A diary of Sopwith Aviation Company activities through 1914
On 1st January 1914 the cover of Aeroplane magazine celebrates the achievements of 1913. Sopwith types feature in three of the pictures.
A year ago the Sopwith Aviation Company had only built one aeroplane. No-one could have predicted such prominence in such a short time and they have been brilliant at publicising their excellent products.
July shows the “Three Seater” breaking height records. August shows the “Circuit of Britain” floatplane on its record breaking adventure. December features the Sopwith “Tabloid” out-performing the latest biplanes and monoplanes. (There is no space for the Mortimer-Singer prize winning Sopwith “Bat Boat”.)
With orders for 30 aircraft and 18 already built, Sopwith are rapidly catching up with the first division of British aircraft manufacturers – Avro, Bristol, Short Brothers and Airco.
Alliott Verdon Roe was the first Britain to build and fly an indigenous aircraft back in 1909 and has built nearly 50 aircraft of various designs. His latest 500 series two seat tractor biplane, the “Avro 504” is particularly promising.
British and Colonial (Bristol) are the largest British aircraft manufacturer. They started by building 76 Bristol Boxkites an improved copy of the French Farman biplane. They have built 76 other aircraft designed for them by Frenchman Pierre Prier and Rumanian Henri Coanda. They too are now building a small biplane “scout”.
Short Bros were the world’s first aircraft production factory in 1910 building twelve Wright Biplanes. They have since built over 50 aircraft to their own designs, many of them for the Admiralty including floatplanes.
The Aircraft Co./Aircraft Manufacturing Co. (Airco) has licence built around 100 Maurice Farman biplanes.
The Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough is government funded to design and develop Britain’s military aircraft types for contractors to produce in volume. Since 1911 they have built 24 prototypes of their 14 designs including six BE2s. Orders have gone out to various manufacturers for significant quantities of BE2s.
Despite being longer established, no other British aircraft manufacturers have built more than Sopwith’s 18 machines. Robert Blackburn has built sixteen, Howard Wright fourteen, Vickers twelve, Claude Graham-White twelve, Martin and Handasyde seven, Frederick Handley Page six and Howard Flanders six. Most of these suffered a set-back with the banning of monoplanes in military service in 1912.
It is early days for military aviation in Britain. In April 1912 the Admiralty had just 5 aircraft, reaching 40 by April 1913. In May 1913, in a demonstration of air power to the King, the Royal Flying Corps could only muster 17 airworthy aeroplanes. However, in the second half of 1913 aircraft numbers in both services have risen rapidly and that continues. Howard Pixton delivers the RFC’s seventh Sopwith “Type D2” on 2nd January 1914.
On 9th January 1914 the War Office orders nine Sopwith Type “SS” 80hp single-seat scouts for £1,075 each. Deliveries are to start 7 weeks from acceptance. These are small tractor biplanes similar to the two-seat “Tabloid” prototype which displayed such exceptional performance in tests at Farnborough on 29th November 1913. The obvious difference is a triangular fin in front of the rudder and it is the first Sopwith type to feature their split-axle independent suspension for each wheel.
The current build up of aircraft in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) is mostly trainers and general purpose two-seaters - Farman biplanes from the Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Sopwith D2s and scores of Royal Aircraft Factory designed BE2s now being built by Vickers, British & Colonial (Bristol), Coventry Ordnance Works, Armstrong Whitworth, Handley Page, Hewlett and Blondeau, Graham White and Saunders of Cowes.
This new order is a big coup for Sopwith Aviation. Tommy Sopwith praises General Henderson of the RFC for wasting no time in specifying and ordering these machines. The RFC are obviously starting to see the value of more specialised military aircraft but the only new British designs the War Office have on order are some Vickers pusher “Gun-Buses” and these nine Sopwith “SS” high speed scouts.
The RFC are still buying monoplanes from Louis Bleriot’s British factory and there is other foreign competition.
An extraordinary German DFW military biplane based at Brooklands is pictured in front of the Sopwith sheds, the track and farmhouse.
Herr Cecil Kny designer and manager of the Deutsche Flugzeug Werke intends “to set up a factory in Britain or to arrange for some large armament firm to build them under licence”. The DFW's fuselage has plywood frames joined by three steel-tube longerons. With a 100hp Mercedes straight six and elaborate wing shapes there could hardly be a bigger contrast in design thinking between this monster and Sopwith’s keep-it-small-and-simple lightweight all-wood “SS” Tabloid Scout.
On 13th January 1914 Howard Pixton delivers Sopwith’s eighth D2 from Brooklands to Farnborough in 8½ minutes. The amazing 110mph average is assisted by a 30mph wind which becomes 40mph at altitude.
On 13th January 1914 Harry Hawker arrives in Freemantle, Australia on the R.M.S Maloja with Harry Kauper and his “little gem”, the “Tabloid” biplane, described in Flight magazine as a “fast little beggar”. Quizzed by the Australian press about the dangers of flying, he proclaims that people have exaggerated the risk attached to aviation and that flying machines were going to play a very important part in the world’s affairs in the future. He hints that he might “loop the loop” whilst in Australia which has never been done intentionally in a biplane.
On 18th January 1914 is Tommy Sopwith’s 26th birthday, perhaps a time to reflect on his three extraordinary years since he taught himself to fly, punctuated as they have been by the elation, desperate disappointment and occasional tragedy which accompany extreme endeavours in the unforgiving world of manned flight.
On 19th January 1914 Harry Hawker arrives in Melbourne in time to celebrate his 25th birthday with his family on 22nd January 1914. He is immediately welcomed as local-boy-made-good at a civic reception in St Kilda Town Hall. The Mayor, Councillors, local businessmen and guests are honoured by the presence of Australia’s Postmaster General who speaks of avidly following Harry’s flying achievements, making a name for himself “which advertised Australia to the rest of the world.” Harry’s proud father George described him as a model son and “the thoroughness with which he does his work an object lesson which young men might copy.” The local paper describes him as a “quiet modest-looking young man of slight but supple build, brown eyes, brown faced and wearing a brown suit” noting that “an occasional smile lights up his face and particularly his eyes.”
On 20th January 1914 Howard Pixton delivers the last of the nine Type D2s to the War Office catching up with the original promised contract finish date of 22nd January. They had delivered the first machine just 12 weeks after the 8th August order and the other eight have been delivered in rapid succession since 11th December. Flight magazine reports that “they have all gone through their tests without a hitch which is hardly surprising to those who know the quality of the work and workmanship put in by the Sopwith Co.”
On 26th January 1914 Sopwith’s order book gets another boost when the Admiralty orders a tractor floatplane with a 200hp Canton Unné engine for delivery in July. It is priced at £2,740 (c£250,000 in 2014). The secret drawings reveal that this will be one of the largest military aircraft in Britain with a 66ft wingspan and one of the first specifically designed to drop weapons. It is based upon a patented design by the Admiralty’s Capt. Murray Seuter and Lt. Hyde Thompson.
In contrast in Melbourne there is the little 25ft wingspan Sopwith Tabloid, safely housed in the CLC Motor Garage and Engineering Works partly owned by Harry Hawker’s brother-in-law. Harry has been prevented from flying by customs delays with the special Castor Oil essential to run his Gnome rotary engine.
On 27th January 1914 Harry has his oil. He methodically checks his machine outside the garage ready for its first flight in Australia. With minimum fuss the engine is started and tested amongst clouds of dust. To the amazement of the crowds he takes a short run down New Street before rising into the air and climbing steeply away over the adjacent golf course. At 600ft he makes steep banked right and left turns, dives within a few feet of the ground and hedgehops over trees and fences before climbing away. He returns after 20 minutes and lands on the Elsternwick Golf Course. With the aircraft safely back in the garage, he reports to the eager crowd that he travelled at 90mph, reached 5,000 feet and that the air is much clearer than in England.
On 2nd February 1914 a simple but significant line is hand-written into the Sopwith order book :–
“Order No. 70 One Hydro Tractor with 100hp Gnome Monosoupape Works Order No.56”
This machine is to be Sopwith’s first entry in an international air race. The Royal Aero Club has enough confidence in the Sopwith team to select them as one of three British Empire entries to challenge for the prestigious Jacques Schneider Maritime Aviation Cup. The challenge is a 150 nautical mile (nm) time trial around a 5nm essentially triangular course over the Mediterranean at Monaco on 20th April. To meet that deadline Sopwith plan to use (and then replace) parts in manufacture for the War Office order for nine 80hp Sopwith “SS Tabloid Scouts”. However this will be a unique racing floatplane version built around the larger 100hp Gnome rotary engine with the wheeled undercarriage replaced by a central float and wingtip floats.
On 2rd February 1914 Lord Denman, Governor General of Australia, is about go out to play tennis when he receives a ‘phone call to say that Harry Hawker has just left Elsternwick and will be over to see him.
Harry “is soon overhead at 3,000 ft from which he descends in a magnificent spiral, whizzing round and round, and down and down at a terrific pace”. After some steep turns he “faces the house and volplanes (glides) steeply down, righting his machine, hovering, then dropping deftly onto the ground at the bottom of the lawn and before skipping along towards the waiting group with their tennis rackets in hand”. Harry removes his cap and steps out “unruffled with nicely parted hair, suit and tie” to shake hands with their Excellencies and guests.
Harry explains the machine and answers questions for half an hour before an equally informal departure “skimming the ground for barely 30 yards before rising grandly up over Government House and sailing at full speed around the garden”. On his return to Elsternwick he gives “a more spirited display of fancy flying” before landing to make two more flights with old friends as passengers.
George Hawker with his son Harry at Elsternwick Harry’s take off from Caulfield Race course
The big local event is Harry Hawker’s flying exhibition on Saturday 7th February 1914 at Melbourne’s Caulfield race course. Eighteen special trains, extra trams and buses have been arranged and a brass band will perform. The crowds exceed all expectations, variously estimated at 25,000 to 40,000. Harry appears on time and is soon in the air “rising with remarkable ease and gracefulness, soaring away in the teeth of a blustery breeze which does not appear to trouble him. From a great height he drops sheer for a couple of hundred feet, turns the machine right over on its side and then noses down again appearing that he will dive into the crowd. From 40 feet he darts up and over the stand buildings with an exhibition of corner turning, evoking roars of applause repeated when he lands.” The crowd rush onto the course and it is 45 minutes before he can leave the aircraft. He judges the crowd to be too dangerous to risk taking the booked lady passenger on the next flight but gets enough space cleared to go up alone for a 15 minute demonstration flight reaching 7,000 feet.
The third flight is made with Miss Ruby Dixon but again the crowd floods the course and Harry decides to land back at Elsternwick. To avoid large crowds also gathered there, he selects a new landing space but strikes some rough ground breaking the propeller and the landing chassis. Harry and Miss Dixon are unhurt.
His planned public demonstration in Sydney has to be postponed by a week to make the necessary repairs.
On 11th February 1914 Harry tests the repaired machine, now fitted with a spare propeller, before making four flights with passengers. The first passenger is Minister of Defence, Senator Millen, making him the first member of the Federal Cabinet to make an aeroplane ascent in Australia.
The week commencing 9th February 1914 is another busy one at the Sopwith Aviation Company Ltd.
They are honoured by a visit from the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. He tours the Kingston factory as part of his familiarisation with his suppliers and no doubt also to see his Sopwith “Sociable” which is nearing completion.
Churchill is not the only one to be shown around. Flight magazine on 7th & 14th February 1914 in articles entitled “An aeroplane in the making” describes processes like wing rib construction and wing assembly in the Sopwith Skating Rink Factory as shown here.
On 11th February 1914 Sopwith receives Admiralty orders for two large floatplanes Nos.137 & 138. Similar except for the engines, the airframes are priced at £1,500 and £1,600, the 120hp Austro-Daimler engine £720 and the 200hp Salmson Canton Unné engine £960. They are promised by 11th June and 11th July complete with “wireless telegraphy equipment, safety belts, instruments, axles through the floats and land transport trolleys”.
Also on 11th February 1914 the Sopwith Aviation Company Ltd. board meets for the fourth time. Buoyed by the growing demand for their aircraft, they agree to enter a contract with Offer & Sons to build a factory on land recently purchased just 100 yards from the Skating Rink Factory up Canbury Park Road.
At the same meeting they agree to form a company in Germany with Kondor Deutsch to be known as Sopwith Fluggenwerk G.m.b.H. 20% of the first year’s profits will go to the “introducer” Messrs. Delacombe and Maréchal who are brokering a number of international partnerships.
On 12th February 1914 another Admiralty order confirms the £1,275 purchase of the company’s 100hp Green engined much rebuilt 1913 “Circuit of Britain” machine. As No151 it is to be re-wired, fitted with new tanks and delivered on 19th March with a wheeled undercarriage as well as floats and an “aerodrome test carriage”.
On 16th February 1914 the Sopwith “Churchill/Sociable/Tweenie” No149 is flown and 3 days later handed over to Lt. Spencer Grey, 19 days late. It is the first Sopwith type designed around the 100hp Monosoupape Gnome.
Aeroplane magazine states that this new Sopwith is a tractor biplane about half-way between the standard 80hp military machine and the “Tabloid” Scout, explaining one nickname “Tweenie”. “Its speed is 80 to 85 mph and it is intended mainly for shore patrols from Naval Air Stations. It is an excellent piece of work throughout.”
It is widely reported that it was specified by Winston Churchill as a roomier dual-control “Tabloid” partly for his own use now he is learning to fly, hence its other nicknames “Churchill” and “Sociable”. The specification includes “4 hours duration, starting from pilot’s seat, safety belts, shoulder straps, adjustable windshield, dashboard clock, special leather upholstered seats, map case and a spare tank to fit in passenger’s seat”.
On 18th February 1914 Sopwith Aviation receives a second order for pusher floatplanes from the Greek Navy. The timing of this order may reflect the fact that the first of their original order for three 100hp Anzani radial engine dual control trainers has now flown and is being tested at Calshot.
These extra six machines will have the latest 100hp Monosoupape Gnome rotary engines and have “provision for a Lewis air gun” in the nose, the front cockpit dual controls being detachable. At £16,938 this is Sopwith’s highest value order to date. (c.£1.5m in 2014)
On 19th February 1914 Harry Hawker and Harry Kauper have assembled the little Tabloid machine in Sydney after its rail journey from Melbourne and Hawker makes its first flight there at the Randwick racecourse. “Although he stayed but a quarter of an hour off the ground, he does enough to convince those who saw the flight that man and man’s machinery have conquered the problem of aerial navigation.”
On 19th February 1914 Lt. Spencer Grey is determined to get the Sopwith “Churchill” to Hendon. It is just three days after its first flight and the day he accepted it on behalf of the Admiralty. He is so hampered by rain and mist that he takes 21/2 hours to cover the 19 miles from Brooklands. He goes “a good deal out of his course and makes four descents to ask his way”. It is a good job that “the machine is fitted with a Rubery Owen quick-release catch so that the pilot can start the engine and release the machine without rustic assistance”. His determination is explained the next day 20th February 1914 when he takes Winston Churchill for his first flight in the machine. “Unfortunately a strong wind is blowing and only 600 ft. is attained.”
On Saturday 21st February 1914 Harry Hawker gives his first flying demonstration in Sydney to around 20,000 people at the Randwick Racecourse.
“He goes up almost perpendicularly and comes to earth in wide circles at times upside down or what looked to be so. He provokes a great outburst of applause by soaring down from heights to the straight and maintaining his flight low in full view of the spectators, alighting in front of the grandstand.”
After that display the crowd is amazed to see the Governor General of Australia appear in tail coat and wing collar wearing a flat cap on backwards like Harry. Lord Denman “clambers over the biplane into the well with athletic agility”. During the flight they ascend to about 4,000ft.
He is later quoted as saying “Mr Hawker inspired me with great confidence. I felt at once that he is a competent man to fly with. There is no particular sensation pertaining to a flying trip, except of a very pleasant feeling when first leaving the earth. The only unpleasant sensation occurs when a gust of wind causes the aeroplane to give a jolt, something like the jolting of a motor-car on an uneven road”.
On his next flight Harry takes up the State Governor’s daughter Miss Strickland and later Miss Ruby Dixon.
Meanwhile, back in England, Harry Hawker’s fame has not diminished. A Mr Rutherford rides up to a hotel in Lincoln on a motorcycle and announces that he is Harry Hawker come to do some exhibition flying in the area and offering to take guests for a joy ride. The jolly party is spoilt by a policeman who arrests him for stealing the motor bike. He has just 10 pence in his pockets. Flight magazine quips that “as he bragged of over a thousand offers of marriage, perhaps when he has finished his four months’ imprisonment he should consider one of them”.
