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A day by day diary of the Sopwith Aviation Company and its products through 1918

Summary of Sopwith's status on 1st January 1918

The Sopwith factory delivered 849 new aircraft in 1917, more than twice their 374 in 1916 and bringing the total number of aircraft built in Kingston so far to 1,462.  The number of new Sopwith-designed aircraft from other contractors in 1917 was 2,902, three and a half times the number built by Sopwith themselves.  The doubling of Sopwith’s own output and this high-volume contractor manufacture brings the number of Sopwith aircraft built in 1917 to 3,751, more than six times the 594 built in 1916 and 72% of all the 5,200 Sopwith-designed aircraft built since the company was formed late in 1912.  The contractors to have built the most Sopwith machines are Ruston Proctor with 350 Strutters and 398 Camels, Standard Motors with 478 ‘Pups’ and Whitehead with 350 ‘Pups’.  None of the other 18 contactors has yet reached 200.

The total number of Sopwith ‘Pups’ ordered has reached 2,066 including 100 ‘SBIII Folding Pups’.  Total ‘Camels’ ordered has reached 2,908 and total ‘Dolphins’ ordered 1,104.  From those totals 1,061 ‘Pups’, 1,525 ‘Camels and 979 ‘Dolphins’ are still to be delivered going into 1918.

Of the 5,200 Sopwith-designed aircraft built so far many hundreds of ‘Pups’ and ’Camels are in service going into 1918 but only 22 of the 156 ‘Triplanes’ survive and just 227 of 1,383 British-built ‘Strutters’.  Only 17 of the 236 ‘Schneider/Baby’ floatplanes originally built by Sopwith have survived but 206 of the 299 ‘Baby’ and ‘Fairey Hamble Baby’ more recently built by Blackburn, Fairey and Parnall are in service.  Sopwith aircraft are in service with the RNAS and RFC all around the British Isles and in France, Italy, Egypt, Macedonia and the Aegean.

Sopwith Aviation have been a prime supplier to the Royal Naval ever since they sold them their first aircraft in 1912 and Sopwith are now by far the most diverse supplier to the RNAS. 

There are 223 Sopwith ‘Baby’ floatplanes in-service in Italy, the Aegean and Egypt and at sixteen locations around the British coast.  An example being ‘Hamble Baby’ N1190(above) at Felixstowe looking quite aggressive with synchronised Lewis gun and large anti-submarine bomb. 

A report on the disposition of RNAS Sopwith “Scouts” at the start of 1918 lists 49 ‘2F1 Ships Camels’, 78 ‘Pups’ & 42 ‘SBIII Folding Pups’, all based in the UK.  The majority of these are at Houten Bay in the Orkneys and East Fortune, Rosyth and Donibristle around the Firth of Forth in support of the Fleet with 9 aboard HMS Niarana and Pegasus.  However there are individual ‘2F1 Camels’ at Grain and Cranwell and 18 said to be “at Brooklands allocated to Fleet duties”.  There are 37 ‘Pups’ at Manston in Kent with 7 ‘2F1 Camels’, 17 ‘F1 Camels’ and 4 ‘Triplanes’.  Yarmouth has 7 ‘Pups’, 5 ‘2F1 Camels’ and 6 ‘F1 Camels’, 4 of those ‘Pups’ and an ‘F1 Camel’ are currently aboard HMS Vindex.  There are 37 ’F1 Camels’ and 2 ‘Triplanes’ at Dover, 12 ‘F1 Camels’ at Walmer and 4 ‘F1 Camels’ at Chingford.   The rest of the 201 RNAS ‘F1 Camels’ are in France with the Seaplane Defence Flight (15), 1(N)Sqdn (12), 4(N)Sqdn (16), 9(N)Sqdn (16), 12(N)Sqdn (16), 12(N)Sqdn (7 plus 11 ‘Triplanes’) whilst 8(N)Sqdn attached to the RFC has 20.(below in the snaoew).   ‘F1 Camels’ with the much preferred 150hp Bentley BR1 engine are concentrated at Dover, Walmer and in France with 1(N)Sqdn, 4(N)Sqdn and the Seaplane Defence Flight.  It is noted that 2 ‘Triplanes’ and 24 ‘F1 Camels’, including 11 without engines, are currently in the Dunkirk Repair Depot.  

The  RNAS still has 89 two-seat ‘Strutters’ and single-seat ‘Strutter Bombers’ in service, 29 in the Aegean, 5 at Otranto in Italy and the rest at Cranwell(15), the Manston War School(12), Eastchurch(7), Yarmouth(4), Dover(4), Mullion(4), Hendon(3), East Fortune(3), Chingford(1), and Grain(1)

Diary

On 1st January 1918 ‘Camels’ B6319 & B6321 each claim a victory shared with B6340, B6354 shares one with B6423, B6447 shares one with B6448 & N6376 whilst B6383 & B6426 claim one each but the pilot of B2513 is taken prisoner after the engine is hit by AA fire.  In Italy ‘Camel’ B6313 claims two aircraft driven down one crashing into a hillside, the pilot of  ‘Camel’ B6414 goes missing in combat and dies of his wounds whilst B2448 hits a tree forced landing after an engine failure. 

On 1st January 1918, eighteen days before his 30th birthday, Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith is created a Companion of the Order of the British Empire “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the war effort”.  Alongside him with that honour is J D Siddeley of the Siddeley-Deasy Company whilst lower down the New Year Honours list among the OBEs are A V Roe, F H Royce and Squadron Commander Harry Busteed who came to England from Australia with Harry Hawker in 1912.

Following a recent successful flight by a ‘Strutter’ from the foredeck of HMS Campania, ‘Strutters’ are to get a new role as the most suitable available two-seat machine for fleet reconnaissance.  It is proposed that 47 will eventually be stationed aboard HMS Campania, Furious, Cavendish and Argus.  With a further 50% in reserve, 50% for training and a wastage of 10% per month, 200 will be needed.  With production lines closed the RNAS will need to acquire most of these 200 ‘Strutters’ from the RFC and/or the French.  They will all have to be converted to ‘Ships Strutters’ with floatation bags, ball tail-skids, lifting slings and possibly hydrofoils. 

