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Sopwith Camel

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When the Camel entered service in June 1917 with the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps it would play a role in allowing the Allies to regain air superiority over the Western Front. The aircraft would also be used to combat German bombing raids against the UK. The naval variant of the Sopwith Camel would take part in the first attack on a land target by aircraft operating from an aircraft carrier.

Quick Facts
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First flight
22nd December 1916
Entered service
4th June 1917
Total built

Front view
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Side view
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Rear view
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Designed by Sopwith's chief designer Herbert Smith the Camel had its roots in the Sopwith Pup. The Camel's armament of a pair of 0.303-in machine-guns featured a first for a fighter of British design to enter service. This saw the machine-guns mounted in front of the cockpit and thanks to synchronisation gear fired through the propeller. To stop the machine-guns freezing, above the gun breeches a metal fairing was installed, leading to a hump and the aircraft's name of Camel.

Flying from Brooklands, with Sopwith test pilot Harry Hawker at the controls, the Sopwith Camel prototype made its maiden flight on the 22nd December 1916 powered by the 110-hp Clerget 97 engine. With January 1917 seeing the Admiralty order the aircraft.

The Sopwith F.1 Camel had a top speed of 115 mph, range of 300 miles and a service ceiling of 21,000 ft. Armament was two Vickers 0.303-in machine-guns and four 25lb bombs. As well as being powered by the Clerget 9B engine the 110-hp Le Rohne 9J, 100-hp Gnome Monosoupape 9B-2 and 160-hp Gnome Monosoupape 9N were also used.

June 1917 saw the Camel enter service, first with No. 4 Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service on the 4th and with No. 7 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps on the 27th who were both based in France at the time. During its service with the RFC, which became the Royal Air Force on the 1st April 1918, in the First World War (1914 – 1918) the Sopwith Camel took part in a number of operations. These included the Battle of Passchendaele (31st July 1917 - 10th November 1917), the German Spring Offensive (21st March 1918 - 18th July 1918) and the Battle of the Sambre (4th November 1918), which was one of the last Allied offensives of the war. A small number of squadrons were also sent to Italy.

Sopwith Camels would also serve on the Home Front from July 1917. This was as a result of the daylight bombing campaign being undertaken by the Imperial German Air Service Gotha bombers. The 25th May 1917 had seen the Gothas undertake their first operation when they bombed London, killing 95 people and injuring 195. Britain's Home Defence faced a new threat which eventually saw the creation of the London Air Defence Area. Camels from both the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps would serve with Home Defence and during the three daylight Gotha raids that occurred during July and August 1917 flew 84 sorties. With losses increasing from September 1917 the Gothas would operate at night.

The Camel was also used as a night fighter and to improve its effectiveness it underwent some modifications which would lead to the aircraft being nicknamed the Sopwith Comic. The first change saw the pair of Vickers machine-guns in front of the cockpit removed and two Lewis machine-guns mounted on the top wing. The second change saw the fuel tank moved forward to accommodate the pilots seat being moved back by around 12 inches. The Camel was also employed in the ground attack role and in the hands of No. 151 Squadron carried out night intruder sorties targeting German airfields.

The Royal Naval Air Service used a naval version known as the Sopwith 2F.1 Camel. With a reduced wingspan and powered by a 150-hp Bentley BR.1 engine it had a top speed of 124 mph with a range of 300 miles. Armament differed to the land based variant. This saw one Vickers machine-gun in front of the cockpit and one Lewis machine-gun mounted on the top wing. It was a RNAS 2F.1 Camel that shot down the last Zeppelin of the First World War. On the 11th August 1918, and flown by Lieutenant Stuart Douglas Culley, the aircraft took off from Thorneycraft Seaplane Lighter H5 in the North Sea, which HMS Redoubt was towing, and intercepted Zeppelin L53 shooting it down. For this he was awarded a DSO.

When, on the 19th July 1918, seven Royal Naval Air Service 2F.1 Camels took off from HMS Furious (47) to take part in the Tondern raid, targeting an airship base, it became the first time an attack had been carried out by aircraft operating from a carrier. Damage as a result of the attack included airship sheds damaged and two Zeppelins, L.54 and L.60, destroyed. The RNAS also tested a 2F.1 Camel as a parasite fighter mounted below Airship R23. The idea was the aircraft would be launched when the airship came under attack. However this idea never went any further using the Camel after a series of trials.

The Sopwith Camel also served with other air forces including the United States Army Air Service, five units, Aviation Militaire Belge, 3 squadrons, and the Australian Flying Corps, 4 units.

By the time the First World War ended on the 11th November 1918 1,294 enemy aircraft had been shot down by the Camel. In total 5,490 were produced with the Royal Air Force retiring their last example in January 1920.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
F.1 115 mph 300 miles 21,000 ft two Vickers 0.303-in machine-guns
four 25lb bombs
2F.1 124 mph 300 miles 21,000 ft one Vickers machine-gun
one Lewis machine-gun
two 50lb bombs


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See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

F.1 Brooklands Museum
2F.1 Imperial War Museum, London
F.1 Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre
F.1 Royal Air Force Museum, London
F.1 Shuttleworth

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