Friday, July 4, 2014

Arado Ar 196 Seaplane

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
The Arado Ar 196 in a contemporary ad.

While the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) never did finish off its aircraft carrier projects, it did have a need for shipboard and land-based reconnaissance planes. The Arado Ar 196 fit the bill nicely, and was one area in which the Germans got it right early and never had to change.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
Arado Ar.196A-3 on board German battleship "Tirpitz," in launch position.

In 1933, the Kriegsmarine began gearing up for the major rearmament program that new Chancellor Adolf Hitler was secretly planning. For their recon plane they turned to the German Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium, or RLM), headed by Hermann Goering, who gave them the Heinkel 60 biplane. Biplanes were fine, and in fact the British used a biplane torpedo bomber, the Swordfish, to great effect long into World War II.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane

However, the He 60 was inadequate, and within a couple of years a replacement was sought. This, too, proved unacceptable (the He 114), so the RLM held a competition among Dornier, Gotha, Arado and Focke-Wulf (Heinkel refusing to admit that the He 114 had failed).

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
Arado Ar-196A SAGr 126 (DN+IG) WNr 1960277.

The winner was the Ar 196, the only monoplane entered. Deliveries commenced in summer 1937. Several models were designed, V1 and V2 having twin floats and V3 and V4 with single floats. The twin float model was selected. The main land-based version, the A-2 model, could carry two 50 kg bombs and was armed with two 20 mm MG FF cannon, with a 7.92 mm MG 17 machine gun firing through the propeller.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
Arado Ar-196A 2.SAGr 125 (7R+HK) escorting merchant ships Mediterranean 1942.

The final production model was the A-5 in 1943 with minor cockpit modifications and a MG81Z for the rear gun. A total of 541 were built.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane

The Ar 196 flew off of German cruisers, surface raiders such as "Thor," and battleships. However, its main duty was land-based, that is, from harbors, not from ships. It could transport agents, ferry small supplies and even intercept light bombers. Experience during World War II showed conclusively that it was more important to have a solid and dependable aircraft for many missions rather than ones with the fanciest new technology. The Germans' use of their Ar 196 seaplanes exemplified this idea.

Arado AR 196 seaplane

No doubt a Luftwaffe fighter pilot or bomber crewman or two were rescued in air-sea rescue operations as well. It was a handy utility player in areas of light opposition.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane

The Ar 196 was no match for a Spitfire, a Mustang, or any Allied fighter in fact. Taking a fighter on was not the Arado's purpose, that would be like asking how well a dog meows. However, they were extremely useful in all sorts of roles, especially in hostile climate environments. It was superior in its role of search and rescue in distant fjords to anything the Allies had. In other words, it did its job, and did it well within its obvious limitations, and that is all you can ask of any airplane.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
This would have been what the captain of the Seal saw as he swam over to surrender.

Perhaps the Arado's finest moment was the capture of the British minelayer submarine HMS Seal in the Kattegat, the only Allied submarine captured on the surface during the war.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
Arado Ar 196A launch catapult KMS Gneisenau, a typical setup for a cruiser. It would have been launched before enemy action.

The captain of the Seal had to swim over to a Ar 196 to surrender his boat. The capture aided the Kriegsmarine by revealing details of the British torpedo firing device that were incorporated into new U-Boat designs.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
An Arado Ar196A-3 aircraft on KMS Tirpitz prepares for catapult launch.

There is one Ar 196 precisely in the position it was in during World War II. It has not changed a meter from where it was in May 1941. However, this one is a bit difficult to see - it is sitting at approximately 15,700 feet below the surface. It is inside the main hangar on the Bismarck.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
A rare photo of the Arado 196 hangar on the Bismarck. The catapault would not work on the final night, so the planes could not take off. At least one remains in the hangar to this day, with only the tail blown off by shell fire. The Tirpitz had tracks installed from the hangar for the planes to make movement easier - that is how we know this positively must be a photo of the Bismarck. (Ang, Federal Archive). 

On the Bismarck and Tirpitz, the aircraft were not stored on the catapult as was customary on other capital ships, but rather in one of three hangars: either in one of of the small hangars adjacent to each side of the stack, or in the main hangar immediately aft of the stack. Their wings were folded to minimize the storage space required. The Bismarck was equipped with four Arado Ar 196 for reconnaissance and patrol duties. Two aircraft were stored in a 1291.7 feet² (120 m²) double hangar located under the mainmast. The remaining two aircraft were stored in a 645.8 feet² (60 m²) single hangar on each side of the funnel amidships. To save space, the wings could be folded. The aircraft were part of the 1/Bordfliegerstaffel 196 (1/Shipboard Squadron 196). The squadron was formed on 1 October 1937 (originally operating Heinkel He 60 biplanes). From 1 September 1943 it changed name to 1./Bordfliegergruppe 196. The pilots and technicians were members of the Luftwaffe. The observers were members of the Kriegsmarine.

Secondary hangar on the Bismarck, alongside the funnel.

The catapult itself was also stowed when not in use. Cover plates that were flush with the deck protected the catapult in the stowed position, and the ends of the catapult were withdrawn into the tunnel below the deck surface.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
The catapault on the Bismarck. The plates had to be removed to launch and a piece extended over the side. Other ships did not have nearly this much space. (Ang, Federal Archive).

To deploy one of the aircraft, the cover plates over the catapult were opened, and the two extensions were pulled out, port and starboard. The hangar door was opened (as was a second smaller door in the peak of the rafters in the case of deploying from a small hangar), and the aircraft wheeled out in a storage cradle that also served as the launch cradle. The cradle ran on a set of tracks that joined the tracks of the catapult itself - much as a train siding meets the main line. The aircraft was wheeled out, the cradle set and locked into the catapult launch mechanism, and its wings unfolded and locked into place. The clamps holding the fuselage to the cradle were unfastened, and the engine prepared for takeoff.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
Launching an Arado Ar.196A-3 on the Tirpitz.

This Arado rests in the hanger of the Bismarck, and was filmed by James Cameron during his 2002 Expedition Bismarck using Mir submersibles which could enter the interior of the ship. There may also be one or more on the Tirpitz up in Norway, but that is a bit less certain. The one on the Bismarck has been filmed.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
Arado Ar 196 A-2 (7R+HK).

The Ar 196 wasn't a fancy fighter or a famous bomber, nor was it a sexy jet or terrifying pilot-less bomb. However, it was the kind of serviceable multi-purpose aircraft that makes life difficult for enemies and projects power to remote areas.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
I had absolutely no idea when I made this page that this plane was popular enough to warrant a scale model. It just seemed like a cool plane.

Arado 196 seaplane floatplane
A very nice model put together by Roland Sachsenhofer from the Revell 1:32 kit, showing how a little artistry can transform the bare plastic.


1 comment:

  1. The image of D-OGDY is incorrectly captioned - it is actually an Ar 95 photographed in the late 1930s, before the red tail band was removed from German aircraft.