Under pressure from press and Parliament the Secretary of State for War, Colonel Seeley, finally comes clean about the state of his “military aeronautical service”. He admits that 52 of the 113 aircraft he declared were in service in July 1913 have now been withdrawn “in view of the great probability that risks to life and limb of the officers and men of the RFC would be minimised”. However, the remaining 61 have since been supplemented by 100 new machines, 11 from abroad, 18 from the Royal Aircraft Factory and 69 from private British manufacturers, countering the claim that the military were not supporting the growth of the British aircraft industry. He expects the RFC to have 250 machines by the end of 1914. With 50% serviceable at any time, that is enough for eight operational squadrons and 50 machines at the Central Flying School. Expecting aircraft to last two years he has no doubt that Britain’s aircraft industry can produce 125 new machines a year to meet Royal Flying Corps needs. He is encouraging the development of practical, reliable British built aero- engines with a competition with significant prizes and £50,000 worth of orders to be placed. His supplementary budget vote of £196,000 to pay for all this is approved by the Parliamentary Committee of Supply.
The first batch of nine Sopwith “SS” single-seat scouts for the RFC are nearing completion in Kingston
They are seen here in the Roller Skating Rink factory with a Bat Boat II flying boat hull
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, is before the same committee on 2nd March 1914 for a much larger supplementary vote for the Royal Navy. He is less forthcoming about numbers of machines but declares that Britain is ahead of both France and Germany in seaplanes. Most of the extra money he is seeking for aviation is for the Navy to take sole charge of the British military airship force where we are lagging behind France and Germany in numbers and size of airships.
On 4th March 1914 Winston Churchill is guest of honour at the Royal Aero Club Annual Dinner and warmly welcomed for his active role in advancing naval aviation. There are a remarkable 71 pilots present and almost every well-known name in British military and civil aviation. In the speeches Sopwith Aviation’s achievements during 1913 are singled-out especially the “Mortimer Singer” prize for a land and water machine and Harry Hawker’s “Circuit of Britain” attempt in an all-British floatplane. The President of the French Aero Club acclaims that England has no reason to be jealous of other countries, with the generous encouragement of its press the industry here has developed almost as well as in France.
On 5th March 1914 a “stock” order is added to the Sopwith order book confirming their intention to compete in the 1914 “Circuit of Britain” challenge during the first two weeks of August. This is a third Bat Boat II similar to those ordered for the British and German navies last November but with a 225hp 12 litre V-12 Sunbeam engine in place of their 200hp Salmson Canton Unné radial engines.
The news from Australia is that the Minister of Defence’s flight with Harry Hawker has spurred him to demand the early completion of Australia’s first military flying school on the 1,000 acre site at Point Cook, even if accommodation has to be in tents. The three aircraft Harry has described as out of date and practically useless and have been in storage for a year are at last assembled. On 6th March 1914 the British trained instructors, Lieutenants Harrison and Petre, make the first solo ascents from Point Cook in a Bristol Boxkite and a Bristol Monoplane. The Chief of General Staff then demands a flight with Harrison in the 50hp, 40mph Boxkite despite the gusting windy conditions. This does not go well, their combined weight is too great and “after skimming the ground for about four minutes to the gasps of a little knot of spectators at each sudden dip, the instructor lands and asks his Chief to alight before he can risk turning back upwind to complete the return flight alone”.
Efforts are made to raise prize money to tempt Harry Hawker into making a record non-stop flight back from Sydney to Melbourne but it does not happen. Instead Harry, his father and Fred Kauper take the Sopwith Tabloid by train and stop off at Albury for yet another civic reception and demonstration.
On 8th March 1914 Harry puts on the demonstration at Albury racecourse in front of the largest crowd ever assembled there. On his second flight he goes after the Australian height record and in a few minutes achieves 7,800 ft. directly above the grandstand and is “a tiny speck virtually lost to view”. Intending to indulge in a steeplechase exhibition he glides down over a hill at the north end of the course but is seen to touch the ground with the propeller almost stopped. The engine does not respond and he has to put down in the adjoining paddock. With the racecourse fence only a few feet ahead, the machine pitches onto its nose with the propeller buried in soft ground.
Harry emerges unscathed and a “mighty cheer is raised which is repeated again and again when it is announced that he has established an Australian record”. “The manoeuvres then cease for the day, much to the disappointment of the public and a couple of passengers who intended to go aloft.” Harry as always is quick to explain it was not a fault with the aircraft, in the excitement of the day the team had forgotten to top up the fuel tank. The damage was only to the landing gear and propeller. However that was the last of his spare propellers, he can do no more demonstrations whilst he rebuilds his machine and has a new propeller made.
On 11th March 1914 back in Melbourne, Harry Hawker is invited to join the Minister of Defence on a surprise visit to the new Central Flying School at Point Cook. The first thing they see is a wrecked Deperdussin monoplane. Lt. Petre experiencing engine problems, banked steeply to avoid telephone lines and plunged to earth. He too emerged unhurt. With this loss of one third of the Australian military fleet Harry might be getting closer to selling them some modern Sopwith machines before he returns to England.
Harry’s mind is turning to more exciting opportunities in England. He is aware that he cannot get back in time to pilot a Tabloid floatplane in the Schneider Trophy race in Monaco in April. His British height record has recently been smashed by fellow Brooklands based professional pilot Fred Raynham in a standard 80hp Avro biplane very similar to the Sopwith Tabloid - Raynham reached 14,420ft with a passenger compared with Harry’s June 1913 record of 12,900ft. Harry can be sure that Sopwith have registered an entry for the 1914 “Circuit of Britain” challenge and he has already mentioned in interviews in Australia that he needs to get back in time to help develop and fly a racing landplane for the big international aviation event of the year, the Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup in France in the autumn.
Meanwhile on 9th March 1915 Sopwith have recorded a “Stock” order for a mysterious “100hp Monosoupape 1914 Type Two-seat Military Biplane”.
On 14th March 1914 they add a War Office order for three more Sopwith “SS” Single-Seat Scout versions of the Tabloid bringing the total on order for the RFC to twelve.
On 14th March 1914 the Sopwith factory complete the two Anzani-engined pusher floatplanes Nos 123 and 124 for the Admiralty. The second of the similar but dual-controlled machines for the Greek Navy is only 10 days away from joining these on Southampton Water for acceptance testing.
The Olympia Aero Show starts on 16th March 1914.
Twelve months ago Sopwith Aviation was a new and largely unknown exhibitor creating a stir with their first Bat Boat and a Three-Seater landplane. This year with the pressure on urgent deliveries from the factory they are only showing one of their larger and sturdier 200hp Bat Boat IIs. It shows Sopwith to be in the forefront of naval aircraft development incorporating wireless telegraphy equipment in an advanced hull design with the most powerful engine complete with compressed air self-starter. A motorcycle engine in the nose drives a generator to power the wireless.
As ever the technical press enthuse over the quality of Sopwith workmanship. “One of the finest examples of seaplane work ever turned out. Short of landing at full speed on a stony beach one can scarcely imagine even the energetic sailormen of the Naval Air Service doing much damage to it.”
There are many more British built machines this year, 17 of the 25 on show, and the first appearance of an armed aircraft, a Vickers Gunbus. Although Short Bros are not exhibiting, there are a record nine flying boats and seaplanes, including three from established boatbuilding companies well known to Tommy Sopwith.
Samuel Wight and Co of Cowes show the only other 200hp machine, a monster pusher floatplane designed by Howard Wright who designed and built the aeroplane Tommy Sopwith bought to teach himself to fly in 1910.
Hamble River, Luke & Co. who’s slipway Sopwith sometimes use, show a 150hp pusher floatplane with cigar shaped fuselage and rounded floats designed by Frank Murphy previously with Bristol Aircraft.
Aviation pioneer and eccentric would-be politician Noel Pemberton Billing exhibits his P.B.1 “Supermarine” flying boat. This has a round hull with added planning section underneath. The 50hp engine is mounted in a pod ahead of the wings and the pilot behind the wings. PB is planning to build much larger flying boats. “Supermarine” is the telegraphic address of his boatyard at Woolston in Southampton where he has been building fast marine craft since 1912. It is also being used by Sopwith to assemble and launch their machines.
The other new small flying boat is from Perry Beadle & Co. of Gould Road Twickenham although it has been constructed for them by Saunders of Cowes using their “Consuta” wire-sewn wood strip construction. It has an integral fin and tailplane and a buoyant lower wing. Two tractor propellers are chain-driven by a 60hp ENV engine buried in the nose. Perry Beadle are also promoting their 45hp single-seat land biplanes for £450 each.
The Brooklands Aero Club holds its annual dinner at the Olympia Aero Show. Responding to congratulations on the good work done by Brooklands flyers, Club Chairman Tommy Sopwith uses the opportunity to say that he does not care who wins the classic aviation events abroad so long as they are won by British aeroplanes.
Meanwhile, Sopwith completes its first export sale. Their first pusher floatplane for the Greek Navy has finally passed its trials after enlarging both elevator and rudder.
This is a big machine for the 100hp Anzani engine. Whilst considered adequate for training, it takes 15 minutes to climb to 3,500ft. The second machine arrives on 24th March 1914. The trials are flown by Howard Pixton at Hamble. (As in photos above)
On 25th March 1914 the Sopwith factory despatches the special clipped-wing Sopwith “TT” floatplane for testing Capt. Murray Sueter’s torpedo release gear at speed over the water.
On 25th March 1914 Lieut. Spencer Grey has a rather bad accident in the six weeks old Sopwith “Churchill” No.149 just outside the aerodrome at Eastchurch in Kent when heading back to Hendon. The machine turns suddenly without banking and drops rapidly from 250ft flat-spinning around its own nose, crumpling up as it strikes the ground. It takes over 20 minutes to extract Grey who suffers severe shock, shoulder and back injuries. His passenger Eng-Lieut. Aldwell has injuries to face and thigh.
On 31st March 1914 the special racing floatplane version of the Sopwith “Tabloid” arrives at Hamble from Kingston. This also has a 100hp engine but with half the wingspan and weight of the Greek pusher floatplanes it is hoped it will match the incredible performance of Harry Hawker’s prototype 80hp “Tabloid” landplane.
Late in the day on 1st April 1914 Howard Pixton takes the little floatplane with its single central main float out onto the Hamble. As soon as he opens up the engine the machine starts to nose over. When a wingtip float digs in the Tabloid flips completely onto its nose tossing Pixton into the icy water. He struggles to shore in his waterlogged heavy flying gear assisted by his mechanic Victor Mahl. The machine drifts with the rising tide until they manage to pull it up onto the beach and the next morning when the tide recedes it is resting on its propeller and float tips tail-in-the-air. Rather than give up they hastily return the machine to Kingston. With less than three weeks to the Schneider Trophy race in Monaco the plan is to slice the wide central float in half to make two conventional floats. These will be mounted further forward and a small float added under the tail.
In the first quarter of 1914 Sopwith Aviation has taken new orders valued at £43,000 (including 23 aeroplanes) already 80% of £53,500 order value taken in the whole 12 months of 1913 (which included 30 aeroplanes).
The Sopwith factory in Kingston has continued to step up its output to meet this challenge completing 10 aeroplanes in the first quarter of 1914 against 18 aeroplanes in the whole previous 12 months.
Harry Hawker is back in Melbourne and expresses his opinion that it was the Aborigines who had led the science of heavier than air flight by throwing their boomerangs in rapid motion through the air.
On 5th April 1914 Harry gives a flying demonstration at the Miners Racecourse at Ballarat in front of another large crowd. After the second flight he proceeds to “hurdle around the course but turns rather sharply and the machine dips its nose into the turf”. To the relief of the crowd it does not turn right over and neither he nor his passenger is injured. Once again he has broken the propeller and damaged a wing.
Since Sopwith’s Tabloid racing floatplane somersaulted into the Hamble on 1st April 1914, Sidney Burgoine has had two floats built from the single wide float and made a tail float. Victor Mahl’s team have worked every available hour to repair the water damage and build new support struts for the floats, now set further forward.
At 5 am on Tuesday 7th April 1914 the machine is trundled half a mile from the Skating Rink Factory in Canbury Park Road to the Thames slipway in front of Turk’s Albany Boathouse on the Lower Ham Road.
Taxiing across the water allows them to assess the new float arrangement but they are banned from flying off the water there at the last minute when officials turn up from the Thames Conservancy.
The pilot stands up to see where he is going A fast run by Petersham Meadows on 8th April
At 5am the next day 8th April 1914 they take the machine to the slipway at the end of River Lane in Petersham near Richmond. The Thames is tidal there and under the jurisdiction of the Port of London Authority.
The engine is still misfiring after being underwater at Hamble but Howard Pixton does some fast runs and eventually lifts off the water between Glover’s Island and Eel Pie Island. The flight is only a few hundred yards but it proves they have a viable machine.
They decide to raise the tail float to allow an even greater angle of attack at take-off but otherwise the aeroplane is ready to be crated and sent to Monaco. There is no time to waste if they are to be in Monaco re-assembled, tested and ready to race on 19th April 1914.
Aeroplane magazine uses its front page to wish the team “GOOD LUCK” recognising the importance of a good performance in the international Schneider Trophy race to both Sopwith Aviation and the British aircraft industry.
On 9th April 1914 the first of the nine Sopwith “SS” military versions of the “Tabloid” for the Royal Flying Corps arrives at Brooklands from Kingston. It differs from Harry Hawker’s original “Tabloid” by having a fixed triangular fin in front of the rudder and a single seat cockpit. As yet un-numbered, it is quickly assembled and Howard Pixton (pictured below) is delighted with its handling and performance.
On Sunday 12th April the very experienced Harold Barnwell is given an opportunity to fly the new Sopwith Tabloid “SS” and becomes the first Brooklands airman to loop the loop after having quickly climbed to 4,000ft.
Flight magazine reports excitedly: “In the strong sunshine and at the height the evolution was carried out it was difficult to follow every detail of movement, but to most it seemed that the machine, after turning vertically upward, fell to one side, and then, turning over, completed the loop prior to planing down. Mr Tom Sopwith ran out to greet Mr Barnwell and to ask him exactly what he had done, to which question the aviator called out “That’s just what I have come down to ask you”. Their ideas of his movements coincided, so apparently quite satisfied as to what to do the next time, he immediately restarted and at his second attempt made three very good loops at a height of about 3,000ft. Mr Barnwell seemed to think nothing of his feat, merely remarking after his second attempt “I began to wonder where the world had got to that last time”.
Meanwhile, the Sopwith “TT” clipped wing floatplane completed in March is already on its trials at Calshot. Capt. Murray Sueter is very keen to use this ‘flightless bird’ to test his torpedo release gear which is fitted under the fuselage. The ability to launch torpedoes from aircraft would be a huge step forward in naval warfare.
Sopwith "TT" races away from the beach with a torpedo between its floats
In Australia Harry Hawker is still trying to get orders for some Sopwith “Tabloids” from the Army but they do not consider them suitable as pilot training machines and seem reluctant to decide what types they need beyond that.
Harry has given up on repairing his prototype “Tabloid” in Australia and is making arrangements to sail back to England with it in time for the summer air races and international competitions.
The Schneider Trophy race is due to take place around 28 laps of the 10km course out in the bay at Monaco on Sunday 19th April.
The French monoplanes with the latest 160hp two-row Gnome and Le Rhone rotary engines are being gathered with great confidence in Monaco harbour The three Frenchmen, a British entry by Lord Carbery and an American entry are all flying French monoplanes. Another American brings his Curtiss flying boat but realising it is outclassed borrows yet another French monoplane.
This leaves three biplanes including a German Aviatik. The Swiss entered small French FBA biplane flying boat and the unheralded British entry from Mr Sopwith only have 100hp engines.
The little Sopwith Tabloid racing floatplane finally arrives in Monaco on Thursday 16th April 1914. It is soon out of the packing cases and standing on its floats in their tent. On Friday the wings and the rather rusty engine are fitted.
Tommy Sopwith (right) watches an engine test outside the Sopwith tent (Photo Philip Jarrett)
It is ready to fly on Saturday but the sea state prevents that so it is 5am on race-day Sunday 19th April that Howard Pixton first taxies their machine out of the narrow harbour mouth. He is rather tail down but gets airborne within 100 yards in “contrast to the heavy and sluggish lift of the French monoplanes”. “After a few minutes and some steeply banked turns he makes a neat landing and taxies right onto the slip almost entirely clear of the water”.
Howard “Picky” Pixton is concerned that the engine is running above its maximum speed and could seize. To their good fortune the weather deteriorates and the race is postponed until Monday.
(Photo Philip Jarrett)
On advice from the engine manufacturers they decide to borrow and fit a smaller much coarser pitch propeller to keep the engine below 1300rpm. They strengthen some stay wires and lash an extra 6 gallon fuel tank and pump in the cockpit to ensure they can complete the 280kms.(150 nautical miles)
The German has crashed and the fully fuel-loaded Swiss entered FBA flying boat No.7 fails to lift off the rough water giving the many French supporters even more confidence in their entries.
Timed race attempts are to be made between 8am and sunset tomorrow 20th April 1914.
At 5am on Monday 20th April 1914 the Monaco waterfront is already animated when the Sopwith team arrive to prepare their floatplane for the postponed Schneider Cup race.
