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Schlange Sturzkampfflugzeug
The "Snake" Stuka

The first photograph of the "Snake" Stuka was published by Ries in 1976, who identified the plane as an extended range Ju-87R (Reichweite) but did not hazard a guess as to the unit, remarking only on the contrast between RLM 79 and 80 in the camouflage pattern. The picture was small and republished several years later in a larger but slightly cropped format (above) by Held and Obermaier, who further posited that the plane belonged to 6./St.G 2 and had the individual aircraft letter Cäsar (C). Only the front of the plane forward of the cockpit was depicted, however, and for the next thirty years profilers and modelers, fascinated by the most colorful and best known of all Stukas, would speculate as to its overall appearance.

The German Air Ministry did not envisage operations in the Mediterranean and so had made no initial provision for tropicalized versions (Trop) of its aircraft or a desert paint scheme. As a result, the markings and patterns of the first Stukas to be deployed to North Africa still retained their original European camouflage: a standard pattern of black-green RLM 70 (Schwarzgrün) splintered in large angular patches against a dark-green background of RLM 71 (Dunkelgrün), with light-blue RLM 65 (Hellblau) on the undercarriage.

Stukas were deployed to Sicily in January 1941, from where planes from II./St.G 2 severely damaged both the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and cruiser HMS Southampton, which had to be sunk. The next month, the Gruppe was transferred to Libya. By April, sky-blue RLM 78 (Himmelblau) and sand-yellow RLM 79 (Sandgelb) were being produced, although the paint chips for these shades do not appear in the Farbtontafel that accompanied the official service regulations (L.Dv. 521/1) published in November that year. Rather, they were issued as loose paint chips to be stuck on a blank page in the color table. Olive-green RLM 80 (Olivgrün) does not appear in the regulations, which suggests that the shade was not sent to aircraft manufacturers but issued directly to maintenance depots or front-line units for application in the field, which would allow patterns to vary according to the amount of vegetation in a specific geographic location.

Planes still in the dark-green camouflage of Europe also were oversprayed, either with Italian Giallo Mimetico ("camouflage yellow") or RLM 79 when it became available. It is not certain whether the undercarriage also was repainted in an Italian pale blue-gray or the original light-blue RLM 65 was left untouched.

Merrick contends that the Stukas retained their European scheme until they could be repainted at the factory and that, since it was not practical to paint them in the desert, they must have been serviced at depots in Sicily and Italy. He also cites a directive dated mid-April 1941 to a Luftwaffe depot in the Austrian Tyrol regarding the conversion of tropical aircraft to the newly developed shades RLM 78/79/80 and the impending delivery of RLM 78/79. Urbanke disagrees, assuming that these colors were not introduced until late 1941, when L.Dv. 521/1 was issued. With airfields being shared with the Italians, he argues that it was more likely that their own camouflage colors were used in the interim.

It was not until 2005, in an article by Urbanke, that a newly published photograph allowed the plane to be seen in its entirety. The unit code was not T6+CP, as Held and Obermaier had surmised, but T6+DP. And the snake, rather than being red and white as so often depicted, had more subdued sand-colored markings. But Urbanke also suggests that the trailing half of the tail rudder was painted in the same RLM 65 light blue as the undercarriage, whereas the difference in shading is simply the shadow cast by the rudder having been turned slightly to port. The "J" under the port wing, by the way, is the manufacturer's code. Notice, too, the hand-cranked inertia starter in front of the inverted gull wing.

This Ju-87R-2 Trop belonged to St.G 2 and was stationed on the Libyan coast at Tmimi, from where it provided ground support and attacked Allied shipping in the Mediterranean during the second half of 1941 (as imagined in the reconstruction above). Held and Obermaier contend that the plane was flown by Leutnant Hubert Pölz of 6./St.G 2, who had participated in the sinking of HMS Auckland off Tobruk in June 1941 and later was awarded the Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves on the Eastern Front, having flown over a thousand sorties to survive the war as a Gruppenkommandeur. Another imagined construction is an advertisement for the plane as it might have appeared in Der Adler.

