A diary of the Sopwith Aviation Company and its products through 1917
The four-year-old Sopwith Aviation Company goes into 1917 as a significant designer and supplier of front line fighter aircraft to both the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. Over 400 of the innovative Sopwith ‘1½ Strutters’, ‘Pups’ and ‘Triplanes’ developed during 1916 have already entered service and there are a further 1,600 on order. With demand way outstripping Sopwith’s own manufacturing capacity in Kingston upon Thames most of those are being built by fourteen contractors spread all over the country. The French have also spotted the unique value of Sopwith designs buying an initial batch of ‘Triplanes’ and deciding to build ‘Strutter fighters’ and ‘Strutter bombers’ in France in large numbers, possibly thousands.
In Kingston whilst most of the company’s employees beaver away on existing orders, the Design and Experimental team are already engaged on the next generation of designs. Their first prototype two-gun single-seat ‘F1’ fighter is already under test at Brooklands and they are building at least two more. The first ‘F1’ has a 110hp Clerget but it has been designed around the 130hp engine. They are also developing a 130hp floatplane which, ordered as an ‘Improved Baby’, is evolving into a new type unsurprisingly looking much like the ‘F1’.
The photographs of the first ‘F1’ in the snow at Brooklands reveal some unique features. The flat one-piece top wing is contrasted by lower wings with considerable dihedral (5ᴼ up-sweep). A very short nose and shortened rear fuselage makes it much squatter than a ‘Pup’. The twin Vickers guns are right at the nose and are partially buried with their ammunition feeds under a hump fairing which is also intended to protect the pilot from the slipsteam. Inevitably with this unique hump it is soon nicknamed ‘Camel’.
The Admiralty’s Commodore Murray Sueter continues to pursue his vision of transforming naval strategy with aerial torpedo attacks. Well aware of the limitations the large Sopwith and now even larger Short floatplanes developed for that work, he sent a personal letter to Thomas Sopwith on 9th October 1916 marked ‘Most Secret’ requesting “Will you please go into the question, with as little delay as possible re-Torpedo carrying aeroplane with 4 hours fuel and pilot (1) to carry 1x1,000lb locomotive torpedo (2) to carry 2x1,000lb locomotive torpedoes. Aeroplane will probably be discharged by catapult, giving an acceleration of 90ft/sec in 60 feet”. With the design complete the Sopwith experimental team are building a prototype large sturdy 200hp torpedo-carrying biplane alongside their smaller prototypes in the old Roller Skating Rink in Kingston.
On 1st January, almost a month after the RNAS confirmed arrangements are in hand to supply strengthened centre plane struts for all ‘Pups’, the RFC in France is advised by the War Office that “it has been decided to increase the size of the centre-section strut on the 80hp Sopwith to dimensions shown on attached drawings”.
On 2nd January RFC 45 Squadron continues its intensive two-seat ‘1½ Strutter’ training at Ste-Marie-Cappel with twenty-five flights, over twenty-three airborne hours practice at formation flying, four-aircraft formation reconnaissance, gunnery and photography. This training is starting to pay off, nobody broke anything.
On 3rd January the Eastchurch based experimental broader chord wing ‘Triplane’ N5423 fails to return from an altitude test. Fl Lt Johnston is picked up from the sea off Dieppe by a French trawler.
At the first meeting of the newly constituted Air Board on 3rd January President Lord Cowdray gains general agreement that the Air Board should be responsible for selecting the designs of aircraft and seaplanes with their engines and accessories. The Air Board, the Aeronautical Supply Department of the Ministry of Munitions and the Air Executives of the Army and Navy are all to move into the Hotel Cecil on the Strand to ensure the closest possible collaboration.
On 3rd January Aeroplane magazine publishes this cartoon “Work in the Erecting Shop” signed by S Harris which it received with a Christmas Greeting “from certain employees of the Sopwith Company”. In the hurly-burly of urgent production the workers and the Sopwith ‘Strutter’ suffer every imaginable mishap. Note an imperturbable fabric lady in their midst and the Admiralty Inspector on the left.
Having completed the first three of their Admiralty order for thirty two-seat Sopwith ‘Strutters’ in December, Mann Egerton is starting to complete the first of 20 single-seat ‘Strutter Bombers’. On 4th January N5204 is accepted at their Norwich factory probably with several others also due to go overseas.
8(Naval) Squadron at Vert Galand is now fully equipped with Sopwith ‘Pups’ but on 4th January Ft Lt Todd in ‘Pup’ N5193 is killed in Manfred von Richthofen’s first tangle with a ‘Pup’ whilst A626 is forced down after combat with seven enemy aircraft. The pilot is taken prisoner and A626 is captured largely intact. (below, unusually without wheel covers and possibly with Leutnant Mallinckrodt who claims the victory)
8(Naval) Squadron pilots claimed victories with ‘Pup’ N5194 on 4th January and on 7th January, the same day that pilots of N5198 & N5199 are shot and wounded in combat, N5189 crashes on a delivery flight just short of Vert Galand and RFC 45 Squadron ‘Strutter’ 7793 is wrecked in a forced landing.
Some of the newer Sopwith types are starting to arrive in the minor theatres of war most notably in the Aegean where RNAS 2 Wing has A, B, C and D Flights (now termed Squadrons). The mother-ship HMS Ark Royal is permanently moored by their Mudros main base on the island of Lemnos. B Squadron is at Thermi on the island of Mitylene for anti-submarine patrols and reconnaissance and bombing of Turkish supply routes. C Squadron is on Imbros for reconnaissance and bombing of the Gallipoli Peninsular, the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Constantinople railway. Whilst A Squadron on the island of Thasos and D Squadron at Stavros on the coast of Salonika are responsible for reconnaissance and bombing in southern Bulgaria and the lower Struma.
The first new Sopwith machines to arrive are a few single-seat ‘Strutter Bombers’ and two-seat ‘Strutter’ fighter escorts for A Squadron on Thasos. On 9th January N5110 escorted by N5086 flies a hundred miles to aim 4x65lb bombs at the railway station, river bridge and tented encampment at Tatar Bazarjik. Reconnaissance photographs are taken and they return unmolested by aircraft or ground fire. Next time N5086 goes out on reconnaissance they chase a train which stops and troops run out firing at them. They retaliate with their machine gun from 900 ft observing several men dropping before they can take cover.
On 9th January Commander Samson’s favourite Isle of Man steam packet turned seaplane carrier HMS Ben-my-Chree which has done such sterling service with the RNAS East Indies & Egypt Squadron (EI&ES) based at Port Said is hit by shells from 3 miles away on the Turkish mainland whilst in the harbour on Castelorizo the most easterly of the Greek islands. The fourth shell hits the hangar and an intense fire is started fuelled by petrol whilst further 6 inch or 17 pounder shells arrive at six or seven a minute hitting the bridge and underwater. The ship is abandoned after 35 minutes. One Officer and four men are injured but the whole crew reach the shore. Ben-my-Chree burns until the next morning and bomb explosions continue for three more days. ‘Schneider’ floatplanes 3770 and 3778 are got off damaged but repairable whilst ‘Baby’ 8188 is destroyed.
After the wrecking of ‘Schneiders’ 3744 at Yarmouth & 3761 off Westgate last week, there are now just 102 survivors of the 236 ‘Schneider’ and ‘Baby’ floatplanes built by the Sopwith Aviation Company. Ben’s ‘Baby’ is however one of very few that has perished as a direct result of enemy action. There are more machines to come. Blackburn are well underway with orders for 76 ‘Baby’ floatplanes including five for the French Government and the Admiralty has now decided to buy 120 with 130hp Clerget engines in place of 110hp. Blackburn are expecting an order for 40 this month whilst 80 are being ordered from Fairey Aviation and their contractor Parnall with the Fairey variable camber wings. For familiarisation with ‘Baby’ airframe construction Sopwith-built 8194 is being sent to long-established shopfitters & cabinet makers George Parnall & Sons Ltd. who are building Avro 504s in Bristol. Their aircraft erecting shop is in the Coliseum skating rink in Park Row.
On 10 January Sqdn Ldr Cave-Brown-Cave flies Beardmore-modified ‘Pup’ 9497 with its arrester hook off the dummy ship’s deck at RNAS Grain but the machine is to be dismantled and packed off back to Beardmore.
Meanwhile at Beardmore another Pup, taken from the production line and allocated the out of sequence serial number 9950, is being experimentally extensively modified for ease of shipboard stowage.
Aimed at replacing the ‘Baby’ floatplanes on HMS Campania, Beardmore have been working on this ‘Aeroplane Folding Scout S.B.3d Type for some months with help from the Sopwith design team. S.B. stands for Sopwith-Beardmore.
The photographs (above) show it to have un-staggered wings with extra paired interplane struts close to the fuselage to support the wing when folded back along the fuselage, an undercarriage which can be retracted to reduce the height for below-deck storage and air filled flotation bags down the rear fuselage to keep it afloat whilst it is recovered from the sea alongside the ship.
Six days ago the War Office issued an instruction to renumber twelve ‘Pups’ of 8(Naval) Squadron as RFC A6681 to A6692. On 10th January having realised that they do not belong to the Army the instruction is cancelled.
It seems there is no established procedure for telling the operators in France about modifications being incorporated in new build aircraft. On 12th January Officer Commanding 5th Army Air Park writes that more than half of 8(Naval) Squadron ‘Pups’ have variable incidence tailplanes and the necessary fin and the remainder have fixed tailplanes but the Navy Supply Depot are unable to supply spares for fixed tailplane machines. As a result he has started modifying variable incidence parts as spares for fixed tailplane machines. This immediately causes OC No.2 Aircraft Depot to write to RFC Headquarters in France to say it had not been realised that two types of tailplanes exist. They send a terse memorandum to the War Office in London asking which is to be standard. In fact all Pups are by now being built with the simpler fixed tailplanes.
On 14th January Dover based ‘Baby’ 8195 is crashed and wrecked on take-off from the English Channel.
On 14th January at St Pol, Quartier-Maître Le Garrec making his first flight in a Sopwith ‘Triplane’ takes off in No.4 with the tail too high. The propeller clips the ground and shatters throwing the aircraft several metres through the air before landing on its nose and destroying the undercarriage. (below)
Le Lieutenant de Vaisseau de Laborde requests a replacement machine and does not have to wait long as the next day the fifth of the ten French ‘Triplanes’ ordered on Sopwith in August is delivered to St Pol where they fit Vickers guns and Alkan-Hamy or Scarff-Dibovsky synchronisation gear. British Sopwith ‘Pups’ and ‘Triplanes’ are now normally being fitted with Sopwith-Kauper gun synchronisation gear.
On 15th January RFC 54 Squadron ‘Pup’ is shot down on escort duty and the pilot killed whilst A644 suffers engine failure at 600ft and forced lands in a small field losing its undercarriage on a fence.
Strategic bombing raids by RNAS 3 Wing’s ‘1½ Strutters’ are being hampered by lack of men, machines and spares. Captain Elder has loaned machines to the French and is having to send his best pilots to the ‘Pup’ and ‘Triplane’ naval squadrons forming to support the RFC on the Western Front. Determined to press-on he writes to the Admiralty on 15th January “The shortage of engines and more than anything else the shortage of engine spare parts to put the engines I have in running order is chronic. Cannot something be done to supply the few necessary spare parts so that the material that is already available at least can be used. I am continually having rubbed into me by the French the benefit of this Wing and the necessity of largely increasing it”.
In October 1916 the first fifteen French-built Sopwith ‘1½ Strutters’ were operational, mostly with the bomber group at Luxeuil alongside those loaned by RNAS 3 Wing. At least two more Escadrilles, Sop29 and Sop123, are now fully equipped with French-built ‘Strutters’. Many more are on their way with orders for up to six hundred each being built by Amiot-S.E.C.M. in Colombes, Bessoneau in Angers, Hanroit in Billancourt, Loure et Olivier in Levallois-Perret, R.E.P. in Lyon and Sarazin Freres in Puteaux.
Following last week’s cartoon of work in the Sopwith aircraft erecting shop, Aeroplane magazine publishes this sequel also by S Harris depicting the perils of testing an engine.
On 17th January three months behind the original plan as most of his trained crews had been diverted to squadrons already at the front, Major Sholto Douglas starts deploying his first command RFC 43 Squadron and its Sopwith ‘Strutters’ from Northolt to France. The first machine away stalls and crashes on take-off killing both crew. Then the weather breaks forcing one flight to fly down the Thames passing RFC Headquarters at Adastral House near Blackfriars Bridge below the height of the top floor windows. The squadron stops overnight at Lympne before crossing to St Omer and then flying ten miles south to their new base at Treizennes. They sleep on the floor of empty cold huts in snow and bitter cold. The weather has been like this over northern France for the last ten days severely restricting any flying.