From 1st January the company known as Louis Bleriot Aeronautics or Bleriot & SPAD Manufacturing of Addlestone in Surrey becomes The Air Navigation Co Ltd “with no change to managers or staff”.  They have built 100 Avro 504s, 100 SPAD S.VIIs and the first 16 of their orders for 360 SE5s and are joint manufacturer users of Brooklands airfield alongside Sopwith and Martinsyde.  Martinsyde of Woking are also building hundreds of SE5s and have just received a first order for 150 of their new 290hp fighter.

On 2nd January In thick mist and cloud, ‘Camel’ B4609 shares a victory with B6423 and B6228 shares one with B6311 whilst B5665 forced lands in the English Channel near Dieppe after an engine failure on a delivery flight from Dover to St Pol.  At home a trainee pilot from Hooten Park is killed in ‘Pup’ B5972 diving into a river after fainting or losing control. 

On 2nd January W G Armstrong, Whitworth & Co are formally requested to install their own design of arrester gear on the rear landing platform they are currently fitting to HMS Furious.

On 3rd January ‘Camels’ B9141 & N6349 each claim a victory, B9143 claims a first one for 54Sqdn, B3929 shares one with B6372 but the pilots of B2516, B5658 & B9131 are all killed in combat and N6531’s pilot is shot down and taken prisoner.  At home, the Australian pilot of  ‘Strutter’ A5964 is killed in a crash at Ternhill,  the pilot of Throwley based home defence ‘Pup’ B5296 is killed in a vertical nose dive whilst B6031 is wrecked at Cranwell and N6117 wrecked at Grain.  The improved Sopwith ‘Rhino’ triplane bomber arrives at Martlesham Heath for official testing and is now displaying experimental serial number X7.

On 4th January ‘Camel’ B5612 claims two victories, B2492, B3821 & B6285 each claim a victory whilst B6318 shares one with three others.  After sharing a victory with three others, the pilot of B6278 is killed in combat as is the pilot of B2413.   The pilot of B2418 is killed after the starboard wing collapses in a dive on a practice flight.  At home the pilot of ‘Camel’ B2510 is killed diving upside down into a river whilst attacking a ground target.   The pilot of ‘Pup’ B5937 is injured crashing from a steep turn on landing at Upavon whilst B5953’s is injured overturning after a forced landing. 

On 5th January in low cloud and mist ‘Camel’ B5422 claims a victory.   At home, ‘Pup’ N6438 makes a first take-off from the platform on the rear of a gun turret on HMS Tiger with just a 29ft run into an 18 knot wind.  The ship is at anchor in the Firth of Forth.  Meanwhile, ‘Baby’ floatplane N1103 is towed into Grimsby after crashing into the sea and Calshot based N1329 is also badly damaged crashing on landing. 

On 6th January three Australian pilots are killed practising formation flying in 71Sqdn ‘Camels’ B2474, B4623 & B5217 when two collide and fall onto the third.  At home ‘Camel’ B5708 is written off in a crash as is Cranwell ‘Pup’ B5979.   The second RNAS ‘Dolphin’ C3785 arrives at Guston Road, Dover and is photographed(below) complete with upward firing Lewis guns alongside three of their four ‘Strutters’.

On 7th January in continuing bad weather ‘Camel’ B6251 claims a two-seater sent down out of control.  The pilot of Upavon ‘Pup’ B5933 is killed crashing from a low spin.  ‘Strutter’ N5639 is lost after an engine failure and forced landing at sea off Otranto.  The Imperial War Exhibition opens in the Royal Academy Central Hall in Burlington House, Piccadilly.  Admission is 1 shilling with proceeds going to the British Red Cross.  There are many models and other exhibits but just two complete aircraft, a Sopwith Triplane and a German Fokker Eindecker.

On 8th January there are snowstorms in northern France

On 9th January 73Sqdn is the latest Camel unit in France, arriving before the snow starts again in the afternoon.  In Russia they have equipped their sole Sopwith ‘Triplane’  with a broad ski undercarriage.(below)

New orders for Sopwith ‘Pups’ have finally dried up after 2,066 have been ordered, including 100 ‘SBIII Folding ‘Pups’.  However large batches of ‘F1 Camels’ continue to be ordered for the RFC.  The latest for 300 on Boulton and Paul brings their total to 850, matching the total ‘F1 Camel’ orders on Ruston Proctor.  Ruston Proctor have just completed their 1,000th aircraft: 200 BE2s, 350 Sopwith ‘1½ Strutters’ and now 450 Sopwith ‘Camels’.   ‘Camel’ B7380 is their 1,000th machine and they have requested permission to paint it in an elaborate colourful ancient Egyptian style scheme presumably suggested by Colonel Ruston, a keen Egyptologist. 

For some months now 9(N)Sqdn have been un-officially decorating their ‘Camels’ even eliminating the cockades on the fuselage.  B5749, for example, has broad light blue stripes with white edging.(below)

Back in England for rest and recuperation at Walmer since early November, many pilots of 3(N)Sqdn have also decorated their ‘Camels’ with individual outlandish colour schemes.  An example is B3858(above) covered in green and mauve stripes with a large Tudor Rose on each wing.  They have just gone back to active service in France at Middle Aerodrome, Bray Dunes and have so far retained these individual colour schemes. 

In France since the end of December (10N)Sqdn have been painting their Camels.(above)  The engine cowlings and side panels are painted in colours denoting which flight they come from, all superimposed with three horizontal white bands.  A flight are black, B red and C blue. They have also decorated the wheel covers.  The Commander of the Army Brigade to which the squadron is attached has ordered all this to be removed but he is apparently being ignored except that such markings are not being applied to replacement aircraft.  In contrast, RFC ‘Camels’ usually only display their official squadron identification markings like these of 45Sqdn in Italy(below) with a dumbbell on the sides and top of the fuselage and a unique aircraft identification letter.

 

On 10th January ‘Camel’ B5600 claims a victory but the pilot of B9163 is taken prisoner after the aircraft is hit by machine gun fire at 2,500ft.  B6282 claims a victory in Italy.  ‘Dolphin’ C3823 makes a forced landing before reaching Lympne to fly on tomorrow to Beaulieu in the New Forest where No.79 are working up to become the second operational ‘Dolphin Squadron.   

On 11th January in Italy 45Sqdn ‘Camel’ B6372 claims a victory but the pilot of B2436 killed and B2494’s wounded shot down when they are heavily attacked escorting RE8s on an airfield photography mission.  

