Dewoitine seems to have liked monoplanes from the beginning but for the first decade he concentrated on parasols in which the wing is attached to the fuselage with struts rather than attached directly to the fuselage. There are a couple of advantages with parasol aircraft, they are more stable because the wing is higher and they give greater visibility with the wing located at about pilot eye level so they do not block the pilot’s vision upwards and down. However, by the mid 1930s they had largely fallen out of favour.
Before I write about the Dewoitine 37 series of fighters a word or two about the designation of French aircraft before World War II, whether you want to know about it or not. You will find that most French aircraft from this period have a three number designation, the first two numbers are the model number and the third is the variant number. So, in the case of the Dewoitine 37 series the 370 was the prototype, the 371 and 372 were the first and second versions produced for ground based operations, the 373 was then manufactured for naval use, the 374 and 375 were planned versions that were not proceeded with and the 376 was a second version produced for the navy.
The fact that the prime French fighter of World War II was the Dewoitine 520 tells you that it was also the first variant of the design and, although there were more variants planned, from the 521 to the 525, none got very far. On the other hand, the French reconnaissance aeroplane designated the Potez 63.11 received that designation because the design had started out as a multi-role fighter (like a less ferocious Bf110) that was produced in so many versions that the reconnaissance version was the eleventh.
Back to the Dewoitine 37, which was not a very successful fighter. Having spent the 1920s designing and making, or selling under licence, a range of parasol fighters of limited success, of which the most successful was the Dewoitine 27 series, the company entered the 1930s with its most advanced parasol fighter yet, the 37 series. It was more streamlined and had a more powerful radial engine and looked much more business-like than the company’s previous designs. However, after the prototype made its first flight on 1 August 1931 a number of defects were found that needed rectification and that took time. As a result the first production model, the 371, did not make its first flight until September 1934. The French Air Ministry ordered 28 of this variant in April 1935 and the order had been completed by December that year. After an accident with the prototype a structural weakness was discovered in the wings so they were returned to the factory and did not emerge until 1937, by which time the 371 was obsolete.
Lithuania ordered 14 Dewoitine 372s that were differently armed. By the time they were ready the Lithuanians has cancelled that order in favour of the more advanced Dewoitine 501s. The French Aeronautique Navale ordered twenty Dewoitine 373s that were similar to the 371 but equipped with an arrester hook, flotation gear and a wing reduced by 30cm in span so they would fit onto the lifts of the French aircraft carrier. The French navy ordered a further 25 as the Dewoitine 376 which were equipped with folding wings, although it took an hour to get the wings ready for flight.
Being well outclassed by more modern fighters 21 Dewoitine 371 were sent to the French colony in Tunisia where they served until they were replaced by Morane Saulnier 406s in 1939. One way and another the remaining 371s and 372s ended up flying in the Spanish Republican air force where they did well against the Nationalist Heinkel He51s and Fiat CR32s but were outclassed by more modern fighters and eventually replaced by Soviet Polikarpov fighters. The last ones were destroyed on the ground in an Italian bombing attack in February 1939. At the beginning of World War II the navy’s Dewoitines were allocated to squadrons to protect the ports of Toulon and Calais but they did not see action against Luftwaffe. After the Armistice they were used for limited training but withdrawn from service in April 1940.
The Azur 1/72 kit
Using the Azur kits you can make all the versions of the Dewoitine 37 series. The kit of the naval versions, released in 1997, contains options for the 373 and 376 and the kit of the ground based version, released in 1998, contains options for the 371 and 372. They use the same basic kit parts but the naval version contains a new resin wing and arrester hook as well at two versions of engine cowling. Strangely the resin wing in the naval kits has a greater span than the injection moulded one, which seems strange since the naval version had the shorter wing span. The resin wings for the 373/376 is better moulded and has flaps, which the 371/72 doesn’t.
I made the model of the Dewoitine 371 twenty years before making the model of the 376 and some of the smaller struts of the 371 seem to have disappeared during the intervening period. Apart from that, the only real visual differences between them is that the Humbrol 11 silver finish was a lot brighter then than it is now and the recommended upper colours for the 371, Humbrol 80, is not a colour that I would probably use now. The cockpit interiors are adequate and probably as detailed as they need to be for what is visible, though my 371 cockpit has seatbelts because they came with the kit whereas the 376 doesn’t. The reason for this is because I could not find any photo etched parts in my 376 kit until I found them hiding behind the decal sheet, by which time it was too late to use them.
Both kits offer the engine in resin with a central crankcase and lots of tiny engine cylinders that have to be carefully glued to the crankcase. This might make sense if the engine wasn’t hidden behind a large spinner so all the effort is pretty much wasted and I would have preferred instead a single well mounded resin part. The kit instructions also suggests scratch building exhaust pipes from each tiny cylinder head, which I laughingly dismissed as being an even greater waste of time since they wouldn’t be seen underneath the engine cowling. Perhaps I could have super detailed the engine and left the cowling off, but I could just as easily have committed myself to the local mental asylum.
The most challenging part of building these kits was attaching the wings to the fuselage using the small and fragile struts provided in the kit. There are no locating holes or tabs to do this though the plastic moulded wing has much better indications of where the struts join the wing than the resin one does. Another advantage of the plastic wing over the resin one is that you can use the standard plastic melting glue to attach the wings to the struts of the 371, giving a stronger bond, whereas there is no option but superglue in attaching the 376 plastic struts to the resin wing, risking a catastrophic failure sometime in the future.
I don’t recall now how I managed to align the fuselage and wings of the 371 to join them with the struts, all my notes say is ‘a solid, precise jig’. That must have been a work of art in itself. Since then my standards have slipped and I use large blobs of Blue Tack to hold everything in place which makes it easier to make the small adjustments required to make sure everything is square before test fitting the struts to get everything micro-millimeter perfect. It was easier to start with the inner struts and then let the main struts go there they wanted to go since, this time, there was no precise indication of where they should go. Then a few dots of superglue, wait a while and then the challenge is to remove the model from the Blue Tack without breaking anything. In theory I should have used the same process to attach the undercarriage to the model but it proved too difficult so I just had to trust that the kit maker had got the lengths of the struts just right, glue the parts together and hope for the best. At least, using Revell Contacta glue gives a little time and flexibility to line everything up properly before leaving them to set.
After that the rest of the model more of less makes itself. The arrester hook for the 373/376 is moulded in resin and looked to be impossible to remove from its casting block without breaking. I was right and something similar had to be made using bits and pieces from my spares box. Of all the ways that I make models the one that has changed the most over the past twenty years has been my painting. The 371 model is painted in Humbrol enamel paints, Numbers 11 and 80, but these days I use almost exclusively lacquers and fortunately there are some very good metallic finishes in lacquers. The fuselage of the 376 was airbrushed in Tamiya LP-38 Flat Aluminium and the cowling in Tamiya TS-83 Metallic Silver to give a bit of tonal variety. I was tempted to do a little bit of subtle weathering with dustings of slightly altered shades but fear of separating the wing and fuselage persuaded me otherwise.
These Dewotine 37 series fighters might have been a failure in real life but models of them look very nice, in that particular French inter-war fashion. The only reason for not making them is the stress of getting the wings and fuselages together without laying in a large supply of bravery and beta-blockers.