the Hors-Série #1 of Avions, 1994, by Lucien Morareau, absolute master of the French Aeronavale history, who also published
two recent papers in Avions # 197 and # 198 on the Loire 210, in 2014,
and some other sources, like the tiny Floatplanes #6 of William Green)
Air cover for the French Navy
Remember that the Washington treaty on naval forces allowed only 60,000 tonnes of aircraft carriers to the French Navy.
France had two carriers in the 30's.
The Béarn was a rather classical aircraft carrier, able to carry at most 40 aircrafts, but she was plagued by an over-complicated system of lifts, protected by armored doors, all of this implying large engines in the aircraft hangar and were very time consuming during military operations.
The other French carrier was the little seaplane carrier Commandant Teste, able to carry 26 sea planes with 4 catapults and five cranes.
The lay out of this boat was sufficiently good to be copied by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
From the other hand, the recent battleships, the cruisers and even some colonial vessels had catapults to put seaplanes in the air.
Most of these sea planes were only scout planes, some times with a limited bombing capacity (one or two 75 kg bombs).
In 1931, the admiral-to-be Lartigue had, very logically, taking into account this poor amount of aircraft carriers, expressed the need of a complement of air cover of the French fleets by seaplane fighters.
In some post WW II influential publications, you may read that such an idea was already obsolete.
Nevertheless, many naval countries have tested seaplane fighters from the end of the 30's to the beginning of the 50's:
- In Great Britain, the Blackburn Roc was transformed in hydro-fighter, a very strange idea, knowing the definitively bad aerodynamics of the carrier based Roc. Her top speed was 270 kph.
- After that, a Grumman Martlet was fitted with float.
- But an undoubtedly greater success was obtained when a Spitfire Mk V was successfully transformed in floatplane fighter - three were ordered by the Royal Navy - as was transformed, a bit later, a Spitfire Mk IX.
|A splendid picture of a Spitfire Mk IX on this site (610 kph !)|
- The Imperial Japanese Navy proceeded similarly with the Zero A6 M2-N able to fly at 435 kph and to climb at 5,000 m in less than 7 minutes. The today narrative is this aircraft was unsuccessful, but 327 machines were built!
- They developed also the exceptional float plane Kawanishi N1K1 Kyofu, able to fly at 490 kph, to climb to 4,000 m in 4' 11" (97 machines were built, too late).
In all cases, such fighters could have been available to cover their fleets against enemy bombers as they were able to land on any water surfaces, because nobody can destroy such kind of "airfields".
|Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 - A very good aircraft.|
The first one was the British Saunders-Roe SR.A/1, conceived during WW II, flying successfully from 1947 to 1951, but she was abandoned after the withdrawal of the engines manufacturer...
Another hydro-fighter was build in the USA, the Convair F2Y Sea Dart. She was under-powered but flew faster (high subsonic).
Unfortunately for the concept, she was flown after the victory of the supporters of the giant aircraft carriers.
Some interesting French projects were also submitted actually by Latécoère but none of them was accepted.
The wishes of the French Navy in the 30's
A program was published by the French Navy in 1933, 2 years after the study of Lartigue (!), and specifying:
- A speed of at least 300 kph at an altitude of 3,500 m,
- A maximum weight not exceeding 2,000 kg, in order to be launched by the existing compressed-air catapults,
- The altitude of 3,500 m must be reached in less than 12 minutes,
- The engine chosen was the Hispano-Suiza 9 V providing 700 hp and actually seen as very reliable, as they powered the tri-engined Dewoitine passenger airliners,
- A fabric covering of the structure at the very moment of the triumph of the stressed skin! It was likely a colonial point of view, as the need to prepare the maintenance with easily available materials...
The most amazing one was the engine.
And the HS 9 V had a huge diameter of 1.45 m, inducing a fuselage cross section larger than 1.7 m², which had to be added with the two or three floats, the masts and the wings...
Aerodynamically speaking, it was the worst solution.
So, the choice of a speed limit of only 300 kph was understandable but not wise.
It is somewhat amazing to remember the program published in the same period for a torpedo float-plane - the Latécoère 298 - specified exactly the same top speed.
To be useful near the enemy coasts, seaplane fighters needed to attack their target by surprise just at sunrise... So, they needed the highest possible top speed!
- Dewoitine proposed a float plane straightforwardly issued from the D 500 (winner of the land based fighters contest).
- Bernard proposed his model 110, a scaled up derivative of his Bernard 52 float plane.
- Potez proposed the model 453, issued from the scout flying boat Potez 452, but this fighter experienced complicated take offs.
- The biplane Romano 90, the fastest of the contest (350 kph), outstandingly maneuverable, experienced some difficulties during take off, but his "Polish" upper wing dissatisfied her pilots during mock up combats. Nevertheless, a derivative of the float plane was built in Belgium to be sold to the Republican pilots in the Spain War.
