The Junkers Ju 188: A Ju 88 on Steroids

Junkers Ju 188
Junkers Ju 188 Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1989-039-18A / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Emergence of the Junkers Ju 188

The Junkers Ju 188, a remarkable creation of Germany’s Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG, was a formidable presence in the skies during World War II. Born from the well-regarded Ju 88 in the late 1930s, the Ju 188 was developed with a mission: to deliver a high-performance, all-weather, multi-role aircraft to bolster Germany’s war efforts.

A German Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 188
A German Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 188 E-1 (Wk.Nr.10001) – the first production aircraft of the Ju 188 series

The Ju 188’s Powerful Engines

The Junkers Ju 188 was powered by two different engines: the BMW 801 radial and the Junkers Jumo 213 inline engine. These engines bestowed upon the Ju 188 a top speed of 340 mph a substantial improvement over its predecessor. Reliability under varying conditions and altitudes was their key strength, enabling the Ju 188 to fulfill a multitude of roles on the battlefield.

The BMW 801, a 14-cylinder, twin-row radial engine, was a testament to German engineering, providing a maximum output of 1,973 horsepower. The Jumo 213, a 12-cylinder, water-cooled inline engine, matched this power. Different in design, but united in purpose, both engines significantly enhanced the aircraft’s performance.

BMW 801D aero engine
BMW 801D aero engine on display at the Imperial war Museum, Duxford, England

Commanding the Skies 

Piloting the Ju 188 offered an experience unlike any other. The combination of powerful engines and superior aerodynamics endowed it with agility, durability, and versatility. It could reach a maximum operational ceiling of 9,500 meters (31,200 feet), often out-climbing and out-running adversaries.

The Ju 188 came equipped with a robust defensive armament setup that increased its resilience. The defensive gun turrets, advanced radar systems, and generous bomb load capacity coalesced to form an airborne fortress, reinforcing the Ju 188’s status as a daunting adversary.

Improvements over the Ju 88

Although the Ju 88 was a formidable aircraft, the Ju 188 brought several noteworthy enhancements. Its redesigned wings, featuring a larger surface area, increased range and payload capacity. The updated, circular cross-section fuselage improved aerodynamics, boosting top speed.

The Ju 188 also had a more streamlined nose, enhancing the pilot and navigator’s forward view. Additionally, the aircraft’s broad use of electrically powered systems, including its turrets, was a significant technological step forward.

Junkers Ju 188
Junkers Ju 188 Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-496-3500-15 / Bankhard / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Operational Use

The Ju 188 featured in various theaters of World War II, serving as a bomber, torpedo bomber, and reconnaissance aircraft. It first saw operational action in 1943, and subsequently participated in key bombing campaigns against Allied forces, excelling particularly in night bombing roles with its cutting-edge radar technology.

Despite never completely replacing the Ju 88 due to production constraints, its superior performance and versatility ensured that it remained an integral component of the frontline forces.

Junkers Ju 188
Junkers Ju 188 Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-496-3500-15 / Bankhard / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Post-War Fate

The cessation of war left many Ju 188s scattered across Europe. Some found their way into the hands of the Allies, who studied them for technological insights. Many were scrapped in the immediate post-war years due to demilitarization policies.

A select few Ju 188s avoided the fate of the scrapyard, instead finding sanctuary in museums across the globe. Among them, the National Museum of the United States Air Force holds a prominent place. These preserved aircraft offer us tangible, physical touchstones to the era of World War II.

Junkers Ju 188 plane
Junkers Ju 188 plane Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-496-3500-15 / Bankhard / CC-BY-SA 3.0