Deck take-off trials continue from HMS Pegasus.  Today ‘SBIII Folding Pup’N6692 makes the shortest run yet, only 33ft into a 30mph relative wind using a “new pattern tail guide”.  However ‘Pup’ 9944 takes 65ft into a 21mph airflow with the “engine not giving full revs”.  ‘Camels’ N6601 & N6612 take 68ft & 63ft into much lower airflows of 10 and 13 mph and drop their tails before getting off.

On 12th January ‘Camel’ B4628 claims a victory shared with B5244 which delivers the coup de grace.  The pilot of B2354 is taken prisoner after AA fire cuts a fuel pipe and he is driven down with his engine shot up by 4 enemy aircraft.   ‘Triplane’ N6303(above) suffers an engine failure and forced landing at Eastchurch en route from Dover to Chingford whilst ‘Dolphin’ C3861 (below) is one the latest from Sopwith to be tested and accepted by Lt Hollinghurst at No.7 Aircraft Acceptance Park, Kenley.  

 

On 13th January the pilot of B5602 is taken prisoner after being hit by AA fire and then shot down in a spinning nose dive.  The pilot of ‘Pup’ B5303 is injured spinning-in out of control at Stockbridge.   ‘Baby’ floatplane N1122 drops a bomb on a U-Boat in the Aegean.  

By 13th January 19Sqdn pilots have collected at least fourteen ‘Dolphins’ from No.1 Aeroplane Depot at St Omer and flown them to their base at Ste-Marie-Cappel where they area endeavouring to master the differences between them and their Spads.  They are recording the performance and today ‘Dolphin’ C3792 takes 3min 4sec to reach 5,000ft, 5min 4sec to 7,000ft and 9min to 10,000ft at which height the indicated airspeed is 112mph.    

On 14th January in France ‘Camels’ B6412 & B6450 each claim an Albatros downed.  At home the pilot of ‘Pup’ B5952 is killed nose diving from a low spin at Harling Road, whilst 9923 is wrecked crashing at Cranwell and A6245 overturns landing in a high wind.  

On 15th January ‘Camel’ B6364 crashes on landing and B6380 makes a forced landing after an engine failure.  ‘Pup’ N6687 returning from HMS Nairana smashes its undercarriage landing on snow at Donibristle. 

On 16th January ‘Baby’ floatplane N1442 from Otranto attacks a submarine on the surface 16 miles off shore.

On 17th January flying from Imbros in the Aegean ‘Camel’ N6365 claims a seaplane destroyed whilst at home the pilot of B5186 is seriously injured spinning-in after stalling in a low climbing turn.

Following the successful flights of ‘Pups’ from ramps on the top of the gun turrets of HMS Repulse last October many other capital ships are being fitted with this simple low-cost form of aerial self-defence.  HMS Renown now has two turret ramps like Repulse and it is not only ‘Pups’ that can use these.  On 17th January a ‘2F1 Ships Camel’ probably N6617 leaves HMS Renown’s forward B turret platform (below)  

On 18th January ‘Camels’ B2451, B6293 & B6403 each claim a victory as does B4629 but it is dived on by five enemy aircraft and shot down out of control killing the pilot.

On 19th January ‘Camels’ B5416 & B6210 each claim a victory whilst B6369 shares one with B6377 & B6447 but the pilots of B2468 & B6208 are killed in combat.  In Italy the pilot of B2303 is killed spinning-in practising formation flying.   The training pilot in ‘Pup’ B6096 from Shoreham is severely injured spinning down from 3,000ft with controls jammed by his foot whilst at Sutton’s Farm ‘Comic Strutter’ A5259 is wrecked crashing on landing and Calshot based ‘Baby’ floatplane N1973 is wrecked crashing from a sideslip.  Two pilots of 79Sqdn from Beaulieu are killed flying their recently received Sopwith ‘Dolphins’, C3800 crashing in a slow turn on landing and C3860 crashing from a spin.  A third 79Sqdn pilot survives a crash landing in C3817.

Meanwhile in France 19Sqdn’s Major Sanday is preparing a very complementary report of his pilots’ views on their ‘Dolphins’ despite only managing 69 flying hours so far due to the bad weather.  He personally flies ‘Dolphin’ C3828 on 19th January(below) but finds the fuel pressure pump not working.  In this cold weather it has blanking plates around the Peugeot-built water cooled Hispano Suiza engine to keep it up to operating temperature.

At RNAS Grain the prototype Sopwith ‘Cuckoo’ torpedo bomber N74 is on trial with full torpedo gear(below) but will soon be going to Blackburn Aircraft at Leeds.  They are taking responsibility for the development of the ‘Cuckoo’ including substituting a 200hp Sunbeam Arab engine for the 200hp Hispano Suiza engine.

Also at Grain is the very similar prototype Sopwith ‘B1’ bomber N50 reportedly now fitted with a rotary Bentley BR2 engine in place of the V8 Hispano Suiza.  By 19th January it is ready for air bag tests.  Despite the RNAS rejection of the ‘B1’ as a single-seat bomber in favour of the DH4, Grain have continued to experiment with it and have decided to develop the design into a two-seat shipboard-reconnaissance machine.  They are building six of these which are to be known as ‘Grain Griffins’ using the 200hp Arab engine.  

Surprisingly, the Sopwith experimental team are currently completing a second ‘B1’ bomber prototype this time for the RFC and to be known as the ‘B2’.  As always they are extremely busy in the Skating Ring experimental shop.  The latest military visitor reports that the first of the six 185hp ABC Wasp radial-engined Sopwith ‘8F1 Snail’ fighting scouts is completely erected awaiting an engine which is promised by the end of the month whilst the 3-ply fuselage for a second highly-experimental monocoque version of the ‘Snail’ is “nearly finished”.   They also have made major alterations to the fourth ‘7F1 Snipe’ prototype B9965 to take full advantage of the Bentley BR2 engine, which has turned out almost twice as powerful as the Clerget originally installed.  B9965 is currently being test flown from Brooklands and the most obvious modification is longer two-bay wings.(below)

