Sopwith Camel

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RAF Sopwith Camel.jpg
Sopwith Camel
Role Biplane fighter
Manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company
Designer Herbert Smith[1]
First flight 22 December 1916
Introduction June 1917
Retired January 1920
Primary users Royal Flying Corps
Royal Naval Air Service
Royal Air Force
Number built 5,490

The Sopwith Camel was a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter introduced on the Western Front in 1917. Manufactured by the Sopwith Aviation Company, it had a heavy, powerful rotary engine, and concentrated fire from twin synchronized machine guns. Though difficult to handle, to an experienced pilot it provided very good manoeuvrability. An excellent fighter, the Camel was credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied fighter of the conflict. It also served as a ground-attack aircraft, especially towards the end of the war, by which point it was outclassed in the air-to-air role.

Design and development

Replica Sopwith Camel showing internal structure

The Camel's predecessor, the Sopwith Pup, was no longer competitive against newer German fighters, such as the Albatros D.III, and thus the Camel was developed specifically to replace the Pup,[2] as well as the Nieuport 17s that had been purchased from the French as an interim measure. It was recognised that the new fighter would need to be faster and have a heavier armament. To meet this demand, the chief designer of the Camel, Herbert Smith, opted to develop a biplane, designated the Sopwith F.1.[3]

The "Big Pup", as it was known early in its development, and powered by a 110 hp Clerget 9Z was first flown by Harry Hawker at Brooklands on 22 December 1916. Its design was conventional for its time, featuring a wooden box-like fuselage structure, an aluminium engine cowling, plywood panels around the cockpit, and fabric-covered fuselage, wings and tail. While having some clear similarities with the Pup, it had a noticeably bulkier fuselage.[3] For the first time on an operational British-designed fighter, two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns were mounted directly in front of the cockpit, synchronised to fire forwards through the propeller disc. A metal fairing over the gun breeches, intended to protect the guns from freezing at altitude, created a "hump", and it was this feature that led pilots to refer to the aircraft by the name Camel. This was never an official designation for the aircraft however.[2][4]

Harry Cobby sitting in the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel

The bottom wing was rigged with 3° dihedral but the top wing had no dihedral, so that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots; this change was made at the suggestion of Fred Sigrist, the Sopwith works manager, in order to simplify construction. The upper wing features a distinctive central cutout section to improve upwards visibility for the pilot.[5] Early productions Camels were powered by a single rotary engine, most commonly either the Clerget 9B or the Bentley BR1.[6] To avoid a production bottleneck being imposed on the aircraft by a potential engine shortage, other engines were also used.[7]

In May 1917, the first production contract for an initial batch of 250 Camels was issued by the War Office.[8] During 1917, 1,325 Camels were manufactured, almost entirely of the initial F.1 variant and by the time production came to an end, approximately 5,490 Camels of all types had been built.[9] In early 1918, production of the navalised "Ship's" Camel 2F.1 began.[10]

Unlike the preceding Pup and Triplane, the Camel was considered to be difficult to fly.[11] The type owed both its extreme manoeuvrability and its difficult handling to the close placement of the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank (some 90% of the aircraft's weight) within the front seven feet of the aircraft, and to the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotary engine, although other types with similar configurations did not suffer the same problem. The Camel soon gained an unfortunate reputation with pilots. Many crashed on take-off when the load of fuel usually carried pushed the centre of gravity beyond the rearmost safe limits. In level flight, the Camel was markedly tail-heavy. Unlike the Sopwith Triplane, the Camel lacked a variable incidence tailplane, so that the pilot had to apply constant forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a level attitude at low altitude. The aircraft could be rigged so that at higher altitudes it could be flown "hands off." A stall immediately resulted in a dangerous spin. A two-seat trainer version of the Camel was later built to ease the transition process.[12]

Operational history

Western front

Camels being prepared for a sortie.

