dimanche 8 mars 2015

Scouting and recce on-board seaplanes of the French Navy from 1914 to 1940 (revised March 13, 2018)

The first recce seaplanes of the French Navy in 1914 

Sources : Nieuport 1908-1950 of Rosenthal & alia, Docavia n°38, and also the very interesting site poste des choufs on the French Aéronavale)

At the beginning of WW I, a very good recce work was done, since December 5th, 1914, by about thirty men of the French Navy using their Nieuport float planes.

These aircrafts (from 5 to 10, following the sources) and their crews and support technicians were attributed to the British forces based in Port Said as an efficient asset to hold firmly the strategic key of the Suez Canal.

Two among these French pilots, all being young Navy officers, MM Delage and de L'Escaille, played later a very important role in the Société des Avions Nieuport

The first one, who was a very skilled aircraft designer, as chief engineer of the company (from the end of 1915 to 1933), the second in a management level.

These Nieuport float planes weighted 500 kg empty and 795 kg for take-off.

Their layout was a shoulder wing monoplane with an air cooled rotary radial engine delivering 80 hp.

They had three floats, the third supporting the tail.

The wings totaled 24.8 m², so the wing loading was 32 kg/m².

Nieuport float plane at Suez, 1914-1915 - The pilot was sit at the rear place.
The shoulder wings were attached in front of the spotter. In absence of ailerons, the banking was slow... 

However, the maneuverability of these seaplanes was only average because they did not have ailerons.

Nevertheless, one of these Nieuport had a new structure of wings, differing with metallic and flexible spars. This variant was much more maneuverable but she had only 4 hours of endurance.

These seaplanes were constantly flying at a speed of 100 kph, because the engine was conceived to run only at a given RPM during all the duration of the flight (about 5 hours). 

This choice had be done to preserve the engine life time.

Taking into account the week power, the weight and the drag induced by the 3 floats, a constant flying speed of 100 kph was not so bad!

Nevertheless, it’s obvious that such a disposition was very tiring for the pilot, who had also to steer the aircraft with a limited field of view, owing the spotter in front of him!

The monitoring of the engine parameters by the pilot was especially crucial in two cases:

i)   During climbing, especially in Egypt, where the average temperatures are 6°C above those experienced in Europe, inducing a very low climb rate. 

ii)  During a descending flight with a very gentle slope to avoid engine overrunning.

The French seaplanes and their crews were based in Egyptian ports and were only used to do aerial reconnaissance over the ground to detect the possible entry of Turkish troops threatening the Suez Canal. 

From a strategic point of view, these missions were as important as the one of the September 2, 1914, when Corporal Louis Bréguet discovered the South-Eastward turn which triggered the Marne Battle.

Twice (first in 1914 and later in 1915), the reconnaissance flights of these Nieuport avoided the conquest of the Suez Canal, each time they discovered advancing Turkish column in the desert.

Despite their apparent frailty, only one of these Nieuport was lost - in Syria – during this period. 

Tactical scouting ? Not yet, but anti-submarine warfare

During French naval maneuvers in 1913, one year before the Great War, some reconnaissance flights have been managed from Toulon over the sea to discover any possible “aggressor” and one of them was highly successful, the “enemy party” being spotted at 100 km from the French naval base.

Amazingly, this so obvious role was apparently forgotten by the French naval deciders during the entire duration of WW I.  

Nevertheless, the hunting for U-Boats was the only field where the French seamen used of their reconnaissance aircraft.

At the very beginning of the 20th Century, most of them, maybe too cautious, were defenders of the “all battleship orthodoxy”. 

They were sharing this concept with all their colleagues of other industrial countries (UK, USA, Germany, Japan, Austro-Hungary, Italy and Spain).

However, the results of the battleships (I don't speak about battle cruisers, so prone to explode) were very disappointing during the WW I: Opposed to the other battleships of the same generation (Battle of Jutland), they could not obtain decisive advantage on their enemies, even after a long gunnery struggle.

It was easy to conclude that they were as useless as they were expensive!

A lot of them were destroyed or disabled by submarines or by small and fast motorboats.

Moreover, owing to heavy cost and the large complement needed to man one battleship (from 1,200 to 2,500 sailors), the loss of one battleship was always a serious defeat for her country.