The Loire 210
The Loire was easy to fly, easy to land on the sea, as usual with a main center-lined single float (at the expense of performances), a solution retained later for the float-plane variant of the Japanese Zero as also for her more recent stablemate Kyofu.
Her take-off duration was only 9 seconds with a variable pitch air-screw, 11 seconds with a fixed pitch one (the rejection threshold for the Navy was 15 seconds).
Exhaust pipes would have been useful!
The maximum flight duration was 3 hours at 200 kph and 2 hours at 250 kph.
The armament consisted in four 7.5 mm Darne machine guns in the wings, a rather light punch.
|Personal document of the author - Loire 210, from standard (smooth cowling), before to be put on her catapult|
The Loire-Nieuport company staff, perfectly aware of the aeronautical evolution, wanted to enhance the speed capabilities of his fighter.
So, they replaced the initial Hispano 9 V with a Gnome & Rhône 14 K.
The only aerodynamic evolution was the NACA cowling which adopted a quite smooth shape (but a too large air-intake).
The French Navy ordered the less performing variant!
But the official order was emitted only the May 12, 1937.
These delays - whose narrative have said they were justified by "experiments" - were totally abnormal.
What kind of "experiment" could have been made with only one prototype?
It was possible, indeed, to made true - dedicated to the war - experiments!
Unfortunately, to my knowledge, none of such experiments were done.
The very late ordering had forbidden the awareness of the true capabilities allowed (or not) by such sea plane fighters.
A fighter protecting the Fleet, far from the enemy coasts, when you have no aircraft carrier...
The first current solution found was to pick up the fighter with a crane. This process was perfect in peace times.
During a battle, it was too time consuming, endangering the ship and the fighter.
Moreover, in rough sea, the likelihood to achieve such a goal became very little.
A notched carpet was lowered at the stern of the ship (the notches being made of piece of timber).
|Personal document of the author - Gourdou-Leseurre 812 climbing on the notched carpet as would do the Loire 210|
It was a sporting and rather daring method, but, after a thorough training, the retrieval of the aircrafts was very faster.
One shortcoming was the difficult maintenance of these carpets.
Nevertheless, such carpets, tested successfully on the Commandant Teste, were fitted on the recent and excellent light cruisers of 7,500 tonnes.
Some captains complained it was dangerous and time consuming...
In my personal opinion, the true danger for any French fleet was especially to be spotted by a Focke-Wulf 200!
|A broken Focke-Wulf 200 after her landing - a frequent picture - There is no clear evidence of battle damage...|
The military variant Condor, with her protrusive gondola, her turrets and her armament, was unwisely overloaded and displayed a significant loss of her fineness.
OK, remember what happened in December, 1941, in Malaya.
It was the same expression used to left some Allied destroyers and cruisers at Singapore
Such judgments demonstrated the poor tactical sense of admiral Phillips.
Knowing the landing of Japanese forces in Malaya, the same December, 8, than the Pearl Harbor attack, admiral Phillips launched an attack of the Japanese convoy and instructed the RAF fighters to help the Allied ground forces, leaving his ships without air cover.
Doing this way, he fulfill all the Japanese wishes.
The December 9, one of the escorting destroyers signaled a Japanese scout plane in sight.
OK, Phillips had no aircraft carrier, however, if each of his two battleship had a fighter float-plane on her catapults, even an as obsolete fighter as was the Loire 210, this scout plane could be easily downed.
But, unfortunately, admiral Phillips had no fighter seaplane.
That triggered the following events:
- The I-58 submarine reported the position of the Force Z the December, 10.
- A twin-engined recce-bomber Mitsubishi G3M spotted the British fleet and maintained contact.
- The Japanese staff ordered the attack by several waves of bombers (flying only at 260 kph to allow them a safe return).
- In no more than 3 hours, the brand new Prince of Wales battleship and the old Repulse battle cruiser disappeared from the surface of the sea.
His second fault was to be too eager to go to combat, with his AA fire control disabled by the tropical moisture (he did not accept to left sufficient time for fixing the bugs), with a weak escort and no fighter cover.
His third fault had been to privilege the radio blackout over presence of an air cover.
But admiral Phillips was certainly not responsible of the excellent tactic used by Japaneses forces, as he was not responsible of the Churchill's orders.
Many very courageous men were killed because the Royal Navy was not aware of the mutation needed to the fleets by the appearance of the war planes... even one full year after her brilliant aerial attack against the Regia Marina fleet at Tarento!
The Loire 210: A delayed and very short operational career
It was said that this float-plane was ill-conceived and that crash had caused casualties.
Yes, 2 crash occurred, but none of them induced any injury.
The other occurred after a fighter pilot expressed some worries about his fighter. The Squadron Leader, L.V. Ziegler, take off with that fighter, launching a very savage session of aerobatics.
The actual explanations concluded to a left wing failure.
It is also possible that the fabric covering of the wing induced a lack of rigidity of the whole assembly.
So, in March 1940, when the Allies launched the Campaign of Norway, they did not have any air cover for their ships!