Developed in Germany in the early 1930’s as both a twin-engine medium bomber and civilian airliner, the Junkers Ju 86 first entered service in 1936 and approximately 470 examples would be produced by 1938. The Ju 86A/D/E/G/K bomber (the G model had a round glass nose and the K model was the export version – the most produced variants were the D & K models) had a crew of four – pilot, navigator, radio operator/bombardier and gunner with a defensive armament of just 3 x 7.92mm MG15 machine guns, with one each in the nose, a dorsal position and a rather unsafe looking retractable ventral position which would have done the performance of the aircraft no favours when lowered! The bomb payload carried vertically in the central bomb bay was light at just 1,000kg (2,200 lb).
The first Ju 86 variants flew with uniquely diesel-powered Junkers Jumo engines designed for better fuel economy but were later replaced with better performing radial engines. In addition to Germany, military Ju 86 aircraft operators included Austria, Bolivia, Chile, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Spain, South Africa and Sweden.
The Ju 86B/C/Z commercial airliner version seated 10 passengers (Ju 86Z was the civil export version). They were naturally operated in Germany by Lufthansa but also used in small numbers by airlines in Australia, Bolivia, Chile, Manchukuo (a puppet state in Manchuria/China under the rule of Imperial Japan in the 1930’s and during World War Two), South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland.
The Ju 86 was developed in direct competition with the more famous Heinkel He 111. Tested in combat during the Spanish Civil War by the German Legion Condor, the Junkers Jumo 205 diesel engined Ju 86D-1 bomber proved inferior in performance to the more favoured He 111 (the latter was marginally faster, handled better and provided twice the bomb payload, hence it was the clear winner and was used throughout World War Two). The Ju 86 were only used by the Germans in Spain for a few months in early 1937, with one being shot down by enemy fighters, another was lost in an accident and the remaining three were then sold on to the Spanish Nationalist forces.
Improved performance and reliability were achieved through the fitting of BMW 132 radial engines to the Ju 86E bomber and the type saw combat again, flown by the Luftwaffe during the 1939 invasion of Poland. Following this successful campaign the type was soon withdrawn from front line service though and were then mostly used for training purposes.
In 1940 a Ju 86P high altitude reconnaissance variant prototype was developed for the Luftwaffe with a two-man crew, pressurised cockpit, extended wings and more powerful Junkers Jumo 207 turbo-charged engines. This proved successful and 40 earlier bomber variants were converted to P-1 high altitude bomber and P-2 photo reconnaissance variants which could operate at 40-50,000 feet, which was generally above Allied fighter reach.
The Ju 86P flew over Europe, the Eastern Front and North Africa with relative impunity until 1942, when the Brits went and spoiled the rare air party with a modified RAF Spitfire Mk.V which shot one down at high altitude over Egypt! Other losses were to follow and the Ju 86P variants were withdrawn from service by 1943. New Ju 86R prototypes were developed that could fly above 50,000 feet but this variant did not go into full production. This was not the end of the military variant of the Ju 86 though.
As the tide of war started to turn for Germany, demands for aircraft on the Eastern Front increased and training Ju 86 aircraft were briefly pressed back into front line service as transport aircraft during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942/43. Losses were high with over 40 destroyed attempting to resupply besieged German troops. Apparently they were also used in the Balkans during the winter of 1943/44 in the campaign against partisan forces.
Junkers Ju 86 bombers were also operated during World War Two by Axis member Hungary and surprisingly South Africa on the side of the Allies! Ju 86K export bomber variants were sold pre-war to South Africa – they had 1 Ju 86K-1 and also converted 17 civil Ju 86Z-3/7 aircraft for bomber/maritime patrol use and served during the East Africa campaign until retired from frontline service and relegated to training duties in 1942 (by then 10 were lost in accidents and 1 had been shot down).
Hungary operated a total of 66 K-2 bombers delivered from 1938 onwards. They were operated on the Eastern Front until 1942, then following heavy losses were relegated to training and non-frontline duties.
Sweden also received 40 pre-war K-1 bombers and licence-built K-4/K-5/K-13 bombers fitted with Bristol Pegasus III/XII radial engines. They were designated as the B 3 in Swedish service and in addition to the bomber role, were also used for reconnaissance. Post war the Swedish converted their remaining Ju 86 aircraft into transports, where the last remained in service until 1958!
Luckily Sweden is a country that actively preserves their aviation heritage and this included an example of one of their Ju 86 aircraft. This was fortuitous as they don’t come any rarer than the only surviving and complete Junkers Ju 86 twin-engine bomber, a Ju 86K-4 (Werk Nr. 0860412), which today can be found at the Swedish Air Force Museum (Flygvapenmuseum) in Malmslätt outside of Linköping (a fantastic museum I was lucky enough to be able to visit in November 2017).
Elevated so you can walk under and around it, beautifully preserved in Swedish livery and markings, what a mint looking aircraft it is! Produced in Germany in 1938, this example was converted to a transport rather than the original bomber configuration and served in Sweden until 1958 with a total of 2,086 flying hours. It is always a pleasure to see such a rare aircraft in person.
Century of Flight – Junkers Ju 86
History of War – Junkers Ju 86