In June 1917, the type entered service with No. 4 Squadron of the Royal Naval Air Service, near Dunkirk. Its first combat flight and reportedly its first victory claim were both made on 4 July 1917.[8] By the end of July 1917, the Camel also equipped No. 3 and No. 9 Naval Squadrons; and it had became operational with No. 70 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps.[10] By February 1918, 13 squadrons had Camels as their primary equipment.[citation needed]

The Camel proved to have better manoeuvrability than the Albatros D.III and D.V and offered heavier armament and better performance than the Pup and Triplane. Its controls were light and sensitive. The Camel turned more slowly to the left, which resulted in a nose-up attitude due to the torque of the rotary engine. But the engine torque also resulted in the ability to turn to the right quicker than other fighters,[13] although that resulted in a tendency towards a nose-down attitude from the turn. Because of the faster turning capability to the right, to change heading 90° to the left, some pilots preferred to do it by turning 270° to the right.[citation needed]

Agility in combat made the Camel one of the best-remembered Allied aircraft of the First World War. RFC crew used to joke that it offered the choice between "a wooden cross, the Red Cross, or a Victoria Cross"[14] Together with the S.E.5a and the SPAD S.XIII, the Camel helped to re-establish the Allied aerial superiority that lasted well into 1918.[citation needed]

Major William Barker's Sopwith Camel (serial no. B6313, the aircraft in which he scored the majority of his victories),[15] was used to shoot down 46 aircraft and balloons from September 1917 to September 1918 in 404 operational flying hours, more than any other single RAF fighter.

Home defence and night fighting

An important role for the Camel was home defence. The RNAS flew Camels from Eastchurch and Manston airfields against daylight raids by German bombers, including Gothas, from July 1917.[12] The public outcry against the night raids and the poor response of London's defences forced the RFC to divert Camels from France to home defence, with 44 Squadron RFC reforming on the Camel in the home defence role in July 1917.[16] When the Germans switched to night attacks, the Camel proved capable of being flown at night, and the home defence aircraft were modified with navigation lights to serve as night fighters. A number of Camels were more extensively modified with the Vickers machine guns being replaced by overwing Lewis guns, with the cockpit being moved rearwards so the pilot could reload the guns. This modification, which became known as the "Sopwith Comic" allowed the guns to be fired without affecting the pilot's night vision, and allowed the use of new, more effective incendiary ammunition that was considered unsafe to fire from synchronised Vickers guns.[17][18][Note 1] By March 1918, the home defence squadrons were equipped with the Camel, with seven home defence squadrons flying Camels by August 1918.[20]

Navalised Camels on the aircraft carrier HMS Furious prior to raiding the Tondern airship hangars

151 Squadron Camel night fighters were also intercepting German night bombers over the Western Front, and carrying out night intruder missions against German airstrips, claiming 26 German aircraft downed in five months of operations.[21]

Shipboard use

The RNAS operated 2F.1 Camels from platforms mounted on the turrets of major warships, from some of the earliest aircraft carriers, and from aircraft lighters which were specially modified barges, which were towed fast enough that a Camel could be launched from one against incoming air raids from a more advantageous position that shore bases allowed.

Ground attack

Sopwith 2F.1 Camel suspended from airship R 23 prior to a test flight.

By mid-1918, the Camel had become obsolescent as a day fighter as its climb rate, level speed and performance at altitudes over 12,000 ft (3,650 m) were outclassed by the latest German fighters, such as the Fokker D.VII. However, it remained useful as a ground-attack and infantry support aircraft. During the German offensive of March 1918, squadrons of Camels harassed the advancing German Army, inflicting high losses (although suffering high losses in turn) through the dropping of 25 lb (11 kg) Cooper bombs and low-level strafing. The protracted development of the Camel's replacement, the Sopwith Snipe, meant that the Camel remained in service until after the Armistice.[citation needed]

Parasite fighter

In summer 1918, a 2F.1 Camel (N6814) was used in trials as a parasite fighter under Airship R23.[22]


Camels were powered by several rotary engines.

