BILL EWING COLLECTION
No. 12310. Latécoère 298 French Navy
Photograph from service historique de l’armée de l’air

Latécoère 298

02/28/2014. Remarks by Johan Visschedijk: "Characterized by extreme sturdiness of structure and exceptional maneuverability, features destined to stand it in good stead during the German offensive against France of May 1940, the 298 was designed in 1934 at the Toulouse-Montaudran plant of the Société Industriéllé d'Aviation Latécoère to meet requirements framed by the French Navy in the previous year for a torpedo floatplane of advanced performance to succeed the Latécoère 29.0 which had just entered service. The prototype, the 298-01, was completed in the spring of 1936, and transported to Saint-Laurent-de-Ia-Salanque for trials from the Leucate Lake from where it flew for the first time on May 8.

A mid-wing cantilever monoplane powered by an 880 hp Hispano-Suiza 12Ycrsl twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled V-engine, the 298-01 had a two-spar all-metal wing built in four sections, the entire trailing edges of which were hinged, the inner portions acting as camber-changing flaps and the outer portions as ailerons. The stub inner portions of the wings which attached to the fuselage frames housed semi-retractable radiators between the spars.

The fuselage was an all-metal stressed-skin structure of rectangular section providing accommodation for either two or three crew members, and a single 1,477 lb (670 kg) Type 1926 DA torpedo was accommodated semi-externally by a ventral crutch. The tailplane was of all-metal construction and the vertical surfaces had metal frames and wooden ribs covered by fabric. The exceptionally large single-step floats each housed a 68.4 gal (259 l) fuel tank and were attached by N-struts to the wings and by parallel sloping struts to the fuselage.

Manufacturers' trials were completed on September 24, 1936, after 24 hours and 35 minutes had been logged in the air, and during these trials a spreader bar had been added between the floats, this being retained for subsequent production machines. On September 25 the 298-01 was flown to Saint Raphaël for official trials, and on March 17, 1937, the Navy requested 36 aircraft of which twelve were to be fitted with folding wing outer panels for operation from the seaplane tender Commandant Teste.

Accordingly, on August 10, 1937, contracts were placed for 24 model 298A floatplanes with fixed wings and twelve model 298Bs with folding wing outer panels, folding tailplane tips, two-piece flaps, and dual controls. The 298A was essentially similar to the 298-01 apart from a redesigned cockpit enclosure providing improved vision for the crew members. The 298B also provided accommodation for four crew members, an observer's station having been inserted in the fuselage aft of the gunner's station.

Both variants had the TGPU/CEPA crutch-type torpedo housing which could accommodate an 141 gal (534 l) auxiliary fuel tank for the so-called Mission 111 (reconnaissance with 1,367 mls, 2,200 km range) or a smoke-screen housing for Mission V (shipping protection), and could be supplanted by two GPV racks for 331 lb (150 kg) bombs for Mission 11 (bombardment) or by nine racks for flares for Mission IV (night observation).

The 298A floatplanes were production aircraft Nos. 1 to 24 inclusive, 298B production commencing with aircraft No. 25. On April 2, 1938, a further contract was signed for fifteen 298Bs (Nos. 37 to 51) and five 298Ds (Nos. 52 to 56), the latter being similar to the B-model apart from having the wing folding equipment eliminated, the designation 298C being applied to a version of the floatplane which was not proceeded with.

On ]une 22, 1938, the 298-01 was flown for the first time with an electrically-actuated Ratier constant-speed airscrew similar to that selected for the production models which were being assembled at Biscarosse, the fuselages and floats having been built at Montaudran and the wings and tail assemblies at Anglet, near Bayonne. The 298-01 was used for conversion training at Saint Raphaël from October 28, 1938, and on October 29 the first production 298A had flown at Biscarosse, deliveries of the floatplane commencing during the following December.

A further batch of 25 298D floatplanes (Nos. 57 to 81) was ordered on April 5, 1939, but as the output of Ratier airscrews was not keeping pace with airframe delivery, on August 29. 1939, it was decided to temporarily fit the Chauvière 5427 fixed-pitch two-blade wooden airscrew. This airscrew necessitated a reduction in normal loaded weight from 10,141 to 9,700 lb (4,600 to 4,400 kg) and called for a 121.5 lb (55 kg) ballast weight attached to the second frame of each float.

At the beginning of the WW II, the French Navy possessed four 298-equipped Escadrilles, and by the following month, 53 floatplanes of this type were serving with the Navy, and 28 had still to be delivered. A further 65 298s were ordered on November 22, 1939, and on January 9, 1940, the 68th production machine (a 298D) was accepted at Biscarosse.

On March 10, 1940, the 81st production machine was handed back to the manufacturers by the Navy for conversion as an observation machine under the designation 298E. The cockpit enclosure was extended and the torpedo crutch removed and replaced by an observer's gondola. The 298E was intended for the dual role of observation and coastal patrol, and for the latter task carried the standard defensive armament of three 0.295 in (7.5 mm) Dame machineguns, and two 165 lb (75 kg) G2 bombs could be carried over a range of 963 mls (1,550 km).

On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded France and an Armistice was signed on June 22, however, deliveries of 298s continued to the navy of the newly formed French Vichy government until all 146 aircraft were delivered to eight Escadrilles. More than a year later rroduction of the floatplane was resumed in March 1942 with the authorization of the German Armistice Commission, thirty 298Fs being ordered, these being identical to the 298D apart from some simplification of the controls. After the occupation of German forces of the till then Zone libre ("free zone") in November 1942, every attempt was made on the part of the personnel of the Berre factory to slow down deliveries of the 298 so that the Luftwaffe would never have sufficient aircraft to equip an operational Staffel.

On 298 equipped Escadrille was still operational after the military forces of the Vichy government switched side to the Allied forces. By April 1, 1944, Escadrille 2S was operating with RAF Coastal Command, co-operating with Wellingtons which acted as submarine hunters, the Laté 298s serving as the killers. In November 1944, Escadrille 2S was transferred to Saint Mandrier to patrol France's southern coastline, its equipment being reinforced by a half-dozen Laté 298s discovered in Luftwaffe markings afloat at Berre.

Four other machines (Nos. 41, 49, 81 and 126) were discovered in storage at Berre, and a second 298 unit was therefore formed, Escadrille 3S which came into existence at Saint Mandrier on April 1, 1945. From April 10 four 298s of Escadrille 2S were based at Hourtin to patrol the waters off the German strongholds on the French Atlantic coast, and scored a number of successes against German armed trawlers, forcing two of these to enter French-occupied harbors and surrender. From January 1943 to VE-day, the 298s of Escadrille 2S alone logged 5,363 operational flying hours during 2,038 sorties.

Escadrille 3S was transferred to Immenstadt, near Friedrichshafen, Germany, on May 15, 1945, using its 298s for policing patrols until the unit was disbanded on February 1, 1946. Escadrille 2S was disbanded two months later, and all the surviving 298s of both units were transferred to Escadrille 53S (Ecole des Pilotes d'Hydravions) at Hourtin where all but three were finally scrapped in 1950. Of the three, two were handed over to the Aéronavale technical school at Rochefort and one was maintained in flying condition, the last-mentioned machine being statically displayed during the 1951 Salon Nautique after having alighted on the Seine at Suresnes."

Created February 28, 2014