Lord Carbery goes out at 5.15am for an hour in a Deperdussin and the American Weymann is soon testing his Nieuport. The Swiss entry Burri gets going by 6.15 in his FBA flying boat. Around 6.30 the little Sopwith biplane is afloat and after a longer take-off run does a lap of the 10km course before beaching outside the Bristol Hotel where the Sopwith team are staying.
As the 8am race start bomb sounds the wind is S.E. blowing up to 15mph and the sea is fairly smooth. Within 5 seconds the first French entered Nieuport monoplane is across the start line and 30 seconds later the second one. Within the first 6 minutes the Swiss FBA makes a sedate start. All three succeed in making the required two landings on the sea during their first lap and settle into their long flights.
It is 8.16am when Howard Pixton crosses the line all-out and takes off within 50 or 60 feet accomplishing his two sea landings whilst hardly reducing his speed. “He causes quite a sensation when he takes the square turn by the Tir au Pigeons. He gives the wings full warp and banking at 60 or 70 degrees still tends to slip off uphill. It is obvious that the Sopwith machine is very much faster than the others providing the engine will hold out.”
The Sopwith machine over the Tir au Pigeons and banking steeply around a flag marking a turning point
The race continues uneventfully with Pixton consistently lapping at a few seconds over 4 minutes until the 15th lap when his engine is heard to misfire. His lap time drops by 20 seconds and at one point by 40 seconds but his engine eventually settles down to work very consistently on just eight of its nine cylinders.
On their 16th and 17th laps both French Nieuport monoplanes come down with overheating engines about to seize. The air cooling of these two-row radials has proved to be inadequate with such continuous running.
Burri in his FBA flying boat and (right) about to be overtaken yet again by Howard Pixton in the Sopwith
Burri has to stop to refuel after 20 laps having discovered on Sunday that he could not get off the water with a full fuel load. Burri and Pixton persist despite the sea becoming so rough there is anxiety that they are going to be able to alight safely.
After 2 hours and 13 seconds Pixton completes the 28 laps at an average speed of 86.78 mph.
In a pre-arranged extra challenge Pixton carries on for two more laps flat-out to complete 300 kms and take the world seaplane record to 86.6mph.
The clear superiority of the Sopwith machine and its pilot is revealed by comparison with the 160hp monoplanes’ best average speeds over 50kms of 75mph and 72.7mph. Pixton’s best 50kms average is 92mph with 100hp and Burri’s only 65.3mph with a similar engine.
The machine is towed to the beach to avoid the risks of taxiing in the heavy seas
The aircraft is sitting low in the water and the pilot stands on a float to try to keep the tail from getting swamped
Howard Pixton is welcomed by a large crowd and warmly congratulated by race promoter Jacque Schneider
His very proud mechanic Victor Mahl still has his trousers and shirt sleeves rolled up from recovering the aircraft onto the beach.
Well wishers adorn the cabane struts with bunches of flowers
Lord Carbery only completes 3 laps before his engine fails. Rolland Garros in his Maurane-Saulnier and both the Americans withdraw from the competition on seeing the amazing performance of the Sopwith machine.
So it is the Swiss Burri who takes second place eventually coming home in a time of 3 hours 24 minutes averaging 51mph including his refuelling stop.
One French pilot borrows the American’s Nieuport to try to finish in third place but that engine only lasts 9 laps.
The only consolation for the previously unbeatable French is that both the British and Swiss machines use French Gnome engines, a point made clear by Tommy Sopwith in his speech at the celebration dinner that evening in the Hotel de Paris.
On Tuesday 21st April Tommy Sopwith and Howard Pixton are presented with the prize money and the magnificent Schneider Trophy by Prince Albert I of Monaco.
Commentators remark that this does not end France’s aviation supremacy at a stroke but it does mark the arrival of a competitive British aircraft industry.
On 22nd April 1914, despite the excitement down in Monaco, the first Sopwith “SS” single-seat Tabloid is delivered to Farnborough. Optimistically promised 7 weeks from order, it is 8 weeks overdue. Farnborough tests confirm the remarkable top speed of 94.9mph with just 80hp. The 36.9mph slowest speed is well within the 40mph considered acceptable for safe landings. Still unmarked, No.378 is soon to be tested to destruction to establish its ultimate strength.
On 29th April 1914 the famous aeroplane Harry Hawker originally used in the Circuit of Britain challenge last August has been rebuilt for a second time and is on acceptance trials at Calshot as Admiralty No.151. It is back in its floatplane configuration, still with the British Green engine. With the observer’s seat between the wings in front of the pilot, the testers report it is "entirely useless for spotting".
Also on 29th April 1914 secret Sopwith “Type GPH” gun-carrying pusher biplane floatplane No.93 passes more tests. It is required for trials with nose-mounted guns up to a 12 pounder Vickers and is the largest machine Sopwith have built. First promised for September 1913, the specification was upgraded from 100 to 200hp in November. The aircraft eventually left the factory 12 weeks ago for testing. Sopwith submit a claim for just ⅔rds of the contracted £3,500 price.
On 30th April 1914 Sopwith’s success in the Schneider Cup Race is celebrated on the front page of Aeroplane magazine and with a full page Sopwith advertisement highlighting the 92.1 mph fastest speed over 10kms.
Aeroplane editor C.G.Grey berates the British press for hardly reporting the triumph but notes the very complementary reports about this demonstration of British aviation excellence in both the French and German press.
Grey praises the vital contributions from pilot Howard Pixton, Tabloid designer Harry Hawker, works manager Fred Sigrist, Sidney Burgoine and Victor Mahl. He adds “as success follows success we have heard much about “Sopwith luck”. I can assure my readers that Sopwith common sense, Sopwith thoroughness and Sopwith determination are the component parts of that “luck” together with the wisdom to scrap a thing which is obviously not a success rather than waste time and money on it. The same qualities of quick decision which made Mr Sopwith one of the most perfect pilots that ever flew has made him a success in business”.
The second production Sopwith “SS” Tabloid has been at Brooklands since 24th April and is demonstrated to a French delegation on 3rd May 1914 by Howard Pixton with a 100hp Vickers “Gunbus” flown by Harold Barnwell.
On 4th May 1914 the first aeroplane built by Sopwith is overturned trying to take-off from a rough field after a forced landing near Shoreham with a broken oil pipe. This ends the 22 month career of the sole Sopwith “Hybrid” first flown by Tommy Sopwith on 4th July 1912 and delivered to the Admiralty as No 27 on 24th November 1912. It was rebuilt for them a year later as a Type D1. Much used for instructional flying, it had recently become the first Sopwith to be fitted with a gun mounting.
On 6th May 1914 Howard Pixton delivers the second “SS” single-seat scout to the Royal Flying Corps but overturns it on landing at Farnborough. He blames himself for landing slightly downwind and nearly running into the AID’s sheds. A wheel has buckled and an undercarriage strut broken but other damage is slight. The aircraft is returned to Kingston for repair and redelivery within three weeks. This incident leads to a modification to strengthen the undercarriages on all these machines.
On 6th May 1914 Harry Hawker leaves Australia with his damaged prototype Sopwith “Tabloid” and mechanic Harry Kauper. The ship is due back in Britain in about four weeks.
Sopwith "Anzani" No.58 off Calshot Spit
On 6th May 1914 there are reports that Sopwith “Anzani” No.58, the very first Sopwith floatplane delivered to the Admiralty in June 1913, has been fitted with bomb dropping gear at Calshot in further experiments to enhance the military use of floatplanes.
Also on 6th May 1914 sister Sopwith “Anzani” No.60 is damaged beyond repair in a take-off accident at Great Yarmouth. This much flown machine was photographed (above) in January being dragged back onto the shore at Great Yarmouth.
On 7th May 1914 Sopwith issue works orders to build two single-seat racing versions of the “Tabloid” biplane, a fairly standard 80hp machine and a 100hp special with a slim round fuselage. These will be Sopwith’s entries for the highly prestigious 200 mile Gordon Bennett International air race due to take place in France in late August. Each country is limited to three competitors. The Royal Aero Club is planning to hold elimination trials in Britain as they already have other entries from Avro, Bristol, Vickers and a Mr Cedric Lee.
On 8th May 1914 the Sopwith Aviation Co. records its first two commercial export orders. Both Societa Italiana Transaerea and Bleriot have ordered a sample 80hp Tractor Scout airframe without an engine for £700. The emphatic victory in Monaco has no doubt speeded up negotiations with both companies to license build Sopwith machines under royalty. It is a great endorsement that the famous M. Louis Bleriot is keen to build Sopwith’s biplanes in France to complement his range of internationally renowned and popular monoplanes.
12th May 1914 sadly sees the first fatalities in a Sopwith aircraft. No.5 Squadron Flight Commander Captain E.V Anderson and air-mechanic Wilson returning from a familiarisation flight to Brooklands in Type D2 No.324 are in a mid-air collision with No.325 from the same squadron which has just taken off from Farnborough. They are both killed and Lieut. Wilson in the other aircraft is seriously injured. The inquest on 14th May finds no faults with the aircraft and records a verdict of accidental death.
On 12th May 1914 the ex-1913 Circuit of Britain floatplane No.151 is accepted by the Navy.
Also on 12th May 1914 the Royal Aero Club dinner is held to celebrate the Schneider Cup victory. Replying to the toast, Tommy Sopwith pays particular tribute to Brigadier General Henderson, Director General of Military Aeronautics, for supporting Sopwith Aviation by ordering the RFC’s first single-seat scouts within three weeks of the fast little Tabloid’s first flight. The modest Harold Pixton is amazed to find himself sitting next to his motor racing hero “King of Speed” S.F. Edge. Harold is even more amazed that Edge has been watching and admiring his flying since the early days when he was “always dropping into the Brooklands sewage beds”.
On 13th May 1914 the fourth Tabloid “SS” is delivered to Farnborough. It had only arrived at Brooklands the previous day. Sopwith may have got the first production order for fast 80hp single-seat scouts but others are already catching up. The latest 80hp Bristol Scout is measured at 97.5mph at Farnborough on that same day.
A grateful Howard Pixton has been giving flying lessons to his Schneider Trophy mechanic Victor Mahl at Brooklands in the company’s own “Three-seater”. Victor has learnt quickly and on Thursday 14th May 1914 he “does an excellent brevet, and is, one believes, the first pilot to take his ticket on an 80hp machine”. On Friday he takes up Jack Alcock and later two paying passengers. Aeroplane’s Brooklands correspondent wonders if this is not “a trifle too soon for a new pilot!”.
Victor Mahl, Howard Pixton and their 26 year old boss Tommy Sopwith with a Tabloid "SS" Scout
On 14th May 1914 Sopwith record a £3,122 Admiralty order for three 200hp “Type C” tractor floatplanes capable of lifting a 900lb 14” torpedo. These large machines have to be at Calshot by October and November.
Meanwhile Howard Pixton has flown the first 200hp pusher Sopwith Bat Boat II Allocated Admiralty No.127 it is first seen at Calshot on 15th May 1914. “It gets off the water extremely quickly and climbs very fast.”
On 19th May 1914 Pixton first flies the similar 200hp Canton Unne powered Bat Boat II for the German Navy from Sopwith’s shed at Pemberton Billing’s Woolston Yard on the River Itchen in Southampton.
He makes three flights with heavily banked turns before flying down Southampton Water past Netley without touching any of the controls. Reports conclude that “the stream from the propeller turns the rudder slightly and holds it there keeping it flying extremely straight”. When Pixton asks why he is forbidden to take the German pilot over Calshot as there is not much to see, he is told that is the reason. This machine's speed is measured at 78mph. Sopwith now have the world’s fastest floatplane and flying boat.
On 19th May 1914 five Sopwith aircraft are amongst 24 paraded by the RFC in front of the King at Farnborough.
Also on 19th May 1914 the Sopwith Aviation Company Ltd. Board of Directors meet. Exploiting recent successes, much of the meeting is taking up with Tommy Sopwith’s pursuit of licensed manufacturing overseas. They put the Italian agreement on hold pending further information from Italy but the minutes record that they sign and seal an agreement with W. Lebedeff (actually V. A. Lebedev) to build machines under licence in Russia in the knowledge that he too is about to order a sample “SS” airframe. They are also proceeding with the Sopwith Fluggenwerk G.m.b.H. venture with Condor in Germany.
With the fifth RFC “SS” scout ready to leave for Brooklands, the Sopwith factory team has built 18 aircraft in the first 20 weeks of 1914 already matching the number built in the whole of 1913.
On 20th May 1914 the 200hp Bat Boat II ordered by the Admiralty passes its performance trials at Calshot but the hull is damaged. It is not accepted by the Navy and will have to be taken back by Sopwith Aviation to be repaired.
Also on 20th May 1914 it is not just the fifth “SS” scout which arrives at Brooklands from Kingston. The 100hp Schneider Trophy winning “Tabloid” is back from Monaco with its floats replaced by “V” strut “racing undercarriage” with no forward skids. The centre-hinged sprung half-axles are hidden in the streamlined cross-strut in flight. On landing the outboard ends can rise in slotted guides constrained by rubber cords for shock absorption.
Howard Pixton flies the machine intensively on 21st and 22nd May and flies it to Hendon on Saturday 23rd May 1914 in marginal visibility for the Aerial Derby. In a slight crosswind he lands on a bumpy area in front of the Shilling Enclosure and breaks the new undercarriage. Whilst the Sopwith team attempt a rapid repair in Claude Grahame White’s factory the weather closes in and the race is postponed for two weeks.
Starting line-up for the Brooklands Whitsun Handicap with a Sunbeam Farman, Sopwith 80hp “Three-seater”,
120hp Martin-Handasyde monoplane, Sopwith 80hp “SS” Scout and Bristol 80hp Scout
Flight reports a rare return to the air for Tommy Sopwith racing an 80hp Gnome Sopwith Scout in the Brooklands Whitsun Handicap on 25th May 1914. However Aeroplane reports that it is Howard Pixton who has the neck and neck tussle with Sidney Sippé in the latest 80hp Clerget Bristol Scout. Either way it is all to no avail as these fast machines are over handicapped and the race is won by a 50hp Vickers Boxkite.
On 30th May 1914 the Sopwith Aviation Co. delivers a 200hp Bat Boat II, not to the Royal Navy, but to Captain von Pustau for the German Navy. Despite being two months behind the promised date, this is a successful outcome for a major development project and brings in the balance of the £2,750 price. (c£250,000 in 2014)
Alongside their demanding military orders, the Sopwith team have the confidence to risk pushing ahead with private venture machines for the big prize money, prestigious competitions in 1914. A third Bat Boat II (with a British Sunbeam engine) is being built in time for this year’s “Circuit of Britain” race to be run between 1st to 15th August. It has been entered along with the Schneider trophy winning 100hp Tabloid.
Now the Royal Aero Club has announced that the eliminating trials for the International Gordon Bennett air race will held on Salisbury Plain in the last week in August. The two racing “Tabloids” have to be ready for that.
Victor Mahl’s progress as Sopwith’s third professional pilot has been rapid. He is regularly taking passengers in the company’s 80hp Sopwith “Three-seater”. Aeroplane reports that “Mr Mahl’s landings are now one of the most notable features of flying at Brooklands”. This week he has flown both the 80hp and the 100hp Tabloids and has been putting a Sopwith “Greek” pusher floatplane through its tests on Southampton Water.
On Thursday 4th June 1914 last minute preparation of the 100hp “Tabloid” is complete and it is towed by Tommy Sopwith behind his car back from Kingston to Brooklands. Intensive test flying follows to ensure it is tuned and ready for the much anticipated showdown at the Hendon Aerial Derby on Saturday 6th June 1914.
On the 6th June 1914 the weather does not look promising for the postponed 95 mile Aerial Derby race from Hendon around London and back to Hendon. It is “obvious that by the time the low lying clouds have swept across London they will have picked up enough dirt to attain a pea-soup consistency over the southern legs of the course”. The crowds still arrive and there are demonstration flights but Sopwith’s showdown with the latest Avro, Bristol, Vickers and Martinsyde machines is not to be. “The race comes within an ace of being postponed again.” Of the twenty one entries only eleven brave pilots line up for the start at 4.15pm.
The 100hp ex-Schneider Sopwith is surprisingly flown by Vickers’ pilot Harold Barnwell not by Howard Pixton who is in an 80hp Sopwith Scout. “It is not until the two Sopwiths get away that the large crowd show their enthusiasm. It is truly remarkable the way these little biplanes hurtle around the aerodrome, banking almost vertically at the pylons.”
Barnwell and the 100hp Sopwith Tabloid and Barnwell passing over Sopwith’s hack “Three-seater” after rounding the first pylon
On route via Kempton Park to Epsom the Sopwiths have passed much of the field but from there to West Thurrock most get lost in the fog and low cloud. Pixton gives up at Dartford and heads for Brooklands but has to land near Croydon to find where he is. Engine vibration is affecting Barnwell’s compass, completely lost he strikes the river and chases up and down at 100 feet until he recognises Purfleet and then finds West Thurrock, doing racing turns around the chimneys. He fails to find Epping or Hertford despite circling every church tower that emerges from the mist. He gives up and heads south west until he finds the Thames which is so narrow he follows it eastwards before he recognises the Staines reservoirs and gets to Brooklands. He has been up nearly 2 hours, flown some 200 miles and has just an inch of petrol in his tank. Only the American Brock in a Morane and two Farmans find Epping and Hertford and get back to Hendon. Brock is the winner in 79 minutes taking the Daily Mail Gold Cup, the Shell Handicap Trophy and 300 Sovereigns.
