Thursday, June 2, 2011

Britain - 1916 Sopwith Pup

Hello and welcome. It has been a busy morning. I spent a while on the Albatros Project working on D.I profiles. I finished three new profiles bringing the number of that class to seven, only a couple more to go for that particular bird. I will post them soon.

I thought it would be good to get away from German aircraft today and post about one of the favorite British planes flown in 1916. Not only was the Sopwith Pup a serviceable fighter, it was the first aircraft used in a carrier based role. It was not flashy looking, but it was an important aircraft when viewed in the context of aviation development.

The Pilot Friendly Sopwith Pup

Sopwith Pup - 1916
Sopwith Pup - 1916

The Sopwith Pup quickly became a favorite with pilots of the Royal Naval Air Service. It was superior to the Fokker D.III and more than a match for any of the new Halberstadt and Albatros scouts. Armed with a single synchronous machine gun, it was lighter and less dangerous than it's successor, the Sopwith Camel.

Although underpowered, pilots liked the plane because it was maneuverable and fast. It could climb and hold its altitude better than any other fighter. In August 1917, the Sopwith Pup was the first aircraft to land aboard a moving ship, the Royal Navy's H.M.S. Furious.

In 1915, Sopwith produced the SLTBP, a personal aircraft for the company's test pilot, Harry Hawker. The SLTBP was a single-seat, tractor biplane powered by a 50 hp Gnome rotary engine. Sopwith next developed a larger fighter that was heavily influenced by the SLTBP.

The resulting aircraft was a single-bay, single-seat biplane with a fabric-covered, wooden framework and staggered, equal-span wings. The cross axle type main landing gear supported on V-struts attached to the lower fuselage longerons. The prototype and most production Pups were powered by the 80 hp (60 kW) Le Rhone rotary engine. Armament was a single 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun synchronized with the Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer.

A prototype was completed in February 1916 and sent to Upavon for testing in late March. The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) quickly ordered two more prototypes, then placed a production order. Sopwith was heavily engaged in production of the 1½ Strutter, and produced only a small number of Pups for the RNAS. Deliveries commenced in August 1916.

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) also placed large orders for Pups. The RFC orders were undertaken by sub-contractors Standard Motor Co. and Whitehead Aircraft. Deliveries did not commence until the beginning of 1917. A total of 1,770 Pups were built by Sopwith (96), Standard Motor Co. (850), Whitehead Aircraft (820), and William Beardmore & Co. (30).

In May 1916, the RNAS received its first Pups for operational trials with "A" Naval Squadron. The first Pups reached the Western Front in October 1916 with No. 8 Squadron RNAS, and proved successful, with the squadron's Pups claiming 20 enemy machines destroyed in operations over the Somme battlefield by the end of the year. The first RFC Squadron to re-equip with the Pup was No. 54 Squadron, which arrived in France in December. The Pup quickly proved its superiority over the early Fokker, Halberstadt and Albatros biplanes. After encountering the Pup in combat, Manfred von Richthofen said, " We saw at once that the enemy airplane was superior to ours."

The Pup's light weight and generous wing area gave it a good rate of climb. Agility was enhanced by ailerons being fitted on both wings. The Pup had half the horsepower and armament of the German Albatros D.III, but was much more maneuverable, especially over 15,000 ft (4,500m) due to its light wing loading. Ace James McCudden stated that "When it came to maneuvering, the Sopwith (Pup) would turn twice to an Albatros' once ... it was a remarkably fine machine for general all-round flying. It was so extremely light and well surfaced that after a little practice one could almost land it on a tennis court." However, the Pup was also longitudinally unstable.

At the peak of its operational deployment, the Pup equipped only four RNAS squadrons (Nos. 3,4,8 and 9), and three RFC units (Nos. 54, 46 and 66 Squadrons). By spring 1917, the type was already outclassed by the newest German fighters and the RNAS had replaced theirs, first with Sopwith Triplanes, and then Sopwith Camels. The RFC Pup squadrons on the other hand had to soldier on, in spite of increasing casualties, until it was possible to replace the last front line Pups with Camels, in December 1917.

The raids on London by Gotha bombers in mid-1917 caused far more damage and casualties than the earlier airship raids. The ineffective response by British interceptor units had serious political repercussions. In response No. 66 Squadron was withdrawn to Calais for a short period, and No. 46 was transferred for several weeks to Sutton's Farm airfield near London. Two new Pup squadrons were formed specifically for Home Defence duties, No. 112 in July, and No. 61 in August.

The first Pups delivered to Home Defence units utilized the 80 hp Le Rhone, but subsequent Home Defence Pups standardized on the more powerful 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape, which provided improved rate of climb. These aircraft were distinguishable by the addition of vents in the cowling face.

Sopwith Pups were also used in many pioneering carrier experiments. On 2 August 1917, a Pup flown by Sqn Cdr Edwin Dunning became the first aircraft to land aboard a moving ship, HMS Furious. Dunning was killed on his third landing when the Pup fell over the side of the ship. The Pup began operations on the carriers in early 1917; the first aircraft were fitted with skid undercarriages in place of the standard landing gear. Landings utilized a system of deck wires to "trap" the aircraft. Later versions reverted to the normal undercarriage. Pups were used as ship-based fighters on three carriers: HMS Campania, Furious and Manxman. A number of other Pups were deployed to cruisers and battleships where they were launched from platforms attached to gun turrets. A Pup flown from a platform on the cruiser HMS Yarmouth shot down the German Zeppelin L 23 off the Danish coast on 21 August 1917.


  1. Bruce, J.M. "The Sopwith Pup: Historic Military Aircraft No 6". Flight, 1 January 1954, pp. 8-12.
  2. Bruce, J.M. "The Sopwith Pup". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 1/Part 2. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1965 (4th revised edition 1976). ISBN 0-85383-411-3.
  3. Bruce, J.M., Gordon Page and Ray Sturtivant. "The Sopwith Pup". Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2002. ISBN 0-85130-310-2.
  4. Franks, Norman and Harry Dempsey. "Sopwith Pup Aces of World War I" (Aircraft of the Aces). London: Osprey Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-84176-886-3.
  5. Robertson, Bruce. "Sopwith – The Man and His Aircraft". London: Harleyford, 1970. ISBN 0-90043-515-1.
  6. Thetford, Owen. "British Naval Aircraft since 1912". London: Putnam, Fourth edition 1978. ISBN 0-370-30021-1.
  7. Winchester, Jim, ed. "Sopwith Pup Naval Fighter". Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes (Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-641-3.


The Angry Lurker said...

That was a fascinating well written piece of aviation history there my friend, enjoyed the pup story.

W. I. Boucher said...

Thank you Fran, I can't take credit for most of it. The article is more regurgitation than actual authorship. The link to my main site has the references and citations used.

Cheers my friend


kingsleypark said...

That's interesting to read that the bulk of the Pups were built by Standard and by Whitehead and so few by Sopwith themselves. Was that because Sopwith concentrated on the Strutter at the time or was it normal for them to sub-contract production to other firms?

W. I. Boucher said...

@KP, It was a fairly common practice. During 1916 Sopwith was producing the One and a Half Strutter, Pup, Triplane and developing the Camel. So they had a very full production schedule. Another side note is the development of the Beardmore W.B.III which was a redesigned Pup. It was a folding seaplane built in 1917 for use on the newly created British aircraft carriers.