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Hawker Sea Hurricane Z7015


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mauld #1 Posted 11 February 2014 - 06:44 AM

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CAM ships were World War II-era British merchant ships used in convoys as an emergency stop-gap until sufficient escort carriers became available. CAM ship is an acronym for catapult aircraft merchant ship. A CAM ship was equipped with a rocket-propelled catapult launching a single Hawker Hurricane, dubbed a "Hurricat" or "Catafighter". CAM ships continued to carry their normal cargoes after conversion.

After the Fall of France in June 1940, long range German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 reconnaissance aircraft of I/KG40 shadowed and bombed merchant shipping from the French airfield at Bordeaux-Merignac. The Admiralty had already experimented with fighter catapult ships - converted freighters, equipped with a single rocket-launched fighter, manned by naval crews. They ordered 50 more rocket-propelled catapults for fitting aboard merchant ships. These were equipped with fifty Hawker Hurricane Mark I aircraft, converted to Sea Hurricane Ia's as a temporary measure to provide fighter protection beyond the range of bases on the British Isles. The ship was not fitted for aircraft recovery, so, unless close to land, the pilot would bail out or ditch in the sea at the end of the flight and the plane would be lost.

The RAF formed the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit (MSFU) on 5 May 1941 in RAF Speke by the River Mersey in Liverpool. Wing Commander E.S. Moulton-Barrett commanded the unit providing training for volunteer pilots, Fighter Direction Officers (FDOs) and airmen. After training, MSFU crews were posted to Liverpool, Glasgow or Avonmouth where they assisted in loading their Hurricanes onto the catapults. Each team consisted of one pilot for Atlantic runs (or two pilots for voyages to Russia, Gibraltar or the Mediterranean Sea) with one fitter, one rigger, one radio-telephone operator, one FDO and a seaman torpedoman who worked on the catapult as an electrician.

MSFU crews signed ships articles as civilian crew members under the authority of the civilian ship's master. The ship's chief engineer became responsible for the catapult and the first mate acted as Catapult Duty Officer (CDO) responsible for firing the catapult when directed. The single Hurricane fighter was launched only when enemy aircraft were sighted and agreement was reached via hand and flag signals between the pilot, CDO and ship's master.

The first four or five ships were taken into Royal Navy service as "Auxiliary Fighter Catapult Ships", and later conversions were officially named CAMs manned by merchant crews. The first CAM ship, Michael E, was sponsored by the Royal Navy while the RAF MSFUs were working up. After a trial launch off Belfast, Michael E sailed with convoy OB 327 on 28 May 1941. She was sunk by U-108 on 2 June. The first RAF trial CAM launch was from Empire Rainbow at Greenock on the River Clyde on 31 May 1941, the Hurricane landed at Abbotsinch. Six CAM ships joined convoys in June 1941. When a CAM ship arrived at its destination, the pilot usually launched and landed at a nearby airfield to get in as much flight time as possible before his return trip. Pilots were rotated out of CAM assignments after two round-trip voyages to avoid the deterioration of flying skills from the lack of flying time during the assignment.

CAM sailings were initially limited to North American convoys with aircraft maintenance performed by the Royal Canadian Air Force at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. CAM ships sailed on Gibraltar and Freetown convoys beginning in September, 1941, after an aircraft maintenance unit was established at the RAF base at North Front, Gibraltar. No CAM aircraft were provided during January and February 1942 after it proved impossible to maintain the catapult-mounted aircraft in flying order during the North Atlantic winter. CAM sailings resumed on 6 March 1942 on North Atlantic convoys and in April on the Arctic Russian convoys with a RAF aircraft maintenance unit in Archangelsk.


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