On the morning of Sunday 7th June 1914 Harry Hawker lands back at Southampton from Australia. In the afternoon he is already at Brooklands making an eager first flight in the 100hp Sopwith Schneider winning machine despite strong winds. “His handling of that machine shows he has lost none of his old skill during his absence. He is looking very fit and well and as keen as ever on flying. He is naturally most concerned with the Sopwiths to be built for the seaplane Circuit of Britain and the international Gordon-Bennett air races.”
On 8th June 1914 an order duly arrives in Kingston from V. A. Lebedev of St. Petersburg for a sample Tabloid Scout airframe to kick-start licensed manufacture in Russia.
Despite all the work being done on their competition machines, Sopwith is catching up with military deliveries. On 2nd, 4th and 9th June 1914 the fifth, sixth and seventh Sopwith “SS” Scouts are delivered by Howard Pixton to the Royal Flying Corps at Farnborough.
Geoffrey de Havilland is no longer at Farnborough. From 2nd June the pioneer aviator is engaged as designer and pilot of aeroplanes for entrepreneur George Holt Thomas’ Aircraft Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (AIRCO) at Hendon. He has resigned from his inappropriate appointment as Inspector of (other peoples) Aeroplanes at the AID and is re-starting the design career he had until January at the Royal Aircraft Factory. AIRCO have recently successfully tested their first licence-built 100hp Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine the supply of which is crucial to ensure that the second Sopwith entry in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race is “all-British”.
On 12th June 1914 the Sopwith Board Meeting agrees a sum of £860 to liquidate Harry Hawker’s Australian Tour contract. The meeting also approves the lease of land and buildings at Oak Bank Wharf, Itchen, from Pemberton Billing and authorises Mr. Cary to negotiate the purchase of freehold land and buildings adjacent to their recently completed new factory in Canbury Park Road.
On 15th June 1914 the first Sopwith “SS” RFC No.378, still unmarked, is photographed at Farnborough being sacrificed in tests to establish the ultimate strength of its structures. They are now using narrow, probably sand filled, bags to evenly and progressively load the inverted wings. The tests are to ensure an ultimate strength of at least 7 times the aircraft’s loaded weight.
The other six Sopwith “SS” already delivered are cleared for service and start to carry their RFC serial numbers, the earliest being No. 326.
Also on 15th June Harry Hawker takes the 100hp “Tabloid” Scout to Farnborough accompanied by Victor Mahl & mechanic in Sopwith’s hack “Three Seater”. The performance of the 100hp Monosoupape Gnome engined Tabloid with wheels in place of the floats it carried at Monaco is measured at a staggering 111 mph. No other scout has come near that speed in official tests.
Howard Pixton has no time for “stunt” flying but Harold Barnwell has frequently been looping-the-loop at Brooklands in the 100hp Tabloid, in one report “looping seven times in a row, diving at must have been 200mph”.
On 16th June 1914 Harry Hawker makes his first three loops in the 100hp Tabloid and goes up for three more.
On 17th June 1914 he is still testing his flying skills and the performance envelope of the machine with series of five and then six loops including engine-off “volplane loops and controlled super slow gliding towards 20mph”.
On Thursday 18th June 1914 Harry Hawker’s three volplane loops leave an “excess of petrol at the fuel jet which takes fire and burns through one of the main fuselage longerons”. He gets down safely and the machine is rushed back to Kingston for repair. The very next day it is back at Brooklands being test flown and tuned by Harry just in time for him to use it tomorrow in the London-Manchester-London air race from Hendon.
On 18th June 1914 Calshot becomes a showcase for the Royal Naval Air Service. Pilots and machines from most RNAS stations along the southern and eastern coasts are detached there in preparation for the Sovereign’s Review of his Fleet at Spithead in July. Eighteen machines were moored at rough anchorage for a close inspection. Sopwith are represented by 1913 Bat Boats, Anzani floatplanes and the ex-Circuit of Britain floatplane. This concentration of RNAS Officers provides an ideal opportunity for a conference. After much discussion it is agreed that they should press for a standard seaplane for scouting duties. An improved Short 160hp “Folder” is considered most suitable. Short Brothers are Sopwith’s main Admiralty aircraft rival.
On Saturday 19th June 1914 the Kingston factory completes the last of the initial RFC order for nine “SS” Scouts.
In April 1910 Louis Paulhan and Claude Graham-White battled out the first epic London to Manchester air race over two days. Four years later, on 20th June 1914, eight competitors line up at Hendon to fly not just to Manchester but to get back again on the same day for a £750 prize. Harry Hawker in the 100hp Sopwith Tabloid is scratch and last away at 12.20pm. It is very hazy and bumpy, several competitors have to land to find out where they are and one pair report being thrown out of their seats several times. Harry Hawker is taken violently ill on reaching Coventry and returns to Hendon gingerly riding the bumps by climbing high and soaring down in a series of long switchbacks. He arrives back at 2pm and is unable to speak for some minutes. As ever he blames himself. “We had the machine to win the race but not the pilot.” The attrition rate is high, mostly in landing accidents, only three complete the course. Brock in an 80hp Graham-White built Morane wins in 4½ hours flying time. Jack Alcock, two up in a new 100hp Sunbeam engined AIRCO built Farman, comes in third after 7 hours in the air.
This week’s Aeroplane magazine carries this first photograph taken inside a brand new Sopwith factory.
In December 1912 Tommy Sopwith took a 14 year lease on the Kingston Roller Skating Rink for £300 p.a. In 1913 he bought a nearby 150ft x 120ft parcel of land between numbers 27 and 37 Canbury Park Road on which this new factory has been built over the last few months by Offer and Sons of Church Street, Kingston.
Sopwith Aviation is now seeking to acquire number 37 Canbury Park Road from the Harrison family, Mrs. Ascott’s laundry at number 39 and the adjacent land up to Elm Road to double the size of the new factory.
On Sunday 21st June 1914 Harry Hawker is back at Brooklands flying the 100hp Tabloid having recovered from his sickness during yesterday’s London-Manchester-London air race.
On Monday 22nd June there are reports that the prototype Sopwith “Tabloid” Harry took to Australia is repaired and back at Brooklands. He is clearly not happy with it as on 23rd June there is an entry in the Sopwith works order book to fully overhaul the Australian machine and fit a new set of wings.
At the Sopwith Board Meeting on 26th June the Company Seal is affixed to royalty agreements with Societa Transaerea Italiana and L. Bleriot. Bleriot gets an exclusive licence to build in France.
Arrangements have been made for Harry Hawker to give looping demonstrations every summer Sunday afternoon at Brooklands and he is seen practising every day this week. He performs one on Saturday morning 27th June 1914 during the motor race. Sopwith has three entries in that afternoon’s air race. It is Brookland’s best race yet despite Pixton’s and Hawker’s “Tabloids” again being over-handicapped. At one time six of the twelve starters are within a few hundred yards of each other. Flight reports that “Mr Mahl deserves every credit for his fine first race win on the standard 80hp Sopwith just beating Mr Alcock on the 100hp Farman”.
Victor Mahl and Sopwith standard 80hp “Three Seater”
Later that day Harry dives the 100hp Tabloid with engine off and pulls up to the top of one of his slow loops at about 1,000ft when observers are horrified to see the aircraft fall sideways, turn nose down and descend vertically spinning around its own axis. The machine is seen to flatten out at about 200ft and then dive again into the wood on St. Georges Hill to the east of Brooklands airfield. Despite being convinced it must be the end for Harry Hawker, Howard Pixton commandeers the nearest available aeroplane to locate the wreckage but can see nothing in the dense woodland. Others have set off with motorcycles towards the scene. Pixton follows on foot when a motorcycle draws alongside him with Harry Hawker riding pillion grinning broadly. It appears that the aircraft still descending flies left wing up into the tops of the trees, from which it falls vertically taking several big boughs with it and ends the right way up on saplings in the undergrowth with the wings folded over Harry’s head. The undercarriage is telescoped into the front fuselage, some valve tappets have been swiped off the rotating engine, the propeller is broken at the tips but the rear fuselage and tail are intact. The rudder and elevator controls are still working and the wing warping wires undamaged. It is not a mechanical failure.
This much feared spin is known as Parke’s Dive as he is one of the few who has escaped death though he has no idea how he did it and nor have all the experts. Hawker however believes he now knows how to recover from a spin. The very next day 28th June 1914 Howard Pixton sick with anxiety witnesses Harry Hawker take an 80hp Sopwith Scout up to 1,500ft and deliberately enter a spin against the advice of all present. The machine “hangs on its tail, slowly rotates and spinning down he goes. Then quite suddenly the turning stops and the spin becomes a straight dive”. After a perfect landing asked what he had done he replies ‘I did nothing, absolutely nothing. I took my hands and feet off everything and as I thought came out of the spin and found myself in a straight dive’. Centralising the controls and waiting is a brave counter-intuitive experiment.
On 30th June 1914 the sample Tabloid aircraft (without engine) is completed for the Bleriot Company. It is despatched to France by rail from the London & South Western Railway Company goods yard on the north side of Kingston Station just a stone‘s throw from the Sopwith factories in Canbury Park Road.
On 30th June 1914 entries close for the £5,000 Daily Mail 1914 Circuit of Britain Race in August. The Royal Aero Club announces it has nine competitors, one floatplane each from A.V.Roe, Beardmore, Blackburn, Eastbourne Aviation, Grahame-White and Sopwith plus a Sopwith Bat Boat and two Curtiss flying boats from White and Thompson. Six entries depend on British-built foreign engines and three are British-built foreign aircraft – a German D.F.W. from Beardmore and the Curtiss flying boats. Howard Pixton will fly a new 200hp Bat Boat II and at the last minute Victor Mahl is named in place of Harry Hawker to fly the 100hp Sopwith floatplane.
By the end of June all nine Sopwith “SS” Scouts on the original Royal Flying Corps order have been delivered and the first of the additional three ordered on 14th March is on test at Brooklands. That brings to twenty-four the number of aircraft built in the first six months of 1914 compared with six in the same period of 1913. These young men have stretched their knowledge and skills to develop a flourishing and profitable business.
On 1st July 1914 the secret 66ft wingspan Sopwith “Type C” floatplane No.170 emerges from the Sopwith shed at Woolston. It was ordered in January to be delivered by 18th July and is the second largest aircraft they have built.
The 200hp Salmson Canton-Unné 14 cylinder two-row water-cooled radial engine is mounted back on the firewall with tall flanking exterior radiators. A long extension driveshaft goes through a front bearing to the 9ft propeller taking it beyond the nose of the 14 inch torpedo this machine is designed to carry between the independently mounted sturdy floats.
This aeroplane will be joining the brand new Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) formed on 1st July 1914 from the Naval Wing of the Army’s Royal Flying Corps. Wholly run and organised by the Navy, the RNAS takes over the Admiralty purchased aircraft and all the military airships including those previously owned by the Army. The distinguishing badge of an RNAS officer is an eagle above the lace on the left sleeve and pay is established at approximately the same rates as the submarine service. C. G. Grey in Aeroplane adds “This sudden and drastic change is in no small measure due to the keen interest taken by the First Sea Lord Mr Winston Spencer Churchill in naval problems and the science of aeronautics. No one can even guess how big the RNAS is going to be. We can already see as far as seaplanes as big as destroyers carrying equally big crews. We shall need hundreds of them as well as thousands of smaller machines.”
In clear skies on Saturday 4th July 1914 Harry Hawker takes a Sopwith Scout up to 11,000 ft over Brooklands and reports being able to see the Isle of Wight.
On 6th July 1914 Sopwith “Type C” floatplane No.170 is taxied on the water but refuses to fly. It does fly on the 9th July from Calshot but with a small fuel load and without an observer on board. Sopwith invoices the customer for £3,470 including £600 for a mock-up, £26 for instruments, £56 for two spare propellers and £25 for a trolley. It might be some time before the Admiralty agrees to settle although they were involved with the design from the start.
A successful business is not just about making the aeroplanes. The Surrey Comet reports that the Court of Appeal has been asked to rule on a demand by Mr William Clark for damages and an injunction against the Sopwith Aviation Company to discontinue the obstruction of light and air to his home and laundry business at 27 Canbury Park Road. The original court case included damage to a wall whilst building their new factory next door and Sopwith paid Mr White £40 through the court. He is now claiming that payment was an admission of guilt on all issues despite not having provided the original Judge with enough evidence for the obstruction of light and air. The Appeal Judge dismisses Mr Clark’s appeal accepting that Sopwith committed a slip, a bona fide error, by not denying liability when making the £40 payment. The court has the power to amend that.
Sopwith’s Victor Mahl learnt to fly and has done most of his flying on the company’s hack “Three-Seater”. He now experiences his first in-flight engine failure, a broken connecting rod, but is able to glide in. Aeroplane magazine’s report praises this 80hp Gnome engine for lasting a whole 8 months in daily use.
On 6th July 1914 the busy Sopwith factory takes Admiralty orders to reconstruct the “Churchill” No.149 which was crashed on 25th March and for a major overhaul of 12 month old Sopwith “Anzani” floatplane No.58.
On 10th July 1914 a Royal Flying Corps Sopwith “Type D2” dives into the ground from 40ft at their new station at Fort Grange near Gosport. The pilot has minor injuries, the passenger a fractured leg and head injuries. It is reported as a “take-off stall climb, losing flying speed and hitting the ground before recovering”.
Photographs appear of a Sopwith “School Type” 100hp Anzani pusher floatplane in Greece. The embryonic Marine Royale Hellenique air service is run by ex-Bristol pilot “Capitaine de Freigate” Collyns P. Pizey and four British mechanics. Working conditions are not favourable with no sheds or workshops and they use a spare aircraft float to punt out to the machine when it is moored at sea. Despite all this, the floatplane has flown up to 40 hours a month and Pizey has trained five Greek officers to fly without any initial landplane tuition.
Now Sopwith has taken a £3,000 order from the Greek Navy for the 200hp Bat Boat II which has been under test with the Royal Navy who still intend to use it in the Royal Review of the Fleet at Spithead next weekend.
On 15th July 1914 a completely new sleek tandem two-seat Sopwith biplane appears at Brooklands. This is the mystery 100hp Monosoupape Gnome engined “military biplane” entered in Sopwith’s order book on 9th March.
Victor Mahl in the cockpit of the Sopwith “1914 Circuit” aeroplane with Tommy Sopwith standing behind him
Despite the temporary landplane undercarriage this is Sopwith’s floatplane entry for the 1914 Daily Mail “Circuit of Britain” race in August alongside their 200hp Bat Boat II flying boat which is not yet completed. Many assumed that Sopwith’s floatplane entry was the Schneider Trophy winning “Tabloid” but this is a larger sturdier two-seater. On Thursday 16th July Victor Mahl bursts a tyre whilst testing it at Brooklands.
By Friday 17th July 1914 over 50 battleships of the world’s greatest naval fleet are gathered off Spithead for inspection by His Majesty King George V. The new Royal Naval Air Service causes quite a stir before midnight by flying Sopwith Bat Boat No.118 from Calshot right out to the other end of the fleet, climbing from 1,000 to 1,500 feet shining a bright light.
The Bat Boat has been fitted with a car headlight on the bows and “a mass of accumulators”. “This rather wipes the eye of the airships which are supposed to be the weapons of darkness”. Returning to Calshot in the dark the machine lands itself on the sea with the altimeter still indicating 100 feet.
On Saturday 18th July 1914 five RNAS Flights start out very early from Calshot for their moorings off Fort Monkton in preparation for the review. Flights A to D are from Isle of Grain, Dundee, Felixstowe and Yarmouth Naval Air Stations each with four floatplanes, almost all Shorts and Farmans. The Calshot-based machines of Flight E are last away including Sopwith 90hp Bat Boat No.118 and ex-Circuit of Britain floatplane No.151. However Squadron Commander Longmore’s 200hp Bat Boat II, is found to have a defective propeller and then the engine “has a fit of the sulks and refuses to start”. He has to join the older Bat Boat. After a review by the First Sea Lord they return to Calshot around 1pm. When the King arrives about 5pm he is accompanied out of Portsmouth harbour by two airships, several seaplanes and three landplanes normally based at Eastchurch.
Sopwith ex-Circuit of Britain floatplane No.151 and 90hp Bat Boat No.118 moored with the fleet
After the fleet has steamed slowly past the Royal Yacht on Monday morning 20th July, the Bat Boat and 16 floatplanes set out in single file from Calshot to fly past, dip in salute, show their numbers and return to Calshot. A Sopwith “Type D” is one of 6 RNAS landplanes which then fly around the HMY “Victoria and Albert”.