Five years later, the fantastic experiences of General Billy Mitchell in 1921 demonstrated very clearly that even bomber aircrafts were able to sink battleship.

French seamen have not been always that cautious about the submarines.

{Parenthesis : The French submarines from the beginning to 1914.

French have given an important contributions to the rising of practical submarines.

They had given the first motorized submarine in 1863 – Le Plongeur – which had got a lot of valuable information during the 4 years of experimental trial.

Nevertheless, the military relevance of such a boat was pending an adapted weapon.

An important military advance was the science fiction novel of Jules Vernes, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the seas, who described rather precisely the way to weaken the Great Britain using his Nautilus submarine to destroy the naval commercial traffic, a way perfectly followed by the Germans during WW I and 20 years later, during WW II.

It’s clear, today, that the engine of the Whitehead torpedo was inspired from the one of the Plongeur.

Amazingly, the French engineers - and admirals - did not actually see the fantastic possibilities the torpedoes opened to the submarines.

The French work started in 1863 was resumed in 1888, with an all-electric submarine, the Gymnote, which solved all the submerged navigation and stability problems.
Some years later, a scaled up Gymnote submarine, the Gustave-Zédé I, hit a battleship with a torpedo while submerged.

Following these advances, near than hundred submarines of various kinds were launched in France, the Gustave-Zédé II being commissioned in October 1914 (A review is to be seen on this comprehensive French site).

Unfortunately, most of the types were rather small, uncomfortable, they had a weak endurance, their equipment were unreliable – e.g., the periscope of the Turquoise which had forced the Turkish defenses of the Dardanelles in 1915 was not waterproof (!), so she was lost after being beached by accident.

The French submarines were not really perfected and that was the main reason for the long delay between surfaced and submerged navigation (6 minutes for the Brumaire series (which were Diesel powered) and 15 minutes for the steam powered Pluviôse series): The Curie submarine, after being sunk by the Austrians, was salvaged, named U-14, simplified – allowing her to go submerged in only 1.5 minute – and used to sink a lot of Allied vessels.

Turkish defenses in Dardanelles - The minefields and the nets have been organized to the submarine to be surfaced near the rims, in sight of the enemy artillery.

The French admirals (none of them having manned a submarine, obviously) were absolutely unaware of the advantage they had at the beginning of this war. 
They were obsessed by attacking the enemy fleets in their own bases. 
OK, such a maneuver had been very useful as it happens for Suffren at La Praya and Nelson at Aboukir.

However, to be efficient, a submarine need to be stealth as, also, to be agile.

Instead of such silly missions, they could have patrolled the Mediterranean Sea from the first day of the war, one part to protect the Algerian harbors, the remainder to block the narrow seaway between Italy and Tunisia. 
If they did so, the German cruisers Göben and Breslau were stopped there, avoiding the costly Dardanelles affair.}

The French seaplanes 

One could expect that, after having developed the base of operational subs, the French seamen simultaneously developed the way to defend their own surface vessels against any submarine threat. It was not so simple…

To manage the struggle against the U-Boats, it was acknowledged that the aircrafts were alone to see the submerged submarines. 

However, the French admirals disliked the Nieuport float planes because the engine reduced the forward view of the spotter and the shoulder wings reduced his lateral field of vision.

So, they favored the flying boats, which behave really like boats when running at the water surface and which had the spotter sitting in a balcony with the pilot behind him and the pusher engine behind the pilot.

From the other hand, the tactics of the submarine commanders were not smart, actually, even for the Germans. 

The only specific instrument was the periscope and the noise analysis was not developed.

An apparent straightforward way to destroy the enemy traffics or the enemy military vessels was to wait for them at the exit mouth of the ports. 

But, if you want to do this way, you had 2 problems:
·         The enemy, having a common sense, sent anti-submarine patrolers.

·         You have to identify the vessels seen in your periscope to avoid the sinking of neutral of friend vessel.

The periscope was the suited tool for that, when a sufficient amount of light was available. 

Nevertheless, at full daylight, the wake of the periscope belonging to a submarine running submerged appeared as a new and very lethal hazard. 

To avoid the sub-marine hunters, you need to run very slowly.

With gentle sea (Beaufort < 3), a submerged submarine was rather easy to detect by airplane, as the photography demonstrate it.