On 18th January RFC ‘Strutters’ 7801 and A896 are wrecked at Castle Bromwich and North Camp Station.
On 21st January RNAS Grain based ‘Schneider’ floatplane 3756 is crashed and wrecked.
On 22nd January Ft Cdr Dallas, with an experimental oxygen set, takes ‘Triplane’ N5436 to 26,000ft but gets “drunk on the oxygen, hardly able to recognise the country beneath” and is badly frost bitten coming down. This is a height record for a Sopwith 'Triplane'.
On 23rd January Sopwith ‘Triplane’ N5440 is delivered to RNAS Eastchurch with tailplane and elevators 2ft 1in shorter in span than the original ‘Pup’ type surfaces. These are intended to improve control response and allow the machines to be dived vertically with greater ease. Eastchurch reports: “The decrease in horizontal tail area has resulted in making the machine much more handy. The fore-and-aft stability is not so good but there is sufficient control to get the machine out of any position whilst fighting. The alteration has improved the machine from a war point of view.” All machines are to have the new tailplanes as they come available.
Sopwith’s Canbury Park Road factory in Kingston, still building ‘Strutters’ and ‘Pups’, is now in full flow with ‘Triplane’ production.(below) They are on plan to deliver sixteen to Brooklands this month and two more French machines without engines to Dover, a significant addition to the twenty-seven previously built.
On 23rd January whilst RNAS 5 Wing ‘Strutters’ are out practising formation flying despite twelve degrees of frost, RFC 45 Squadron ‘Strutters’ have their first major engagement for three months. ‘Strutter’ A1078 is shot down killing both crew, the observer in 7792 is wounded in the leg whilst A1083 claims an Albatross sent down and two other enemy aircraft are damaged. The fourteen aircraft which fly include two formations of four making a first attempt at oblique camera photo reconnaissance but they are thwarted by the weather.
It has also been snowing further south at Ochey and Luxeuil, (above) but in the frigid cold on 23rd January thirty-two 3 Wing ‘Strutters’ set out to raid the Burbach blast furnaces. There is great difficulty starting the engines, there are accidents on the ground and many of those who do get airborne suffer engine failures or find difficulty in picking up their formation positions in the recently reorganised flights. Ten bombers reach the target escorted by five two-seat “Strutters” who fight off four enemy aircraft one of which is shot down. One of the bombers also claims a victory. In N5121 Fl Sub Lt Stevens thinks he has released his four 65lb bombs but one still hangs out of the rear left hand bomb door jamming it partially open. After landing Stevens gets out and attempts to free the bomb. Remarking to a mechanic that “it will need a crowbar to shift it”, he restarts the engine and taxis towards the hangar but the vibration is enough to loosen the bomb, which strikes the hard frosted soil and explodes with a blinding flash. Stevens is seriously injured with bomb splinters in his left leg and burns to his face, two mechanics are killed and an officer and three other mechanics are seriously wounded some of them apparently by bullets.
On 23rd January 8(Naval) Squadron ‘Pup’ pilots of N5181 and N5197 both claim aircraft shot down whilst the pilot in N5186 claims a two-seater down before he himself is shot down and injured.
On 24th January 8(Naval) Sqdn ‘Pup’ N5198 is shot down killing the pilot, 43 Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A2392 wrecked in a crash killing both occupants and 70 Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1515 is wrecked in a forced landing whilst on photo escort.
Since Basil Watson’s first distance flight in his homebuilt Sopwith ‘Sparrow’ on 29th November he has made others and been giving flying displays. On 24th January he flies the machine from Point Cook, Melbourne 166 miles to Warrnambool in 5 minutes under two hours. The Warrnambool Standard reports this as a record non-stop cross-country flight for Australia, the first aeroplane ever to visit this part of the Commonwealth and the first airmail service to Warrnambool. Basil delivers three letters to the Mayor who greets him at the racecourse after he has circled over the town to give people a chance to see his machine. A letter from the Mayor of Melbourne concludes “I hope when this cruel war is over and victory crowns our efforts, we, all over the Commonwealth, will be able to fly from one State to the other”. Basil is to “loop the loop and perform other outstanding feats” in a flying display at the racecourse on Saturday.
Another Isle of Man steam packet HMS Manxman (above) was commissioned last month as a seaplane carrier with a small forward hangar for two fast-response ‘Baby’ floatplanes using the short sloping bow ramp and a hoisting crane behind the larger stern hangar for big Short floatplanes. Fl Lt Rutland, often tagged ‘Rutland of Jutland’ as the only pilot to take any significant part in the Battle of Jutland, has consistently argued that only wheeled aeroplanes can hope to fly high enough and fast enough to attack a Zeppelin airship at its ceiling and that they should be flown from ships preferably with 600ft flush decks. As Manxman’s senior flying officer he has to make do for now with a 60ft foredeck ramp and makes two flights confirming that it requires a strong wind along the deck for a Sopwith ‘Baby’ on a wheeled trolley to become airborne. His view that Sopwith ‘Pups’ are a better proposition has been conceded and ‘Pups’ are soon to replace the ‘Baby’ floatplanes on HMS Manxman and HMS Campania despite the need to ditch in the sea and float long enough to be hoisted back aboard the ship.
After the bomb explosion at Ochey two days ago, twenty-two test drops have resulted in two bomb jams. On 25th January a Court of Enquiry hears evidence from witnesses of the accident and finds that the cause was the bomb jamming after being released allowing the arming vane to unscrew from the spindle making the bomb dangerous and free to function. The probable cause of the jam being the different type of rear bomb doors fitted on these Westland-built ‘Strutter Bombers’. “No blame is attributed to anyone for the bomb jamming but the accident might have been prevented if the pilot had reported the condition of the bomb before taxying his machine in.” It seems that the strengthening recesses stamped into the doors can lead to “an unequal fall of the bomb” as it pushes them open and a bomb fin getting jammed inside the bomb bay. It is recommended that the longerons are packed to allow these doors to lie flush and need no strengthening projections, recesses or cutaway portions. The underside of the stamped recesses can be seen on the open rear bomb door of 3 Wing ‘Strutter Bomber’ N5116. (below)
Interesting additions to the facilities at Brooklands are a pair of Bessonneau wooden-girder canvas covered portable hangars in front of the original Sopwith sheds in these recent images. (below) The aircraft appears to be Sopwith-built ‘Strutter Bomber’ N5112 back from Eastchurch before going off to 3 Wing at Luxeuil. Note the tail of a prototype ‘F1’ Camel sticking out of the Sopwith shed with the Byfleet footbridge behind and the 1915 Type RFC hangar and bell tents in front of the farmhouse.
Bessonneau have not been able to keep up with the demand for their hangars in France let alone overseas but licensed manufacture of frames and canvas covers is now underway in Britain.
On 25th January Capt Lees in ‘Pup’ A635 achieves RFC 54 Squadron’s first victory, an Albatross DII destroyed.
On 26th January 45 Squadron ‘Strutter’ A1074 is shot down in flames killing both crew and 8(Naval) Squadron ‘Pup’ N5181, also on photo escort duty, is wrecked in a forced landing after damage in combat.
On 26th January the Sopwith Board Meeting seals a patent application for “improvements in means for synchronizing the firing of a gun with the rotation of the propeller” clearly associated with the Sopwith-Kauper gear and records that “Mr Sopwith having been requested by the Italian Government to allow them to build the old type Schneider Cup seaplanes, it was resolved that the plans should be handed over to Mr Sopwith to dispose of as he thinks fit”.
On 27th January I (Naval) Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5436 claims a victory as does RFC 54 Sqdn ‘Pup’ A652 sending a two-seater into a spinning dive, the right hand top plane comes off. That day 45 Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1076 crashes on take-off and 70 Sqdn A1922 crashes trying to avoid another machine when landing.
On 27th January the first Sopwith ‘Pup’ built by Whitehead Aircraft A6150, after trial assembly at their factory in Richmond upon Thames (below), is delivered to Farnborough for acceptance tests. The following day Whitehead ‘Pup’ A6151 arrives for a thorough quality check by the Aircraft Inspection Department (AID).
On 28th January 9914 is the second Beardmore-built ‘Pup’ to arrive at East Fortune this week (above) for service on HMS Manxman. Especially adapted for Zeppelin interception they have sheet metal protection on the wing surface behind the rocket rails and, in place of the Vickers gun, a tripod in front of the pilot for a Lewis gun firing up through the top wing aperture. They have the distinctive Beardmore tricolour striped elevators.
On 28th January a cylinder bursts on 45 Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1071 as it is running up and flies off damaging 7780. 7788 damages its undercarriage on landing and the next day is wrecked in a forced landing after engine failure whilst three give chase to an enemy aircraft and get some rounds fired despite guns jamming, one pilot using the locally improvised “window in the top plane” to position his aircraft ideally for the rear gunner.
On 29th January six RNAS 5 Wing ‘Strutters’ leave Coudekerque in crystal clear weather to raid hostile shipping but as far as Ostend see nothing except frozen foam along the beach and way out to sea after four nights with temperatures as low as 22 degrees of frost. Bitterly cold at 12,000ft they turn and after five minutes driven by the raging easterly wind almost bomb their own destroyers before realising they are already off Malo.
On 30th January 54 Sqdn ‘Pup’ A640 crashes landing in a ploughed field after an engine failure.
On 31st January the French Minister for War writes to the British Aviation Supplies Depot in Paris thanking “the British Naval Aviation for putting an 80hp Sopwith at my disposal for examination and study. It has been decided it would not be suitable for the French Aviation to organize the manufacture of machines of this type at present. I will despatch it at once to the destination you desire”. (There is no known identity for this ‘Pup’)
On 31st January 8(Naval) Sqdn is withdrawn from Vert Galand to regroup and re-equip with Sopwith ‘Triplanes’. Since 26th October they have shot down 20 enemy aircraft but more crucially have played their part in keeping most enemy aircraft away from the battlefields allowing the RFC to continue their photo reconnaissance and artillery direction work relatively unmolested.
Commodore Murray Sueter’s proposals for floatplane torpedo attacks on the German Fleet at Wilhelmshaven are not thought likely to succeed but he is now put in command of a force based at Otranto on the heel of Italy to attack the Austrian Fleet at Pola and other naval targets in the Adriatic. In addition to 310hp Short Torpedo floatplanes he will have Sopwith “Strutters” as escort fighters with Short and Sopwith “Baby” floatplanes for work along the barrage protecting allied fleets in Otranto from enemy U-boats. Without Sueter’s direct support the Sopwith team stop further work on their experimental 200hp “T1” torpedo landplane and store the part completed fuselage in the factory roof.
Development flying of the ‘F1’ Camel prototype continues at Brooklands. It apparently now has an cut-out in the centre of the top wing, possibly to compensate for the small rudder or tail-heaviness. (above) There are other ‘F1’ Camel prototypes under construction but by the end of January the Admiralty are so impressed by the potential of the design that they have already given Sopwith Aviation a production order for fifty machines. Other new orders in January have been 50 ‘Pups’ and 20 ‘Triplanes’ on Sopwith, another 50 ‘Strutters’ on Vickers, 40 ‘Baby’ floatplanes on Blackburn and 80 camber-wing ‘Baby’ floatplanes on Fairey and their contractor Parnall.
Sopwith has completed a record 52 new aeroplanes in January whilst overall production of Sopwith machines in the month has exceeded 160 easily beating last month’s record 97. That total includes 41 ‘Pups’: 16 from Sopwith, 23 from Standard Motors and 2 from Whitehead. Of the 101 new ‘Strutters’ 18 were from Sopwith (all bombers), 9 from Fairey, 14 from Mann Egerton (7 each fighters and bombers), 26 from Ruston Proctor, 22 from Vickers and 12 bombers from Westland. Sopwith also completed 18 ‘Triplanes’ including 4 for the French Navy whilst Blackburn delivered five or more ‘Baby’ floatplanes.
Ruston Proctor have recorded “Nieuport gun ring removed” against many of the “Strutters” delivered this month. The RFC might at last be getting better supplies of their much preferred Scarff gun rings.