When the plane was repainted in the summer of 1941, the undersides probably remained in RLM 65 and the upper surfaces in Giallo Mimetico ("camouflage yellow"). There were four shades, each designated by a number and supplied to the Italian Regia Aeronautica by four different manufacturers. The precise shade therefore is uncertain, but in skinning the plane above, darker Gaillo Mimetico 4 has been used, splattered with Gaillo Mimetico 3, a color lighter than sand-yellow RLM 79. Because it was applied directly over the European scheme, one still can discern the original green splinter pattern of the sections that were not oversprayed. The red and white snake, too, does not look as it usually has been profiled, which is reasonable, given that such a gaudy creature hardly would have enhanced the camouflage of the plane.

This screenshot of T6+DP is based on a modification of the color profile by Egbert Friedl that accompanied Urbanke's article and redrawn from original photographs of the plane.

Only one other Stuka is known to have had such an extraordinary design: T6+AN.

A note on terminology: A Geschwader (which was the approximate equivalent of a RAF Wing) comprised three Gruppen (Groups) which, in turn, was made up of three (or more) Staffeln (Squadrons) of nine aircraft each, as well as a Stab (Staff or Headquarters) of three additional aircraft. The Geschwader also had its own Stab of four aircraft, for a nominal total of ninety-four planes. The Geschwader itself was defined by its operational role and complement of aircraft—in this example, a Sturzkampfgeschwader (abbreviated St.G) specialized in dive bombing. ("Stuka" abbreviates Sturzkampfflugzeug or dive bomber.)

The Geschwader was identified by an Arabic numeral and the Gruppen within it by a Roman one, II./St.G 2 being the second Gruppe of Sturzkampfgeschwader 2. Staffeln also were numbered: the first, second, and third Staffeln comprising Gruppe I; the fourth, fifth, and sixth, Gruppe II; and the seventh, eighth, and ninth, Gruppe III. The Gruppe number is omitted, however, when the Staffel number is indicated. Because the sixth Staffel of St.G 2 already is known to belong to Gruppe II, it is identified simply as 6./St.G 2.

All this (and more) is conveyed by the plane's Verbandskennzeichen, the four-letter alphanumeric code displayed on either side of the black cross (Balkenkreuz) on the fuselage. In the "Snake" Stuka above, T6 signifies that it was assigned to St.G 2. The second pair indicates the letter of the individual plane (D) in the color of its Staffel (yellow) and the identifying letter of the Staffel (P) within the Gruppe. T6+DP, then, designates the fourth plane in the sixth Staffel of the second Gruppe in Sturzkampfgeschwader 2.

References: Photo Collection, Luftwaffe Embleme 1935-1945 (1976) by Karl Ries; The Luftwaffe in the North African Campaign 1941-1943 (1992) by Werner Held and Ernst Obermaier (a translation of Die Deutsche Luftwaffe im Afrika-Feldzug 1941-1943, published in 1979); Luftwaffe Camouflage and Markings 1935-1945: Volume One: Pre-War Development, Paint Systems, Composition, Patterns, Applications, Day Fighters (2004) by K. A. Merrick and Jürgen Kiroff; Luftwaffe Camouflage and Markings 1935-1945: Volume Two: Code Systems & Markings, Night Fighters, Ground-Attack, Reconnaissance, Bombers, Maritime, Transports, Trainers (2005) by K. A. Merrick and Jürgen Kiroff; "Die 'Schlangen'—Stukas des Sturzkampf Geschwader 2: The 'Snake' Stukas of Sturzkampf Geschwader 2 (2005) by Axel Urbanke, Luftwaffe im Focus, Edition 7, 24-27; Junkers Ju 87: Stukageschwader of North Africa and the Mediterranean (1998) by John Weal (Osprey Combat Aircraft, No. 6); Junkers Ju 87 from 1936 to 1945 (2003) by Herbert Leonard and André Jouineau, Histoire & Collections (Planes and Pilots, No. 4); Handbook on German Military Forces (September 1, 1943) by Military Intelligence Division, War Department (TM-E 30-451).

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