Personal document of the author  -  In the 1920’s, a submerged French submarine  (of the Joessel class) in shallow water.

One necessary condition to detect successfully a submerged submarine was to fly at an altitude lower than 800 m and inside an inverted cone-shaped volume having its sharp end starting from the submarine and having a rather limited angle.

At that times, the French anti-submarine aircrafts carried only bombs weighting ~50 kg, too light to kill a submarine!

Nevertheless, these aircrafts deterred the U-boats to stay inside the so-patrolled zones, yielding a real protection for the surface vessels.

If the French bombs were not able to destroy a U-Boat (because they use of a “Neanderthalian” bomb sight), one or two more near-miss were critical, and forbade any next submerged navigation.

{If the French submarine Foucault - Q 070 – was the first submarine destroyed by an - Austrian - air attack, one may highlight that she was hit twice, then attacked with depth charges, inducing her captain to dive to 75 m, almost twice the 40 m actual limit of safety. She surfaced again and was bombed by another airplane which disabled her.}

Moreover, the radio transmitters were fitted on all these seaplanes only in 1918 (Source: Avions n° 175post of Aimé Salles), so, it was difficult to gather other planes. 

The way towards the tactical reconnaissance?

{Source on the English Channel during WW I: A set of books written by Commandant Paul Chack who was an excellent analyst of the naval warfare, but unfortunately he was traumatized by the British aggression at Mers El Kebir in July 1940, that he decided to collaborate with Nazis, inducing logically his death sentence, in 1945.}

Before the existence of embarked aviation, the exact position of enemy naval forces was given to the commander of a fleet was obtained by several sources of very different origines.
  • The intelligence reports given by spies.
  • The visual acuity of watches stationed in the highest parts of the largest ships to detect the black plumes of the coal boilers, from 60 km in the best climatic conditions (calm wind and low temperatures) to only 20 km in adverse conditions (but taking into account that the formal identification of the enemy was possible only at short distance).     

On this site The black plumes of a battleship fleet…

·         The hunting instinct of the fleet commander, a tactical translation of its military experiences and knowledge.
Such process were absolutely similar to those used by Captain Surcouf and his corsairs at the very beginning of the 19th century (except they spotted only for the masts and sails of vessels belonging to the English East India Company).
Since that times, the range of the canons have been multiplied by 5, the optical instruments have been much more accurate and, with the boilers and the screws, the seamen have discovered a kind of navigation quite independent from most of the meteorological conditions (but with a lot of new problems).

Personal document of the author - What a fleet commander might perceive of the tactical situation during the 30’s.
French > English translation: Brouillard de Guerre = War Fog, 
portée de canons: Gun range
portée visuelle: Visual range
Portée aléatoire: Range at random
Flotte ennemie: Enemy Fleet
Renseignements: Intelligence
Avions: Airplanes

Even the French admirals were reluctant to use of their seaplanes to have a precise idea about the presence of enemy vessels in a radius of 150 km around their fleet, they could had such a tool very early, with flying boats like the FBA you can see below.

Personal document of the author – A FBA flying boat with her light machine gun.

A new element appeared during the 20 last years: The radio-transmitter fitted at least on the heavy cruisers and on the battleships, which needed a huge network of military bases.

Gathering these radio-informations with those transmitted by cable was even more efficient.

The “splendid” Fleet of Mr. Georges Leygues (?)

Since several dozens of years, I was always stunned when I read the French Fleet in 1939 was a splendid military tool of more than 500,000 tw. 

Such an assessment is as unrealistic as irrelevant.

By definition, for a French citizen, the French Fleet cannot be only seen a simple huge mass of naval hardware.

A fleet must be a set of ships gathering all the better technologies, frequently updated, and manned by crews trained to face the worst conditions.   

The Dunkerque battle cruisers and the Richelieu battleships had no radar in September 1939, even though the Normandie liner used one it since 1936, to avoid icebergs!

At the same time, very few were the French destroyers fitted with the ASDIC (the French had mainly developed).

From 1920 to 1939, the choice of the new ships (see 
this post), the choice of the amount and of the kind of the AA artillery and of the anti-submarine technics were, at least, inefficient. 

The hull design was generally successful. The war experiment demonstrate the French fast ships were efficiently protected by their own speed.

