CAM ship
CAM ships were World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

-era British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 merchant ships used in convoy
A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support, though it may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas.-Age of Sail:Naval...

s as an emergency stop-gap until sufficient escort carrier
Escort aircraft carrier
The escort aircraft carrier or escort carrier, also called a "jeep carrier" or "baby flattop" in the USN or "Woolworth Carrier" by the Royal Navy, was a small and slow type of aircraft carrier used by the British Royal Navy , the Imperial Japanese Navy and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, and the...

s became available. CAM is an acronym for catapult aircraft merchantman. A CAM ship was equipped with a rocket
A rocket is a missile, spacecraft, aircraft or other vehicle which obtains thrust from a rocket engine. In all rockets, the exhaust is formed entirely from propellants carried within the rocket before use. Rocket engines work by action and reaction...

-propelled catapult
Aircraft catapult
An aircraft catapult is a device used to launch aircraft from ships—in particular aircraft carriers—as a form of assisted take off. It consists of a track built into the flight deck, below which is a large piston or shuttle that is attached through the track to the nose gear of the aircraft, or in...

 launching a single Hawker Sea Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

, 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
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG was a German manufacturer of civil and military aircraft before and during World War II. Many of the company's successful fighter aircraft designs were slight modifications of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.-History:...

 Fw 200
Focke-Wulf Fw 200
The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, also known as Kurier to the Allies was a German all-metal four-engine monoplane originally developed by Focke-Wulf as a long-range airliner...

Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

 aircraft of I/KG40 shadowed and bombed merchant shipping from the French airfield at Bordeaux-Merignac. The Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 had already experimented with fighter catapult ship
Fighter catapult ship
Fighter catapult ships also known as Catapult Armed Ships were an attempt by the Royal Navy to provide air cover at sea. Five ships were acquired and commissioned as Naval vessels early in the Second World War and these were used to accompany convoys....

s - converted freighters, equipped with a single rocket-launched
JATO is an acronym for jet-fuel assisted take off. It is a system for helping overloaded aircraft into the air by providing additional thrust in the form of small rockets....

 fighter, manned by naval crews. They ordered 50 more rocket-propelled catapult
A catapult is a device used to throw or hurl a projectile a great distance without the aid of explosive devices—particularly various types of ancient and medieval siege engines. Although the catapult has been used since ancient times, it has proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms during...

s for fitting aboard merchant ships. These were equipped with fifty Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

 Mark I aircraft, converted to Sea Hurricane IAs as a temporary measure to provide fighter protection beyond the range of bases on the British Isles
British Isles
The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and...

. 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
Merchant Ship Fighter Unit
The Merchant Ship Fighter Unit was a Royal Air Force operational aircraft unit based at RAF Speke during World War II. The aircraft operated by the MSFU were Hawker Sea Hurricanes. These planes were operated from 35 merchant ships outfitted with a catapult on the bow, referred to as Catapult...

 (MSFU) on 5 May 1941 in RAF Speke
Liverpool John Lennon Airport
Liverpool John Lennon Airport is an international airport serving the city of Liverpool and the North West of England. Formerly known as Speke Airport, RAF Speke, and Liverpool Airport the airport is located within the City of Liverpool adjacent to the estuary of the River Mersey some southeast...

 by the River Mersey
River Mersey
The River Mersey is a river in North West England. It is around long, stretching from Stockport, Greater Manchester, and ending at Liverpool Bay, Merseyside. For centuries, it formed part of the ancient county divide between Lancashire and Cheshire....

 in Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

. 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
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

 or Avonmouth
Avonmouth is a port and suburb of Bristol, England, located on the Severn Estuary, at the mouth of the River Avon.The council ward of Avonmouth also includes Shirehampton and the western end of Lawrence Weston.- Geography :...

 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
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

 or the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

) 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 CAM ship, Michael E, was sponsored by the Royal Navy while the RAF MSFUs were working up. After a trial launch off Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

, 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
Greenock is a town and administrative centre in the Inverclyde council area in United Kingdom, and a former burgh within the historic county of Renfrewshire, located in the west central Lowlands of Scotland...

 on the River Clyde
River Clyde
The River Clyde is a major river in Scotland. It is the ninth longest river in the United Kingdom, and the third longest in Scotland. Flowing through the major city of Glasgow, it was an important river for shipbuilding and trade in the British Empire....

 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
Royal Canadian Air Force
The history of the Royal Canadian Air Force begins in 1920, when the air force was created as the Canadian Air Force . In 1924 the CAF was renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force and granted royal sanction by King George V. The RCAF existed as an independent service until 1968...

 at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Dartmouth founded in 1750, is a community and planning area of the Halifax Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia. Located on the eastern shore of Halifax Harbour, Dartmouth has been nicknamed the City of Lakes after the large number of lakes located in the city.On April 1, 1996, the provincial...

. CAM ships sailed on Gibraltar and Freetown
Freetown is the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa. It is a major port city on the Atlantic Ocean located in the Western Area of the country, and had a city proper population of 772,873 at the 2004 census. The city is the economic, financial, and cultural center of...

 convoys beginning in September, 1941, after an aircraft maintenance unit was established at the RAF base at North Front
RAF Gibraltar
Royal Air Force Station Gibraltar, better known as RAF Gibraltar and formally as North Front, is a Royal Air Force station on Gibraltar. No military aircraft are currently stationed there, but there are regular visits...

, 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.