On 20th January ‘Camel’ N6639 crashes taking off in the snow from Rosyth football ground.  At Ternhill the pilot of ‘Pup’ B6089 overcome by nausea, loses control and crashes dying of his injuries whilst the pilot of C213 from Castle Bromwich is injured in a mid-air collision practising air fighting.   In the Aegean it is learnt that the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau holed up at Constantinople since 1915, have emerged from the Dardanelles straights and sunk two British monitors.  All available 2(Naval)Wing aircraft are ordered to the RNAS bases at Mudros on Lemnos and the nearby island of Imbros where the cruisers are headed.  ‘Camels’ escort DH4s and a ‘Strutter’ bombing  the ships as a wireless telegraphy equipped ‘Strutter’ shadows them.  A ‘Camel’ claims two seaplanes downed.  Breslau manoeuvring to avoid anti-aircraft shells being fired from Goeben, has her stern shattered  by a mine, takes a direct hit from a bomb, hits more mines and eventually sinks.  Goeben retreats hitting its third mine and is approached at the entrance to the Dardanelles by two bomb-carrying ‘Baby’ floatplanes escorted by a Greek pilot in a ‘Camel’.  They are promptly engaged by ten enemy seaplanes three of which are driven down by the ‘Camel’ but the pilot of ‘Baby’ N1445 is killed shot down in flames.  The pilot of ‘Baby’ N1424(below over supply ships) at a second attempt drops his 65lb bombs but misses the ship and is then forced to land with engine trouble near a Turkish destroyer.  He manages to taxi the machine around the Cape and beach the machine to await rescue.  ‘Baby’ N1201 drops 2x65lb bombs on a submarine spotted 20 miles south west of Lemnos.

On 21st January the pilot of ‘Camel’ B4620 is injured at Beaulieu stalling in a turn after an engine failure whilst ‘Strutter’ A6910 is wrecked in a ground accident with a DH6 at Cranwell.  In the dark at 6pm ‘Camel’ B6378 attacks a kite balloon on the ground in France and leaves it in flames. 

On 22nd January ‘Camels’ B5598 & B6379 each claim a victory whilst B5214 claims two shared with B2530 & B3890 but N6370’s pilot is wounded crashing probably after being hit by AA fire, B9141’s pilot is killed crashing from a spin and B2463 crashes damaged by ground fire.  The pilot of 19Sqdn ‘Dolphin’ C3826 is killed crashing from a dive after practising a loop.   At Cranwell the pilot of Cranwell ‘Camel’ B5672 is killed spinning-in, B5702 crashes damaging wings and undercarriage as does ‘Pup’ B6034.  The pilot of ‘Pup’ C8654 from Harling Road is injured hitting a tree in a forced landing.  It is one of several “new” Pups built by RFC Aeroplane Repair Sections from salvaged and spare parts.   Bombing of the Goeben grounded in the Dardanelles has been hampered by low cloud and mist but now ‘Baby’ floatplanes N1102, N1122 & N1444 go out on a night bombing raid.  N1444 suffers a forced landing with engine failure but is found the next morning and towed by a Short floatplane and then a torpedo boat to HMS Ark Royal at Mudros.

On 23rd January ‘Camels’ B3950, B6241 & B6450 each claim a victory but the pilot of B5663 is killed in combat with nine enemy aircraft when he collides with an Albatros scout and they crash locked together out of control.  There is not much left to see of either machine.(above)   B7184’s pilot is shot down and taken prisoner whilst  B5704 crashes on landing at Cranwell.  In Italy the pilot of B2475 is killed spinning in from 2,000ft on a test flight.  The pilots of ‘Camel’ B2480 and ‘Pup’ B5957 from Castle Bromwich are killed in a mid-air collision.  The pilot of ‘Pup’ B5919 from Beaulieu is injured lost in fog and stalling to avoid a tree.  B2164’s pilot is injured in a turning stall flying from Upavon.  Yarmouth ‘Baby’ N1454 is damaged and capsizes landing at Southwold, the wreckage is towed in by a trawler.

‘Camel’ B2517 is 44 Home Defence Squadron’s second to be modified to a ‘Comic Camel’ with pilot’s seat moved aft and over-wing gun or guns.  Le Rhône engines and parts for twenty more conversion kits have been approved.

The initial report on Martlesham Heath trials to measure the effect of the extra top guns on the performance of ‘Dolphins’ states that a single Lewis  gun with a double drum of ammunition increases the times to reach 10,000ft & 15,000ft by 15% & 18% and reduces the 127½mph & 119mph top speeds at these heights by 5 to 6 mph.  This  will reinforce some pilots’ views that a Lewis gun or guns should not be fitted on normal combat missions. 

The Sopwith design and experimental team continue to develop higher performance two-seaters and bombers to replace the ‘Strutter’ and match their continued success with single seaters.  This takes another set-back on 23rd January when the results of Martlesham Heath trials of the ‘3F2 Hippo’ (below) show it to have good performance fully loaded with four guns, ammunition and crew but not as good as the Bristol F2B.  The report suggests several improvements in cockpit layout, criticises the distance between pilot and rear gunner, heavy lateral control, light rudder and elevator and longitudinal stability requiring weight carefully distributed. 

Some of these issues have already been addressed some months ago in the Sopwith “FR2” two-seat fighter-reconnaissance design project(below) with a Hispano Suiza engine aimed at French orders.  It shows a conventional wing stagger with combined pilot and observer cockpit but this project has not been pursued.

Another private-venture Sopwith two-seater the ‘2FR2 Bulldog’ is presently being modified to have two-bay wings with horn balanced ailerons.  It is to be fitted with the big Clerget engine from the ‘Hippo’ when that returns to Brooklands from Martlesham Heath.  The ‘Bulldog’ is now listed as a contender for the demanding two-seat fighter in Air Board Specification A.2.a which prescribes a 260hp Clerget or 250hp Bentley BR2 engine.  

The Sopwith ‘2B2 Rhino’ triplane bomber X7 with the 230hp BHP in-line engine is finally on test at Martlesham Heath and they are recommending that the private venture licence for four machines be changed to an order.  Sopwith is building the second machine X8 with a Scarff ring-mounted Lewis gun for the bomb aimer/gunner.

‘Camels’ B6218 & B9278 are now in Sopwith’s Experimental Shop being modified as prototype “stop-gap” armoured trench fighters with two Lewis guns angled 45o down through the cockpit floor and the simpler proposal for armour plating, only under the fuselage and around the fuel system.  Sopwith has built a mock-up and is awaiting unhardened armour plates from Firth & Sons which will be drilled and returned as a template for the two hardened sets.  Consequentially Sopwith has now been invited to design a Bentley BR2 engined armoured trench fighter and is proposing a development of the prototype ‘7F1 Snipe’ B9965 with BR2 engine and two-bay wings which has completed testing at Brooklands and arrives at Martlesham Heath today.

