5 Sopwith Fighter Planes in Over 35 Images

 
 
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The Sopwith Aviation Company was one of the most important manufacturers of fighter planes in the First World War. The company created some of Britain’s most successful planes, which were also used by other Allied nations.

Pup

At the start of 1916, the Germans were dominating the air above the Western Front. Their Fokker Eindecker fighters could outperform anything the Allies threw at them, especially in the hands of such skilled pilots as Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke.

This was the period known as the Fokker Scourge.

In response, the Allies frantically worked to create better planes. Sopwith’s contribution, originally named the Admiralty Type 9901, was a biplane with wings 20% shorter than the company’s previous Sopwith 1½-Strutter.

First flown in February 1916, it had a top speed of 112 miles per hour (180 kilometers per hour) and was equipped with a forward-firing Vickers 7.7mm machine gun. Its shortened wings earned it the nickname of “Pup,” which was soon adopted as its official title.

Sopwith Pup side view, 1916
Sopwith Pup side view, 1916

By the time the Pup entered service in the fall of 1916, the Fokker Scourge was at an end. From then until the end of the war, the balance of air power would swing back and forth as each side brought in newer, better planes.

The Pup was one of those. Responsive and maneuverable, it was an excellent dogfighter, deployed by the British both on land and at sea. In August 1917, a Pup became the first aircraft to land on a ship while it was underway.

Sqn Cdr E. H. Dunning attempting a landing on HMS Furious in a Sopwith Pup (August 1917).
Sqn Cdr E. H. Dunning attempting a landing on HMS Furious in a Sopwith Pup (August 1917).

 

Sopwith Pup in flight (1917).
Sopwith Pup in flight (1917).

 

Pup with 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape engine.
Pup with 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape engine.

Triplane

Having seen how well the Pup flew, Sopwith’s designers set about building something even better – the Sopwith Triplane, nicknamed “the Tripehound.”

Triplane prototype.
Triplane prototype.

The Triplane was similar to the Pup, but with a more powerful engine and an extra pair of wings. These were designed to give it great maneuverability and a high rate of climb. The Triplane could outclimb any aircraft on either side, though it could not outmaneuver the Pup.

Serial N5387 of No. 1 Naval Squadron.
Serial N5387 of No. 1 Naval Squadron.

The Triplane was another success for Sopwith. Following its first trial flight against German planes, it was enthusiastically adopted by the Royal Naval Air Service, who used it to great effect in the first half of 1917.

B Flight of No.10 Squadron RNAS, an all-Canadian unit known as Black Flight, scored an impressive 87 kills in 12 weeks using Triplanes.

Triplane cockpit.
Triplane cockpit.

The Triplane was so successful that Anthony Fokker, the engineer behind the Scourge, immediately set about designing his own three-wing fighter. Yet the Tripehound was never built in large numbers – only 140 were ever made.

Sopwith Triplane Serial N5486 during its service with the Red Army.
Sopwith Triplane Serial N5486 during its service with the Red Army.

 

French naval Triplane.
French naval Triplane.

 

Raymond Collishaw’s Triplane, serial N533. Collishaw flew several Triplanes, all named “Black Maria.”
Raymond Collishaw’s Triplane, serial N533. Collishaw flew several Triplanes, all named “Black Maria.”

 

Triplanes of No. 1 Naval Squadron at Bailleul, France.
Triplanes of No. 1 Naval Squadron at Bailleul, France.

 

Sopwith Triplane G-BOCK (“N6290”) at Shuttleworth Uncovered, 2013.Photo: TSRL CC BY-SA 3.0
Sopwith Triplane G-BOCK (“N6290”) at Shuttleworth Uncovered, 2013.Photo: TSRL CC BY-SA 3.0

 

A Sopwith Triplane on display at RAF Museum London. Photo Nick-D CC BY-SA 3.0.
A Sopwith Triplane on display at RAF Museum London. Photo Nick-D CC BY-SA 3.0.

Camel

One of the most famous planes of the war, the Sopwith Camel was a descendant from and replacement for the Pup. First sent into action in the summer of 1917, it would prove to be the most effective plane in the sky.

Royal Flying Corps Sopwith F.1 Camel in 1914-1916 period.
Royal Flying Corps Sopwith F.1 Camel in 1914-1916 period.

Powered by a Clerget 130hp 9-cylinder air-cooled engine, the Camel had an excellent rate of turn and incredibly sensitive controls. The torque of the engine made it particularly fast at turning to the right – so much so that pilots would sometimes execute a three-quarters right turn instead of a one-quarter left turn.

Camel pilots were regularly able to out-maneuver their opponents, bringing their twin Vickers machine guns to bear.

Camels being prepared for a sortie.
Camels being prepared for a sortie.

The Camel’s power and maneuverability came at a price. The sensitive controls and forward center of gravity made it unforgiving to the inexperienced pilot, and it became infamous for weeding them out through crashes.

Right turns dragged the plane down while left turns pulled it up, adding to the complications of the pilot’s job.

Harry Cobby sitting in the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel.
Harry Cobby sitting in the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel.

Despite these problems, the Camel was popular with pilots in the British air squadrons. Over 1,000 were built and variants were developed for special purposes such as easier stowage on a ship.