Unfortunately, as late as 1939, most of the high ranking officers of the French Navy remained unconvinced about the naval aviation…

Ironically, the only true success of the French Navy alone, the Koh-Chang victory in 1941 against Thailand, was obtained with limited naval means but with a wise use of the scouting seaplanes.

In all other places before 1943 (when it became embedded in the Allied forces), the French Navy was not really successful, that may be correlated to the refusal to take into account its own Aéronavale.

The last “fossil” of that was demonstrated when, after the WW II, the French Navy refused to Admiral Barjot the conversion of the damaged Jean-Bart battleship to a modern aircraft carrier.

At the beginning of the 20’s, the engines became much more powerful and reliable, the aircrafts were more sophisticated from a structural as from an aerodynamic point of view. So, they were able to carry heavier loads, farther and considerably faster.

For the seamen, the catapult (using compressed air) was an important innovation which allowed any medium or large surface military boat to launch seaplanes.

In the French Navy, the first vessel to use of that device were the 10,000 tw heavy cruisers Duquesne and Tourville

Their catapults allowed to launch seaplanes weighting up to 2,500 kg.

An excellent floatplane, the Gourdou-Leseurre 810

(Source: Les Ailes Françaises 3 - les hydravions à flotteurs, Bousquet, Fernandez & Boré, Artipresse)

In 1926, the Gourdou-Leseurre company presented an aerodynamically advanced reconnaissance float plane.

Such an advance could not be a surprise because, at the beginning of the 20’s, this company was well known for its single seat fighters and its contribution to the aeronautic race in 1923 with the interesting GL 30. 

This parasol racer was powered by a Bristol radial engine thoroughly streamlined and fitted with a very advanced retractable landing gear, allowing her to fly a 50 km closed circuit at an average speed of 360 kph, suggesting a top speed close to 400 kph.

The new seaplane prototype was a twin-seat low-wing monoplane fitted with 2 floats. 

She was powered by a Gnome & Rhône Jupiter (from a Bristol licence) delivering 380 hp.

The wings were of wood construction, with a rather thick airfoil (to save weight), inserted in a fuselage of mixed structure.

The bow of the fuselage was carefully streamlined.

This seaplane demonstrated excellent flying qualities and her good speed, having done a trip St Raphael – Copenhagen and back (4,500 km) in only 25 hours, demonstrating an average speed of 180 kph (50 % faster than the previously used reconnaissance aircrafts).

The only one incident during trials was an engine failure forcing a ditching in a sea of force 6… without damage. 

So, the French Navy ordered 6 preseries, and, owing to use them on the new catapult, it required a metallic inner structure of the wings covered, as usual, by fabric.

A third member of the crew was also wanted and the engine used was more powerful than the prototype (420 hp).

The new version was the Gourdou-Leseurre GL 810.

Gourdou-Leseurre GL 811  -  A streamlined float plane - for its times - 
Look at the amazing 3rd place, just behind the gunner, facing the nozzle of the gun... 

The rather thick wings were quite rectangular, except at the root, where a triangular hollow have been managed to obtain better views for the spotter. 

Such a hollow may had adverse consequences on the speed, because it appeared as an anti-Karman fairing.

The vertical tail, rather symmetrical above and beneath the fuselage, may had given a good control in all case of low speed flight.

Nevertheless, the upper part of the tail was modified in the two last variants (GL 812 / GL 813), likely to take into account either the triangular hollows of the wing roots or the presence of the third crew member (or both).

The empty mass of the GL 810 was 1,650 kg, increasing to 2,300 kg at take off (2,450 kg with 150 kg of bombs). 

The wings totaled an area of 41 m² de surface with a span of 16 m, giving an aspect ratio of 6.24.

The wing loading was 52 kg/m² without bombs, allowing a very good maneuverability.

The top speed was 200 kph at sea level and the cruise speed was 155 kph. 

Such performances were pretty good for a float plane at the end of the 20’s.

The total range was 560 km.

The service ceiling was a bit less than 6,000 m and the climb to 3,000 m took 16 minutes.

The armament consisted in one synchronized Vickers riffle-caliber machine gun firing through the air screw and 2 others used by the gunner.

In 1932, one added a launcher for 150 kg of bombs in 1 or 2 bombs. Such an armament allowed to attack efficiently a submarine, a destroyer or even a light cruiser.