CAM ships

Eight CAM ships were requisitioned from private owners, two of which were sunk: Daghestan, Daltonhall, Eastern City, Helencrest, Kafiristan, Michael E
SS Michael E
SS Michael E was a 7,628 ton CAM ship which was built in 1941 and was sunk on her maiden voyage.-Description:Michael E was built by William Hamilton & Co Ltd, Port Glasgow. Launched in 1941, she was completed in May of that year...

(sunk), Novelist, Primrose Hill
SS Primrose Hill
SS Primrose Hill was completed by William Hamilton & Co in Port Glasgow on the Firth of Clyde in September 1941. She was a CAM ship, armed with a catapult on her bow to launch a Hawker Sea Hurricane....


27 CAM ships were Ministry of War Transport owned Empire ship
Empire ship
The Empire ships were a series of ships in the service of the British Government. Their names were all prefixed with "Empire". Mostly they were used during World War II by the Ministry of War Transport , who owned the ships but contracted out their management to various shipping lines. Some ships...

s, ten of which were sunk: Empire Burton (sunk), Empire Clive, Empire Darwin, Empire Day, Empire Dell (sunk), Empire Eve (sunk), Empire Faith, Empire Flame, Empire Foam, Empire Franklin, Empire Gale, Empire Heath, Empire Hudson (sunk), Empire Lawrence (sunk), Empire Moon, Empire Morn, Empire Ocean, Empire Rainbow (sunk), Empire Ray, Empire Rowan (sunk), Empire Shackleton (sunk), Empire Spray, Empire Spring (sunk), Empire Stanley, Empire Sun, Empire Tide, Empire Wave (sunk).

Take-off procedure

  • The trolley receiving bar was removed at dawn.
  • The airmen started the aircraft and warmed up the engine at intervals.
  • The pilot climbed into the aircraft when enemy aircraft were reported.
  • The ship hoisted the international flag code F when the decision was made to launch. (CAM ships were usually stationed at the head of the outboard port column of a convoy so they could manoeuvre into the wind for launch.)
  • An airman removed the pins, showed them to the pilot, and took them to the CDO.
  • The pilot applied 30 degree flaps and 1/3 right rudder.
  • The CDO raised a blue flag above his head to inform the ship's master of his readiness to launch.
  • The ship's master manoeuvred the ship into the wind and raised a blue flag above his head to authorise the launch. (The ship's master stood on the starboard bridge wing to avoid the catapult rocket blast which sometimes damaged the port side of the bridge.)
  • The CDO waved his blue flag indicating he was ready to launch upon a signal from the pilot.
  • The pilot opened full throttle, tightened the throttle friction nut, pressed his head back into the head-rest, pressed his right elbow tightly against his hip, and lowered his left hand as a signal to launch.
  • The CDO counted to three, waited for the bow to rise from the trough of a swell, and moved the switch to fire the catapult rockets.

CAM combat launches

Date Ship/convoy Pilot Outcome
1 Nov 41 Flying Officer
Flying Officer
Flying officer is a junior commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence...

Focke-Wulf Fw 200 chased off; pilot recovered by .
26 Apr 42 / QP 12 FO Kendal Blohm & Voss BV 138 chased off & Junkers Ju 88
Junkers Ju 88
The Junkers Ju 88 was a World War II German Luftwaffe twin-engine, multi-role aircraft. Designed by Hugo Junkers' company through the services of two American aviation engineers in the mid-1930s, it suffered from a number of technical problems during the later stages of its development and early...

 shot down; pilot died from injuries received while bailing out.
26 Apr 42 / PQ 16 PO
Pilot Officer
Pilot officer is the lowest commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries. It ranks immediately below flying officer...

two Heinkel He 111
Heinkel He 111
The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter in the early 1930s in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Often described as a "Wolf in sheep's clothing", it masqueraded as a transport aircraft, but its purpose was to provide the Luftwaffe with a fast medium...

s shot down; Hurricane shot down, pilot recovered by .
14 Jun 42 / HG 84 PO Sanders Focke-Wulf Fw 200 chased off; pilot recovered by .
18 Sep 42 FO Burr two Heinkel He 111s destroyed; pilot flew to the Russian Keg Ostrov aerodrome.
1 Nov 42 / HG 91 FO Taylor Focke-Wulf Fw 200 shot down; pilot nearly drowned before recovery.
28 Jul 43 / SL 133 FO Stewart Focke-Wulf Fw 200 destroyed; pilot recovered by .
28 Jul 43 / SL 133 FO Flynn Focke-Wulf Fw 200 destroyed; pilot recovered by .

In total, there were nine combat launches, eight aircraft and one pilot were lost for eight German aircraft destroyed and one damaged.

Programme termination

As adequate numbers of escort carriers became available, CAM sailings on North American and Arctic Russian convoys were discontinued in August 1942. The aircraft maintenance unit was withdrawn from Archangel in September 1942. Catapults were removed from ten of the 26 surviving CAM ships while the remaining 16 continued to sail with the Mediterranean and Freetown convoys. RAF Headquarters Fighter Command ordered all MSFUs to be disbanded commencing 8 June 1943. The combat launches from homeward bound convoy SL 133 were from the last two operational CAM ships to sail, the last MSFU was disbanded 7 September 1943. Twelve of the 35 CAM ships had been sunk while sailing on 170 round trip voyages. Two more ships, Cape Clear and City of Johannesburg, were briefly fitted with dummy catapults and aircraft for deception purposes in late 1941.

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