Strutters’ are the latest Sopwith type to appear as a floatplane. In mid January, the French Hanroit aircraft company delivered the first of seventeen it is building for the French Navy. (above)
From 1st February 1917 German U-boat commanders are permitted to wage unrestricted warfare. The plan to block Britain’s supplies of food and material from around the world is made easier by the discovery that the English Channel is not as well defended against submarine movements as they thought and they no longer have to go round the north of Scotland to get into the Atlantic. There are 49 U-boats based in North German ports and 33 in Belgian ports up to a third of which could be active at any time. Sopwith ‘Baby’ floatplanes and ‘Strutters’ are regular workhorses in RNAS Dover and Dunkirk’s work detecting and restricting U-boat movements and attacking Belgian port installation. On 1st February 1(N)Squadron ‘Strutter’ 9417 from St Pol photographs ammunition stores along the Bruges canal and U-boats in the harbour.
There is still only one RFC ‘Pup’ squadron in France but on 1st February the RFC gain the command of 3(Naval)Squadron when it officially replaces 8(N)Sqdn at Vert Galand. The English and Canadian pilots with an Australian, a New Zealander and an Irishman inherit twenty-one of 8(N)Sqdn’s ‘Pups’ but “many are verging on the worn-out”. That first day 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6161 is shot down and captured with the pilot taken prisoner.
Elsewhere on 1st February Australian R S Dallas claims his third ‘Triplane’ victory downing an LVG in 1(N)Squadron’s N5436 whilst 2(N)Squadron ‘Strutter’ 9417 claims a two-seater down in smoke and RFC 45 Squadron’s A1072 suffers a seized engine and forced landing.
On 1st February RNAS 3 Wing in south-east France has a hundred aircraft, (above) 94 of them Sopwith types but only 34 are serviceable and the standard Type 9400S ‘Strutter’ fighters with a 37 gallon 275 mile range are of limited use even when based closest to enemy territory at Ochey. The priority has to be keeping the few Type 9400L long-range ‘Strutter’ fighters serviceable with their 57½ gallon 362 mile range for escorting the bombing missions of the 54 gallon 372 mile range Type 9700 ‘Strutter Bombers’. The unreliability and short life of the Clerget engines in their ‘Strutters’ is forcing 3 Wing to accept a squadron of inferior but more reliably engined American Curtiss R2s. They are however due to be amongst the first to get the huge Handley-Page 0/100 twin-engined strategic bomber.
On 2nd February 8(N)Squadron ‘Pup’ N5191 is shot down and the pilot killed.
It appears that Sopwith’s January output of eighteen ‘Triplanes’ included not two but four French machines delivered to Dover. Two of those now have their French engines installed, one was flown to St Pol last week, the seventh of the ten on order arrives there on 2nd February. Marked F7 & F9 they are actually SP.13 & SP.14. On 3rd February three French ‘Triplanes’ attack a large biplane over Ypres without a conclusive result.
On 3rd February in Australia Basil Watson flies his homebuilt Sopwith ‘Sparrow’ from Warrambool to Hamilton before giving a flying exhibition at the Show Ground. In unfavourable strong southerly winds he takes off in 50 yards and circles up to 4,000ft for a 25 minute display of “perpendicular diving and climbing, speed flights, somersaulting and rapid turning with the machine side on”. Taxying to park after landing, the propeller hits a hidden post lying in the long grass and is badly damaged.
At 4.45am on 3rd February eight “Strutters” of RNAS 5 Wing, now 4 & 5(Naval)Squadrons, attempt to leave Coudekerque to bomb Bruges Docks and its U-boats. Veteran ‘Strutter’ 9382 (above) is one of only two machines to reach Bruges. The intense cold has frozen the “castor oil to a tallow consistency”, engines will not pull or fail altogether. One ‘Strutter’ crashes through two stout willow trees and the pilot walks away from “not much more than a pile of matchwood”. Another machine lands on the beach and, caught by the tide, is floating nearly vertically in 8ft of water before it is towed in but becomes stuck fast in the sand. Despite the efforts of 30 or 40 French soldiers to haul it out, they have to wait for the tide to recede to disarm it and dig it out.
On 4th February Dover-based ‘Baby’ floatplane 9405 “falls into the sea” and 7(N)Squadron ‘Strutter’ N5505 is crashed. Both are recorded “beyond repair”.
The second Whitehead-built ‘Pup’ A6151 has passed its inspection by a Sopwith team and the Government AID at Farnborough has been flown to Filton where RFC 66 Squadron is forming. It is joined in the snow there on 5th February by Standard Motors-built ‘Pups’ A663 & A674. (below)
On 6th February RFC 45 Squadron are finally authorised to fly their ‘Strutters’ over the lines on the Western Front. On that day the clock in A1084 is reported to have indicated 160mph in a steep pursuing dive before expending all their ammunition and returning through a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. Like 70 Squadron, their role in the Headquarters Army Wing is to provide a permanent defensive umbrella for the Corps Wings’ vulnerable observation aircraft which are working directly with specific army units on the ground. Typically in formations of two or four aircraft at heights of 8 to 10,000 ft 45Sqdn undertake line patrols directly over the trenches, defensive patrols 4 or 5 miles behind the German Lines and offensive patrols some 8 miles beyond that. Any of these can include photo reconnaissance. On 7th February a five aircraft photographic patrol at 10,000ft ends after two of four “very fast” enemy single-seaters are sent down whilst ‘Strutter’ 7789 plunges to earth with the wings folded up with fatal consequences for the crew.
On 7th February, after six inches of snow at Coudekerque in recent days, five 4 & 5(N)Squadron “Strutter bombers” with two ‘Strutter’ escorts bomb Bruges harbour whilst 1(N)Squadron’s N5172 photographs German warships for the first time in the Darse. ‘Strutter’ N5102 is shot down killing both crew and the aircraft is captured. On 8th February they make another shipping raid despite their ground speed reduced to 40 mph by easterly winds and on 9th February nine more set out to raid Ghistelles aerodrome, five actually getting there.
Beardmore-built SBIII prototype 9950 arrived at Eastchurch by rail from Glasgow on 2nd February. Despite the Sopwith ‘Pup’ fuselage it makes an unusual sight with its un-staggered folding wings and tucked up undercarriage. (above and below) Its extra weight precludes the carrying of rockets but it has the upward firing Lewis gun tripod in front of the pilot. On 7th February it is flown at Eastchurch for the first time by Sqdn Cmdr Busteed.
In the first week of unrestricted warfare German U-boats sink thirty-five vessels in the Channel and Western Approaches forcing the Navy to consider stationing more aircraft along the south coast to tackle this menace.
What is believed to be the second ‘F1 Camel’ prototype is photographed (above) looking very like the first but with a 130hp Clerget engine, a less steeply sloped hump and a small windscreen. It has no cut-out yet in the one-piece top wing and small square side panels to access the rear of the engine. The Sopwith experimental team are busy building more prototypes in the Skating Rink. Following closely behind this second ‘F1 Camel’ prototype are at least three more and the two similar ‘FS1 Improved Baby’ floatplanes ordered by the Admiralty in late December.
The issues with the Council over wall thicknesses, fire escapes, drains and acetylene workshops in the Sopwith factory extensions appear to be resolved as the third extension is occupied and construction of the fourth is underway including the three story offices on the corner of Canbury Park Road and Elm Crescent. However on 8th February a letter from the Kingston Borough Surveyor calls Sopwith’s attention to “the building erected along the forecourt of the third factory extension in Elm Grove which is in front of the building line and which is contrary to the building regulations and Act of Parliament”. The reply the next day from Company Secretary Musgrove simply states “We have been compelled to erect this on account of new War Office and Admiralty orders for the storage of ‘dope’ in a certain temperature which had to be carried out immediately”.
On 8th February 5(N)Squadron ‘Strutter’ 9385 is wrecked.
On 9th February 45 Squadron ‘Strutters’ on a photographic sortie get into a spirited fight. The pilot of A1084 with guns jammed desperately throws it into a loop but half of the tailplane collapses. With a gun un-jammed they pepper the pursuer who breaks off apparently badly damaged and survive to nurse their machine back over the lines to a crash landing. The machine has logged 68 flying hours and is “not worth reconstruction”.
On 9th February an Air Board conference concludes that a monthly output of 80 ‘Pups’ will be required. It views with concern that the record month of January still produced less than 50 and notes that Sopwith are expected in a few months to supplant ‘Pup’ production with ‘F1 Camels’ which will leave only Beardmore, Standard Motors and the fledgling Whitehead Company as ‘Pup’ suppliers.
On 10th February 43 Squadron ‘Strutter’ A1107 crashes with an injured pilot after being hit by AA fire, the crew of A2386 are both wounded in combat with seven enemy machines whilst A2388 glides back to safety with a shot-up engine but the observer dies of his wounds. ‘Strutter’ A2399 suffers an engine failure on delivery to 43 Squadron running into a ditch to be deleted after just five flying hours whilst veteran 5(N)Squadron ‘Strutter’ 9383 is crashed and also damaged beyond repair.
On 10th & 11th February ‘Baby’ floatplane 8150 goes out from Great Yarmouth after reports of enemy U-Boats as does 8150 from Dunkirk. The oddly-numbered Blackburn-built ‘Baby’ N300 joins others on HMS Campania.
On 11th February 54 Squadron ‘Pup’ A639 shoots an Albatross C which is last seen in a nose dive whilst A642 forces down a two-seater. The engine cowl of ‘Strutter’ N5090 comes off in flight and they make a forced landing in a ploughed field. The long-established patented Sopwith method of attaching cowls using an external wire clamping ring in interlocking groves around the fuselage and the cowl is very practical and has been much copied but some units are fitting additional external clips from the fuselage to the cowl. The aircraft depots in France are not just modifying ‘Strutters’ to improve the performance by fitting some with 130hp Clergets. They are about to test an alternative interrupter gear designed by Captain Ross of 70 Squadron. Recent trials with a smaller 12ft span tailplane to improve agility gave sluggish control and difficulties in recovering from dives. Also proving unsuccessful are current 46 Squadron trials with a ‘Strutter’ fitted out for artillery observation.
On 12th February two C Squadron ‘Strutters’ of RNAS 2 Wing from Imbros in the Aegean escorting a Henri Farman F27 on an anti-submarine patrol up the Dardanelles are caught in a surprise attacked by a Fokker Eindekker which they chase away but it manages to fire at the Farman which is forced to land near Kephez Point. The crew burn the aircraft before being taken prisoner.
On 13th February an RFC 54 Squadron ‘Pup’ sends an enemy machine down in a nose dive. While 5(N)Sqdn ‘Strutters’ are patrolling the Belgian coast, two ‘Pups’ dive into their formation causing an observer to open fire. It is noted that “the Germans have very similar aircraft on this coast”.
On 14th February 5(N)Squadron go out in the dark at 3.20am to follow the coastline and bomb Bruges where they are caught by searchlights and subject to AA fire. At midday enemy aircraft bomb the RNAS St Pol Depot killing one man, seriously injuring sixteen and destroying several aircraft.
On 14th February the French fly their eighth Sopwith ‘Triplane’ to St Pol from Dover. Marked F6 this one is actually SP.15.
On 14th February the pilot of 54 Squadron’s A642 becomes first RFC ‘Pup’ pilot lost in action when attacked returning from an escort duty with a failing engine. His controls are hit and he crashes into a building to become a prisoner of war with a wounded arm. 3(N)Squadron ‘Pup’ N6172 drives down a two-seater but the attrition continues when N5186, N5195 & N5197 crash on landing as does 8(N)Squadron’s N5183 at Rue by the Somme. (below)
With Sopwith’s Kingston factory breaking output records, the RNAS perceives a bottleneck in Sopwith’s final assembly operations at Brooklands and a shortage of ferry pilots. On 14th February the Assistant-Director of Air Services issues a directive to the Captain Superintendant, Central Supply Depot, White City: “Owing to the necessity of getting machines to Dunkirk as soon as possible....the Fifth Sea Lord has approved of all Triplanes and Pups being sent direct by naval motor lorries to Dover for erection and trial from Sopwith’s works. They will be erected by naval ratings at Dover and tested by Lt Andrew. Any ratings now at Brooklands should be sent to Dover. Procedure to come into force forthwith.” Sopwith are not at all keen on this arrangement.
