3d History

Sopwith Camel - British World War One fighter

The Sopwith Camel was a very successful World War One British Biplane Fighter

The British Sopwith F1 single-seat biplane fighter was introduced on the Western Front in 1917. The F1 prototype first flew on 22 December 1916, powered by a Clerget 9Z rotary engine rated at 110hp. It soon became known as the "Big Pup" as that was the aircraft it evolved from and was intended to replace. There was nothing radical about the new design and it included features that were typically standard for the day: fabric covered fuselage, wings and tail with plywood panels around the cockpit, and an aluminium engine cowling enclosing a large rotary engine. The only departure from convention was the unequal dihedral on the wings. To speed up production the lower wing had dihedral and the upper did not, allowing the upper wing to be made from one piece (in production it wasn't in the end). The main armament consisted of two .303 in (7.62 mm) Vickers machine guns mounted directly in front of the cockpit, synchronised to fire forward through the propeller. A metal fairing over the guns formed a distinctive "hump" that was accentuated by the downward slope of the upper fuselage longerons. This prompted the air service to give the F1 the unofficial name of 'Camel'. There were something like 5,490 produced and they accounted for 1,294 enemy aircraft making it the most successful Allied fighter of the First World War.



1 Clerget 9B 9 cylinder rotary engine rated at 130 hp (97kw)

Wingspan: 8.53m (26ft 11in)


5.71m (18t 9in)


2.59m (8ft 6in)


Empty - 420kg (930 lb)      Loaded - 660kg (1,455 lb)

Max speed:

185kph (115 mph)


6,400m (21,000 ft)


480km (300 miles)

Armament: 2 x 0.303in Vickers machine guns


Sopwith Camel F1 Side Elevation

Sopwith F1 'Camel'


Deliveries began on May 7th 1917. On July 4th five Camels from No 4 squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service were in action against sixteen Gotha's, claiming two as kills. By September 1917 six RNAS squadrons were using the Camel.

Sopwith Came F1 Front Elevation illustrates the lower wing dihedral

The distinctive
lower wing dihedral


The pilots found the Camel to be very different from the docile and stable Sopwith Pup and Sopwith Triplane. It was a very responsive aircraft and, due to the main masses being grouped around the forward fuselage, it had a very tight turn. It was especially fast on a right hand turn due to the high torque of the engine. The right hand turn was so fast in fact that some pilots favoured a 270 turn to the right instead of a 90 turn to the left. In the hands of experienced pilots, such as: Lt. Col. R. Collishaw; Major D. R. MacLaren; Major W. G. Barker and Captain H. W. Woolett,  its outstanding manoeuvrability gave it an edge over its opponents until the end of the war.

Sopwith F1 Camel of Major W. G. Barker

Sopwith Camel of Major W.G.Barker.

Sopwith F1 Camel

The Royal Flying Corps started to introduce the Camel during July 1917, beginning with No's 70 and 45 squadrons. Over 1,300 Camels were delivered during 1917 mostly during the last quarter, the total order for that year being nearly 3,500. By the end of the war in late 1918 the newly formed Royal Air Force had over 2,500 in service.

Camels were issued to the Home Defence units during August 1917. Early experience of flying Camels at night showed that the pilot could be temporarily blinded by the flash of the twin Vickers machine guns. To overcome this problem the fuselage mounted Vickers were replaced by twin Lewis guns mounted on the centre section of the upper wing. To enable the pilot to operate the Lewis guns the cockpit was moved back behind the upper wing. This entailed removing some of the fuselage structure behind the cockpit so that the fuselage had to be strengthened either side of the cockpit making it more cramped than the standard Camel.

In 1918 a specialised ground attack version, TF2 (Trench Fighter), was produced that was armed with two downward firing Lewis guns as well as one Lewis gun mounted on the upper wing centre section.

Loss of trainee pilots through stalls induced by the engine failing because of incorrect fuel mix led to a two seat version, with the second seat in the same position as the Home Defence night fighter version.

Towards the end of the war some Camels were fitted with jettisonable undercarriage and hydrovanes for use in ship launching trails.

The Camel had seen service mainly with British squadrons during the war, but a few had been used by the US Air Service, the Belgian air force, the Royal Greek Naval Air Service and after the war the U.S. Navy and Poland acquired some.