  • 130 hp Clerget 9B rotary (standard powerplant)
  • 140 hp Clerget 9Bf rotary
  • 110 hp Le Rhône 9J rotary
  • 150 hp Bentley BR1 rotary (gave best performance – standard for R.N.A.S. machines)
  • 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape 9B-2 rotary
  • 150 hp Gnome Monosoupape 9N rotary

Sopwith Camel F.1

  • Single-seat fighter aircraft.
  • The main production version. Armed with twin synchronised Vickers guns.
The Sopwith 2F.1 Camel used to shoot down Zeppelin L 53, at the Imperial War Museum, London. Note mounting of twin Lewis guns over the top wing

Sopwith Camel 2F.1

  • Shipboard fighter aircraft.
  • Slightly shorter wingspan
  • One Vickers gun replaced by an overwing Lewis gun
  • Bentley BR1 as standard engine

Sopwith Camel "Comic" Night fighter

Twin Vickers guns replaced by two Lewis guns on Foster mountings firing forward over the top wing, as the muzzle flash of the Vickers guns could blind the pilot. To allow reloading of the guns, the pilot was moved about 12 inches (30 cm) to the rear and to compensate the fuel tank was moved forward.[23] Served with Home Defence Squadrons against German air raids. The "Comic" nickname was unofficial, and was shared with the night fighter version of the Sopwith 1½ Strutter.


  • Version with tapered wings.

(Trench Fighter) T.F.1


  • Second cockpit added behind normal pilot's position.
  • Weapons removed although hump sometimes kept.


Belgian Sopwith Camel flown by Adj. Léon Cremers with n° 11 Squadron "Cocotte" marking.
 Soviet Union
 United Kingdom
USAS Sopwith Camel
 United States


Media related to Sopwith Camel museum aircraft at Wikimedia Commons

Sopwith Camel at the Royal Air Force Museum

There are only eight known original Sopwith Camels left:[29]


Media related to Sopwith Camel replicas at Wikimedia Commons

Replica of Camel F.1 flown by Lt. George Vaughn Jr., 17th Aero Squadron at the USAF Museum
  • In 1969 Slingsby built a flyable Type T.57 Camel reproduction powered by a 145 hp Warner Scarab engine for use in a Biggles film. It is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton painted as B6401.[38][39]
  • A reproduction F.1 Camel is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft was built by museum personnel from original First World War factory drawings and was completed in 1974. It is painted and marked as the Camel flown by Lt. George A. Vaughn Jr. while flying with the 17th Aero Squadron.[40]
  • The Camel on display at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas is a full scale flying replica built by Dick Day from original factory drawings. The aircraft is fitted with original instruments, machine guns and an original Gnome rotary engine (a rare feature in replicas). It is painted in the scheme of the World War I flying ace Captain Arthur Roy Brown, a Canadian who flew with the Royal Air Force.[citation needed]
  • In 1977, a flyable reproduction was built for Leisure Sport Ltd by the late Viv Bellamy at Lands End. Painted to represent B7270 of 209 Squadron, RAF, the machine which Captain Roy Brown flew when officially credited with downing Baron Manfred von Richthofen, it has a Clerget rotary engine of 1916 and was registered as G-BFCZ until 2003. First seen at Brooklands Museum in January 1988 for Sir Thomas Sopwith’s 100th birthday celebrations, it was purchased by the Museum later that year, can be taken by road for exhibition elsewhere and is ground run regularly.[citation needed]
  • Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome flies a reproduction Camel completed in 1992 with a 160 hp Gnome Monosoupape model 9N rotary, built by Nathaniel deFlavia and Cole Palen. It replaced one of the Dick Day-built and -flown Camel reproductions formerly flown at Old Rhinebeck by Mr. Day in their weekend vintage airshows, which had left the Aerodrome's collection some years earlier.[citation needed]
  • N8343 constructed by Dick Day, is part of the Javier Arango Collection, in Paso Robles, California. Powered by a 160 hp Gnome Monosoupape rotary. It is regularly flown.[citation needed]
  • B3889 in The Vintage Aviator Collection, L.T.D., in Masterton, New Zealand. It was originally built by Carl Swanson for Gerry Thornhill. It is often flown. Powerplant is a 160 hp Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine.[citation needed]
  • A reproduction is on display at the Canadian Museum of The Air in Langley, BC, Canada. Lacking an engine, a full reproduction wooden Rhone R9 130 hp engine has been installed.[citation needed]
  • A reproduction is on display at the Royal Australian Airforce Museum, Perth.[41] The engine is original and the propeller is suspected to also be genuine.[42]
  • A reproduction is currently under construction by the Northern Aeroplane Workshops for the Shuttleworth Collection, England.[43]
  • A replica Camel is being built in the United States by Koz Aero LLC, based on original factory drawings and using many original parts, including an original engine and instruments.[44]
  • Two reproductions are being built in France by John Shaw, one with an original Le Clerget 130 9B engine and the second with a new build Gnome Monosoupe 100 hp engine; both were built to the original plans and as authentically as materials allow.[45]
  • A replica Sopwith F.1 Camel B5577 is on display at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre, Angus, Scotland.[citation needed]