Among the new Knights in the Honours announced this week are Sir William Ashbee Tritton who played such a prominent part in the development of the tank, Sir George Buckham Vickers’ chief gun designer and Sir William Douglas Weir, Chairman of Scottish pump (and now ammunition shell) manufacturer G & J Weir, successful Director of Munitions for Scotland and the Ministry of Munitions’ Controller of Aeronautical Supplies on the new Air Board. Flight magazine reflects the general welcome for the overarching new powers of the Air Board with this cartoon depicting their key role in co-ordinating the supply of new aircraft to the fighting forces. (below)
With two additional divisions from England the British Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig is taking over more of the French front line south of the Somme to release French resources for the major allied joint offensive planned to start on 1st April but Haig now tells the War Cabinet the RFC will not be fully ready and the air situation is even worse than he feared after continual postponements of the arrival of new squadrons and replacement aircraft through the winter. There will be a shortage of four to seven fighting squadrons below what was promised and seven to ten below what he had asked for and a further shortage of two new-type corps squadrons whilst five squadrons scheduled for re-equipment would remain unconverted. “Our fighting machines will almost certainly be inferior in number and quite certainly in performance.” This is despite the RNAS secondment of 3(N)Squadron’s ‘Pups’ attached to RFC 22 Wing and on 15th February the sixteen Sopwith ‘Triplanes’ of 1(N)Squadron attaching to RFC 14 Wing, with the promise during March of the return of 8(N) Squadron re-equipped with Sopwith ‘Triplanes’ and 6(N) Squadron with Nieuport Scouts.
After just six days at Farnborough the first Whitehead-built ‘Pup’ A6150 (above) went not into active squadron service but to the RFC Central Flying School at Upavon where this photograph shows it to be unarmed and built with the now outdated adjustable incidence tailplane.
The promoters of Basil Watson’s barnstorming tour of Western Victoria in his homebuilt Sopwith ‘Sparrow’ have received approval from the Postmaster General's Department to carry official experimental airmail some 300 miles from Mt Gambier in South Australia back to Melbourne. Only specially issued souvenir letter cards marked "Australian Aerial Mail" are carried which sell for 1/- each plus penny postage. On 15th February he loops-the-loop twice over Mt. Gambier Town Hall before setting out with a sealed mail bag on a 26 minute flight to the racecourse at Casterton.
The recent decision to launch ‘Pups’ not ‘Baby’ floatplanes from the foredeck ramps of His Majesty’s Ships has triggered Admiralty orders for two extra batches of thirty ‘Pups’ from Beardmore, N6100 to 29 & N6430 to 59. This brings Beardmore’s total orders for ‘Pups’ to one hundred and ten of which about twenty are delivered including four pictured in the snow at East Fortune with their rocket rails and Lewis gun tripods. (below) They are preparing to operate from HMS Manxman.
On 15th February 3(N)Squadron ‘Pup’ N6160 sends a scout down in a spin. The pilots of RFC 54 Sqdn ‘Pups’ A645 and A654 are killed one in combat and the other apparently by anti-aircraft flak whilst A647 is damaged and has to make a forced landing. 45 Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1072’s engine chokes and it forced lands in fog whilst in England N5166 is crashed and wrecked on its delivery flight from Westland Aircraft at Yeovil to RNAS Cranwell.
On 16th February French Triplanes F1 & F7, now SP9 & SP13, intercept two German bombers over Dunkirk and send a German aircraft down pouring smoke whilst Manston-based Triplane N5424 is one of six machines sent up unsuccessfully to intercept a German Sablatnig SF 5 floatplane attacking shipping off the east Kent coast for the second time in two days. 3(N)Squadron ‘Pups’ N5188 & 9898 share a victory shooting down a Roland over Bapaume. 9(N) Squadron ‘Strutter’ 9897 goes out for the first time from Dunkirk with wireless telegraphy to report sightings of naval siege guns and 5(N) Squadron ‘Strutters’ bomb Bruges again. 43 Squadron ‘Strutter’ A959 is wrecked in a forced landing during a Defensive Patrol whilst eight month old prototype ‘Triplane’ N500 now with 8(N)Squadron gets tail high on take-off damaging the propeller and coming to a halt on its nose. (below)
There are now ten ‘Strutters’ in the Aegean and on 17th February one from C Squadron on Imbros aims two bombs at an enemy gunboat and one on the seaplane hangar at Kusa Burna but its Bristol Scout escort never returns. By now three Sopwith-built ‘Strutter Bombers’ 9715, 18 & 27 and a Mann Egerton-built two-seat “Strutter” N5223 have arrived at Otranto in southern Italy for Commander Sueter’s Adriatic attack force.
On 17th February the Sopwith Board approve the accounts for the 1915/16 and seal patent applications for improved axle arrangements, wind brakes, windscreens, adjustable seats and operation of the empennage.
The RNAS have always been willing to accept the relatively lightweight construction of Sopwith’s machines to take advantage of their exceptional performance. The RFC are more cautious. Following their Central Flying School recommendation that the strength of ‘Pups’ be “checked for dive and sharp flatten out”, structural strength tests on ‘Pup’ A631 have been completed by the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough by progressively loading the wings of the inverted machine with sand-bags. Various ‘Pup’ factors of safety from 6 and 7.95 are being officially quoted meaning the aircraft’s structure can support 6 or perhaps 7.95 times the standard flying loads during extreme manoeuvres.
When a 43 Squadron ‘Strutter’ broke up shortly after they arrived in France, Sholto Douglas concluded that they are rather fragile if roughly or clumsily handled. To reassure his pilots he does thirteen continuous loops with his adjutant in the back who has not strapped in and is hanging on for dear life. Douglas is angry with himself for not warning him. His delighted pilots think it is an enormous joke and are somewhat reassured.
On 19th February a French pilot at Luxeuil in a Sopwith-built ‘Strutter’ makes “several pretty sharp turns, descends very steeply with full motor and levels the machine out very sharply”. The right wing separates from the fuselage and the machine dives motor full on vertically into the ground. The French view is that it broke up in the pull-out through structural weakness and ‘Strutters’ must be strengthened by modifications. The RNAS observers’ views are that in such a sharp pull-out from a steep power dive any aircraft would be overstressed.
Basil Watson remains in Casterton five days until the 20th February when he leaves for Hamilton and Warrnambool picking up more mail bags for Melbourne. He is photographed (above) leaning on the propeller of his home-built Sopwith ‘Sparrow’ at Warrnambool with well-wishers and his tour promoters who are travelling in motor cars carrying emergency cans of fuel, although fuel and oil have been sent to the planned destinations well in advance. He continues the same day to Camperdown landing at the race course where a flying exhibition has been arranged for Saturday 24th February before he goes on to complete the air mail delivery to Melbourne.
During February the Deutsche Luftkreigsbeute Ausstellung (Exhibition of German trophies from war in the air) is being held “am Zoo”, presumably Berlin Zoo. Using the acronym DELKA, the poster by Julius Gipkens declares the Patron to be His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Prussia.
Amongst the aircraft displayed at the exhibition is Sopwith ‘Schneider’ 3717 which has seen active service at Zeebrugge since being captured there in August 1915. (above left) Sopwith ‘Baby’ 8153 has also been in German service since being captured returning from dropping bombs on the Hoyer Airship Base in March 1916.(above right)
The above unique image of three ‘generations’ of brand new Sopwith single-seat fighters lined up outside a Bessaneau hangar at Brooklands is taken before ‘Triplane’ N5455 (left) is delivered to France on 23rd February. The two ‘Pups’ appear equally ready for service and what looks like a prototype ‘F1 Camel’ in the centre is in fact N5, the newly completed prototype “FS1 Improved Baby” floatplane fitted with wheels. The parallel design and development of these two new 130hp single-seat types has lead to very similar external appearance but this ‘FS1’ differs in many ways from the ‘F1 Camel’ prototypes. The flat top wing and steep dihedral lower wing are 13ins shorter than the ‘F1’ and the top one is not one-piece but three pieces, a centre section with two outer wing panels. Like the ‘Baby’ floatplanes the rear fuselage contains floatation bags and can be detached for ease of transport and shipboard stowage. It has only a single Vickers synchronised gun, a gap through the top wing centre section for access to a Lewis gun and large oval side panels to access the rear of the engine. The other ‘FS1 Improved Baby’ N4 is being built as a floatplane and is nearing completion.
On 24th February, quite separate from these two ‘FS1’ prototypes, the Admiralty purchase from Sopwith Aviation the two ‘F1 Camel’ prototypes which have recently arrived at Brooklands for testing. To be numbered N517 & N518 they have single piece top wings like the first two prototypes but in place of small square access panels on the nose (see first prototype below left) they have large oval ones like the ‘FS1’ (below centre). On N517 & N518 the hump over the Vickers guns is now flat-topped. (below right) The best way to install the side-by-side right hand feed guns and enclose their ammunition belt feeds under a hump is still being refined.
In addition to the first two private-venture ‘F1 Camel’ prototypes, the two RNAS ‘FS1s’ and these two new RNAS ‘F1 Camel’ prototypes the Sopwith experimental team are well advanced with another ‘F1 Camel’ prototype probably for RFC testing, followed by one for the French and at least one more.
On 23rd February 45 Squadron ‘Strutters’ use a fixed camera through a hole cut in the fuselage floor for the first time, probably a Type E it is operated remotely. Even with hand held cameras observers have been taking 50 or more plates on a single sortie which are immediately developed and rushed to the intelligence specialists.
On 24th February Yarmouth-based ‘Baby’ floatplane 8133 operating anti-submarine patrols from torpedo gunboat HMS Halcyon runs out of petrol but is towed into Harwich by submarine hunter HM Patrol Boat No.20.
No operational flying has been possible in Somme for the last eight days due to adverse weather. On 25th February C Flight of 3(N)Squadron fed up with the fog risk going out escorting FE8s in their ‘Pups’ but with cloud at 1,000 ft they get disorientated and all land at different aerodromes.
Two days ago RNAS 3 Wing at Luxeuil received their first Sopwith ‘Pup’, Beardmore-built 9906 unusually with an 80hp Clerget engine.(above) On 25th February Fl Cmdr Draper takes it out on a fighting patrol but the transparent celluloid in the centre of the top wing ruptures. Meanwhile one of his ‘Strutters’ 9739 is shot down during a bombing raid on Brebach with the loss of both crew, N5088 claims a Fokker Eindekker but is damaged, 9735 late for the raid is damaged in combat with four aircraft and finally ‘Strutter Bomber’ 9733 landing from the raid a crashes into N5124. (below)
The 26th February is at last fine and breezy to help dry up the mud and slush on the aerodromes. 5(N) Sqdn ‘Strutter’ 9897 gets photographs of new defence emplacements, batteries and seaplane sheds in Belgium before being attacked by three machines and staggering home with a longeron completely shot through. Another taking-off with a choked engine hits a large tree, snapping it in half and severely bruising both crew. 43 Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A2418 also crashes during take-off injuring the pilot and 8(N)Sqdn prototype ‘Triplane’ N504 crashes near Furnes. ‘Pup’ 9913 is totally wrecked on HMS Manxman and ‘Pup A664 forced lands near Oxford.
On 26th February Sopwith delivers the last of ten French ‘Triplanes’ to Dover for the French engine to be fitted whilst the prototype 130hp Clerget engined ‘F1 Camel’ N517 makes its first flight at Brooklands. Tests are successful enough for it to go straight to the RNAS Aeroplane Depot Dunkirk (ADD) at St Pol for service evaluation. Sister aircraft N518 with its 110hp Clerget engine is also ready but is likely to remain under development at Brooklands for some time, probably until a 130hp engine is available.
Elsewhere on 26th February the agreement on urgent RNAS resources for the RFC in France is modified by the RFC taking over Admiralty orders for 200 French designed SPAD VII fighters on Mann Egerton , British Caudron and Nieuport. In exchange the Admiralty take over the RFC orders for 206 Sopwith ‘Triplanes’ on Clayton and Shuttleworth who, new to aircraft work, are only just starting to deliver their initial Admiralty ‘Triplane’ orders.
On 27th February a mixed group of RNAS A Squadron machines bomb the seaplane base at Gereviz in the Aegean and intercept a low flying floatplane forcing it to land. The crew beach it and hide ashore whilst a ‘Strutter’ fires three trays of ammunition into it.
On 27th February in France ‘Triplane’ N5441 overturns landing on soft ground, ‘Strutter’ A2396 is wrecked in a collision on the aerodrome and N5114 is wrecked crashing and overturning.(below)
Bad weather at Camperdown in Australia last Saturday 24th February made it impossible for Basil Watson to perform his “aerial feats” in his homebuilt Sopwith ‘Sparrow’. On 27th February he leaves Camperdown at 2.25 p.m. on the final 120 mile leg of his experimental air mail flight to Melbourne carrying five bags of letter cards. He lands in Middle Park at 3.45 p.m. where the mail is handed to the Deputy Postmaster General. Following this success Basil's promoters begin negotiations with the authorities in other parts of Victoria and with the Postmaster General's Department to carry mails further afield. The Camperdown Chronicle reports that Mr Watson “intends to make a non-stop flight from Melbourne to Sydney at a later date” a journey of over 400 miles.