The Daily Telegraph leader sums it all up. “These aircraft represent an extension of our sea power; they are the scouts of the future. A fleet of battleships unattended by aerial craft will be blind. Cruisers even if able to steam at 30 knots will be inadequate. Their range of vision is limited; their rate of steaming is insufficient. The seaplane on the other hand is the fastest and handiest ship ever contrived by the ingenuity of man – with a speed of 70 miles an hour and a capacity for manoeuvring which defies competition. In two years the rate of flight has doubled and no one can say that the limit has been reached. A fleet without aerial squadrons will be robbed of the essential intelligence which is the talisman of victory – the foundation of successful naval tactics. As we are forced to develop our sea fleet, no effort must be spared to build up the complementary air service.”
It is no surprise then that the RNAS are upgrading their older wing-warping landplanes by placing orders with Sopwith for sets of ailerons for “Type D” biplanes No.33 and No.104 at a cost of £198.10.0d a set.
On 25th July 1914 Sopwith get an order from the Admiralty to repair “Type D” No.103 and retro-fit with the ailerons recently ordered for No.104.
Harry Hawker’s looping demonstration machine at Brooklands is now the rebuilt prototype side-by-side two seat Sopwith Tabloid he took to Australia. It has an uncovered rear fuselage structure, dihedral on the lower wing and a “racing” undercarriage without skids.
On 26th July 1914 Britain seeks a conference to settle the Serbian crisis which has grown since the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. France, Italy and Russia agree to take part but Austro-Hungarian ally Germany refuses.
The 200hp Sopwith “Type GPH” gun pusher floatplane No.93 is once more at Calshot to continue firing trials with a Vickers 1½-pounder gun weighing 265lbs. It has just missed the Royal Fleet Review fly-past where the rival Short S81 gun pusher No.126 carried the 1½-pounder gun. No.93 was returned to Sopwith on 29th June to be rebuilt with a stronger rectangular rear frame to replace the triangular one and now has two rudders.
On 28th July 1914 the 200hp Bat Boat II is handed over to the Greek Navy. On that same day after several abortive attempts to get 200hp Sopwith “Type C” floatplane No.170 to lift a 14 inch torpedo, this is finally achieved at Calshot with a 160hp Short Tractor floatplane.
The front cover of this week’s issue of Aeroplane magazine carries photographs of German world record holders who have achieved heights up to 25,750ft and flight durations over 24 hours. The headline is simply “OUR BETTERS - Wanted a British aeroplane and pilot to beat these figures”. In the same issue, the Royal Aero Club announces that Bristol are too busy and have withdrawn their entry for the Gordon Bennett international air race. The elimination trials to decide British entries will now be in France just before the race in September.
On 28th July 1914 despite Serbian agreement to most Austro-Hungarian demands, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia. This triggers Serbia’s ally Russia to declare a partial mobilisation on 29th July the same day that Germany refuses to confirm adherence to Belgian neutrality in response to British demands. On 30th July Germany warns Russia to halt mobilisation but orders a general mobilisation itself whilst Austro-Hungary orders a mobilisation in Galicia. These events trigger a general mobilisation in Russia the next day.
On 30th July 1914 the Sopwith factory finishes the sample “Tabloid SS” airframe to send to Lebedev in Russia to help them start licensed manufacture.
The factory also completes the first of the Greek Navy order for six 100hp Gnome engined pusher floatplanes.
On 31st July Sopwith’s 225hp Sunbeam engined Bat Boat II entry for the 1914 Daily Mail “Circuit of Britain” challenge is finished and sent to Woolston ready to fly.
Trial assembly of the 1914 Circuit Bat Boat in the Skating Rink in Kingston with Harry Hawker and Tommy Sopwith on the right.
On 1st August Germany declares war on Russia causing both Russia’s ally France and threatened Belgium to order general mobilisations.
Mobilisation plans have been in place for years in the uneasy peace in Europe and involve moving huge numbers of men, horses and armaments to likely areas of conflict. Railways now make this possible over great distances. The German Army has ensured the German railway system has many direct east-west routes between Russian and French/Belgian borders. None of these plans has any mention of aerial warfare.
On 1st, 2nd and 3rd August 1914 Harry Hawker gives “excellent looping demonstrations” at Brooklands’ motor races, although there are no Bank Holiday air races “due to the number of pilots and machines called up for service”.
Flight magazine’s correspondent “Aeolus” reports visiting the German D.F.W. Works at Brooklands and seeing the nearly completed floatplane they are building as Beardmore’s entry for the 1914 “Circuit of Britain” race. It is steel tube welded construction and has a rapid wing fitting/dismantling system which avoids tuning up the bracing wires each time.
He also sees a small new biplane being built by monoplane specialists Martin and Handasyde.
On 2nd August 1914, reflecting the deteriorating situation in Europe, the Order of Battle is issued by the Royal Naval Air Service. The RNAS now owns 95 aircraft:- “57 seaplanes, 34 aeroplanes and 4 monoplanes”. Only 46 of these are considered operational and assigned to the nine Naval Air Stations. Only 3 of the 15 aircraft supplied to the Admiralty by Sopwith over the last 19 months appear amongst those 46 - “Type D” No.104 at Eastchurch, “Anzani Pusher Floatplane” No.123 at Grain Island and their original Bat Boat No.38 at Felixstowe.
Of the other 12, the “Hybrid/Type D” No.27 and “Anzani” No.60 have been destroyed. Sopwith “Bat Boat” and “ex-1913 Circuit” Nos.118 and 151 are hors de combat with defective engines whilst “Type D” and “Churchill” Nos.103 and 149 are being rebuilt in Kingston. The other six surviving Sopwith RNAS machines are “Type D” No.33, “Anzani” floatplanes Nos.58, 59 and 124, and the experimental gun and torpedo carrying floatplanes Nos.93 and 170. These must be either unserviceable or considered unsuitable for operational duties.
On 2nd August 1914 Germany violates Luxembourg territory and demands right of transit through Belgium.
On 3rd August 1914 Germany invades Belgium and declares war on France.
On 4th August 1914 Germany declares war on Belgium causing Britain to declare war on Germany to honour the treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality signed in 1837 by five nations including Prussia.
On 4th August 1914 Harry Hawker delivers another Sopwith “SS” Scout to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) at Farnborough. They are apparently experiencing teething problems with the “SS” Scouts and seem much more focused on two-seat aeroplanes. Now supplementing their many BE2s and Farmans with the latest Avros, the remainder of the original nine RFC Sopwith “Type D1” two-seaters are being relegated to training roles.
On 5th August the first of a new Sopwith floatplane design, the 200hp Salmson Canton-Unné engined No.138, is completed and ready to go for Admiralty acceptance trials.
On that same day, Harry Hawker flies his trusty “Tabloid” prototype to Farnborough. As No.604 it is impressed under the Defence of the Realm Act as an aircraft of military value. This brings an end to Harry earning £30 a day for his looping demonstrations and the end of an era at Brooklands which is soon be under military control.
On 6th August 1914 Serbia declares war on Germany and Austro-Hungary declares war on Russia.
The French war plan includes immediately regaining lands in Alsace-Lorraine embarrassingly lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. The Russian war plan covers a wide front from the Baltic to Romania. The overarching aim of both plans is to foil at all cost the undoubted German ambition for mastery in Europe.
The latest version of the German Schlieffen plan involves a rapid sweep across Belgium and Northern France, swinging down to engulf Paris and encircle and defeat the French armies in the south east. The plan sees this all being done in six weeks when the bulk of the German army are to be moved by rail to the eastern front to fight the Russians who will need more time to mobilise their huge armies and get them in place.
By 9th August 1914 the first troops of the British Expeditionary Force are embarking for France. They will be supported by four RFC Squadrons and a 20 machine Aircraft Park which has four Sopwith “SS” Scouts in crates.
The Sopwith Aviation Company has continued to flourish in the 7 months up to the war taking orders valued at over £61,000, more than half of their total order intake for the whole 19 months of the company’s existence.
To avoid conflicting priorities with aircraft suppliers there is now a tacit agreement with the War Office that Short Brothers and Sopwith Aviation will solely supply the Admiralty, leaving the Royal Aircraft Factory, AIRCO, Avro, Bristol, Vickers and others to supply the needs of the Royal Flying Corps.
The Royal Navy’s first duty has always been to protect British shores from attack and invasion and, more recently, has been the protection of our commercial shipping trade around the world. The allies see Britain’s primary role in this war as the use of her naval might to neutralise the considerable threat from the rapidly expanding Germany Navy and to prevent vital supplies reaching Germany by sea. Denying the German Fleet access to the North Sea and the English Channel would also protect the shores of the western European allies and keep the German Navy out of the Mediterranean.
As soon as 10th August 1914 Sopwith receive their first wartime order. The £9,008 order is for six “Type 806” pusher gunbus landplanes. They are required at one per week from 10th September! The Admiralty will supply the 150hp Sunbeam engines which have been successful in recent Shorts and Farmans. Apart from the engine and wheeled undercarriage these machines will be similar to the 100hp Gnome Greek Navy floatplanes. The last five of those are under construction and all six will be impressed into RNAS service as Nos. 896 to 901.
The Admiralty requisition team has already been searching the sheds at Brooklands for machines to impress and has spotted the Company’s hack “Three-seater”. On 11th August 1914 Sopwith receive a £1,000 order to manufacture and fit a new set of wings to that machine and deliver it urgently to the Admiralty as No. 906.
On 12th August 1914 the factory completes Sopwith “SS” Scout No. 395 the last of the twelve for the Royal Flying Corps. When war broke out these had still not all been fitted with the strengthened undercarriages demanded by Farnborough before they are put into service.
Also on 12th August 1914 Noel Pemberton Billing, ever the publicist, gets Sopwith’s Victor Mahl to test fly his P.B.IX “Seven Day Bus” which he claims has been designed and built at his Supermarine Works in about a week. An easily-transportable 50hp scouting biplane of very simple construction, it was almost certainly built around an existing set of wings. It flies quite well reaching 78mph and climbs at 500ft/min.
On 7th August Flight magazine publishes this drawing of Sopwith’s “1914 Circuit of Britain” 36 foot wingspan 80mph 100hp Gnome Monosoupape floatplane in an article about the much anticipated race planned to run throughout August which was clearly written before the war intervened. By 13th August that “1914 Circuit” machine has already been requisitioned into military service and is delivered to the Admiralty as No. 880 for £2,000.
On 15th August 1914 the 120hp Austro-Daimler engined Sopwith “Type 137” experimental torpedo carrying floatplane is completed at Woolston (above) for company tests prior to delivery to the RNAS station at Calshot.
Sopwith’s 225 hp Sunbeam engined Bat Boat II entry for the cancelled “Circuit of Britain” challenge (above) is the last of the company owned aircraft to be impressed. Taken to Calshot by Howard Pixton on 9th August, it is bought by the Admiralty on 17th August 1914 as No.879 for £2,800. Unlike the German and Greek Navy Bat Boat IIs the wings are raised above the hull to provide clearance for the huge four-blade propeller.
Flight magazine reports that Brooklands is already being run by the RFC and the atmosphere is completely different. With all Sopwith and Bristol owned aeroplanes impressed their sheds have been taken over. Only Bleriot and Martin & Handasyde still have aircraft factories there. The one remaining private flying school trains RFC pilots. The Bluebird Cafe so long the vibrant meeting place for aviation pioneers is now a “canteen”.
On 19th August the historic 1913 “Circuit of Britain” floatplane No.151 is deleted from service as “entirely useless for spotting”. The original mechanic's, now observer’s, seat is between the wings behind the tall upright Green engine.
Meanwhile the Sopwith factory is pushing ahead with the Greek Navy 100hp Gnome pusher floatplane order. The second is completed 19th August ready to go now to the RNAS and the third is less than a week away.
In Europe bitter battles are being fought.
The French plan to regain Alsace and Lorraine started with the capture of Mulhouse and other towns but at an inordinate cost. The Germans are now moving onto the offensive and are pushing the French Army back towards Nancy and the Verdun-Nancy-Belfort line of fortresses.
In Belgium the Germans immediately took the town of Liege but are delayed for some days by stiff resistance from its besieged ring of 12 forts. By 20th August German forces have entered Brussels and are preparing to bombard the fortified towns of Namur and Charleroi. The remains of the small Belgian Army withdraw north behind the ring of fortresses that protect Antwerp. Over half a million men of the First and Second German Armies are approaching the Belgium-French border faced only by the overstretched French Fifth Army, the five infantry divisions of the British Expeditionary Force and a weak French formation to the extreme left flank.
On 21st August the 12 month old Sopwith Anzani floatplane No.59 is being tested as a landplane at Eastchurch (above) by Harry Hawker’s Australian chum now Flt. Cdr. Harry Busteed RNAS. It is to be used for experiments with Holt parachute flares.
By 21st August Sopwith have repaired “Type D” No.103 and retro-fitted ailerons ready to go back to the Navy.
On 21st August 120hp in-line Austro-Daimler engine Sopwith experimental torpedo carrying floatplane No.137 has left Woolston and is at Calshot starting its naval acceptance trials.
On 21st August Sopwith receive their highest value order to date, £19,700 for ten large “Type 860” torpedo floatplanes similar to the latest Short machines. The Admiralty will supply the 225hp Sunbeam engines.
The Royal Flying Corps’ two-seaters are proving invaluable to the British Expeditionary Force by accurately reporting and confirming the movements of overwhelming numbers of German forces. On 23rd August 1914 eight German Corps attack the BEF who are attempting to hold a 27 mile line centred on the Belgian town of Mons. The Germans suffer heavy casualties but, rather than inevitably be engulfed, General Sir John French orders the BEF to make an orderly retreat. On 24th August the German commander swings a German force southwards to besiege Maubeuge convinced the British and French forces will have fallen back on that fortified town. His aerial reconnaissance has not spotted in time that they have escaped that trap and are withdrawing rapidly to the southwest. The RFC squadrons have to withdraw to new airfields nearly every day with the BEF.
On 24th August two of the four crated Sopwith “SS” Scouts are assembled at the RFC Aircraft Park now at Amiens and allocated to No.3 Squadron.
On 25th August Sopwith floatplane No.138, with a 200hp radial Salmson engine manages a take-off at Calshot with wireless telegraphy installed and an 810lb torpedo. (Photo above shows the vertical radiators either side of the engine.)
On 26th August the recently rebuilt experimental Sopwith 120hp pusher gun-carrier No.93 is deleted from service due to “continuing deficiencies with the tail structure”.
The Sopwith gun-carrying floatplane No.61 with twinned 120hp Austro-Daimler engines is still incomplete after 15 months development and is abandoned as an experimental project. The airframe is loaded to destruction with sandbags in tests to learn more about the ultimate strength of such large aircraft structures.
At Eastchurch Flight Commander Samson is under instructions from the pugnacious First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to rapidly assemble an “Eastchurch Squadron” of RNAS landplanes and not just for defence.
Charles Rumney Samson is a career Naval Officer and pioneer naval aviator. As early as May 1912 he flew a Short floatplane off a temporary launching trackway over the foredeck of HMS Hibernia when she was underway, a world first. He has also experimented with night flying and wireless telegraphy from aircraft.
On 27th August early Sopwith “Type D” No.33 and impressed ex-company hack “Three-seater” No.906 are amongst the ten assorted aircraft of Samson’s RNAS Eastchurch Squadron which fly to Ostend. When they arrive they are fired upon by the small Royal Marine Brigade they are to work with. Tasked “to maintain aerial command of the Flanders coastal region”, they also make reconnaissance flights over Bruges, Ghent and Ypres. Samson also uses two cars, one hastily fitted with a Maxim gun, for ground reconnaissance as far as Bruges.
On 29th August Sopwith receive a £6,614 order from the Admiralty for yet another new type. The four 100hp Gnome Sopwith “Type 807” tractor seaplanes are folding-wing machines similar to the Sopwith “1914 Circuit of Britain” machine. To simplify wing-folding, the wings will not be staggered. To improve visibility the observer will sit well forward under a cutaway leading edge. Fred Sigrist does not have long to develop a safe and secure wing-folding mechanism, the first machine is promised in four weeks and then one per week.
On 29th August Calshot Squadron Commander Arthur Longmore completes two successful torpedo drops with Sopwith 200hp Seaplane No.138 (See 25th Aug. above) emulating his recent Short Folder achievement. Both drops are made with a torpedo, a passenger and fuel for two hours flying. HMS Hermione is his target.
The early Sopwith Bat Boat No.38 is recorded as “patched” at Great Yarmouth on 21st August. It goes up to the new British Fleet Protection Squadron at Scapa but by 29th August is noted as a “hull in store”.
On 30th August the Sopwith repaired “Type D” No.103 reaches Eastchurch via the Royal Naval Air Station at Hendon.
On 1st September 1914 the fourth of the “Greek” Gnome pusher floatplanes is completed for the RNAS but with a landplane undercarriage. The factory is building them at a rate of two per month. In this configuration they are very similar to the six recently ordered “Type 806” pushers which will follow them through the factory.