Major Sanday’s report on 19Sqdn’s weather restricted first 89 hours flying experience with their Sopwith ’Dolphins’ in France states that his pilots “like the machine very much indeed and speak highly of its performance.  Manoeuvrability and climbing powers are especially notable at height, one pilot looping a machine at 18,000ft.  I am of the opinion it will prove to be an extremely good fighting machine”.  His time-to-height and speed figures do not match the Martlesham Heath tests but with fuel consumption at 10 gals/hour “endurance with average pilots should be 2½ to 2¾ hours”.  He suggest solutions to poor accessibility to the engine for maintenance and requests some significant improvements to radiator, fuel and oil systems as well as cockpit equipment and layout.

On 24th January ‘Camel’ B2527 claims a first victory for 4Sqdn Australian Flying Corps whilst B2447, B6321, B6349, B6378, B6379 & B9138 also each claim a victory and N6356 shares one with three others whilst B3754 crashes on landing.  At home the pilot of B3763 is injured crashing after his foot slips off the rudder pedal.  ‘Pup’ B5365 overturns landing at Hounslow and B5389 overturns taxying in high winds at Upavon. 

On 25th January ‘Camels’ B5414, B5597, B6363, C6702 & N6363 each claim a victory, N6363’s being the first for 13(N)Sqdn but B6348 is shot down and the pilot taken prisoner whilst B9145 crashes on landing.  At home the pilot of ‘Camel’ B4644 is killed in a spinning nose dive as is B7284’s pulling too late out of a dive during gun practice whilst the pilot of ‘Pup’ B5408 is injured hitting a tree after fainting.

On 25th January Ruston Proctor’s 1000th aircraft Camel’ B7380 makes its first flight at Lincoln’s AAP after being photographed(above and below).  Its ancient Egyptian scheme has bright gold feather sunbursts on the wings, a pair of eyes on the cream engine cowl, a fuselage encircled with white outlined bands of light green, dark green and dark blue, two colour undercarriage struts and coloured wheel disks.  The company name is on the nose and wings.

On 26th January the pilot of damaged ‘Camel’ B5219 is injured in a crash landing whilst B5221 is wrecked in a ditch after an engine failure.  At home the pilot of ‘Camel ’ B9233 is killed sideslipping from 50ft during a steep downwind climb whilst the pilot of B5235 is killed after the wings collapse in a spiral dive.

On 27th January the week-long bombing attacks on the grounded German cruiser Goeben in the Dardanelles are halted by winds of up to 90kts.  Without the aerial harassment she is refloated and escapes back to Constantinople.  At home the pilot of ‘Baby’ floatplane fails to return from a North Sea patrol and the pilots of ‘Pups’ B5323 & B6069 are injured in crashes whilst 5(T)Sqdn Australian Flying Corps ‘Camel’ B6433 with their kangaroo insignia overturns on landing at Ternhill.(below being hauled upright)

On 28th January ‘ Camels’ B3809, B6358 & B6379 each claim a victory and B3785 shares one with B6401 & B6408, but the pilot of B5553 dies of his injuries after crashing damaged and C6703’s is wounded in action.  In the Aegean a ‘Camel’ searching for Goeben is hit twice by intensive AA fire.  At home the trainee American pilot in ‘Camel’ B9282 is killed in a crash flying from Shoreham and ‘Pup’ B5307 overturns in a forced landing.  During the evening eight German bombers attack England, three Gothas reach London whilst others attack coastal towns and one of the four 660lb bombs from the lone six-engined Staaken Giant bomber R.12 hits Odhams Press killing 38 people and injuring 85.  In total 8,100lbs of bombs are dropped killing 67 and injuring 166.  On a fairly clear moonlit night one Gotha is picked up by searchlights, chased by two 44Sqdn ‘Comic Camels’ B2402 & B3827 who fire up from either side keeping out of sight to the enemy rear gunner firing down the “tunnel”.  Eventually the Gotha falls on fire and explodes when hitting the ground.  B2402 with two upward Lewis guns and B3827 with one fixed one(below) are firing RTS combined explosive/incendiary bullets. There are 101 other home defence sorties and some interceptions but without result.  A close AA shell burst stops the engine of one ‘Camel’ which hits telegraph wires gliding in to land. The pilot is catapulted out, lands unhurt on railway lines and is aboard another ‘Camel’ within 40 minutes.

On 29th January ‘Camels’ B2438, B2449, B2487, B5640, B6378, B7193 & B9166 each claim a victory whilst B3782 shares a seaplane with B3909, B6407, B6410 & B7186.  The pilot of B5427 is killed when it breaks up diving on an enemy aircraft, the pilot of B3890 is taken prisoner crash landing forced down by four enemy aircraft whilst B9149 is hit by AA fire and the pilot wounded.  At home the pilot of ‘Pup’ B6144 is injured in a forced landing as is the pilot of  ‘Dolphin’ C3856 in a crash landing lost in mist.  In the evening three Giant bombers attack, two bomb London.  One circling in from the NW mistakes Hammersmith Bridge for Tower Bridge killing 10 and injuring 10 people in residential areas between Acton and Richmond.  The Giants get home despite 750 rounds fired at close range by pursuing ‘Camels’ who report many gun problems and some RTS bullets exploding prematurely. 

On 30th January ‘Camels’ B5183 & B5595 each claim a victory, B6401 shares one with B6408 & B6242 but B3857 suffers an engine failure and is wrecked landing in the sea whilst B6386 crashes on take-off with a punctured tyre.  The pilots of ‘Pups’ B5397 & B6145 from Dover and Shawbury are injured in crashes after engine failures.

On 31st January the pilot of ‘Camel’ B7346 is injured hitting a tree forced landing in fog.  ‘Pup’ N6444 flies from HMS Pegasus’ deck on a “wireless experiment spotting for HMS Cardiff” but is soon hampered by engine trouble.