On 27th February a D Squadron ‘Strutter’ from Thasos escorting a bombing raid shoots down an enemy aircraft.
On 28th February RNAS Sopwith ‘F1 Camel’ prototype N517 arrives at ADD, St Pol for evaluation and service trials with 6(N) Squadron whilst 80hp Clerget engined modified ‘Pup’ 9497 back from repair (wrongly marked N9497) makes its first three landings on the circular dummy deck at Grain trailing its fragile hook. (below)
Elsewhere on 28th February Blackburn-built ‘Baby’ N1017 escorts a Short from Dunkirk to investigate U-boat sightings whilst at Upavon the pilot of RFC Central Flying School ‘Strutter’ 7810 is killed in a flying accident. 54 Squadron express concern that Standard Motors ‘Pups’ are still arriving in France without the stronger centre section struts and Alan Fenn, Sopwith’s man in Paris, leaves for urgent talks with Fred Sigrist in Kingston about the French insistence on design modifications for Sopwith ‘Strutters’ as a result of the recent structural failure.
During February Admiralty Wing Commander Longmore has seen the ‘T1’ torpedo bomber fuselage with its wide spread undercarriage suspended from the roof of the Sopwith factory and instigated the revival of the project abandoned when Murray Sueter left for Italy. Plenty of suitable V8 Hispano Suiza engines are expected to be available for the ‘T1’ following £2m British funding for the construction of a new factory in France, large orders on other French companies and Wolseley manufacturing them under licence in Britain (as the 150/180hp Python and geared 200hp Adder). With steel cylinder liners screwed into cast aluminium cylinder blocks these V8 water-cooled engines have a high power-to-weight ratio and low fuel consumption. Herbert Smith and his team are already designing a ‘B1’ bomber very similar to the ‘T1’ torpedo bomber, and Smith is developing radical new ideas for a Hispano Suiza powered Sopwith high-altitude fighter.
The Admiralty have recently ordered a further sixty ‘Ships Pups’ from Beardmore, N6100 to N6129 & N6430 to N6459 and surprisingly on 27th February give Sopwith an order for seventy more ‘Pups’ N6460 to N64129 despite Sopwith already building higher performance ‘Triplanes’ and the first production order for ‘F1 Camels’.
There is now a single consistent source for aircraft ‘output’ each month compiled by the Ministry of Munitions which shows February output of Sopwith designed machines as 92 ‘Strutters’ (from seven contractors), 41 ‘Pups’ (7 from Sopwith, 9 Beardmore, 14 Standard Motors and 11 from Whitehead in Richmond now coming on stream) and 7 ‘Triplanes’ (5 from Sopwith and 2 Clayton & Shuttleworth). There were probably also a few more of the first 20 ‘Baby’ floatplanes from Blackburn before they switch to wings with a modified airfoil section.
It is now clear that since the first four two-seat ‘Strutters’ were delivered to France from Hooper in Chelsea back in October and November 1916 they have completed 37 more and are about to make that 46 all of which are to be transferred to the Imperial Russian Air Service. Mann Egerton ‘Strutter bomber’ N5219 & two-seat ‘Strutter’ N5244 are heading the same way possibly as sample machines for future Russian manufacture.
The current Admiralty confidential “Disposition of Aircraft” report lists 388 Sopwith aircraft in service (114 ‘Schneider/Baby’ floatplanes, 183 ‘Strutters’, 54 ‘Pups’ and 37 ‘Triplanes’) at 18 locations and on 4 ships making up 24% of their 1642 machines and 40% of their “War Machines”, as opposed to “School and Experimental machines”. Of the 91 ‘Strutters’ in the 3 bomber Wing at Luxeuil 30 are under repair and 20 awaiting erection.
On 1st March two Westgate ‘Baby’ floatplanes are amongst 24 aircraft sent up too late to stop a German floatplane dropping four bombs on Broadstairs injuring 6 people. Damaged 9(N) Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6164 comes down in the sea off Cadzand in Holland overturning and damaging the engine with sea water. The Dutch inter the pilot and their Luchtvaart Afdeling acquire the machine for a rebuild for active service. ‘Strutter’ 9422 attacked by five enemy aircraft claims one sent out of control before returning damaged whilst N5105 crashes and burns at a French aerodrome and ‘Pup’ 9903 crashes at Cranwell.
The French now have all their nine surviving Sopwith ‘Triplanes’ in service and defiantly lined up in front of the recent German bomb craters at St Pol. (below)
On 2nd March in an urgent bid to update their now outclassed Sopwith ‘Strutter’ fighters and before they even have their own prototype, the RFC orders 250 Sopwith ‘F1 Camels’ from Ruston Proctor.
On 3rd March the RNAS’s prototype ‘FS1 Improved Baby’ N5 moves to Hendon. The second RFC ‘Pup’ Squadron No.66 starts its move to France via St Omer whilst at Imbros in the Aegean a ‘Strutter’ is damaged seeing off two German floatplanes who were only trying to drop a note with news of a captured Canadian airman.
With growing indications that the Germans are planning a withdrawal to a stronger shorter front line fuelled by news from German prisoners, the RFC increase the intensity of escorted photo-reconnaissance missions.
On 4th March on a 3 Wing bombing raid on Brebach ‘Strutters’ N5173 & 9410 each claim an aircraft shot down. Over the Western Front ‘Strutter’ A961 claims 43 Squadron’s first victory but they lose A1108 & A1109 with all four crew. 54 Sqdn ‘Pup’ A633 escorting photo-reconnaissance missions over new German positions is shot down with the injured pilot taken prisoner. 3(N) Squadron ‘Pups’ 9898, N5199 & N6160 all claim victories but 3(N) suffer their first losses with three pilots shot down in N6165, 66 & 70 whilst N5185, 88 & 94 crash on landing. After overnight snow and in a howling gale General Trenchard makes a surprise visit to compliment 3(N)Sqdn on protecting all his reconnaissance machines the day before but makes little mention of their losses.
On 5th March two more dummy deck landings are made at Grain in ‘Pup’ 9497 whilst they delete from service the last Sopwith ‘Type 860’ floatplane 852 latterly used for high-lift wing trials, triggering Sopwith to dismantle the remaining two undelivered machines 931 & 932 stored at Woolston. That day ‘Pup’ A671 has its engine cut out at 12,000ft well over enemy lines but glides back to a crash landing in allied territory whilst ‘Triplane’ N5352 crashes on its delivery flight from Clayton & Shuttleworth to Cranwell and is taken to Dover for repair.
On 6th March ‘Strutter’ A978 is shot down in flames killing both crew, A1097 sends an enemy aircraft down in combat before being shot down and both crew killed, the observer in A1072 is fatally wounded when surprised to be hit by Siemans-Schuckert D1s (German Nieuport copies) whilst struggling home with engine trouble, A1082 forced lands after being shot up, as does A1919 after being hit by shellfire, A882 forced lands with an engine failure, 7782 is wrecked returning from a photo sortie and A1075 is damaged on a practice flight.
The Sopwith ‘FS1 Improved Baby’ floatplane N4 is almost ready to go to RNAS Grain for testing. In Sopwith’s re-traced General Arrangement Drawing (below) it is much like the wheeled ‘FS1’ N5 but with pontoon floats, jettisonable wheels and a circular section tail float with a tiny rear wheel or bumper. Like N5 the single Vickers gun is on the port side and the Lewis gun is inverted to aid re-loading through a Vee cutout in the three part top wing. The rear fuselage is attached by turnbuckles at the bulkhead just behind the trailing edge of the wing.
It now seems unlikely that ‘FS1’ floatplanes will be needed. The recent decision to use wheeled landplanes not floatplanes from the decks of naval ships is already being implemented. Rocket-equipped Beardmore built ‘Ships Pup’ 9918 is pictured (below) being flown off the foredeck ramp of HMS Manxman piloted by Sqdn Cmdr Rutland.
Meanwhile at Grain hooked ‘Pup’ 9497 makes two more landings on their dummy ship’s deck although their testing of the retractable-wheel folding-wing stowable ‘SBIII’ Pup 9950 is halted on 10th March when it needs repairing after a forced landing.
On 11th March 8(N) Triplane N5351 crashes on take-off and ‘Pup’ N5197 is damaged going back to France from repair and overhaul at Dover. 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A972 is wrecked crashing after being hit by AA fire and 45Sqdn ‘Strutters’ A1071 & A1082 are sent down with the loss of all four crew by Albatross DIIIs whilst on Line Patrol, the wings on A1071 folding during uncontrolled violent manoeuvres probably after the pilot is shot through the head. Five invaluable photographic plates are salvaged from the wreckage. It is becoming clear that ‘Strutters’ are no match for these latest German fighters and should not go out in twos or threes but in larger formations. However 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pups’ N6169 & N6175 each claim an Albatross sent out of control and 54Sqdn ‘Pup’ A673 downs a two-seater.
The RFC in France, used to less agile but sturdier machines, are reporting that Sopwith ‘Pups’ are past their best after 40 flying hours putting the “soggy wings” down to “the extremely light construction of the planes themselves”. 54Sqdn have reported that the spruce bearers for the pilot’s seats are weak and if they fail the seat falls onto and jams the elevator cables, they recommend ash. No one seems to like the Sopwith padded windscreen neatly mounted on the rear of the gun (below with non-standard Aldis sight) as it obscures critical areas of the pilot’s field of view, gets misted up with engine oil and despite the padding could cause facial injuries in a crash. Some have replaced the screen with an Avro one or a rounded screen faired into the top of the cowl giving more draught protection and better gun sighting, some have also devised their own gun sights.
On 12th March In France 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A962 crashes landing from an observation patrol and the next day ‘Strutter’ A882 is damaged on a contact patrol and forced to land with engine failure.
On 12th March after just four days at Scapa Flow ‘Baby’ floatplane N1027 is wrecked by the drifter Volturno alongside HMS Campania and “the remains are hoisted in”. The next day new ‘Baby’ floatplane N300 arrives for HMS Campania where 12 are allocated to her War Flight and 6 to instructional flying from her deck and gunnery practice although the actual complement is presently less than 10.
The latest large naval vessel with a foredeck flying platform is HMS Furious a fast, shallow draught heavily armed battle-cruiser. On 13th March, from experience with Campania, a decision is made to remove Furious’ forward 18inch gun turret to fit a larger 228ft by 50ft flying deck in front of the superstructure on top of a workshop and hangar for eight seaplanes accessed via a hatch served by two 40ft wooden derricks.
On 13th March the two-week-old Admiralty order on Sopwith for another 70 ‘Pups’ is reduced to 20 and their RFC order for 100 ‘Triplanes’ recently taken over by the Admiralty is cancelled altogether. With the promise of large volume ‘F1 Camel’ orders to follow the fifty on order, Sopwith should now be able to complete their orders for 95 ‘Triplanes’ and 90 ‘Pups’ in April and switch the whole factory to ‘F1 Camel’ production from May.
Meanwhile another ‘Pup’ has been specially adapted for dummy deck landing trials. On 14th March 9933 fitted with skid undercarriage and an upward firing Lewis gun is accepted after its first flight. It is reasoned that landing with sprung wooden skids on a wooden deck will offer more braking friction than wheels.
At the end of February when a German mobile bombing force appeared on the Dojran Front in Macedonia help was sought from the Royal Naval Air Service. The Admiral commanding the Eastern Mediterranean agrees to form mobile fighting and bombing E squadron drawing four Sopwith ‘Strutters’ and a ‘Triplane’ from C and B Sqdns at Mudros and Mitylene. Initially at Hadzi Junas in Salonica, E Squadron has the Aegean’s only Sopwith ‘Triplane’ N5431, pictured (below) with its regular pilot Ft Lt Jack Alcock.
On 15th March prototype Sopwith ‘FS1 Improved Baby’ landplane N5 is at Martlesham Heath for testing.(below) Note the large sloping gun hump, inverted fixed Lewis gun on the top wing and detachable rear fuselage break just in front of the roundel.
In France on 15th March 43Sqdn’s Major Dore collects ‘Strutter’ A2411 from St Omer but a piston connecting-rod breaks on arrival forcing a crash landing. There are signs that German troops are starting to withdraw from some of their front lines.
On 16th March 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A960 claims an enemy two-seater sent out of control whilst A2407 forced lands at Auchel with engine trouble but runs into a ditch and is not worth reconstruction. ‘Strutter bomber’ N5134 on loan to the French is shot down and the aircraft captured. It is bundled onto a lorry (below) with landing gear trailing showing its circular Westland Aircraft makers logo and the access panels to the internal bomb racks.
