In October 1936, the RLM asked for a He 114 replacement. The only stipulations were that it would use the BMW 132, and they wanted prototypes in both twin-float and single-float configurations. Designs were received from Dornier, Gotha, Arado and Focke-Wulf. Heinkel declined to tender, contending that the He 114 could still be made to work.
With the exception of the Arado low-wing monoplane design, all were conventional biplanes. This gave the Arado better performance than any of the others, and the RLM ordered four prototypes. The RLM was conservative by nature, so they also ordered two of the Focke-Wulf Fw 62 designs as a backup. It quickly became clear that the Arado would work effectively, and only four prototypes of the Fw 62 were built.
The Ar 196 prototypes were all delivered in summer 1937, V1 (which flew in May) and V2 with twin floats as A models, and V3 and V4 on a single float as B models. Both versions demonstrated excellent water handling and there seemed to be little to decide, one over the other. Since there was a possibility of the smaller outrigger floats on the B models “digging in”, the twin-float A model was ordered into production. A single additional prototype, V5, was produced in November 1938 to test final changes.
Ten A-0s were delivered in November and December 1938, with a single 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine gun at the rear seat for defense. Five similarly equipped B-0s were also delivered to land-based squadrons. This was followed by 20 A-1 production models starting in June 1939, enough to equip the surface fleet.
The plane was loved by its pilots, who found it handled well both in the air and on the water. With the loss of the German surface fleet the A-1s were added to coastal squadrons, and continued to fly reconnaissance missions and submarine hunts into late 1944. Two notable operations were the capture of HMS Seal, and the repeated interception of RAF Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley bombers. Although it was no match for a fighter, it was considerably better than its Allied counterparts, and generally considered the best of its class. Owing to its good handling on water, the Finnish Air Force utilized Ar 196 solely on transporting and supplying special forces patrols behind enemy lines, landing on small lakes in remote areas. Several fully equipped soldiers were carried in the fuselage.
Look for Oxford’s second rendition of the German Arado Ar 196A-3 shipboard reconnaissance floatplane to slice through the waves this June.