On the Béarn aircraft carrier, the recce aircraft was the Levasseur PL 10 biplane which entered service in 1929.

She weighted 1,820 kg empty and 2,880 kg at take off (400 kg heavier than the GL 810). The wing area was 57 m², allowing a marginally lower wing loading.

The engine was a Hispano-Suiza 12 Lb delivering 600 hp.

The top speed was 200 kph at sea level and the total range did not exceed 400 km, signifying an operational radius of no more than 100 NM!

The service ceiling was 5,500 m and she climbed to 2,000 m in 10 min.

The comparizon between these two aircrafts playing a similar role in the same Navy at the same time show how better was the aerodynamic study of the Gourdou-Leseure 810 design. Remember, she was a float plane. 

Using a terrestrial landing gear instead of floats, she could fly at least 30 kph faster, as also a significantly greater range.

Anyway, after the successful catapult trials, 24 GL 810 were ordered at the end of 1929.

In September 1931, 20 new float planes were ordered with folding wings (GL 811). 27 others were ordered in 1932 (GL 812) with a taller vertical tail plane and 15 Gl 813 in 1933.

All these orders, totaling 86 seaplanes, acknowledged the satisfaction of the French naval users.

Requested by the pilots for training for the Schneider Trophy

The Schneider Trophy (Coupe Schneider) was a seaplane race created in 1913 by the Frenchman Jacques Schneider. After WW I, it became a much mediatized meeting where developed countries challenged the others.

After 1924, a lot of taxes were attributed to the men who had greatly helped the Nation in creating one of the most powerful war industry of the world, except for the battleships. 

They were negatively dubbed “marchands de canons” (one may translate as men who whose wealth had been made of the blood of our boys, this being, historically, completely wrong) and a lot of companies were destroyed this way.

Doing this, the engine industry was unable to create quickly new motors and the aircraft industry were more attracted by the crossing the oceans and the continents.

In 1928, the French government decided to sponsor the participation of two types of float plane conceived and built by the last two French challengers of the World Air Speed Record: 
  • Nieuport-Delage (which previously break the Air Speed Record in February 1923 with 375 kph), 
  • Avions Bernard (which held the same record from 1924 to 1927 with 448 kph).
The chosen engine would have been the Hispano-Suiza 18 R, gathering 3 six cylinder blocks to a common crankshaft.

The engine delivered about 1,650 hp but, being developed too quickly, was plagued by teething troubles induced by the important power and the difficult cooling.

But the main shortcoming was the poor seaplane training of the pilots. 

The leader of the French squadron for high speed, CC (Lt Cdr) Amanrich, was completely aware that his pilots were excellent, but they were only fighter pilots and most of them were not accustomed to fly any kind of seaplane. 

In the French Navy, most of them were flying boats, as the FBA which had a top speed of 140 kph. 

As the best layout for a fast seaplane was the float plane, Amanrich ask several times to use of one Gourdou-Leseurre 810 to give his pilots a good feeling {Source: Les Avions Bernard, Docavia n°31}.

He was absolutely right to begin the training with such a seaplane, unfortunately the deciders refused persistently!

Today, it is easy to imagine the potential capabilities of this float plane with only the pilot, a NACA cowling, weighting less than 1,600 kg, with a thinner and significantly smaller wing area 25 m² (for example).

Such a float plane could have been faster, allowing a much better training. A fighter float plane could even have been derived…   

The operational GL 810

In 1929, the Gourdou-Leseurre 810 were embarked successfully in the two heavy cruisers (10,000 tw) Suffren and Duquesne.

So, the Navy ordered four series of about 20 aircrafts.

The GL 810, 811, 812 and 813 flew in every place where the French Navy was. They appeared absolutely essential to the fleet.

Each time, the orders requested new alteration of the aircraft, enhancing the craftsman sight of this production.

Obviously, after an always too short delay, the Navy was complaining about the long delay needed by the company to fulfill its wants!

One must highlight the amazingly low rate of fatal crashes (4.7%).

The crashes were often associated to a dis-symmetric submersion of one float at excessive speed, a scenario frequently linked with strong wind and poor visibility.

In 1935, the French seamen were convinced they might use of better aircrafts… some new models have been chosen.