Navalised Camels on the aircraft carrier HMS Furious prior to raiding the Tondern airship hangars.
Navalised Camels on the aircraft carrier HMS Furious prior to raiding the Tondern airship hangars.

The most famous use of a Camel came on the 21st of April 1918, when Roy Brown, a Canadian pilot, used one against Manfred von Richthofen, the man known as the Red Baron and Germany’s greatest air ace.

Who fired the shots that killed Richthofen is disputed, but Brown is one of the leading contenders and undoubtedly played a vital part.

Sopwith 2F.1 Camel suspended from airship R 23 prior to a test flight.
Sopwith 2F.1 Camel suspended from airship R 23 prior to a test flight.

On the 4th of November 1918, Camels took part in the largest dogfight of the war, against 40 Fokker D. VIIs. It was a fitting climax to the plane’s important role in the conflict.

Pilot’s view from the cockpit of a Camel, June 1918.
Pilot’s view from the cockpit of a Camel, June 1918.
Sopwith Camel at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918.
Sopwith Camel at Air Service Production Center No. 2, Romorantin Aerodrome, France, 1918.
A downed Sopwith Camel near Zillebeke, West Flanders, Belgium, September 26, 1917.
A downed Sopwith Camel near Zillebeke, West Flanders, Belgium, September 26, 1917.
Portrait of Major Wilfred Ashton McCloughry MC, the Commanding Officer of No. 4 Squadron AFC, and his Sopwith Camel, June 6, 1918.
Portrait of Major Wilfred Ashton McCloughry MC, the Commanding Officer of No. 4 Squadron AFC, and his Sopwith Camel, June 6, 1918.
Belgian Sopwith Camel flown by Adj. Léon Cremers with n° 11 Squadron “Cocotte” marking.
Belgian Sopwith Camel flown by Adj. Léon Cremers with n° 11 Squadron “Cocotte” marking.
The Sopwith 2F.1 Camel used to shoot down Zeppelin L 53, at the Imperial War Museum, London. Note mounting of twin Lewis guns over the top wing.
The Sopwith 2F.1 Camel used to shoot down Zeppelin L 53, at the Imperial War Museum, London. Note mounting of twin Lewis guns over the top wing.

Dolphin

Sopwith’s engineers were constantly learning from their previous planes, finding ways to make something better. And so, only three months after the first flight by a Camel, it was followed into the sky by the Dolphin.

Sopwith Dolphin Third prototype.
Sopwith Dolphin Third prototype.

The Dolphin was a slightly unusual looking biplane. The upper wing was mounted close to the fuselage, with the pilot’s head protruding through its center. Designed around improving the pilot’s view and firepower, it carried four machine guns – two firing directly forward, the other two forward and upward.

Dolphin fitted with two upward firing Lewis guns and Norman vane sights.
Dolphin fitted with two upward firing Lewis guns and Norman vane sights.

The Dolphin’s back-staggered wing caused some problems with stalling, but pilots were more concerned with the cockpit. Protruding through the wing, they were left vulnerable if the plane flipped over its nose during landing. A crash pylon was added to the top to protect against this.

A geared Hispano-Suiza 8BE engine on display at the NMUSAF.
A geared Hispano-Suiza 8BE engine on display at the NMUSAF.

The Dolphin entered service in 1917 and proved effective enough for over 1,500 to be produced.

Dolphin cockpit.
Dolphin cockpit.
Canadian Air Force Dolphins of No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Upper Heyford, December 1918.
Canadian Air Force Dolphins of No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Upper Heyford, December 1918.

 

No. 87 Squadron Dolphin flown by Cecil Montgomery-Moore. A Lewis gun is mounted atop the lower right wing.
No. 87 Squadron Dolphin flown by Cecil Montgomery-Moore. A Lewis gun is mounted atop the lower right wing.
Sopwith Dolphin reproduction built by James Henry “Cole” Palen Jr, founder of Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, in flight during one of the museum’s early-1980s airshows. Photo JeffreyDMillman CC BY-SA 3.0.
Sopwith Dolphin reproduction built by James Henry “Cole” Palen Jr, founder of Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, in flight during one of the museum’s early-1980s airshows. Photo JeffreyDMillman CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

Third prototype at Brooklands Airfield.
Third prototype at Brooklands Airfield.

Snipe

Sopwith’s last plane of the war, the Snipe, was an improved version of the Camel. Its 230hp Bentley rotary engine let it fly faster and higher than the plane it was sent to replace. It also featured such innovations as an oxygen supply for the pilot and electric heating in the cabin.

Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe.
Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe.

 

Sopwith Snipe at the RAF Museum in Hendon. Photo: Oren Rozen CC BY-SA 3.0.
Sopwith Snipe at the RAF Museum in Hendon. Photo: Oren Rozen CC BY-SA 3.0.

 

William George Barker’s 7F.1 Snipe.
William George Barker’s 7F.1 Snipe.

The Snipe arrived at the front only eight weeks before the armistice. While it had little time to make an impact, it proved its worth to the pilots who got to fly it. On the 27th of October 1918, Snipe pilot Major William Barker took part in a spectacular fight against 15 Fokker D. VIIs.

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He destroyed at least four of them before crash-landing, both pilot and plane thoroughly riddled with bullets. Barker was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The Snipe stayed in service until 1927, years after the Sopwith company itself was closed down.

 
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