The Sopwith factory increased the output of ‘Dolphins’ by 39% in January to 103 aircraft.  It is little wonder that the resident cartoonist celebrates the effort involved.(above) 

The number of new Sopwith-designed aircraft from other suppliers in January is 380.  These comprise 160 ‘Pups’ from Standard Motors (50) and Whitehead (110); 14 ‘SBIII Folding Pups’ from Beardmore and 393 ‘Camels’ from Boulton & Paul (143), British Caudron (9), Clayton and Shuttleworth (51), Hooper (20), Portholme (16) & Ruston Proctor (138) plus the first one from Marsh Jones & Cribb and the first 15 from Nieuport and General.  There are also 14 ‘Baby’ floatplanes delivered by Blackburn in January and 16 ‘Hamble Baby Convert’ landplanes from Parnall.  These numbers again exclude ‘Strutters’ being built in France.  Nieuport & General have proudly recorded their first 'Camel' deliveries with a photograph of C7 behind Clerget engine crates.(below )  Hooper have also photographed one of their latest machines C1581.(below again)

Sopwith has now lost one of its longest serving loyal employees.  Reg Ashfield has left to join the new Gosport Aircraft Co. working for Percy Beadle on ambitious plans for a range of flying boats.  Local school teacher Ashfield was the Sopwith’s first draughtsman in 1912 and was soon in charge of the drawing office recruiting experienced draughtsmen including Herbert Smith and George Carter.  Hard-driving Smith became Sopwith’s Chief Designer and now with much of his remaining design responsibility taken over by Carter, Ashfield quietly resigns.

On 1st February in thick mist there is no flying in France but ‘Pup’ C234 crashes at Hooton Park.  In Lincoln Major General Sefton Brancker recently appointed Controller General of Equipment on the newly constituted Air Board, addresses the workforce of Ruston Proctor to congratulate them on their achievements.(above)  At the back of the crowd is ‘Camel’ B7380 their 1,000th aircraft.  It has also been posed surrounded by Camel wings but oddly the prevously cream engine cowl and fuselage appear dark coloured.

The latest Martlesham Heath test report on the first two production ‘Dolphins’ C3777 & 78 shows up to 3% differences in performance and notes that their Hispano Suiza engines “have given considerable trouble”.   There is a high priority action to fit reinforced spar boxes to all ‘Dolphins’.  All new machines will have them and replacement boxes for aircraft in service are being issued to all Air Parks and Depots on 2nd February.  It is not clear if this is a result of Farnborough’s ultimate strength sand-bag testing or accident investigations.  Sopwith has also now devised a quick release for the cross-bracing of the centre section of ‘Dolphins’ to allow the pilot to escape sideways if trapped in an overturned aircraft.

Sopwith is now informed that there have been development problems with the first prototype ABC Wasp radial engine so competitors BAT are now getting the second one for their ‘Bantam’ and the third one for Sopwith’s first ‘Snail’ prototype is delayed whilst the crankshaft is replaced.

On 2nd February ‘Camel’ B2461 claims two victories, B6340 claims a victory and a second shared with three others whilst B5428 shares a Fokker Triplane with B9157.  In Italy ‘Camel’ B6423 claims a victory and shares a second with two others whilst B6207 is attacked by three enemy aircraft spinning down and the injured Australian pilot is taken prisoner. 

At home ‘Pup’ N6476 is wrecked landing at Dover while Sopwith ‘Cuckoo’ prototype N74 flies to Blackburn at Leeds to be re-engined with a 200hp Sunbeam Arab after eight months experimental flying at Grain and its recent flight from HMS Furious.   It is now planned that the Sunbeam Arab engine will be fitted to all 150 ‘Cuckoos’ on order from Pegler, Fairfield and Blackburn with Blackburn taking the design lead on the whole project.

An official report on 2nd February 1918 lists one hundred and twelve training squadrons at forty-five different air stations around the country.  This includes fifteen training squadrons with ‘Camels’ and nine now with ‘Dolphins’.  

On 3rd February ‘Camel’ B5243 claims two victories, B2527, B3866, B5432, B6204, B6351 & B6378 each claim a victory whilst B6377 shares a victory, B9139 shares a Fokker Triplane with C6705 and B6430 shares a Triplane with B3781 before the pilot is killed when it folds up after being shot.  The pilot of B6370 is also shot down and killed, B6260 lands in a shell hole after an engine failure, B2419 is badly shot up, B3760 is badly damaged in a crash whilst ‘Dolphin’ C3827 on 19Sqdn’s very first war patrol is wrecked landing after carburettor trouble.  Another of their patrols is attacked by a Camel and Nieuport which open fire on the unfamiliar “hunnish” ‘Dolphins’.  At Montrose the trainee pilot of ‘Camel’ B7344 is killed spinning in whilst the pilot testing ‘Pup’ B5378 is killed when the wings fold up and it crashes and burns.

On 4th February ‘Camels’ B3862 & B5182 each claim a victory but the pilot of C1560 is badly injured landing with an engine failure.  In Italy the pilot of ‘Camel’ B2494 sends an aircraft down before being hit and killed in mid-air by an artillery shell.  

By 4th February Sopwith has photographed the twin downward firing Lewis guns in the cockpit of one of the “stop-gap Camel Trench Fighter” prototypes before it is hidden by the fabric covering.(above)   It shows the gun breaches either side of the pilot’s knees and many other interesting details not least the sturdy ropes of the broad lap-strap.  The first of these ‘TF1s’ B6218 has 5-gauge armour plate under the engine and cockpit, with a deadweight to make up the full weight of 11mm plate.  Its prime purpose is to test the practicality of a periscope-type gun sight.  A mirror for the pilot under the top wing is directed at another mirror at gun angle in the cockpit floor.  The aircraft has been checked out at Brooklands and is going tomorrow to the Armament Experimental Establishment at Orfordness for tests. 

On 5th February ‘Camels’ B5632, B6356 & B7306 each claim a victory and N6379 shares a victory with three others before the pilot is killed when it breaks up diving on an enemy aircraft at excessive speed.  The pilot of B2394 is wounded and with both tanks shot through crashes into a shell hole, C1560’s is badly injured crashing with engine failure whilst B2367’s is injured spinning in after an engine failure.  At Martlesham Heath the pilot is killed after losing control of  ‘Dolphin’ C3779 which has been fitted with a central crash pylon as turnover protection and as a possible different location for a Lewis gun.  At Upavon the pilot of ‘Camel’ B3812 is killed stalling in a turn, whilst B3819 overturns at Manston after a tyre bursts on landing.(below)  Meanwhile Ruston Proctor’s Egyptian decorated ‘Camel’ B7380 flies over Lincoln dropping 5,000 leaflets advertising War Bond Week in March.