Specifications (F.1 Camel)

Sopwith F.1 Camel drawing

Data from Quest for Performance,[46] Profile Publications[47]

General characteristics



Notable appearances in media

File:Snoopy wwi ace lb.jpg
piloting his
"Sopwith Camel"

The Camel appears in literature and popular media as:

See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. The ammunition in question was the RTS (Richard Thelfall and Sons) round, a combined incendiary and explosive round with a nitroglycerin and phosphorus filling. While more effective than earlier incendiary bullets like the phosphorus filled Buckingham bullet, they required careful handling, and were initially banned from synchronised weapons, both because of fears about the consequences of bullets striking the propeller of the fighter, and to prevent cooking off of the sensitive ammunition in the chambers of the Vickers guns, which fired from a closed bolt - a required feature for guns used in synchronized mounts - where heat could build up much quicker than in the open bolted Lewis gun.[17][19]
  2. Quote: "Under fire from a pupil of Richthofen (the Red Baron), John's Camel caught fire over occupied France. Bayard's last sight of his twin brother was of John jumping out of his fighter feet first. Faulkner also wrote about the Camel (and Sartoris) in his famous story All the Dead Pilots."


  1. Mason 1992, p. 89.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bruce Flight 22 April 1955, p. 527.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bruce 1965, p. 3.
  4. Bruce 1965, pp. 4-5.
  5. Bruce 1965, pp. 3-5.
  6. Bruce 1965, p. 4.
  7. Bruce 1965, pp. 7-8.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bruce 1965, p. 5.
  9. Bruce Flight 29 April 1955, p. 563.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Bruce 1965, p. 6.
  11. Bruce 1965, pp. 5-6.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Bruce 1965, p. 9.
  13. Clark 1973, p. 134.
  14. Leinburger 2008, p. 30.
  15. Ralph 1999, p. 80.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Davis 1999, p. 96.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Davis 1999, p. 97.
  18. Bruce 1968, p. 151, 153.
  19. Williams and Gustin 2003, pp. 11, 14.
  20. Davis 1999, p. 98.
  21. Davis 1999, pp. 98–99.
  22. Fitzsimons, p.521.
  23. Mason 1992, p. 91.
  24. Davis 1999, p. 102.
  25. "9 Bomb Squadron (ACC)." Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved: 19 December 2010.
  26. "17 Weapons Squadron (ACC)." Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved: 19 December 2010.
  27. "27 Fighters Squadron (ACC)." Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved: 19 December 2010.
  28. "37 Bomb Squadron (ACC)."Air Force Historical Research Agency. Retrieved: 19 December 2010.
  29. "Sopwith Camel". Demobbed - Out of Service British Military Aircraft. 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Oman, Noel (16 March 2011). "History Takes Flight: Vintage aircraft sold to pay center's bills". Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Retrieved 28 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "B5747/11 Sopwith Camel F.1". Koninklijk Leger Museum. 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "Lincoln-built Sopwith Camel from the First World War is restored to its former glory". Lincolnshire Echo. 22 July 2010. Retrieved 28 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Ellis 2008, p. 148.
  34. "Sopwith 2F.1 Camel". Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Retrieved 19 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Ellis 2008, p. 145.
  36. "Individual History: Sopwith F.1 Camel F6314/9206M" (PDF). Royal Air Force Museum. 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Aircraft Data A5658, 1917 Sopwith F.1 Camel C/N C8228". 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Jackson 1988, p. 349.
  39. ""Sopwith Camel (replica) ('B6401')." Fleet Air Arm Museum. Retrieved: 14 November 2008.
  40. United States Air Force Museum 1975, p. 12.
  41. Royal Australian Airforce Museum, Perth, retrieved 21 June 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Sopwith F.1 Camel, retrieved 21 June 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. "Sopwith Camel." Shuttleworth Collection. Retrieved: 19 December 2010.
  44. Kozura, Tom. "Sopwith F.1 Camel." Retrieved: 24 December 2011.
  45. "Sopwith Camel Introduction." John S Shaw Aviation, Retrieved: 9 August 2015.
  46. Loftin, LK, Jr. "Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft. NASA SP-468". NASA. Retrieved: 22 April 2006.
  47. Bruce 1965, p. 12.
  48. Butts, D (2000). "Biggles – Hero of the Air". In Watkins, T; Jones, D (eds.). A Necessary Fantasy?: The Heroic Figure in Children's Popular Culture. New York: Garland Publishing. pp. 137–152. ISBN 0-8153-1844-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  49. Murphy and McNiece 2003, p. 87.