Westland Aircraft are coming to the end of their Admiralty orders for 75 ‘Strutters’ including 55 ‘Strutter bombers’. The internal flat frame to support the vertical bomb racks can be seen inside their bare fuselages.
On 16th March Westgate and Manston ‘Baby’ floatplanes are amongst seven aircraft trying unsuccessfully to catch a German floatplane which inaccurately aims twenty bombs at Westgate airfield.
On 17th March French ‘Triplane’ SP13 claims a photo reconnaissance machine driven down. Kitto & Ward in RFC 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A960 claim an enemy two-seater sent out of control for the second day running whilst 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ 9898 sends two down as does N6169 whilst N6175 claims one and RFC 54Sqdn ‘Pups’ A649 & A669 share another. Eight “Sopwith” victories in one day but 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1097 is shot down in flames and A1111 gets into a spin during a combat and “crumples pulling out”, all four crew are killed whilst the observer in another is shot in the foot. 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6163 is wrecked in a forced landing after combat damage and 70Sqdn ‘Strutter’ damages the undercarriage landing in a cross wind.
By 17th March the RNAS’s recently purchased Sopwith ‘F1 Camel’ prototype N517 is already appearing in 6(N)Sqdn daily reports, the first of this new type to be evaluated in service in France.
On 17th March ‘Ships Pups’ 9926 & 27 arrive by rail at Felixstowe for HMS Vindex’s flying-off deck. Meanwhile, practice landings on the dummy ship’s deck at Grain with “Pup” 9497 have progressed to experiments with transverse wires strung from wooden stands and weighted with sandbags. The images (below) with the hook pulled right back by the first wire illustrates the need for the propeller guard in front of the landing gear. Unless the wire is caught dead centre the aircraft is slewed round. It all has to be done directly into wind hence the portable arrester wire equipment on a circular wooden deck and the wind flag.
By 18th March the first 12 of RFC 66 Sqdn’s ‘Pups’ are at Vert Galand, 3(N)Sqdn make room for them by moving to Bertangles. 45Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A2384 shoots an enemy two-seater down in flames but A883 and A1514 are wrecked in forced landings whilst A878 makes a forced landing after getting lost in cloud. In England an RFC 34 Reserve Squadron pilot is killed in an accident at Turnhill in ‘Strutter’ 7807.
On 19th March 54Sqdn ‘Pup’ A7308 and another share a victory sending a two-seater down in flames. ‘Triplane’ N5438 finally arrives in France two months after being damaged at Brooklands before delivery.
On 20th March 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6169 sends a blue Halberstadt DII out of control whilst 54Sqdn’s A634 landing gear collapses taxying in from an escort mission.
In the Aegean there is a surprise Zeppelin raid on Mudros before midnight. A ‘Schneider’ floatplane is sent out in an attempt to intercept but loses sight of it in the dark.
On 21st March in Macedonia the ‘Strutters’ at Hadzi Junas are escorting Henri Farmans to bomb Xanthi after dropping pamphlets there the day before.(below E Sqdn ‘Strutter’ N5111)
In France both crew of 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A2390 are injured in combat and make a forced landing with the fuel tank on fire before the aircraft is burnt out whilst A2395 is wrecked in a forced landing after engine trouble.
On 22nd March RNAS 3 Wing make their first raid since 4th March dropping 1,560lb of bombs on Burbach in the Saar Valley. Only ‘Strutters’ are used as their new Curtiss R2’s have been found totally unsuitable. 9708 smashes its undercarriage in a forced landing after its engine is damaged in combat returning from the raid.
The Port Victoria ‘PV1’ 3742 has recently been photographed with its latest modification, a four bladed propeller.(below) The ‘PV1’ is Sopwith ‘Schneider’ 3742 which the Port Victoria Experimental Construction Depot at Grain fitted with their own design of high lift wings last year. The under wing roundel is partly obscured by the extreme curvature of the wing section. There are reports that the ‘PV1’ has been flown off a railway truck in the sidings at Grain and might be used to investigate the problems associated with catapulting aircraft.
On 23rd March with the army capturing Bapaume and other villages and a push by allied cavalry, aircraft patrols over the Western Front are even more intensive. 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pups’ are out escorting FE2Bs on this deceptively cold day, at 16,000ft several pilots suffer frost bite to their faces. For one who had refused to smear his face with whale oil it was severe enough to be rushed to hospital and two weeks before he could fly again. ‘Strutter’ 7800 is wrecked when the propeller bursts whilst running up the engine on the ground. 1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5432 suffers a failure of its 130hp Clerget and crashes near the aerodrome. This machine has been used for testing the C P O Pott’s promising “automatic carburettor”.
Over Macedonia a ‘Strutter Bomber’ suffers damage from a surprise attack by a Halberstadt which is driven off by the escorting ‘Strutter’ fighter whilst at the RFC Central Flying School Upavon ‘Strutter’ A1089 is wrecked and its pilot killed when the propeller of ‘Pup’ A6150 hits its tail during fighting practice.
The latest ‘F1 Camel’ photographed at Brooklands with Sopwith workers has a one-piece top wing with centre aperture, twin Vickers guns under a flat topped hump and square engine rear access panels.(above) It is probably prototype F1/3 which arrives at Martlesham Heath as B381 on 24th March for testing for the RFC who have already ordered 250 ‘F1 Camels’. Also on 24th March ‘Improved Baby’ floatplane N4 is test flown by Harry Hawker at RNAS Grain.
On 24th March seven 70Sqdn ‘Strutters’ are attacked by twelve German fighters whilst on reconnaissance over Cambrai and Douai. Both crew of downed A957 are fatally wounded, A956 & A1925 are damaged and the observers wounded one fatally, A2983 is damaged and the pilot wounded, A1907 is hit in the fuel tank and brought down with the crew taken prisoner. German twelve victory ‘ace’ Ltn Renatus Thieiller is killed. 43Sqdn ‘Strutters’ A1903 on line patrol & A2985 on escort duty are wrecked in crash landings, A1903 after an engine failure. Meanwhile 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6174 claims a two-seater and 9(N)Sqdn’s N6177 claims a seaplane at Weduyne. 54Sqdn ‘Pups’ A646 and A652 are turned over by gusts of wind after landing as is 66Sqdn’s ‘Pup’ A7309 whilst A7316 crashes on landing after an engine cowl comes off in flight.
Dover-based Triplane N5473 breaks up in a dive from 2,500ft killing the Canadian pilot. This restarts rumours about the strength of Sopwith ‘Triplanes’ which have been through ‘factor of safety’ structural tests at Farnborough including a test to measure the bending load required to break the fragile looking fuselage structure.(below)
25th March is even worse than yesterday for 70Sqdn. In France since mid 1916, 70Sqdn was the first RFC Sqdn with Sopwith ‘Strutters’, at that time the best two-seat fighter but now out-classed despite some retro-fitting of 130hp engines. Five ‘Strutters’ 7763, A884, A954, A958 & A2986 are lost and their crews killed or fatally injured in a combat with nine enemy aircraft whilst A2984 is wrecked in a forced landing after engine failure. 54Sqdn ‘Pup’ A630 is also shot down this day whilst on escort duty and its pilot killed. (70 Squadron’s Fairey-built Sopwith ‘Strutter’ A954 reported above as shot down here has earlier been photographed (right) with a pair of RFC Morane parasol monoplanes and a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2E.)
On 26th March Lt Alcock runs ‘Triplane’ N5431 into a ditch at Mikra Bay airfield in Salonica flipping it onto its back and breaking its fuselage in two. (below) Amazingly he escapes unhurt and the only ‘Triplane’ in the Aegean is to be taken to Mudros for repair. Many replacement parts will need to be shipped out from England.
On 27th March the pilot of 66Sqdn ‘Pup’ A6163 is killed practising a spiral dive when the wings “fold up” at 50ft. 8(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5447 stands on its nose on landing..
27th March is a disastrous day for the new 130hp Sopwith ‘FS1 Improved Baby’ prototypes. After just three days at Grain the floatplane version N4 is wrecked and may not be rebuilt. The landplane version N5 crashes on its second test flight at Martlesham Heath but is repairable to resume testing as a successor to ‘Ships Pups’.
On 28th March the RFC are strengthened by the arrival of 8(N)Squadron ‘Triplanes’ although N5475 overturns in a muddy field after a forced landing. RFC 43 & 45Sqdn ‘Strutters’ A979 & A1086 are wrecked in crash landings. From Hadzi Junas in Macedonia RNAS ‘Strutter’ N5086 attacks an enemy aircraft but is badly shot up.
Since his recent tour and airmail flight Basil Watson has made repairs to his homebuilt Sopwith ”Sparrow” and on 28th March makes a test flight from Albert Park to Point Cook in preparation for a flying exhibition over Caulfield racecourse in Melbourne tomorrow. The flight which includes aerobatic manoeuvres goes smoothly enough and attracts considerable attention on the ground at Point Cook, from men in the camp, some bathing on the shores of Port Phillip Bay and Basil’s father James, who has driven out to pick his son up after he lands. Over the airfield, Basil loops the loop several times and then goes into an almost vertically banked turn when watchers see the plane tremble before the left wing snaps and falls away, swiftly followed by the right wing before the plane goes into a nosedive into shallow water near the shore. (recovered wreckage below) Basil is killed instantly at the age of 23 in Australia’s first fatal flying accident. A witness reports in the Argus newspaper "I should think that, from the time that the wing collapsed to the time that the machine struck the water, about seven seconds would have elapsed".
The editor of Aeroplane C G Grey bemoans the passing of Brooklands’ Blue Bird café with the following words:- “It is reported in the Press that a row of hangars and a canteen in the Brooklands aerodrome were destroyed by fire in the early morning of 28th March, the outbreak having, it is supposed, originated in the canteen. All the aeroplanes are believed to have been saved. The local fire brigade prevented the fire from reaching the large workshops and offices. When one remembers how one smoked, and ran brazing lamps and even engines, and used plain oil lamps in the old sheds at Brooklands, regardless of open cans of petrol, and even pans full of petrol for the washing of parts, it seems a miracle that the whole place was not burned out years ago. And now the poor old "Blue Bird" disappears in flames under a strictly regulated military control. So passes the scene of what were the happiest days in the lives of many of the old hands in aviation.” (Photo below: Blue Bird cafe and sheds pre-war)
On 29th March 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6186 crashes on a test flight before ever going into action and needs repairs.
On 30th March in France RFC 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A2417 is wrecked hitting a hedge after an engine failure on take-off and the following day 70Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A975 is wrecked with a smashed undercarriage on landing as is A980 landing with a failed engine. RNAS ‘Strutter’ N5223 on a reconnaissance flight from Thasos in the Aegean is shot down by Ltn Rudolph von Eschwege near Xanthi and both crew killed. The wreckage makes a sorry sight. (below)
On 31st March nearly 7,000 people are gathered along the route of Basil Watson’s funeral procession through Melbourne and at the Boroondara Cemetery in Kew. His coffin is carried by officers of the Australian Flying Corps along a drive lined by members of the Corps. At the same time as the funeral, the bells of St Paul's Cathedral in his birthplace Bendigo play the hymn Rock of Ages; the fire bell, which had rung on 29th November to alert Bendigonians to his arrival in his homebuilt Sopwith ‘Sparrow’ also rings to mourn his passing. There are many special floral tributes from family and friends, members of the Flying Corps and the Australian Aero Club.
In March for the first time the total of new Sopwith designed aircraft from all suppliers has exceeded 200 : 102 ‘Strutters’, 71 ‘Pups’, 28 ‘Triplanes’ & 6 ‘Baby’ floatplanes. Sopwith’s own output in March is a record 44 comprising 3 ‘Strutters’, 19 ‘Pups’ & 22 ‘Triplanes’. The Admiralty have now cancelled the last 12 ‘Strutters’ on Sopwith leaving them just thirty each ‘Pups’ and ‘Triplanes’ to complete, clearing the way for ‘F1 Camel’ production. The strange Admiralty fill-in order for 20 ‘Daily Mail’ floatplanes has never been started. Despite firm orders for only 50 ‘F1 Camels’, Sopwith knows that larger orders are on the way. With the fourth extension to their Canbury Park Road factory bringing the total floor area in Kingston to 142,000 sq ft, they are planning to almost double their output rate by the middle of this year to over 20 new aircraft a week.