Samson’s Eastchurch Squadron and the small force of Marines cannot possibly defend Ostend and have to withdraw. They get instructions to return to Britain but, lost in mist, land at Dunkirk. On 1st September they get orders to stay there “to deny the use of territory within 100 miles of Dunkirk to German Zeppelins”. They are also to carry out reconnaissance as directed by the local French General. Restricted by the weather and the reliability of his 1913 aeroplanes, Samson builds up a supplementary roving ground force of improvised armoured vehicles protected by boiler plate including Flight Lieutenant Lord Edward Grosvenor’s Rolls Royce.
Meanwhile Sopwith “SS” Scouts Nos.387 and 611 have arrived at No.3 Squadron RFC at Le Frère on 26th August 1914 causing quite a stir with their great speed and rapid rate of climb and some disappointment that they are unarmed. On 28th August the squadron has to fall back to Compiègne.
The 29th August 1914 sees the first recorded engagement of a Sopwith aircraft with an enemy aircraft. From Compiègne aggressive pilot Second Lt. Norman Spratt starts “chasing German aeroplanes” possibly making him the first single-seat fighter pilot in history. His second flight that day is in pursuit of a “large German biplane” which has dropped three bombs on their camp. It is reported that he closes rapidly on the Germans and with no ammunition left in his revolver circles tightly around them forcing them to land and be taken prisoner.
On 2nd September, now from Serris near Paris, Spratt is up again “chasing Germans”. On his second flight he manages to fire thirty rounds from his revolver at a German two-seater at close range but with no apparent effect. Back at home, illustrator E. M. Rossiter helps Flight readers envisage such duels. (above)
The same evening after searching for a reported Zeppelin Spratt arrives back in the dark and “capsizes on the ground”. That is the end of Sopwith “SS” Scout No.387. The following day a similar fate befalls No.611, leaving two “SS”s in France both still in crates at the Aircraft Park.
On 3rd September 120hp Austro-Daimler engined Sopwith torpedo carrying floatplane No.137 which has been struggling with its Navy acceptance tests is wrecked and goes back to Woolston for a rebuild.
On 5th September Samson hears that the Germans are moving on from occupied Lille. With an aeroplane flying ahead to warn by Very light of any German forces, Samson sets out with four motor cars and sixteen men including four French artillery men with two machine guns. He discovers that the 2,000 German infantry left that morning and boldly drives into the main square to formally re-occupy the town amongst great celebrations. No French army back-up arrives and the expedition returns to base late afternoon but they leave an intentionally misleading impression for German informers that there is a large British force at Dunkirk.
The main German armies having swung south before getting far enough from Belgium to complete the Schlieffen plan to encircle Paris. They are facing south beyond the River Marne in a line which stretches east from the German border almost to Paris. They are spent, and many are suffering from a shortage of munitions and food due to their over-extended supply lines. From 5th September 1914 the French Armies and the British Expeditionary Force halt, turn around and advance on the Germans, the start of the Battle of the Marne.
With urgent orders for 24 new aircraft in the first month of the war and more orders expected, manufacturing capability is a prime concern at the Sopwith works at Kingston. Crucially they have already lost experienced workers to military service. Members of the Territorial Army have immediately been called up and other employees have joined the rush to volunteer to fight before the war is over, some think by Christmas. Recruitment and training are urgent issues, as is enlarging the new workshop in Canbury Park Road.
On 7th September 1914 Sopwith Anzani landplane No.59 crashes en route for Dunkirk. The following day rebuilt Sopwith “Three-Seater” No.103 does arrive safely in France to join Samson’s Eastchurch Squadron.
On 9th September before the weather closes in again, Samson’s original two Sopwith’s make extended reconnaissance flights over France and Belgium. No.33 flies for 2 hours over Doulens, Fierent and Blanzy whilst No.906 is up for over 3 hours over Lille, Tournai and Douai.
When first delivered to the RFC earlier this year Sopwith “SS” Scouts gained a reputation with RFC pilots as difficult aeroplanes The undercarriages are strengthened with a third strut between the original two (photo above). The problem was more that RFC pilots had no experience at the time of flying fast manoeuvrable lightweight machines. However reputations stick.
The RNAS does not have this perception of Sopwith’s “Tabloid” type Scouts, they want some and need them soon.
On 8th September 1914 Squadron Commander Spenser Grey meets the Director General Of Military Aviation to request the transfer of Sopwith ”SS” Scouts from the RFC to help with the Navy’s urgent work in Belgium and Northern France. Three are immediately allocated. The Admiralty agrees to pay the War Office £3,154 5s 0d.
Within two days, on 10th September, the RNAS receives ex-RFC “SS” Scouts Nos.394 and 395 (briefly renumbered in error as RNAS Nos.904 and 905 but soon to be RNAS Nos.167 and 168). The third machine is Harry Hawker’s original “Tabloid” prototype RFC No.604 (RNAS No.169) but after it goes back to Sopwith ostensibly to be converted to a single-seater. On the same day Sopwith Aviation accepts an urgent £367 verbal order from Sqn. Cdr. Spenser Grey for armoured seats and spare sets of struts, top and bottom planes, landing chassis, shock absorbers and propellers for these machines. Two armoured seats are despatched the next day.
On 11th September Sopwith “Three-Seater” No.33 is badly damaged at Dunkirk, new wings have to be ordered.
After intensive fighting along the whole of the German front line, the French 5th Army and the British Expeditionary Force surge forward and separate the two German Armies closest to Paris. German commanders decide to retreat and regroup. Paris is saved and the Battle of the Marne is over, the first major defeat for the Germans. With fresh allied troops to follow through it might have been a complete rout. By 12th September the Germans take up easily defended positions further north on high ground along the River Aisne. On 13th and 14th September concerted allied attacks fail to make progress and by the evening of the 14th September both sides start to entrench their positions along the Aisne.
On 11th September Harry Hawker is seen at Hendon in the rain in his original “Tabloid” prototype doing "all out" steeply banked short turns "still sideslipping upwards" and on 13th does his last few loops there before handing it to the RNAS as No.169 and flying it to Eastchurch. Clearly it has not been converted to a single-seater as his passenger is Lord Carbery, the well known sporting aviator who has volunteered as an RNAS pilot.
The one and only Sopwith “Churchill” No.149 which Spenser Grey crashed on 25th March has been completely reconstructed by Sopwith for £850. By 14th September it is back at Eastchurch and is needed urgently over in France.
A full-power engine test of No.149. Four sailors hold down the tail and others hold the wing struts to stop it riding over the chocks.
By 15th September 1914 Sopwith has completed the overhaul of “Anzani” No.58 and rebuilt it as a landplane. It is on its way via Eastchurch to Dunkirk to replace the crashed sister ship No.59.
RNAS officers and men with a Sopwith “Anzani” landplane protected from the weather by engine and cockpit covers.
15th September 1914 is the first time since 9th September that the weather has been good enough at Dunkirk for aerial reconnaissance. Fl. Lt. Collet in Sopwith “Type D” No.906 flies for three hours but cannot spot any enemy troops around Lille, Valenciennes, Condé or Tournai.
Antwerp is still under siege and in the path of the German advance to the Belgian coast. It has recently been reinforced with British Marines and is now considered a sufficiently safe location for a forward RNAS airfield. The aim is to attack German bases and Zeppelin sheds. Once again Samson is chosen to lead this adventure.
On 16th September a BE2 and Sopwith “Type D” No.906 are first to arrive in Antwerp.
On 18th September the two ex-RFC Sopwith “SS” scouts Nos.167 and 168 arrive.
On 19th September Sopwith “Churchill” No.149 arrives at Antwerp after being hurriedly fitted at Dunkirk with an extra fuel tank and bomb dropping gear. The Antwerp strike force is assembled and all but one are Sopwith machines.
Later on 19th September Sopwith “SS” scout No.167 is already out on reconnaissance but is damaged on landing in soft sand and needs to be repaired. Plans for a major raid later that day are postponed.
Aeroplane magazine reports that “a fresh contingent of RNAS officers mounted on land machines has left for the continent to co-operate with the allied armies in the field. Several of them are flying Sopwith single-seater Scouts whose speed of over 95mph should be something of a surprise to the German aviators and confirm the statement that something like the command of the air has been obtained. Among the Scout pilots are Squadron Commander Spencer Grey and Fl. Lts. Marix and Lord Carbery”.
Sopwith Aviation are doing their utmost in Kingston to support RNAS efforts to save Antwerp and the Channel ports. By 20th September the sets of major spares for the 80hp “SS” scouts are despatched from Kingston ten days from the verbal order together with a lower plane, undercarriage and propeller for the 100hp “Churchill”. Spare wheels, tyres and tubes are soon to follow.
On the main battle front along the Aisne valley allied forces are pinned down. Both the German and French high commands decide to try and outflank each other by moving troops to the open flank to the northwest, initially around Noyon. Neither side secures sufficient advantage of numbers or position in successive opposing outflanking manoeuvres and the battle front extends, now northwards, into Picardy and towards the Somme.
The Royal Flying Corps announces that its airmen have flown 87,000 miles since war broke out, equivalent to four times around the world. This is an unprecedented intensity of flying activity, 1,400 flying hours in 7 weeks. Reconnaissance has been the RFC’s prime role in France. The Commander in Chief of the French armies writes to Sir John French “Most particular thanks for services rendered on every day by the English Flying Corps. The precision, exactitude and regularity of the news brought in by its members are evidence of their perfect organisation and also of the perfect training of their pilots and observers”.
However, the only Sopwith aircraft involved in RFC work in France so far have been the two No.3 Squadron “SS” scouts with their brief but dramatic careers “chasing Germans”.
On 22nd September Howard Pixton flies 200hp “Type C” No.170 once again from Woolston after more modifications. The Navy seem determined to pursue the development of this large torpedo carrying machine.
On 23rd September 1914 three Sopwith aircraft and a BE2 leave Antwerp at daybreak making history with the first strategic bombing raid of the war. The targets are the Zeppelin airship sheds at Dusseldorf and Cologne. Flt. Lt. Collet is in “Type D” No.906, Lt. Cdr. Spenser Grey in “Churchill” No.149, Lt. Marix in “SS” No.168 with Major Gerrard in the B.E.2a. They run into thick mist blanketing the ground between the rivers Roer and Rhine. Only Collet manages to locate his objective. Gliding down from 6,000 ft and entering the mist at 1,500 ft he is down to 400 ft before he spots the Zeppelin shed at Dusseldorf quarter of a mile away. His first bomb falls short and explodes whilst the other two appear to hit the shed but apparently fail to explode. The other Sopwiths spend much time searching and have to land for more fuel. All are back by 1pm.
There is work to be done on the new bomb racks on the “Churchill”. Lt. Cdr. Spenser Grey has lost a bomb and embarrassingly has no idea where he dropped it. Rumours suggest that he may have been over neutral Holland.
On 24th September Sopwith “Type D” No.103 sets out from Dunkirk to bomb a German airfield at Roeulx. No enemy aircraft are seen but grenades are dropped on sheds by the railway and a 20lb Hales bomb is dropped onto the railway lines in the hope of disrupting movements. No.103 is fired upon and the next day is the first Sopwith aircraft to be hit when two rifle bullets go through the wings. It is decided that it climbs too slowly for war duties and is relegated to coastal patrol work, still based at Dunkirk.
(The diagram shows a Hales 20lb aerial bomb. They are 23” long and 5” dia. and contain 4½lbs of Amatol explosive. On aircraft with bomb racks the safety pin is removed before flight, the arming vanes being held from turning by a stop on the bomb rack. Whilst falling, the spinning vanes draw the spindle back releasing the detonator to sit on the spring until impact when it compresses the spring and strikes the striker.)
By 24th September the main battle lines on the western front in France have stretched north to the Upper Somme.
On 25th September Lord Carbery, in prototype “Tabloid” No.169 which had only arrived at Antwerp on the 22nd, suffers an engine misfire on take-off and he stalls from 100 ft trying to return to the airfield. He and passenger the Prince de Ligne sustain minor injuries. The machine is taken to the Bollekens Works in Antwerp to be repaired and converted to standard “SS” single seat form with a fixed fin in front of the rudder.
On 26th September Sopwith “Churchill” No.149 breaks an axle on take-off causing it to somersault on landing damaging the top wing. The same evening Lt. Marix in “SS” No.168, trying to bomb railway centres, gives chase to a German reconnaissance monoplane and has to land out in the dark. On return to Antwerp the next morning it becomes clear that his engine needs an overhaul. With flying on every possible day, it is proving difficult to keep the small RNAS Antwerp squadron serviceable.
On 26th September the last of the original Greek Navy 100hp Gnome pusher floatplane order is completed by the Sopwith works for the Royal Naval Air Service. The last four have been completed at one every two weeks. Surprisingly this last one No.896 emerges as a Sopwith "1914 Circuit of Britain" tractor floatpane not a pusher like the other five.
It is no surprise that on 26th September Sopwith Aviation receive orders for more landplanes for the RNAS. What might be a surprise is that the orders are for no less than thirty-six machines. This brings the outstanding order book to over sixty aeroplanes, more than the total Sopwith have built in their whole two year existence.
One £11,399 order is for twelve 80hp Gnome “SS3” single seat Scouts an improved version of the “SS” which is doing such great work in Belgium. The second £23,677 order is for twenty-four 80hp Gnome two seat tractor landplanes similar to the machine originally built for the 1914 Circuit of Britain race. The prices exclude engines which are to be supplied by the Admiralty.
On 28th September Sopwith get yet another order, £12,968 for eight more “Type 807” folding-wing floatplanes.
On 28th September 1914 the Germans commence their bombardment of the outer forts protecting Antwerp in a bid to oust the 70,000 Belgian troops from the “national redoubt”. The Germans bring in 160 siege guns including super-heavy 420mm Mörser howitzers. In an attempt to stem German reinforcements in the area Lt. Marix in Sopwith “SS” No.168 is out that day trying to bomb railway junctions at Herenthals and Aerschot
On 30th September Sopwith’s General Manager Reginald Cary completes the £1,425 purchase of land and buildings adjoining the recently built new factory in Canbury Park Road. This extends their site eastwards to Elm Road. Ide & Sons have immediately been selected to build the new works for a sum of £5,055. This is the lowest of four competitive tenders and includes incentives for early completion and penalty clauses for delays to the agreed February 1915 completion.
Aeroplane magazine reports that famous French aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot is visiting his works at Brooklands which is no longer building monoplanes for private buyers but is ready to build machines for the Royal Flying Corps. It would be a surprise if he does not meet Tommy Sopwith whilst he is here. Tommy bought a Bleriot monoplane and took it with him to the USA in 1911. From February 1912 he used it at his Sopwith School of Flying and in June 1912 flew it to win the Hendon Aerial Derby. As we know the tables have now turned. Earlier this year Louis Bleriot signed an agreement with Sopwith Aviation to build Sopwith “Tabloid” biplanes under licence in France.
On 30th September the first of three production 200hp Sopwith “Type C” floatplanes No.157 leaves the works in time to meet the promised 14th October delivery. Alterations to the original order include side by side seating and the equipment load from wireless telegraphy to torpedo carrying gear and now heavy bomb gear.
Howard Pixton’s one-time pupil Victor Mahl has become the Sopwith’s main floatplane pilot at Woolston and Calshot. With no civilian flying, air racing or training to be done, Howard Pixton finds that sharing the testing and delivery of Sopwith military landplanes at Brooklands with Harry Hawker does not keep him fully occupied. He is heard to say that “the days pass slowly as we wait for war production to build up”. He leaves Sopwith at the end of September to put his vast flying experience to full use as assistant inspector and test pilot for the Flight Delivery Section of the Aeronautical Inspection Department (AID), the independent government aircraft testing establishment at Farnborough.
At home in Britain, apart from training new pilots, the main aerial activity is patrolling the coast to spot the predicted enemy naval bombardments and Zeppelin raids.
At Great Yarmouth Naval Air Station in September for example there are 2 land planes and 6 floatplanes for coastal patrols including three of the latest Sopwith 100hp Gnome pusher floatplanes Nos.897, 898 & 899. They have also been experimenting by cutting a hole in the fuselage of ex "Circuit of Britain" tractor floatplane No.880 “to permit a rifle being fired from her by a passenger”. After two of the 1913 80hp Sopwith tractor landplanes appear at Yarmouth a chief petty officer writes “Any old bus is being pressed into service. They continue the patrols, that is, flying one way only, as they are usually found in country fields with tail up or wheels up. The skilful pilot is capable of landing on or near the lawn of some mansion so that he can be near a telephone. The collecting party arriving later in lorries are agreeably surprised by that skill as it usually means a good feed”.
By 30th September two RNAS 100hp Gnome Sopwith “Greek” pusher floatplanes Nos.900 & 901 reach Dunkirk converted to landplanes. No.901 goes forward to Antwerp on 5th October and is fired upon over Ghent.
On 2nd October the first similar but 110hp Sunbeam powered Sopwith “Type 806” Gunbus is recorded as complete. Reported on test at Brooklands on 6th October, it could be a month late by the time it is delivered to the RNAS at Hendon. Agreeing to deliver just 4 weeks from the Admiralty order was clearly over-ambitious.