On 6th February ‘Camel’ C6706 scores a victory before being shot down and the pilot taken prisoner whilst ‘Camel’ C1552, on loan to an RE8 Squadron for fighting experience, is shot down in flames and the pilot killed.  In Italy ‘Camel’ B5172 claims a victory.  At Cranwell ‘Pup’ 9902 is crashed and damaged beyond repair.   

With Grain now converting the RNAS’s Sopwith ‘B1’ single seat bomber into a two seater as a prototype of their Grain Griffin fleet reconnaissance machine, Sopwith has built a second similar machine ‘B2’ B1496 for the RFC.  It is photographed in snow at Brooklands sometime in the last few weeks and appears almost identical with its 200hp Hispano Suiza engine and internal vertical six bomb rack behind the pilot and fuel tank.(below) 

On a brighter early February day the Sopwith experimental team have rolled-out the second ‘2B2 Rhino’ bomber X8 with its in-line 230hp BHP British engine.(below left)  It also has internal bomb racks, has the advantage of  a forward firing Vickers machine gun and, on this second machine, a scarf ring for a rear protection Lewis gun for the bomb aimer.(below right)  X8 is due to go to the French for trials but X7 at Martlesham Heath is not matching the DH9 in performance trials both of which are suffering from persistent minor problems with their BHP engines. 

On 7th February there is low cloud, mist, rain and strong winds in France.  This continues on 8th February when at Grossa in Italy ‘Camel’ B3840 overturns landing in the mud.  With a damaged wing and no doubt broken propeller it is man-handled carefully back onto its wheels.(below)  At home the pilot of ‘Camel’ B5565 is killed when a wing breaks up whilst flying from the No.1 School of Aerial Fighting at Ayr.  Not far away on HMS Pegasus ‘2F1 Camel’ N6630, after a 50ft flat deck take-off two days ago, has a try with its wheels in troughs into a relative air velocity of 26½knots.  It runs towards the edge of the troughs but gets off in under 2 seconds with the shortest ‘Camel’ run yet on HMS Pegasus at just 26ft.

On 9th February ‘Camel’ B5417 drives down an enemy aircraft whilst escorting a wireless interruption patrol before a tappet rod breaks in the engine and the pilot is taken prisoner after a forced landing.  The Germans photograph it apparently intact except for the missing engine cowl and damaged engine.  It has the latest single white vertical bar marking of 54Sqdn and B Flight aircraft number 11.(below)

The American pilot ‘Camel’ B5423 which went missing on 19th January is also now a prisoner of war.  It too has been captured intact(below) carrying 54Sqdn’s previous identity marking with the squadron aircraft number in front of the roundel and a white bar along the top of the fuselage.

On 9th February ‘Strutters’ A5951 & 52 arrive at Grain from Mullion in Cornwall after seven months anti-submarine spotting to be converted into ship-based reconnaissance ‘Ships Strutters’.

This month Blackburn are delivering the final sixteen of their 191 ‘Baby’ floatplanes.  By 9th February N2121 has gone straight to Albert Docks for an exhibition in New York and twelve others have been crated and delivered.  Six have gone to the RNAS Central Stores Depot at White City to be shipped in the next few days to Calafrana on Malta to serve aboard HMS Riviera and HMS Manxman.  The other six have gone into store at Blackburn’s Brough works “for transfer to a foreign government”, probably Norway or possibly Japan. 

On 10th February it is again overcast with howling westerly winds stopping flying in France.  At East Fortune a fast landing ‘Pup’ swerves at the last moment to avoid a ‘Strutter’ preparing for take-off.  It heads straight through some aircraft shed doors with 4ft of clearance on either side and smashes into three other aircraft.  The pilot is unhurt.

On 11th February Martlesham Heath’s full report on the Sopwith ‘Hippo’ returned to Brooklands last week details changes they had to make in the cockpit layout and considers it to be “very poor” as a two seat fighter with its handling shortcomings and the pilot and passenger unable to communicate easily as they are too far apart.  The ‘Hippo’ is to be officially abandoned as a contender for the BR2 or 230hp Clerget two-seat fighter competition. Undeterred, Sopwith is planning to improve the handling of the ‘Hippo’ hoping for French interest and anyway still has the ‘Bulldog’ in two-seat fighter competition which is currently being fitted with new two-bay wings.

 

On 12th February the weather is still bad in France.  At Grossa in Italy there is much activity outside one of 28Sdn’s large canvas hangars.(above)  28Sqdn ‘Camels’ B6313 & B6356 share the destruction of two kite balloons and three closely parked small round balloons but the pilot of ‘Camel’ B2428 falls into a spin attempting a loop at 1,000ft on a practice flight and is killed.  At Manston the pilot of B5654 is killed spinning-in whilst at Upavon the pilot of B4633 is injured in a forced landing after an engine failure.  At Hounslow the pilot of ‘Pup’ B5355 is injured crashing from a spin after his foot gets jammed in the rudder bar during a loop. 

On 13th February there is more mist and rain in France.  At London Colney the pilot of ‘Pup’ B5942 is injured crashing from 150ft in a flat spin.  At Grain the unique landplane version of the Sopwith ‘FS1 Improved Baby Floatplane’ N5 which became the prototype ‘2F1 Ships Camel’ is wrecked after eleven months in service.

The 14th February is the eighth day of bad weather which has stopped almost all flying over the Western Front.  In the low mist the pilot of ‘Camel’ B5416 hits a tree during an engine test and dies of his injuries.  At home the trainee pilot of ‘Pup’ B2236 is injured stalling into trees from 100ft with engine trouble whilst flying from Wye.

On 15th February mist clears in the afternoon in France.  The pilot of ‘Camel’ B7355 is killed in a spinning nose dive during gun practice into a pond whilst  Dolphin’ B6871 overturns on landing and C3496 is hit on the ground by an FK8.  At home the pilot of ‘Camel’ B7332 is killed turning upwind after an engine failure and spinning in from 500ft.  At Cranwell ‘Pup’ 9936 crashes and B2181 collides with B2208 which is wrecked.  In Italy ‘Baby’ floatplane N1443(below) drops its underslung bomb on a U-boat off Otranto.