In the drawing office they are finalising the 130hp ‘F1 Camel’ production drawings with a more practical three-piece top wing than the one-piece on the prototypes and with longer ailerons. In the experimental shop they are finishing several machines including the prototype ‘B1’ bomber and ‘T1’ torpedo bomber and an ‘F1 Camel’ prototype with very different tapered wings. They will soon be working on a prototype of Herbert Smith’s next Sopwith fighter, a V8 Hispano-Suiza powered high-altitude machine with its focus on better all-round visibility. The relentless pressure felt by the small drawing office team is captured in another of S Harris’ whimsical cartoons. (below)
The RFC’s pleas for more RNAS support on the Western Front are one factor in the Admiralty signal last week to disband the RNAS 3 Wing at Luxeuil and release its considerable resources especially aircrew. The French plan to continue the strategic bombing of German industrial facilities from Luxeuil and 3 Wing will be transferring some 67 RNAS “Strutters’ to the French including 25 without engines.
Whilst the French authority’s instructions to strengthen certain ‘Strutter’ parts is delaying high-volume French manufacture, manufacture of ‘Strutters’ in Britain is reaching its climax. The Admiralty’s remaining 40 of their 150 from Mann Egerton and Westland are almost complete. The last 150 of the 550 RFC machines from Fairey, Ruston Proctor and Vickers should be completed in the next four months along with an extra 50 just ordered from Ruston Proctor. However with only 50 of the 400 ordered from new RFC aircraft manufacturers Hooper, Morgan and Wells yet delivered, the Morgan order is halved to 100 whilst Wells are now only likely to build the first 25 of their 100. With no more front-line ‘Strutter’ Squadrons being formed many ‘Strutters’ that are being built are going to our allies. 30 brand new RFC ‘Strutters’ purchased from Vickers, Fairey and Ruston Proctor are joining the many ex-RNAS ones in French service. 46 of the first 50 ‘Strutters’ from Hooper are amongst 190 being allocated to the Imperial Russian Air Service. At least 10 new ‘Strutters’ are being allocated to the Romanian Government, 16 to the Belgian Government and 17 to the Japanese.
During March Blackburn Aircraft have finished fitting engines to previously stored ‘Schneider’ and ‘Baby’ floatplanes 3707, 3709, 3765, 3806, 8197 & 8204, 8209 all of which are to go to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
By 1st April for the first time there are more Sopwith ‘Triplanes than ‘Pups’ in naval fighting squadrons in France, 46 against 37, with another 11 and 18 respectively in reserve in the depot at St Pol.
On 2nd April 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A2401 is attacked by five enemy aircraft and shot down by von Richthofen, the crew are taken prisoner but the observer dies of his wounds. 54Sqdn ‘Pups’ A637 & A661 both claim victories, A639 breaks a propeller on a stake taking off from a forced landing whilst N6174 & N6175 crash on landing.
On 3rd April 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A970 claims an Albatros D.III. 70Sqdn’s A2413 is wrecked when a DH4 runs into it on the airfield whilst 45Sqdn’s 7792 with an engine failure stalls on landing injuring the crew. Major Read of 45Sqdn sees the mostly newly trained pilots he is getting as a pretty poor lot and he sends home some “on the absolute edge in rottenness – as pilots”. Many have not been taught to loop, roll, initiate and recover from a spin, fly in formation or use bank angles greater than 45ᴼ. General Henderson sums it up by observing that “the loss rate is high because the training is short and the training is short because the loss rate is so high”.
On 4th April around the Aegean ‘Strutter’ 9748 sends a Halberstadt into a vertical dive and ‘Baby’ floatplane N1018 goes missing on a flight to Thasos from HMS Ark Royal at Mudros. Another ‘Baby’ eventually finds it and it is towed to Thasos by a launch. At home ‘Baby’ 8198 is wrecked after eight months in service at Felixstowe.
Beardmore has now had 39 ‘Ships Pups’ accepted at Dalmuir including 9936, 7 & 8. (pictured below) The subsequent disassembly, packing and delivery by rail to Felixstowe is taking up to three weeks.
It is not so easy to get these ‘Pup’ landplanes out to ships in harbour as it is ‘Baby’ floatplanes. At Felixstowe they are towing them out to HMS Vindex on a whaler with a pair of Short seaplane floats as outriggers before hauling them aboard with a ship’s derrick. Presumably to save weight, 9927 (pictured below) now has just a single rocket rail on each pair of wing struts and provision for an over-wing Lewis gun but it is not fitted.
The Battle of Arras begins on 4th April with mostly Canadian soldiers aiming to capture Vimy Ridge supported by four squadrons of BE2s, a squadron each of FE2s and Nieuport scouts, 43 Sqdn with Sopwith ‘Strutters’ and 8(N)Sqdn with Sopwith ‘Triplanes’. Of 17 other squadrons along the Arras battle front the only other Sopwith Squadron is 70 with its ‘Strutters’. On 4th April 43Sqdrn ‘Strutter’ A2398 crashes on take-off, A2410 runs into a Nieuport on landing, 45Sqdrn ‘Strutter’ A1095 is wrecked on take-off and 1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5439 overturns.
In northern France ‘Strutter’ equipped RNAS 4 & 5 Squadrons originally A & B Squadrons of 5 Wing at Coudekerque are now separated with 4(N)’s fighters at Bray Dunes and 5(N)’s bombers at Petite Synthe mostly for night bombing. “The ‘Strutter’ is a delightful aircraft for night bombing, being so stable and having an adjustable empennage, one can fly hands off ad lib in the quiet, bump free conditions usually experienced at night.” On 5th April 5(N)Sqdn ‘Strutter bombers’ start night raids on a rail junction near Bruge. Several never get off the ground in the mud (below) breaking more propellers. In the first three days at Petite Synthe fifteen propellers are split attempting take-offs in the appalling mud.Most fail to find the target in the poor visibility and bring bombs home. One bombs Bruges.
In the Aegean four ‘Strutters’ of RNAS E Sqdn from Hadzi Junas intercept 12 German twin-engined bombers, pursuing and harrying them for 45 minutes. ‘Strutter’ N5111 is damaged and put out of action.
On the Western Front the first Bristol F2A two-seat fighters enter service. With their 190hp Rolls Royce engines they are a step forward from 110/130hp ‘Strutters’. However, depending solely on their rear gunners for defence, their first patrols are a disaster with four shot down on the first day.
70Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A385 is wrecked in a forced landing whilst A2412 crashes on take-off. 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1073 has its controls shot away in combat with several enemy aircraft whilst on a special mission. The observer is fatally injured and the pilot taken prisoner from the captured aircraft. (below surrounded by German soldiers, two still wearing pickelhauben).
54Sqdn ‘Pups’ A636, A668, A672, A673 & A6166 share the downing of a kite balloon in flames and start a new tactic of low level strafing enemy ground troops on their way home. They hit a cavalryman and his horse and scatter a group of 100 soldiers unloading a freight train. 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ A6158 claims a victory whilst N6209 is forced to land with an engine failure. 1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5436 claims an Albatros victory but N5450 overturns on landing.
By 5th April the Germans have withdrawn from part of their front lines to the 25 miles shorter, heavily fortified Hindenberg line. They have flattened and destroyed everything to leave behind a barren wasteland.
On 6th April the USA declares war on Germany triggered, not least, by U-Boats sinking ten American ships.
Twelve ‘Strutters’ are being added to anti-submarine forces around the western approaches, four each at Prawle Point and Mullion on the southern tips of Devon and Cornwall and four at Pembroke in south west Wales. ‘Strutters’ might be able to go out in weather unsuitable for the existing floatplane and airship patrols.
On 6th April 45Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1075 claims two victims before it is hit by AA fire and wrecked on landing whilst 7806 is lost in combat and both crew killed. A1093 is seen to lose its wings in a collision at 10,000ft with A2381, three crew are killed and the fourth dies of his wounds. A1077 is wrecked crashing after its propeller is hit. There are reports that 70 Sqdn’s 9421 is shot down.
3(N) Sqdn ‘Pups’ including A6158, N5199, N6160 & N6178 escorting a BE bombing formation, attack and shoot down all four Halberstadts manoeuvring to dive on the bombers.
One month after setting out for France RFC 66Sqdn ‘Pups’ go into action driving off three enemy machines from attacking artillery spotting aircraft and shooting one observer out of his cockpit. Meanwhile 54Sqdn ‘Pups’ A6156 & A6158 claim a victory each whilst A6165 gets rather shot up but survives.
1(N) Sqdn ‘Triplanes’ N5422 & N5444 each claim a victory. N5448 is shot down and the pilot killed after being saved in earlier combat by N5444 whilst N5457 is forced to land after combat at 12,000ft and the pilot is taken prisoner. These are the first losses of any 1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplanes’.
On 7th April 8(N)Sqdn ‘Triplanes’ N5455 & N5469 each claim a victory whilst 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A977 crashes landing from gunnery practice. Two flights of escorted 5(N)Sqdn ‘Strutter bombers’ raid Zeebrugge Mole and one has a cylinder blown off his engine by a high explosive AA burst. It jams inside the engine cowl but with a strong following wind he is able to glide back to Petite Synthe.
Surviving 100hp Sopwith ‘Schneider’ floatplanes are steadily being deleted, this week it is 3748, 3753 & 3791.
Prototype ‘SF1 Improved Baby’ landplane N5 has been rapidly repaired. It is at Eastchurch on 7th April when an instruction is raised on Sopwith to fit floats and a split fuselage like the wrecked N4 to continue the sea trials.
On 8th April the controls of 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A2406 are hit in combat during a Line Patrol. They glide down through cloud and crash land near Vimy Ridge, the observer is killed and the pilot taken prisoner. 7779 stalls and crashes on take-off. A8214 is crashed and deleted at the RFC Depot at St Omer after just 4hrs 15mins flying from new. 66Sqdn ‘Pups’ A6155, A7305 & A7314 each claim a victory whilst A675 is wrecked forced landing in a shell hole and A6162 is wrecked after an engine failure. 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pups’ N6169, N6174 & N6182 all claim victories as do 1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5436 and 8(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5458.
Also on 8th April and three days after the previous engagement with German twin-engined bombers over Salonica, ‘Strutter’ N5224 of E Sqdn forces down a Friedrichshafen and the three crew are captured.
On 9th April 8(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5469 claims a victory whilst N5478 crashes on landing and 9(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6201 crashes on take-off.
On 10th April in England 71(Australian) Squadron ‘Strutter’ A1113 suffers a bad crash and the Australian pupil is killed with his instructor from 28 Training Squadron. In France 3(N) & 8(N)Sqdn ‘Pups’ N5184, N5186 & N5187 are all written off in ground accidents, N5184 apparently hitting a plough.
On 11th April Canadian Joe Fall in A6158 claims three victories, the third by throwing his badly shot up ‘Pup’ into a loop at low altitude to get onto the tail of his pursuer. N6166 claims a victory and N6181 claims two. Quite a day for 3(N) Sqdn but N5199 is badly shot up, 9898 is blown over after landing and N5185 is wrecked.
Some RFC ‘Pup’ pilots are still complaining of tail heaviness, apparently accentuated by the introduction of ash for spruce longerons. Sopwith have slightly altered the stagger of the wings, others have gone further and are planning to increase the incidence of the tailplane. They are told that there is great danger of the aircraft becoming uncontrollable in a steep dive and are advised to cut a hole 10-12 inches wide and 12-14 long in front of the rear spar in the centre of the top wing although nobody has tested the effect on performance at altitude. Interchangeability of ‘Pup’ spares is becoming a real problem for repairers in the field. There are variations of 1½inches in the length of interplane struts between Standard-built and Sopwith-built machines and ½inch difference in Whitehead and Beardmore rear interplane struts from Sopwith and Standard ones, all impacting on the length of the interplane wires. It has also been discovered that Standard built engine bearer spares will not fit Whitehead ‘Pups’. Those are arriving with single rudder cables needing to be doubled in the field.
On 12th April French Sopwith ‘Triplanes’ SP10 (F3) & SP19 (F10) jointly claim an Albatros C destroyed and 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pups’ are in the thick of the action again whilst protecting FEs from attack by groups of up to eight hostile aircraft. A6158 claims three victories before getting badly shot up and forced to land, N6171 shares two victories with N6178 and the pilot of N6172 shoots down an Albatross DII before being shot down himself and taken prisoner. Meanwhile ‘Baby’ floatplane 8213 is badly damaged landing at Calshot and will be deleted.
On 13th April 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1100 is damaged landing from a Line Patrol with jammed rudder controls whilst A961 has its engine choke during formation practice and is wrecked. 45Sqdn’s 7774’s propeller hits the ground on take-off and 70Sqdn’s A8210 crashes on take-off with just 2hrs 22mins flying. All but A1100 are considered “not worth reconstruction”. 66Sqdn ‘Pup’ A7305 claims a two-seater driven down whilst A7320 collapses its undercarriage taking-off downhill and slightly cross-wind in another aircraft’s slipstream.
