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Tuesday
Aug152017

Rare? No really, really rare! Robot 375

I bought a large collection recently and sorted through the vanload later, seperating the treasure from the good from the junk and...I'd seen the nice bits like the Canon 50mm f0.95 rangefinder lens (always wanted one - it's now on my Sony a7) but at the back with a couple of old German wind-up Robots was something really odd. Marked Robot, a large long roll body with a big wind spring on top and a pre-war Robot II at the core. I'd just finished my book on half frame and reduced format 35mm cameras and I knew a bit about Robots so I had a vague suspicion of what it might be - the legendary Robot 375. So I set about researching it. 

I discovered that there may be as few as 10-15 survivors as it had been made as a strike recording camera, mounted in the tailplane of the JU87 Stuka dive bomber. Thjis was one of the classic WW2 attack planes and had vanes attached to the wings so that it screamed as it dived - for terror effect. The plane had to drop its large, single bomb or it couldn't pull up out of the dive and the camera would be triggered as it pulled away, recording the accuracy of the strike. The rare but not as rare Leica 250 was also used. The Robot 375 could take 375 images on a 10m roll with one full wind, hence the name. There were 200 made, it seems and #1 is on display in the Berning mseum in Munich. This one has the serial # 047008 - perhaps the eighth made. 

Strangely, it was wearing a Ross 53mm f1.9 lens in a basic but well made focussing helical with Robot screw mount. The original lens would have been a Zeiss Biotar 4cm. It would seem to have been a war salvage item used with whatever lens could be pressed into service. How it came to be in Australia is anyone's guess. It went straight off to Fritz Kergl (Kameradienst) in Germany, the acknowledged master of Robot repair and holder of the parts repository - the shutter was just running through on winding and as it is at heart a relatively common 1930's Robot II, repair is not difficult. 

It is probably the rarest camera I'll ever handle and I soon realised that I have a family connexion. My father served in the Royal Navy in WW2 and was a gunnery rating on HMS Scylla, a light cruiser modified to defend the PQ convoys to Murmansk against Stuka bombers flying off the Norwegian coast. His task was to shoot them down and so, ironically, my family may be partly responsible for the rarity of the camera.

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