So, the “old” GL 813 were used to connecting flights.

At war

After the beginning of the WW II, the 1st September 1939, most of the activity of the GL 813 became anti-submarine patrols.

These little float planes were perfectly conceived for combat.

During the first week of WW II, a GL 813 of the Saint-Mandrier base (3S1) bombed in semi-dive a submerged submarine without clear result, except the two other GL 813 bombed an oil leak just after her attack.

That was the proof of the complete suitability of this float plane to her anti-submarine struggle.

In May 1940, 3 squadrons were still equipped with their Gourdou float planes. As all others French units, they retreated to evade the German onslaught.

On the very last days of the Battle of France, the GL 813 left Lorient hydro-base and landed at the Hourtin one. 
They were completely overloaded, carrying 4 men with their luggage and supplementary equipment.
That was a very good performance for aircraft in very active service since at least 6 years!

Unfortunately, all the men were POW, because the evacuation was decided too lately (Source: W. Green, Floatplanes of WW II, #6).

The 2 other squadrons, having retreated to the Mediterranean theater, were safe.

The last flight of a Gourdou-Leseurre 812 was done at Fort de France (Martinique) in 1944, eighteen years after the maiden flight of her prototype.

Changing the Gourdou-Leseurre 812 for the Lioré-Olivier H 43? 

(Source: l’Hydravion de Surveillance LéO H 43, Gérard Bousquet, Air Magazine, #25, April 205)

Just after the delivering of the first series GL 810, a new competition was launched to create her successor. A great attention was given to the total range.

From all appearances, the good fairies were not there at the inception of the Lioré & Olivier H 43 float plane.

The naval staff committees imposed a huge balcony underneath the fuselage in a perfect place to get a maximum amount of water spray during take off.

As a consequence, the LéO’s engineers designed a stocky and bulbous fuselage of traditional mixed construction.

A lot of struts were used to link the floats to the fuselage as to the wings!

The rectangular wings totaled 36 m² and had a span of 16 m.

The fuselage had the 3 members of the crew protected by a long glass cockpit rather rectangular.

At the beginning, the mass of the prototype was only 1,760 kg
 (empty, without any military equipment) and increased up to 3,000 kg for take off.

Her Hispano 9Va engine delivering 575 hp was “streamlined” by a simple Townend ring.

As it was, the top speed reached 237 kph. 

That was only 15 kph above than one could obtain using a similarly powerful engine on the old Gourdou-Leseurre 812…

LéO H 43 (series) – A layout multiplying all things needed to fly slow and unsafe!

But the fate of the H 43 series was even worst.

The long glass cockpit canopy of the prototype was eliminated at the same time the pilot was transferred on the second seat.

That resulted from the report of L.V. Hamelet, who explained “very seriously” that a pilot was only a beginner who had to learn all and the spotter was an officer, who had to command.

So, as usual in French Navy since the Nieuport used in 1914, the pilot of the series aircrafts was sit behind the spotter. His seat was mounted higher to have an almost correct (?) forward sight.

A gunner seat was in the most rearward place but this man had another place to use the radio, so the pilot had also to keep out for any rearward attack.

In such a case, one expected he was circling above a point of interest!

Each crew member was protected by a personal wind screen (see the above photo) and the rather small vertical tail had very few chances to receive a smooth airflow...   

The series float plane, fitted with a HS 9Vb delivering 720 hp
, the same one fitted on the Loire 210 float plane fighter, was expected to fly at ~260 kph.

Compared to that of the prototype, the empty weight was 2,462 kg (700 kg heavier than the prototype!), the take off weight was 3,410 kg.

The sum of all these insane aerodynamic alterations explain perfectly why the top speed of this float plane never exceeded 222 kph…

The flying qualities were definitely bad, delaying her service entry during 4 years until February 1940.

{A better solution was not to place the pilot after the spotter, but either to use only pilot officers or to transfer the spotting knowledge of the officers to the pilots.

The reduced crew inducing less drag and a lighter operational weight.

In any case, all the pilots have always exceptional spotting qualities and are better prepared to determine the dimensions of the spotted objects.}

These aircrafts were frequently stopped by structural or mechanical bugs: E.g., the gas was unable to reach the engine, the two compass were ill-mounted on these aircrafts, so they were always vibrating, inducing a very inaccurate navigation!