 

On 15th February the second prototype Sopwith ‘TF1 Camel’ trench fighter B9278 is rolled out in front of the Sopwith sheds at Brooklands and makes its first flight.  The photographs (above and below) show the two 45o downward pointing Lewis guns through the hardened steel armour plate under the fuselage.  The Vickers gun hump is faired over but it has a third over-wing Lewis gun.  Sopwith’s direct-reading speedometer is attached to the port wing struts.

There are not enough of the preferred reliable 110hp Le Rhône engines for all the RFC’s front line ‘F1 Camel’ squadrons.  To avoid disastrous obturator ring failures their Clerget engines are only given 15 hours life but the 140hp long-stroke 9BF version of the 130hp Clerget 9B engine more than matches the Le Rhone’s performance and production has been switched to that version.  All 9B engines built since September 1917 can be converted to 9BFs simply by replacing the crankshaft and crankpins.   

On 16th February reconnaissance in the first good flying weather over the Western Front for twelve days reveals a very significant German build-up along the British sections with new aerodromes, dumps, sidings and encampments implying a massed attack.  This triggers the new three layer defence plan which might give some ground but should deny them the vital railway junction at Amiens whilst holding army reserves to protect the Channel ports.  A 65Sqdn ‘Camel’ fires at an Albatros which dives away straight into the ground, B5620, B5593 & B5620 each claim two victories, B2432, B2460, B5621, B6400 & B7297 each claim a victory, B9137 shares one with B9195 whilst B6379 shares one with two others.  ‘Dolphin’ C3822 crashes on landing.  At home the pilot of ‘Comic Camel’  B5192 is killed after it breaks up in the air and ‘Pup’ B5903 crashes at Isleworth injuring the pilot.  ‘T1 Cuckoo’ prototype N74 now fitted with a Sunbeam Arab engine by Blackburn Aircraft arrives at Cranwell and newly converted ‘Ships Strutter’ A6918 is tested with a hydrovane at Grain.  Overnight four Giant bombers attack Dover and London.  One damages a wing on a cable of one of the 9,500ft high balloon-strung London defence curtains but survives.  Another drops the first 1,000kg (2,204lb) bomb on London hitting the Chelsea Royal Hospital believing it to be the City.  12 people are killed and 6 injured.  There are 60 home defence sorties including 20 ‘Camels’ some of them ‘Comic Camels’ and ‘Comic Strutter’ A1100, but no effective interceptions.

On 16th February Sopwith are notified that their ‘7F1’ & ‘8F1’ fighters have officially been named ‘Snipe’ & ‘Snail’.

On 17th February ‘Camels’ B2477, B5448, B5649, B7196, B7305 each claim a victory, B5608 shares one with two others but the pilot of B5207 is killed when it is hit by an artillery shell and breaks up.  ‘Dolphin’ C3789 crashes. 

For the second night running there is a bomb attack on London and this time a single Giant bomber dropping incendiaries causes more damage than the four Giants last night.  21 people are killed and 32 injured mostly at St Pancras railway station and hotel.  The 69 defence sorties include 19 ‘Camels’ and a final sortie by 78Sqdn’s ‘Comic Strutter’ A1100, but again there were a few confused sightings and claims of shots fired but no success.

Martlesham Heath’s full report on the Bentley BR2 engined prototype ‘Snipe’ B9965 states that it was tested with an additional top-wing Lewis gun and weights to simulate the full ammunition and fuel loads required to meet Specification A1(a).  In this form it falls far short of the specification in speed, climb & ceiling and has handling issues which Sopwith are to improve by moving the wings back and altering the incidence of the tailplane.  They report that the Lewis gun is too close to the pilot and consider the tall undercarriage too narrow.

On 18th February ‘Camel’ B4630 claims two victories, B5169, B5599, B6417, B7195, B7198, B7203, B7218, B7320 & B9191 each claim a victory,  B5409 shares a victory with two others. B7188 & B7204 are shot up and pilots killed, N6347 crashes and the pilot dies of his wounds, B2499 crashes hit in the fuel tank and the pilot is taken prisoner whilst B5448’s pilot is wounded in combat.  In Italy the pilot of ‘Camel’ B2455 is injured crashing on take-off.  At home the American pilot of ‘Pup’ B735 is killed in a mid-air collision, B6038’s is killed stalling in a turn and spinning-in whilst B2178’s is injured hitting a fence in a forced landing after its modified cowl blew off. The pilot of a ‘Baby’ floatplane probably N1969 is killed over Hamble falling 5,000ft when a wing breaks away.

On 19th February four Dunkirk Seaplane Defence Flight now 13(N)Sqdn ‘Camels’ including B3773 share a seaplane down in flames.  B5421, B7195 & B9281 each claim a victory, B7202 shares one with B6428, whilst pilots of B9171 & B9185 are killed shot down in flames, the pilot of another 80Sqdn ‘Camel’ is wounded by gunshot, B9171’s is taken prisoner and B6212 “Black Prince” crashes. ‘Dolphin’ C3789 crash lands with engine trouble.  In Italy the pilot of ‘Camel’ B5403 is injured crashing on landing.  At home Cranwell ‘Camel’ B5700 crashes near Doncaster.   

On 19th February at Brooklands the Sopwith experimental team roll-out production ‘Dolphin’ C3858 which they have modified for night fighting.(above)   For more stability it has extra wing dihedral and Sopwith’s patented bottle-jack operated variable incidence tailplane but most obviously steel tube roll-over hoops above the wings.  They take the unique opportunity to photograph this machine alongside their other most recent prototypes before the ‘B2’ bomber B1496 and ‘Rhino’ bomber X8 with its Scarff gun-ring leave for Martlesham Heath.(below)

On 20th February poor weather returns in France.  In Italy eleven ‘Camels’ from 28 & 66 Squadrons bomb an airfield causing much damage, ‘Camel’ B6362 claims a victory but the pilot of B5193 is shot down possibly after an engine failure.  The pilot of ‘Hamble Baby’ N1461 on anti-submarine patrol is killed in a forced landing at sea.

On 20th February Dick, Kerr & Co submit their fourth photographic record of progress with National Aircraft Factory No.2 at Ham.  From the North-East corner it is bricked and windows are going in whilst the other end of the same long north bay shows it roofed but with brick walls still being built and no roofs on the other five bays.

Photos courtesy of the RAF, Fleet Air Arm and the Brooklands Museums, the National Archives, via Cross and Cockade and many individuals including Mike Goodall, Philip Jarrett and Colin Owers.