Sopwith Camel

The Sopwith Camel was produced by Thomas Sopwith and his Sopwith Aviation Company in 1916. Designed by Herbert Smith, the Camel was the first British fighter to be equipped with two fixed synchronized forward Vickers machine guns.

The Camel arrived on the Western Front in May, 1917 and went into action two months later. The aircraft quickly achieved a reputation as a deadly trench-strafer. With its fixed guns, pointing downwards though the floor of the fuselage, it could rake enemy troops with fire while flying fast and level above their trenches.

The Sopwith Camel was a difficult plane to fly, tending to spin out of control during tight turns, and caused the deaths of many young pilots during their training period. However, the Sopwith Camel, with its great agility and good rate of climb, made it a popular fighter plane with experienced and talented pilots. It has been claimed that the Sopwith Camel was responsible for shooting down 1,294 enemy planes during the war.

The Admiralty ordered the Camel for the Royal Navy Air Service and they served on four carriers, 10 battleships and battlecruisers and 17 cruisers.

Some Sopwith Camels had racks for four 25-pound bombs installed under the centre fuselage. These planes were used for ground-attack operations at were active at the battles of Passchendaele and Cambrai. After suffering heavy losses due to ground fire this strategy was abandoned.

By November 1918 over 2,500 Sopwith Camels were being used in France and Belgium. A total of 5,140 were built but they were rarely used by the RAF after the end of the war.

Performance Data of the Sopwith Camel

Type

fighter

Engine

130 hp Clerget

Wing Span

28 ft (8.53 m)

Length

18 ft 9 in (5.72 m)

Height

8 ft 6 in (2.59 m)

Maximum Speed

115 mph (185 kph)

Maximum Height

19,000 ft (5,774 m)

Endurance

2 hours 30 minutes

Armament

2 machine-guns

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Norman Macmillan, wrote about his flying experiences in his book Into the Blue.

On September 10th I led five Camels on a patrol over Ypres. We had not been flying long over the lines, and were flying at 14,000 feet, when I saw below us a formation of enemy planes, made up of two DFW two-seaters protected by five Albatros Scouts. I had previously arranged that, in the event of encountering escorted aeroplanes, I should attack with one Camel, while the deputy leader and the other Camels were to remain above to protect our tails from attack. I swung our formation round above them from the north-easterly course we followed and dived for the two-seaters. Brownell came down in station. The remaining three Camels maintained their height.

Down I rushed through the crisp, cold air, watching my Hun through the sights, holding my control stick with both hands, thumbs resting on the double gun-triggers within the spade-shaped stick-top. The observer in my opponents bus saw me and I saw him swing his gun to bear. I saw the double flash of his shots even as he grew to personality in my sights and I pressed the fateful triggers. At the very first burst he crumbled up and fell backwards into the cockpit. My streams of lead poured into the fuselage of the plane around the pilot's cockpit and the DFW tipped up and over sideways and fell tumbling down.

I looked round for Brownell and saw him squarely on the tail of the second DFW, He pressed his triggers instinctively in a long burst. The Hun's tail rose upward. A curl of smoke came from the fuselage and he fell headlong, plunging like a flaming comet. Above us the three Camels kept the five Albatros Scouts engaged.