On 13th April the second of the Admiralty purchased 130hp Clerget ‘F1 Camel’ prototypes N518 which arrived at Hendon from Brooklands two days ago arrives at Martlesham Heath for performance testing. (above) Apart from the one-piece top wing N518 appears very similar to the drawings for the 300 production ‘F1 Camels’ already on order from Sopwith and Ruston Proctor.
RNAS 3 Wing at Luxeuil has had its disbandment postponed to allow it to make a bombing raid on the German town of Freiburg in reprisal for recent U-boat torpedoing of two hospital ships. On 14th April twenty five British and fifteen French aircraft make two attacks aimed at the centre of the town. ‘Strutters’ 9667, N5117 & N5171 are all shot down, the three observers are killed in action and the three pilots taken prisoner, one dying of his wounds. N5501 is hit by AA fire and wrecked in a forced landing.
A German analysis concludes that the effect of the comparatively infrequent Anglo-French strategic bombing raids from Luxeuil should not be judged by the material results. “They went some way to shake the morale of the industrial population and had an effect on the output of munitions, but chiefly they compelled the Germans to divert aeroplanes, labour & material to the beginnings of widespread schemes of home defence.”
On 14th April 5(N)Squadron ‘Strutters’ are out early bombing Zeebrugge Mole but one crashes on landing and two land out with engine trouble. 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A970 crashes on take-off after its propeller strikes a ridge. Over the Western Front 1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5440 claims a victory as does 8(N)Sqdn’s N5482 and N5464 claims two. 54Sqdn ‘Pup’ A6168 claims a two-seater out of control whilst A661 is shot up and the pilot wounded. 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6171 is caught by the wind in front of the sheds and overturned but not badly damaged.(below)
On 15th April ‘Pup’ A653 is at Martlesham Heath for performance trials. It has been retro-fitted by the RFC with a 100hp Gnome Monosoupape engine. Like most popular engines the 80hp Le Rhône has always been in short supply, 253 were obtained during last year, 142 from French sources and 111 from W H Allen of Bedford but they are now concentrating on the 110hp Le Rhône. With 250 ‘Pups’ still on order some alternative engines are clearly needed. Weighing 303lbs against the Le Rhône’s 268lbs, the Monosoupape tests show the same climb rate and a slightly lower top speed at 10,000ft despite the 25% higher nominal power rating.
This week the now 300 plus workforce at Morgan & Co in Leighton Buzzard finally deliver their first ‘Strutter Bomber’ A5950 to the RFC having had an order for 200 since June 1916. With only a three month head start on Morgan, Ruston Proctor have built over 200 of their 350 ‘Strutters’ for the RFC and are rewarded on 16th April by a 100 increase to their follow-on ‘F1 Camel’ orders now also amounting to 350 machines.
The first Fairey ‘Hamble Baby’ N1190 arrives at RNAS Grain, it has been built by George Parnall & Co in Bristol.
On 16th April from Great Yarmouth, 9910 is one of the first Beardmore-built ‘Ships Pups’ to go out on a hostile seaplane patrol.
In France 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ is “lost in action” whilst on a reconnaissance mission, the observer killed and the pilot taken prisoner. The pilot of 66Sqdn ‘Pup’ A6170 is injured in a forced landing whilst the pilot of A7321 is unhurt when he forced lands out of fuel running into a barbed wire fence and overturning. Rolled back upright his ‘Pup’ is a write-off.(below)
The 17th April Sopwith Board Meeting fixes the Company Seal to conveyances and assignments of leases for the purchase of 48 to 100 Canbury Park Road, a terrace of twenty-six properties along the south side of Canbury Park, backing onto the railway and immediately opposite the existing aircraft factory. (The current occupiers of these properties include a wardrobe dealer, a tailor, three confectioners, a bootmaker, a cycle maker, a hairdresser and a fishmonger. There is also a laundry and Powell’s Dining Rooms.) It is agreed that there will be an Extraordinary General Meeting 25th April to pass a retrospective resolution that “Directors are authorised to borrow or raise such sums as they deem necessary for the purpose of the Company otherwise than by the issue of share capital notwithstanding that the amount remaining undischarged may at any time exceed the issued share capital of the Company”. Mr H S Musgrave, already Company Secretary, is appointed “Secretary and Organising Manager” from 17th March 1917. Preference shareholders will be paid an interim dividend of 6% per annum for the half year to 31st March 1917. The meeting also authorises powers to apply for patents in Italy, Russia, Argentina and Brazil for seven existing Sopwith British patents, for four of those in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and for two in France and Belgium. The patents involved are 15617/16 to 15621/16 covering ‘Axle Design’, ‘Wind (Air) Brakes’, ‘Empennage Operation’, ‘Windscreens’ and ‘Gunner’s Seat’ plus those for ‘Attachment to Cables’ and ‘Kauper Gun Gear’. There is also approval for the assignment to the company of “Patent 13501 K.F. Relief Valve”.
On 18th April at Grain ‘Ships Pup’ 9901 is tested with airbags inflated in preparation for ditching experiments.
On 18th April Aeroplane journal announces that Thomas Tyrer and Co Ltd are shortly to open a new works on Petersham Road in Richmond upon Thames to cope with increased demand for their Cellon cellulose aircraft dope and dope coverings. “The output will be many times greater than their current Stratford Works”. This is just two miles from the Sopwith Works in Kingston upon Thames.
Photographs (above) have emerged of captured Sopwith aircraft in German markings - ‘Strutter’ A1914 at Alderschof after it was captured last September when the pilot got lost on its delivery flight, ran out of fuel and landed in German territory and 3(N) Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6161 shot down 1st February this year. Both pilots are prisoners of war.
On 19th April 1917 King George V and Queen Mary visit the Sopwith factory in Canbury Park Road with the Maharaja of Bikanir and Cpt Forbes Davison who accompany them in the drive over from Windsor. They spend an hour and a half touring the workshops guided by Chairman Thomas Sopwith, General Manager Reg Cary and Works Manager Fred Sigrist. Most of the photographs are taken with the Sopwith ‘Triplanes’ in the main aircraft erecting shop which runs the full length of the south side of the factory.
There is time to visit the even larger, two-storey component workshops behind, where photographs upstairs show the wing rib shop and large numbers of women at workbenches each with a vice and adjustable height stool. 20-year-old Edith Brockwell who works with her two sisters making wing ribs and whose blacksmith father works in the metal fitting shop says “We are told not to look up, just carry on. But I happen to notice that Queen Mary has long, narrow feet with pointed shoes. She is wearing a lovely heliotrope toque with flowers on”.
With the royal limousine backed right into the factory ready to leave, the royal party are shown the start of the new ‘Camel’ production line and on the spur of the moment Thomas Sopwith asks the King if he would like to see one flying on his way back to Windsor. The KIng agrees and Sopwith leads the way to Brooklands were Harry Hawker gives “an active demonstration of the remarkable capabilities of the machine”.
This same day Sopwith submit plans to Kingston’s Borough Surveyor for a 15,000sq ft timber shed on the site of fifteen of the recently acquired properties backing on the railway line on the south side of Canbury Park Road.
Aeroplane journal continues to publish S Harris’ caricatures of life in the factory. This recent one shows the satisfied proprietor in front of his production line whilst employees struggle and race around, and groups of military inspection officers engage in heated theoretical arguments.
Another recent S Harris cartoon shows the endless benches of a metal fitting shop. On the left a woman files gently whilst the massive filer opposite her whistles loudly in a cloud of sparks. On the other bench the puzzled worker with the red hot saw has the blade teeth the wrong way round. In the foreground workers carry a tub of fittings for inspection and another returns, empty tub on head, with just one good one. They all need to watch out for the man with the red hot soldering iron. A shop-boy is accurate with his pea-shooter, another is keeping a look out on top of the locked office whilst the foreman has a quiet snooze and a smoke.
In Melbourne on 19th April the Coroner asks James Watson whether he has a theory on what happened to cause his son Basil Watson’s homebuilt Sopwith ‘Sparrow” to fail. He replies "We discovered that one of the main clips of the centre plane had given away. Extra wires had been attached to strengthen the centre plane, and I have come to the conclusion that if the eye bolt had not been put though the clip, and the lug which was put there for the purpose had been used, the centre plane would not have lifted". Once the clip broke the wires slackened and there was no hope. The Coroner records a verdict of Accidental Death.
On 19th April at Port Said EI&ESS ‘Baby’ N1028 is damaged in a collision. In bad weather in France ‘Strutters’ 7762 & A971 are wrecked as is new ‘Triplane’ N5362 just two days from arriving at Chingford.
On 20th April 43Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1098 is hit by ground fire, both crew are wounded and taken prisoner. 7791 crashes near Calais on delivery from England whilst 1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5459 is wrecked in a collision with an RE8 whilst taking-off at Bellevue.
On 21st April 5(N)Sqdn ‘Strutter’ 9395 is wrecked. 3(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ N6169 claims a DFW and an Albatros, N6182 & N6203 an Albatros each and N6208 a two-seater. 8(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5458 sends an Albatros DIII with wings folding and breaking off, N5469 claims a Halberstad DII whilst 10(N)Sqdn’s N5357 is damaged landing.
French ‘Triplane’ SP12(F2) disturbed by a violent gust of wind from the surrounding dunes, bursts a tyre, collapsing the landing gear damaging the machine beyond repair The following day the same happens to SP9(F1). (below left with the pilot still in his cockpit)
On 22nd April in the Aegean ‘Strutter’ N5108 is shot down, Von Eschweger’s fourth victory. (above right) The mechanic/observer in E Flight’s N5087 is wounded in combat on a raid on troop bivouacs.
In France 5(N)Sqdn ‘Strutter’ 9376 forced lands in Zeeland with an engine failure and the pilot is interned by the Dutch. 43Sqdn’s ‘Pup’ A2388 is wrecked on the ground by a propeller burst. 66Sqdn’s ‘Pup’ A7303 claims an Albatros as do 3(N)Sqdn’s N6160 & N6171, 1(N)Sqdn’s ‘Triplanes’ N5436 & N5444 and 8(N)Sqdn’s N5477.
At home N1033, one of the latest Blackburn-built ‘Baby’ floatplanes with a revised wing section was delivered to the new RNAS anti-submarine station at Milford Haven yesterday. (above) Today it banks on take-off and strikes a cliff, the pilot being badly burnt when the two 16lb bombs underneath him explode.
On 23rd April ‘Baby’ 8171 is shot down six miles North East of Dunkirk. 70Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A878 is wrecked in a crash landing. 4(N)Sqdn ‘Pup’ 9929 also forced lands whilst 66Sqdn’s A663 claims two Albatros victories and A7303 & A7329 one each. 3(N)Sqdn’s ‘Pups’ N6179 & N6208 claim two Albatros each, N5194, N6160, N6171, N6181, N6194, N6202 & N6205 one each whilst N6169 shares one with N6182 & N6208. N6181 ‘Happy’ also forces a twin engined Gotha bomber down and the crew are captured. 1(N)Sqdn’s ‘Triplanes’ N5426 & N5436 claim an Albatros each but N5356 hits a tree and N5432 crashes after an engine failure.
On 24th April 70Sqdn ‘Strutter’ A1002 goes down in flames killing the crew and 43Sqdn's A1076 crashes on take-off. 54Sqdn ‘Pup’ A669 stands on its nose and falls on its back when civilian helpers run away from holding back the machine the moment the engine re-starts whilst A7312 claims an Albatros, 3(N)Sqdn’s N6169 shares one with N6184 & N6208 and 4(N)Sqdn’s N6200 claims Fokker DII. 66Sqdn ‘Pup’ A670 is damaged forced landing, A6152 & A7305 are badly shot-up whilst the wounded pilot of A6175 is taken prisoner after being brought down with damaged engine and his controls shot away. (below, note all ailerons hanging down)
1(N)Sqdn ‘Triplane’ N5440 claims two Albatros and N5436 claims one as does 8(N)Sqdn’s N5460. N5469 claims an Aviatik but N5467 is shot down by three Albatros and the pilot killed. French ‘Triplanes’ SP10 & SP16 share a victory near Nieuport. At home HMS Campania’s ‘Baby’ 8172 is wrecked.
Over the past week as RNAS 3 Wing end their strategic bombing mission at Luxeuil they have transferred fifty-eight more of their ‘Strutters’ mostly bombers to the French. (above) Twenty-five are without engines.
Photographs courtesy of Brooklands Museum, RAF Museum, Fleet Air Ar Museum, National Archives and private collections of Mike Goodall, Philip Jarrett and others
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