This rare photograph appears from the front line taken by a Belgian officer. It shows Lt. Cdr. Spenser Grey with Sopwith “Churchill” No.149 “after a daring raid on Dusseldorf” almost certainly on 23rd September and quite possibly when he landed out looking for fuel.
On 4th October 1914 a small British force of Royal Marines reaches Antwerp. Morale in the city is low from the pounding by the Germans.
On 6th October King Albert makes the decision to abandon the city. He leaves for Ostend with the Belgian Government on the 7th September to be followed by streams of refugees in every possible form of transport.
Meanwhile on 6th October the Seventh Division of the British Army and the Third Cavalry Division start arriving at Zeebrugge and Ostend in a last ditch attempt to hold the French and Belgian coast. Their first role however is to cover the Belgian retreat along the coast.
The Royal Naval Air Service is keen to acquire more Sopwith high-speed scouts.
On 7th October Sopwith receive an order for “Tabloid” Scout No.1213. This is to be built from parts already made for the Italian licence holder’s sample airframe which might explain why the order is only priced at £430.
On 8th October a £429 order is received for spare wings, tail units, chassis and “long noses” for “Gordon Bennett machines” Nos.1214 & 1215. This is slightly odd as Sopwith have not yet had an order for these two special “Tabloid” racing biplanes which they were building for the famous Gordon Bennett International Air Race when war intervened. They are, of course, now aware that the Navy want these machines completed but the Admiralty procurement process for aircraft obviously takes longer than that for spares.
On 8th October the shells are passing over the RNAS airfield as the Germans bombard Antwerp from the south. Plans are made to evacuate the Royal Marines. Despite the closeness of German forces it is decided to make one final attempt to use this valuable advanced base to strike the Zeppelin airship sheds at Cologne and Düsseldorf 112 and 103 miles away. The aircraft are taken out of their sheds to tune their engines.
On 9th October at 1.20pm, after the mist has cleared, Lt. Cdr. Spenser Grey sets out in Sopwith “SS” No.167. He finds thick mist over Cologne and for 12 minutes circles around at 600ft. drawing fire from the ground but still determined to find the airship shed at one of the two locations given him by intelligence. He fails to find the sheds and drops his two bombs on the city centre railway station getting back to the airfield about 4.45pm.
Ft.Lt. Marix leaves in “SS” No.168 at 1.30pm and flies above 1,000ft. to Düsseldorf where the sheds were clearly visible. Attacking from the west he dives down to 600ft. and drops his bombs. He fails to see if they penetrate the shed but within thirty seconds the roof falls in and flames shoot up over 500ft. Marix and his little Sopwith “SS” are the first to destroy a Zeppelin airship. Marix’s “SS” is badly damaged by ground fire and his fuel runs out 20 miles short of Antwerp. He abandons the aircraft and borrows a bicycle to return to base.
By 8.30 that evening the airfield itself is being bombarded damaging both Sopwith “SS” No.167 and their B.E.2. Soon after that the Germans are in the surrounding woods firing on the mechanics trying to repair them. At 11.30 the Antwerp RNAS detachment abandon the aircraft, crowd into two cars and hastily leave for Ostend.
On 9th October Sopwith record another major order valued at £25,204 plus £1,804 extras. Nine more large Sopwith “Type 860” floatplanes are to be delivered at an amazing 1 per week from completion of the first ten.
The Germans finally occupy Antwerp on 10th October 1914.
This spells the end for other famous Sopwith aircraft as Harry Hawker’s prototype Sopwith Tabloid No.169 and the sole Sopwith “Churchill” No.149 are in the Bollekens Works in Antwerp under repair. They have to be abandoned. There are unconfirmed reports that the Belgians deliberately destroy them before leaving.
The Antwerp RNAS detachment now at Ostend is ordered forward to Ghent where three of the nine available aircraft are Sopwiths - two ageing “Type Ds” Nos.103 & 906 and a wheeled “Greek” pusher Gunbus No.900.
Ft. Lt. Marix’s first allied destruction of a German Zeppelin, army airship Z.IX at Düsseldorf on 9th October, is celebrated in Britain with illustrations in the press like the one below by Joseph Phelan. Note the early Union Jack identification markings.
From Germany comes this image of German officers inspecting the abandoned B.E.2 and Spenser Grey’s Sopwith “SS” No.167 at the RNAS airfield at Antwerp. Both aircraft are engineless.
Ft. Lt. Marix is apparently something of a celebrity in Germany. Photochemie of Berlin publishes this postcard with the legend “Original photograph from the war zone. English armoured car with Lt. Marick (sic) of the Royal Flying Corps (sic), who dropped the bombs on the Düsseldorf airship shed”.
The Minerva armoured car from Samson’s small RNAS force in Belgium is interesting with slit driver’s “window”, armoured doors for the radiator and huge headlight/searchlight.
Along the Belgian coast the British and Belgian forces cover a massed evacuation of Belgian refugees to England from Ostend before retreating in stages in front of the reinforced German Army’s rapid push through Belgium. On 15th October 1914 Ostend and Zeebrugge fall to the Germans providing fortified bases for their submarines.
On 15th October the War Office announces the result of the military aircraft engine trials. The 100hp Green is the £5,000 prize winner with 10 engines from 8 British Companies awarded £100 prizes for passing the 6 hour full power continuous run tests at Farnborough:- Argyle, Beardmore (with the Austro-Daimler), British Anzani, Dudbridge Ironworks (with the Salmson Canton Unné), Gnome (Daimler built), Green, Sunbeam and Wolseley.
Since 1st October the British Army in France has been repositioning northwards from the Aisne to link onto the vulnerable left flank of the French Army and take up its natural position in defence of the French channel ports along a line extending northwards from La Bassée. On 16th October the British make two attempts to retake Lille, the key industrial centre of northern France, from the Germans but are held back whilst further north the French Cavalry and the British V Corps move forward from Ypres but are confronted by three German Corps.
On 17th October Sopwith’s private venture 100hp “Tabloid” aircraft intended for the International Gordon Bennett Race is completed with an 80hp engine and flown by Harry Hawker at Brooklands “reaching 105mph”.
On 19th October this aircraft is delivered to RNAS Hendon as No.1214. Sopwith Aviation invoice the Admiralty on the 20th October despite still not having the official order which eventually arrives the following day.
Also spotted at Brooklands being flown by Harry Hawker with a Naval Air Station Commanding Officer is the second 110hp Sunbeam powered pusher landplane which “is obviously exceedingly fast for one of its type”.
The RNAS lose another famous Sopwith machine when the first “Three-Seater” No.33 is deleted. Delivered 28th February 1913, it was damaged at Dunkirk 11th September 1914. New wings were ordered but never fitted.
The original RNAS Sopwith “Bat Boat” No.118 now has its new set of wings and is flying occasionally at Calshot.
By 17th October the Sopwith Torpedo floatplane No.138 has a four-bladed Lang propeller fitted to its 200hp Salmson Canton Unné engine and is ready to embark on the Navy’s only seaplane carrier HMS Hermes.
On 21st October Sopwith receive an order the second of the two biplanes Sopwith were building for the Gordon Bennett International air race. This one is to have a streamlined fuselage and bear little resemblance to a standard “Tabloid”.
On 26th October the Admiralty Air Department instructs all commanding officers of naval air units that it has been decided that “all aeroplanes and seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service shall carry a distinguishing mark in the shape of a Union Jack painted on the lower surface of each of the lower planes. The size of this Jack is to be seven feet long by five feet wide and should be placed half way between the fuselage and the wing tip”.
When the one-year-old Sopwith Aviation Company formally became a limited company on 1st November 1913 it was decided that its accounting year would be October to September. Company Secretary H. P. Musgrave is now working up the accounts for the 11 months of their first ‘trading year’ as a limited company.
Sales at £94,394 6s 8d are seven times the sales in their first year. 90% comes from new aircraft and 4% from aircraft repair and rebuild. The remainder includes onward sales of engines and instruments, passenger flights, tuition fees and £60 “looping fees” from Harry Hawker’s Sundays at Brooklands just before the war started.
It is looking as though they have returned a handsome 33% profit.
Tommy Sopwith’s sister Gertrude May will receive a 6% return on her 6,000 preference shares and a dividend on 18,000 ordinary shares. Reginald Cary and Tommy each hold a single ‘voting’ share but she is the main shareholder since Tommy transferred his shares to her in March and she inherited their mother’s shares.
Importantly this will leave a very considerable amount of profit which can be ploughed back into the business to finance its continuing rapid growth, to build premises and to buy plant and equipment.
The manufacturing accounts show expenditure of £67,124 0s 9½d. Within that is an interesting spread of costs:- 39% engines and accessories; 24% Works wages and salaries including average 3% bonus; 19% timber; 2% propellers; 2% Works and DO expenses; 1.5% Drawing Office salaries including average 4% bonus; 0.6% power, gas and lighting; 0.5% pilots’ salaries. The balance includes welding, testing, carriage and depreciation.
Work-in-Progress valued at £9,000 is being carried forward to trading year 1914/15 representing a significant amount of work already done on the large volume of orders received since the war started.
During October the Sopwith Works has completed three 110hp Sunbeam powered “806” pusher landplanes, the two Gordon Bennett racers and the last two of three large “Type C” torpedo floatplanes. Now it has finished the first Sopwith “860” successor to the “Type C”.
By 27th October 1914 the 225hp Sunbeam powered Sopwith “860” No.851 has arrived at Woolston from the Kingston factory by road. Such a large aircraft makes an impressive sight as it trundles through Surrey and Hampshire with the company name proudly displayed on the Daimler’s bonnet and O.H.M.S. across the scuttle. With its precious load on solid tyres it is unlikely to get close to the 12mph speed limit for goods vehicles.
The Sunbeam Works in Wolverhampton (below) is now well established building Louis Coatalen’s 110/150hp 7.6 litre V8 and 225hp 11.8 litre V12 aero engines mostly for the Royal Naval Air Service many of which are destined for Sopwith’s pushers and the Type 860s.
On 27th October 1914 Yarmouth based Sopwith “Greek” pusher floatplane No.898 breaks adrift and is completely wrecked at Hunstanton. This aircraft had been experimentally fitted with a Lewis machine gun back in September.
The loss of this aircraft is significant as Great Yarmouth Naval Air Station’s monthly report reveals there was hardly any flying during October mostly due to the shortage of spare parts. On average they only had two serviceable aircraft, the result of unprecedented levels of use of their few aircraft since the war started.
It may be that the Admiralty spares procurement process is too slow. In the first thirteen weeks of the war Sopwith have accepted fourteen urgent Admiralty spares orders by telephone or telegram despatching all before any formal contract, nine within three days and all but one within a week. Other companies may be less flexible and less able to make spare parts for older machines whilst urgently building their latest designs.
The Admiralty has recently reacted to this new wartime requirement for urgent replacement parts by ordering sets of spares from Sopwith at the same time as some new aircraft orders.
Sopwith torpedo floatplane No.138 is damaged whilst being loaded onto RNAS seaplane carrier/supply ship HMS Hermes on 28th October and taken back off the ship to be repaired.
On 31st October the HMS Hermes is sunk by two torpedoes from a German submarine in the Straits of Dover. All but 22 of the 456 officers and men are saved, including one of Harry Hawker’s old Australian chums Ft. Lt. Harry Busteed. Only one seaplane is lost, a Short Folder. Hermes was a 16-year-old converted Cruiser re-commissioned on 31st August. Aeroplane reports that “apart from the sorrow of the losses to her crew everyone will be grateful to the Germans for her destruction, for years she has been a hopeless ‘crock’, an uncomfortable ship which did not normally exceed 10 knots, 15 at best in fine weather”.
Ironically, this same day the RNAS open a seaplane base in a shipyard in Dunkirk harbour to defend this area.
In the last days of October 1914, with overwhelming German forces advancing along the coast from Zeebrugge, the Belgian’s take the extraordinary step of opening sea defences to allow high tides to flood a large area of low land to the east of the embankment they hold on the canalised Yser river from Nieuport to Dixmude. This brings large scale operations to a halt in this area with the Belgian Army defending the 15 miles south from the coast and linking onto the French and British Army lines north of Ypres. A continuous “Western Front” is now established from the Belgian coast down through France, across to Alsace and Lorraine and down to the Swiss border.
On 1st November 1914 the first Sopwith Type “860” 225hp floatplane No.851 is launched from the Sopwith sheds at Woolston. It sports a broad four bladed propeller and five floats with two under the tips of the short lower wings. If reports are true it is also the first Sopwith floatplane with folding wings and this is its first flight.
Victor Mahl sets out with Sopwith design engineer Reginald Alston as flight observer. As they reach 100mph immediately after take-off the machine suddenly noses down and dives steeply 100 feet back into the water. Victor Mahl is thrown clear and picked up. The wreckage drifts down Southampton Water and is eventually brought ashore at Netley Hospital where Alston’s body is recovered.
The loss of young Alston is the tragic first fatality of a Sopwith employee since the company started. He had personally been engaged on the design of this machine as one of the still small but growing team of engineers and draughtsmen in the Drawing Offices in Canbury Park Road.
Spares orders continue to roll in to the Sopwith General Office, now in the new factory in Canbury Park Road.
On 2nd November there is a £184 18s 1d order for “Greek” "Type 880 Circuit" floatplane No.896 consisting of main plane struts (8 Silver Spruce, 2 Ash); a centre plane; a complete lower plane right, left and centre; a landing chassis with tyres and wheels ready for fixing and assorted turnscrews, nuts and bolts: all to be delivered to Sheerness dockyard for shipping to Dunkirk where this aircraft is based. This machine had a Maxim gun fitted back in August.
On 4th November there is a £22 order for a propeller for the original Sopwith "Type 880 Circuit" floatplane No.880. The propeller is despatched to Great Yarmouth that same day.
On 7th November the order is for a replacement chassis, wheels and tyres for Sopwith “Greek” Pusher No.900. Already converted to a landplane this machine has been damaged at Dunkirk.
The destruction of Great Yarmouth Naval Air Station’s Sopwith “Greek” pusher floatplane No.898 has left them without any serviceable aircraft. This becomes crucial on 3rd November 1914 when three German battle cruisers, a cruiser and three light cruisers are spotted by antiquated gunboat HMS Halcyon off the Cross Sands light vessel. Halcyon is hit eight times and races back to Yarmouth with ratings sitting on the safety valves. The Germans immediately start shelling Great Yarmouth. One shell zooms over the air station and fails to explode on impact, all the rest land in the sea, probably because they are using the St. Nicholas light vessel as a range reference and her moorings have recently been shifted. Three British submarines are enticed out of the harbour and D5 is lost with nearly all her crew when she strikes a floating mine the Germans have just laid. The German cruisers with their 28 knot capability elude various Royal Navy attempts to intercept their return but the cruiser Yorck hits one of their own mines and is lost with some 300 of her crew.
Yarmouth Air Station is immediately allocated some Short and Maurice Farman pushers which restart patrols up and down the coast for two hours at a time with the passenger in the nose carrying a rifle across his knees.
The first Sopwith Type “806” pusher gunbus has been with the Defence Flight at Hendon since the start of October. On 6th & 7th November the last two of the order are delivered, Nos.805 (above) & 806. Like No.804 they are already fitted with the 150hp Sunbeam engine. The first three are to be retro-fitted with 150hp engines. A month behind the optimistic promised date, all six of this new type have been built in less than 3 months from taking the order and have emerged at a rate exceeding one per week over the last five weeks.
On 7th November 200hp Sopwith torpedo floatplane No.170 is on test again at Calshot but is “very awkward”.
An inquest in Southampton on 7th November records a verdict of accidental death for 21 year old Sopwith design engineer Reginald Jordon Alston. The Southern Daily Echo reports pilot Victor Mahl’s first-hand version of events stating that this is “the first attempt to fly this new type designed by Reginald Alston”. When the machine bumps into the air and comes down again, Mahl tells Alston it is nose heavy. He replies “Yes, the engine is 150lbs heavier than I thought it would be, let us see if she will climb and fly straight”. As they level off from the climb the aircraft dives and “wants to continue diving”, the elevator has no effect even when Mahl pulls hard back. He says that “there was no explosion of the engine” but thinks he “heard fabric tearing or breaking.” They continue in a 45 degree dive, hit the water and the machine turns over. Both are wearing life jackets and are not strapped in. To escape Mahl gets out of his seat and dives down. He finds it impossible to get to Alston in the front seat. A rowing boat rescues Mahl. After three days a diver locates the aircraft and after five days it is pulled up inverted to a barge. (photo below with Victor Mahl in the light jacket holding the leading edge of the top wing) . Alston is still seated with only shin bruises but wires have to be cut to release his body. The cause of death is given as drowning following the shock of crashing into the water.
