail into the cockpit, namely sidewalls and seatbelts, and replaced the so-so cockpit canopy with a Falcon one which is not only clearer but correctly leaves you to depict the internal canopy framing with decal strips. Oh, and yes--Fujimi completely missed the pilot's window well between his feet, so that detail was scratch-built using an unbuilt 1/24 Airfix kit as reference. Landing gear spats were cut off for the installation of Blackbird Models' white-metal bare landing gear legs (available at this writing from Blackbird Productions of the UK).

The project commenced with slicing off the gun pods and plugging their mounting holes with putty. As backdating the model from a "G" to a "D" would require opening the now-inaccessible holes for the air brakes and outer-wing bomb racks, I purchased another Fujimi Ju-87 online, drilled the desired holes in the lower wing part, and used it as a template to locate (by careful probing with a stiff T-pin) the thinner plastic of the flashed-over holes on the project model, then drilling them out. The old decals were removed by a combination of poking them repeatedly with packing tape, sanding down what remained, and airbrushing over the spots. 

The other improvement work involves the following: all variants of the Stuka had lots of doohickeys all over the underside, mainly in the form of mass balances and actuator rods for the control surfaces. Probably for ease of molding, Fujimi depicts the former as simple triangle "fins" and the latter are simply too fragile to survive any handling. As usual, I took the time to replace all of it with metal: the mass balances were fine brass rod with little globs of superglue at the ends, the actuating rods, crew steps, and big comms antenna up top a combination of brass and superglued/sanded styrene strip, and the 20mm wing cannon Albion Alloys steel tube. In the original build, I had used sleeved brass to make the prop removable for finishing and storage. This came in useful when it came time to depict the white-on-red spinner spiral.

I didn't like Fujimi's depiction of the SC50 bombs at all and ended up stealing four from an Italerei Me-210.


The Bulgarian Red/Kelly Green rudder flashes were masked and sprayed, and since most of the Luftwaffe splinter scheme had survived the conversion process it became the masking guide for a light re-spray. Yellow Eastern Front bands were masked and sprayed, then the LF Productions' decals went on after a coat of Future. These performed well and look good, but I think the characteristic Bulgarian airframe data triangle on the tail is bit small. A light weathering followed, locked in by a quick shot of clear semigloss. 


Not exactly my most inspired build, but it's neat to see the St. Andrew's Cross of Bulgaria throwing a little variety into my lineup. The base Fujimi Stuka kit is really good--even now, thirty years on. A good first kit as well as one for the delusional expert. 

Mladenov, Alexander. Bulgarian Air Force 1940-49. Wings of Fame, Vol 13, pp. 92-111. Aerospace Publishing, 1998
Gunston, Bill. Classic World War II Aircraft Cutaways. Osprey Publishing, 1995

Various Draftsmen. Aircraft Archive: Bombers of World War II. Fountain Press, Ltd, 1988

Ryan Grosswiler

26 April 2018

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