Lately, the catapult trials demonstrated the LéO H 43 was too heavy, so she was relegated to coastal watch…

That was the logic consequence of the mismanagement of the internal space of this aircraft.

The French seamen deciders were accustomed to very large vessels. In these old times, commanding their battleships, they are neither aware that any supplementary working place would necessary be translated in additional weight and drag.

So, the LéO H 43 was designed with five working places (for a crew of 3), had at least one and half time of the optimal drag and weighted 700 kg more than necessary.

Finally, the LéO H 43 were superseded by… the old GL 812 / 813, much more simple, quite as fast, much more maneuverable and very much efficient!

The Loire 130 flying boat

The French deciders chosen the Loire 130 which was ordered in 1936 and entered service in 1937.

She was a reliable and sturdy seaplane with a very reliable pusher engine.

Moreover, this flying boat was conceived like a boat, the pilot being seated just under the air intake of the engine radiator and the spotter.

The empty mass was 2,050 kg, increasing to 3,300 kg at take off, without the bombs (150 kg).

The wing area was 40 m² for a span of 16 m, giving the same aspect ratio of the GL 812 wings.

The Hispano-Suiza 12 X engine delivered 690 hp. The pusher disposition was not optimal at all, especially for the cooling of the engine.

The chosen radiator air intake was huge and it had very few exits to evacuate the hot air…

This aircraft had a top speed of 220 kph and a cruise speed of 155 kph (like the GL 812).

The service ceiling was 6,000 m and the climbing to 3,000 m took 12 minutes.

The total radius was about 1,200 km.

This level of performances, very similar to that of the British Walrus, was low for the times: T
he rather earlier biplane (maiden flight in 1934) Nakajima E8N, with a crew of only 2, had a top speed of 300 kph and a cruise speed of 186 kph.

Her ceiling was 7,300 m and she climbed to 3,000 m in 6’ 31”.

Loire 130 on the Mer et Marine site.
Among the 150 Loire 130 ordered, 124 were built.

The first of them entered service in 1937.

Amazingly, at the very beginning of WW II, all the seaplane embarked on cruisers and battleships were left.

That was a decision of the commanding officers of these vessels, something looking like a strike… 

The pretext was the difficulty to recover the seaplanes, even they could observe the commanding officers in the other Navies who were perfectly accustom to such a maneuver.

Indeed, in all these other Navies, the destroyers were mainly used to combat submarines instead of used for hopeless artillery combats with cruisers!

Moreover, some French vessels (the six La-Galissonière class 7,500 tw cruisers and the Commandant Teste seaplane tender) had a notched carpet allowing the recovery of their seaplanes at speed not exceeding 15 knots.  

Maybe after the sinking of the HMS Courageous by the U-29, the September 17, 1939, the seaplanes were again embarked on the French vessels.

So, in June 1940, two of the 3 Loire 130 embarked on three of the recent 7,500 tw cruisers attacked with their bombs a submerged Italian submarine, the Dandolo, just after she had launched her torpedoes on one of the cruisers.

The perfect dive of her Loire 130 giving the launching point, the cruiser evaded the accurately aimed Italian torpedo.

After that, the cruisers increased their speed to more than 30 kts and entered safely in an Algerian coast harbor preceded by their seaplanes (!).

The Loire 130 could also have been perfectly suited to SAR missions, as was the British floatplane Walrus.

After the termination of WW II, some Loire 130 were used during the French Guerre d’Indochine (First Vietnam War).


As you can see, the emergence of the French Aéronavale was a long, difficult and bloody process.

It’s amazing to see how fast the Japanese Navy became technically and intellectually so well prepared to use of its aircrafts with most of its boats.

If United Kingdom was shocked by the sinking of 2 aircraft carriers (due to huge errors of their commanding officers) during the first year of WW II, one may acknowledge how brilliantly Admiral Andrew Cunningham used of his aircrafts when he attacked Taranto harbor in the night of November 11, 1940.

(The loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse in 1941 under Admiral Philips command demonstrated the deciders were not completely cured about the bad - or absent - using of embarked airplanes.)

Since the French Guerre d’Indochine (Vietnam), after long years of errors, pain and work, the French Aéronavale became a strong and very efficient force.

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