On 9th November the second of the two biplanes Sopwith were building for the Gordon Bennett International air race is completed in Kingston. Originally conceived as a 100hp machine like the Schneider Trophy winning floatplane and even considered for a 200hp engine, it arrives at Brooklands with a standard 80hp Gnome. Unlike No.1214, this Gordon Bennett racer bears little resemblance to a standard “Tabloid”. Most obviously (below) it has a sleek rounded fuselage and tiny tail fin and rudder. The wings are unstaggered and the engine is closely cowled with a tiny front opening for cooling.
On 10th November the standard Sopwith Tabloid No.1213 built from parts originally intended for the Italian licensee is flown at Hendon by Harry Hawker. Originally to have a 50hp Gnome engine, it is uniquely fitted with an 80hp Le Rhone. The normal 80hp Gnome engines are in great demand not just for Sopwith but also for Bristol, Avro and others. Daimler of Coventry is starting to turn out the first British built examples of these engines.
By 11th November the second Sopwith Type “860” floatplane No.852 is complete and the third is less than two weeks away. Test flying may be delayed for modifications following the fatal accident with the first aircraft.
News emerges that an RNAS Sopwith biplane has been shot down by the Germans at Dixmude in Belgium on 5th November 1914 and the two occupants killed. Ft. Lt. Frank Beever and his passenger Francis, Sixth Earl of Annesley were returning to the front from England but did not land in France as expected. The weather was not very clear but there is no explanation for them continuing to fly so far. Frank Beever was an army officer who took up flying as a hobby, joined the RFC and transferred to the RNAS “doing some very good work in Belgium”. Lord Annesley “a skilful motor car driver” with the RNAS armoured car section was returning from a few days leave at home in County Down. He had recently been heavily involved in the defence of Antwerp.
On 11th November a second verbal order is taken for a landing chassis, wheels and tyres for “Greek” pusher No.900 this time with the addition of a “lower plane”. Aware that the aircraft has been badly damaged at Dunkirk, Sopwith get on with building both, assuming one chassis is needed for the repair and one is a spare.
Meanwhile the Royal Naval Air Service team at Dunkirk are experimenting with better equipment on Sopwith "Greek" "Type 880 Circuit" floatplane including a speaking-tube inter-communication system for its widely spaced crew.
On 13th November Sopwith receive a spares order from the War Office for three propellers for “SS” scouts.
On 17th November the streamlined Sopwith “Gordon Bennett” racer No.1215 is delivered to Hendon just eight days from its first flight at Brooklands. It has joined “Italian” Tabloid No.1213 and the other “Gordon Bennett” racer No.1214. Although unarmed they are three of Hendon’s six machines “available for defensive purposes”.
On 18th November there is a £2,347 Admiralty order for seventy-two spare propellers, two each for nominated Sopwith aircraft to be delivered progressively between now and February.
The early “Anzani” tractor floatplane No.58 which Sopwith rebuilt and converted to a landplane back in September has since been fitted for bomb dropping and held in reserve at Dunkirk. From 2nd November it has been at the Naval Flying School at Eastchurch but on 18th November is allocated to Yarmouth Air Station. On 19th November it stalls into the water from 150 feet a few miles north of Yarmouth and the explosion from a practice bomb stuns the pilot. His observer, Petty Officer James Hendry, extricates the drowning pilot from the wreckage and keeps him above water until rescued. Hendry is awarded the Albert Medal.
On 19th November Sopwith “Greek” pusher floatplane No.899 based at Killingholme Air Station is wrecked.
On 19th November the first Sopwith “Type 807” “Folder” floatplane No.807 and its four-wheel ground-handling chassis is finished by the works 6 weeks late. With a 100hp Monosoupape Gnome engine it is low-powered for a long wingspan two-seat floatplane. Compared with the 1914 Circuit of Britain racer, the observer is further forward and the pilot further back both with cut-outs in the top wing to improve visibility. To facilitate folding there is no wing stagger and ailerons are only on the extended top wings. Tommy Sopwith pays Oswald Short a single £15 royalty payment to cover any infringement of Short Brothers' folding wing designs.
By 20th November both of the early 100hp Sopwith Anzani pusher floatplanes Nos.123 & 124 originally for the Greek Navy have had bomb dropping gear fitted but are listed at Felixstowe as "emergency only" machines.
On 21st November the hangars and aircraft at the Scapa Flow Royal Naval Air Station are completely wrecked in a severe gale.
Like the first Sopwith 200hp torpedo floatplane No.170, the production Sopwith “Type C” floatplanes are not performing well. On 21st November No.157 fails its tests and by 24th November No.158 is back with Sopwith.
On 23rd November Sopwith accept a £2,776 order for four 100hp Monosoupape Gnome engines to fit on some of the second batch of Type “807 Folders” which were to have Admiralty free issue engines.
There is obviously close co-operation between Sopwith, his many contacts in France and the Royal Naval Air Service on engine supplies. When naval engineering branch Squadron Commander C. I. Randall goes to Paris to purchase aeronautical stores he also purchases two Canton Unné engines for Sopwith from M. Donnet.
In June 1912, before he built the Sopwith “Bat Boats”, Tommy Sopwith made his first waterplane flight in a small Donnet Lévêque flying boat famously flying both under and over one of the Seine bridges at Juvisy.
The impressed Sopwith racing “Bat Boat II” No.879 with its early 225hp Sunbeam engine is still at Cowes. Suggestions that it is fitted with two 100hp Monosoupape Gnome engines are not now to be pursued.
The 100hp Gnome Sopwith “Circuit of Britain” two-seater No.880 which only manages 71mph now has fittings to carry a 100lb bomb. It is however “mostly unserviceable” at Yarmouth throughout November.
The Sopwith factory in Kingston is at full stretch producing the new two-seat types developed from that “Circuit of Britain” machine and a new single-seat scout alongside the big “Type 860” floatplanes.
On 26th November the second Sopwith “Type 807 Folder” tractor floatplane is completed just a week after the first. The remaining two on the initial order are only another week and two weeks away.
On 27th November 1914 first of twenty-four Sopwith “D3 Daily Mail” tractor landplanes No.1051 for the RNAS is recorded out of the factory. It uses the same fuselage as the “Type 807 Folder” floatplane. The 36 foot span two-bay wings do not have the upper wing extensions or the complex kingpost wing support wire arrangement of the “Folder”. It sits on a simple tall “V” strut undercarriage.
The very next day 28th November the first of twelve 80hp Gnome powered Sopwith “SS3” single seat “Tabloid” scouts No.1201 is completed by the works for the RNAS. This differs from the earlier Royal Flying Corps “SS” scouts by having un-staggered wings, four linked ailerons in place of wing warping, steel tube wing struts, a larger fin and rudder, a simple sturdy “V” strut undercarriage and the tail skid on a pylon under the tail.
The engines for these “SS3” scouts may be made in Britain. Flight magazine has recently visited The Daimler Co. factory in Coventry to see the first all-British built 80hp Gnome rotary engines being completed.
Flight publishes these images of 80hp Gnome components and an early engine on Daimler’s engine testing bed.
On the Western Front the German offensive around Ypres has ground to a halt. The hugely outnumbered British Expeditionary Force has successfully defended the salient around this key Belgian town despite crippling losses. In fierce and bloody fighting since mid October 250,000 British, French and German soldiers have died.
The RNAS seaplane base recently set up in Dunkirk harbour “is already doing good work which includes locating enemy guns, dropping heavy bombs on Bruges railway station, co-operating with ship’s guns on the bombardment of the coast, looking out for enemy submarines and reporting on the enemy defences”.
Ten aeroplanes from the factory in November is Sopwith’s most productive month ever but even greater output is required. They have another sixty much needed machines on order and have now agreed to urgently produce twelve single-seat floatplanes for anti-Zeppelin patrols from converted packet boats in the North Sea.
In Canbury Park Road the extension to the recently built Sopwith factory is underway. Houses at Nos.37 & 39 have been demolished. Plans sent to the Borough Surveyor by architect A.J.Windybank of 20, London Road, reveal that the existing factory building will be doubled in length to 272 ft. An abutting new two-storey building running roughly north-south alongside Elm Road will provide a 40ft span x 83ft long Saw Mill and first-floor Carpenter’s Shop both generously fenestrated. A new factory “lorry entrance” will be on the diagonal from the corner of Canbury Park Road and Elm Road.
This cross-section of the main building reveals a lightweight 67ft span open truss roof over the Erecting Shop with lower-roofed workshop space on both sides and upstairs along the back. In the existing factory there are offices along the front on the first floor, as shown here. The plans for the factory extension show only the single-storey workshops along the front but first floor offices can readily be built on their flat roof.
The factory fills the site forward to the existing building line with only narrow escape passages down the side and across the back. The forecourt is bounded along the pavement by a high brick wall against which they have already built one long lean-to cycle shed and fuel store. There is a 16ft high door into the existing factory in the centre underneath General Manager Reginald Cary’s office which is, as a result, three steps up from the other offices. He has recently had a bay window added. The sequence of offices (west to east) is: General Office, Accountant and assistant, Works Manager and assistant, General Manager and assistant and then Mr Sopwith before the rear corridor leads into a 16ft x 46ft Drawing Office. This new Drawing Office is an improvement on the 16ft x 32ft corrugated iron hut built on a flat roof at the Roller Skating Rink for Chief Draughtsman Reg Ashworth and his small team in June 1913. (See small rectange on factory map above)
One of the earliest Sopwith aircraft, “Bat Boat” No.38, was last recorded as a “hull in store” at Scapa. It has since been “taxied into some wreckage” on 11th September and the “bows stoved in” yet again whilst taxiing on 29th September. We now know it was destroyed with everything else at Scapa in the gales on 21st November.
The rate of production from the Sopwith works is increasing rapidly.
On 3rd December 1914 the third 100hp “Type 807 Folder” floatplane No.809 is completed.
On 6th December 1914 they complete the fourth 225hp “Type 860” floatplane No.854 reportedly with an extra 100 sq ft of wing area which may be a response to the overweight engine and fatal crash of the first machine.
On 7th December the second of the RNAS’ 80hp “SS3” single seat scouts is completed and they are on target to finish four more this month.
On 8th December the third “Type 806” gunbus No.803 is completed, the first with a 150hp Sunbeam in place of the 110hp engine, and on 9th December the second 100hp “D3 Daily Mail” landplane No.1052.
On 10th December the fourth “Type 807 Folder” floatplane No.810 is completed making a record six machines ex-works in a week.
Meanwhile on 8th December a private venture “stock” order is written into Sopwith’s order book which simply states “One 80hp two-seater to Mr. Sigrist’s instructions”. Fred Sigrist has clearly convinced Tommy Sopwith that he can devise a two-seater landplane to significantly outperform their lack-lustre 80hp “D3 Daily Mail” machines. This may have to take a back seat whilst the backlog of urgent orders for the RNAS is cleared.
With winter taking hold, the now 200 strong Sopwith workforce is leading the monetary donations to the charitable fund to provide comforts for the men of the Royal Naval Air Service serving abroad. Mrs Murray Sueter, wife of the Director of the Admiralty Air Department, started this fund by asking for donations of “comforters, long stockings (dark blue preferred), cardigans, grey flannel shirts, woollen drawers and mittens”.
On 7th December Sopwith “Greek” tractor floatplane No.896 is returned from Dunkirk on HMS Invicta. Unusually, it is to be repaired by Frederick Handley Page’s twelve man team in their converted riding stables in Cricklewood. He is clearly being given some Admiralty work whilst they encourage him to submit a design for a much wanted large twin-engined bomber. No.896 is the second 100hp Sopwith “Type 880” “Circuit of Britain” floatplane which was impressed into the RNAS. It was being built for the Greek Government with their pusher floatplanes when war intervened.
On 7th December 1914 Sopwith record their largest single order, £52,322 for another twenty-four 225hp “Type 860” floatplanes.
On 9th December the cover of Aeroplane carries this warning “to the crews of any German Zeppelins who might be misguided enough to visit this country”. The falconer’s falcon is depicted as a Sopwith Tabloid Scout like those in the Home Defence Flight at Hendon.
On 11th December the Royal Flying Corps issues an instruction that all aeroplanes are to display red, white and blue roundels in a move to stop the tragic accidents from Union Jack markings being mistaken for German crosses when flying at height or in mist. The roundels have a red centre disc, white then blue; the reverse of the cockades on French aircraft.
Sopwith Aviation receives a letter sent to all aircraft firms by Captain Murray Sueter the Director of the Admiralty Air Department. “I wish to draw your attention, and that of your employees, to the very important service which can be rendered by them to the country by making every effort in their power to accelerate delivery of the air-craft ordered from you by the Admiralty. The need for these air-craft is most pressing, and I would be glad if you would point out to your employees that their duty to their country demands that they should exert themselves as much as lies in their power to complete the machines. In supplying efficient machines to our wing on active service they are doing just as good work as those called to the front. I must point out that great care should be taken by all to guard against any lowering of the present standard of workmanship on account of working at high pressure.”
The minutes of the Sopwith Aviation Board Meeting on 14th December record the purchase of eight of the eighteen leasehold cottages in Elm Grove for £700 in anticipation of the need to further expand the factory.
The second Sopwith “Type 807” folder floatplane No.808, after initially failing its tests on 17th December at Blythe, is to go aboard the Navy’s first purpose-built floatplane carrier Ark Royal along with No.807. The third and fourth folders Nos.809 & 810 have reached Calshot but not been accepted. There are reports that No.810 is back with Sopwith having its lower wings extended. Meanwhile the factory is rushing out a second batch of “Type 807” folder floatplanes. The first of those eight is No.919 which is completed on 19th December.
Despite being unable to lift a torpedo and thus having failed its tests, the first production 200hp Canton Unné engined Sopwith “Type C” torpedo floatplane No.157 is finally accepted by the Admiralty after heavy bomb gear has been fitted to replace the torpedo gear. On 21st December, however, the second machine No.158 fails its tests despite having spent some time being modified back at the factory.
On 21st December, seven weeks after the fatal crash of the first machine, the third 225hp Sunbeam engined Sopwith “Type 860” No.853 is at Calshot and is the first to be recorded by Sopwith as “cleared and invoiced”.
On 23rd December 1914 the Sopwith Aviation Company holds its first Annual General Meeting as a limited company. A healthy picture emerges with profits exceeding £30,000 (c£3m in 2014) in its 11 month ‘first trading year’, a large forward order book and more orders expected. The remaining profits after paying shareholders’ dividends could be enough to continue self-financing the rapid expansion of the business. The AGM approves a substantial salary of £2,000 per annum for Mr. Sopwith. (c.£200,000 in 2014) and an increase in Miss Gertrude May Sopwith’s remuneration as a non-executive director from £50 to £70 p.a. in lieu of her claiming travelling expenses for attending Board Meetings.
By 26 December the first “D3 Daily Mail” two-seat landplane No.1051 is at Eastchurch. This provides a first chance to see one of these stripped-back lower-powered landplane versions of the “Type 807” folder seaplanes and the RNAS regulation 7ft by 5ft Union Jack national markings under the wings. It has un-staggered 36ft span two-bay wings, strut linked aileron pairs and a tall simple Sopwith standard undercarriage with hidden sprung half-axles. Two-up with fuel for 3½ hours and a meagre 80hp there are reports that it hardly reaches 70 mph and takes twenty minutes to climb to 3,000 feet. That does not match a 1913 80hp Sopwith “Three-seater”. If those figures are true, these machines are only likely to be used for coastal patrols and crew training.
By 28th December six 80hp Gnome Sopwith “SS3” scouts have been built. The first four, Nos. 1201 to 1204, have been tested at Brooklands and delivered to the RNAS crated ready for shipment overseas. In rate of climb tests Nos.1205 & 1206 recorded 5 and 6 minutes to reach 3,200ft, indicative of a wide variation in engine performance. They are on their way to join RNAS No.1 Squadron before the end of the month.
By 29th December the fourth 225hp Sopwith “Type 860” No.855 is completed as a landplane and on 30th December the second “D3 Daily Mail” No.1052 landplane is delivered to the Naval Flying School at Eastchurch and accepted.
On 30th December 1914, nineteen days before his twenty-seventh birthday, Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith marries the Honourable Beatrix Mary Leslie Hore-Ruthven. “Trix” is the only daughter of the ninth Lord Ruthven of Freeland and Lady Caroline, a daughter of the fourth Earl of Arran. One of her four brothers Alexander (Sandy) Hore-Ruthven, who won a VC in the Sudan in 1898, is a close personal friend of Tommy Sopwith explaining how the couple met. Beatrix is 16½ years older than Tommy and has had six children by two previous marriages both of which ended in divorce. Her eldest daughter is just two years younger than her new husband, her youngest child is eleven. They are to set up home in Compton House, Cobham, Surrey with “Oonie” Tommy’s pet brown bear. That large house was one of the first built on the Fairmile Park Estate back in 1868. It is close to the main London-Portsmouth Road, ideal for the nine mile drive north into Kingston-upon-Thames, whilst Brooklands airfield is just six miles to the west.
This completes our diary of the Sopwith Company and its products for 1914
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(Photos and diagrams from Mike Goodall, Philip Jarrett, Brooklands Museum archives, Flight and Aeroplane magazines)
See also the following information page and audio/visual slideshow