Wednesday, 18 January 2012
The CAMS 37 was an inter-war flying boat built in France that saw widespread service in the French naval air arm both at home and abroad. At least one example was still flying in a Vichy unit in 1942. While perhaps not as well known as other French flying boats such as the Farman Goliath, the CAMS 55 or the Breguet Bizerte, virtually every French pilot of the period would have flown one, the type being deployed to the West Indies, Indo-China and Tahiti and on-board ship. Originally designed for military reconnaissance, three main versions were produced in series and later employed in a number of secondary roles including liaison and training. It was the first design for Chantiers Aéro-Maritimes de la Seine (CAMS) based at Sartrouville on the banks of the river Seine by the company's new head designer, Maurice Hurel (1886-1982). Conceived for the coastal and ship-borne reconnaissance role the prototype was displayed at the 1926 Salon de l'Aéronautique in Paris. It was a conventional biplane flying boat very similar to previous CAMS designs with a wooden hull, metallic struts and fabric-covered wings which could be folded. It was powered by a 400hp Lorraine engine mounted on struts in the interplane gap driving a pusher propeller. The prototype -coded S.10 - was flown to Fréjus on the Cote d'Azur for testing by Hurel himself in February 1926. The second prototype received a new enlarged and 'squared-off' rudder after prototype testing highlighted problems in lateral stability. The prototype's rearward slanted mounting struts were replaced with vertical struts on production machines, while prototype no. 002 was the first CAMS 37 to be fitted with wheeled landing gear, resulting in the 'A' (atterissage - landing) designator. After testing the type was ordered into service before the end of the year. The CAMS 37A saw service with the French Navy, the Portuguese government, and the aeroclub of Martinique. During July and August 1927 the first prototype served on board the warship 'Bretagne'.
The aircraft became something of a jack-of-all-trades for the French Navy, operating from every Naval Air Station and from many capital ships. Some of the type's most significant moments were trials conducted by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, who deployed two 'civilianised' CAMS 37s on the SS Île de France to evaluate the feasibility of catapult-launched mail-planes for their transatlantic liners. Another feted exploit was LV René Guilbaud's long range flight through French and British territories in Africa between October 1927 and March 1928. Unfortunately the CAMS encountered engine difficulties and made an emergency landing on the Niger in the Belgian Congo at Lokodja. Only the acompanying LeO H 194 flown by LV Marc Bernard reached Madagascar before returning to Marseille. In the course of the flight, Bernard covered 22,600 km (14,000 mi) in 38 stages.
Based on Guilbaud's CAMS 37 GR long-range variant, the second major production version of the CAMS 37 was the CAMS 37 LIA (liaison) which featured a re-designed hull and space for two passengers behind the pilot. Thirty six examples were constructed. One machine served on board the French aircraft carrier Béarn. The CAMS 37 E ( for 'entrainement' or 'training') was a training variant minus landing gear featuring dual controls in its open cockpit and some 70 of the type were in service in the Aéronautique navale in September 1939.
The CAMS 37 was gradually phased out of operational service in the mid to late 1930s, and by the time World War II started in September 1939, the aircraft had been relegated to training and communication roles. On mobilisation, however, CAMS 37/11 trainers were used by two units for coastal patrol, with one unit, Escadrille 2S2 continuing in service until August 1940. Outside mainland France, CAMS 37/11 trainers continued in use with a Free French unit in Tahiti until 15 January 1941, and with a Vichy France unit in Indochina until 1942.
Below - CAMS 37 GR (grand raid) seen at Fréjus in 1927. The 'GR' was conceived for a long-distance flight from the French Mediterranean port across Africa and featured a metal hull. The cockpit had an enclosed cabin and the forward and rear observers posts as well as the wheeled gear were deleted. Via 'Avions' magazine with permission of the editor M. Ledet. See Avions no. 118 "Les CAMS 37 de la Marine"