  • Bowyer, Chaz. Sopwith Camel: King of Combat. Falmouth, Cornwall, UK: Glasney Press, 1978. ISBN 0-9502825-7-X.
  • Bruce, J.M. "Sopwith Camel: Historic Military Aircraft No 10: Part I." Flight, 22 April 1955, pp. 527–532.
  • Bruce, J.M. "Sopwith Camel: Historic Military Aircraft No 10: Part II." Flight, 29 April 1955. pp. 560–563.
  • Bruce, J.M. "Aircraft Profile No. 31. The Sopwith Camel F.1" Profile Publications, 1965.
  • Bruce, J.M. War Planes of the First World War: Volume Two Fighters. London:Macdonald, 1968. ISBN 0-356-01473-8.
  • Clark, Alan. Aces High: The War In The Air Over The Western Front 1914 - 1918. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1973. ISBN 0-297-99464-6.
  • Davis, Mick. Sopwith Aircraft. Ramsbury, Malborough, UK: The Crowood Press, 1999. ISBN 1-86126-217-5.
  • Ellis, Ken. Wrecks & Relics, 21st edition. Manchester, UK: Crecy Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-0-85979-134-2.
  • Guttman, Jon: "Sopwith Camel (Air Vanguard ; 3)". Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2012. ISBN 978-1-78096-176-7.
  • Jackson, A.J. British Civil Aircraft 1919-1972: Volume III. London: Putnam, 1988. ISBN 0-85177-818-6.
  • Leinburger, Ralf. Fighter: Technology, Facts, History. London: Parragon Inc., 2008. ISBN 978-1-40549-575-2.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Fighter. London: Putnam, 1992. ISBN 0 85177 852 6
  • Murphy, Justin D. and Matthew A. McNiece. Military Aircraft, 1919-1945: An Illustrated History of their Impact. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2009. ISBN 1-85109-498-9.
  • Ralph, Wayne. Barker VC: The Classic Story of a Legendary First World War Hero. London: Grub Street, 1999. ISBN 1-902304-31-4.
  • Robertson, Bruce. Sopwith: The Man and His Aircraft. London: Harleyford, 1970. ISBN 0-900435-15-1.
  • Sturtivant, Ray and Gordon Page. The Camel File. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1993. ISBN 0-85130-212-2.
  • United States Air Force Museum Guidebook. Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio: Air Force Museum Foundation, 1975.
  • Williams, Anthony G. and Emmanuel Gustin. Flying Guns: World War I and its Aftermath 1914–32. Ramsbury, Wiltshire: Airlife, 2003. ISBN 1-84037-396-2.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Sopwith Camel." Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes (Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-641-3.

External links