Friday, February 17, 2012

Russia - 1920 Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe

Red Stars and a very Red Nose.

In spite of a nasty cold I have been busy working up illustrations for Project X. I will be posting some details in March. I have been jumping between the Great War and the Inter-war period. My focus has shifted to aircraft flown by the Bolshevik forces. Research on the era is very problematic due to lack of records and the language barrier. With the passing of the last witnesses to events during World War One the task has become even more challenging.

The Mysterious Bolshevik Sopwith Snipes

By the late war The British needed a replacement for the aging Sopwith Camel.The new fighter to take up the fight was the Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe. Delivery of the new aircraft to the RAF began in the early Autumn of 1918. The Snipe was faster, easier to fly and structurally stronger than the Camel. These traits helped the Snipe become the preferred front-line RAF fighter during the early postwar era.

Documents show three Snipes were known to have served with the Soviet Air Service. One of the unsolved mysteries is how these aircraft were acquired. Records show no Royal Air Force units supplied with Snipes operating in Russia. The same can be said for the Polish squadrons opposing the Bolshevik forces. Two of the Snipes are fairly well known, almost nothing is known about the third example.

The Two Faces of Nelly

The most famous of the Soviet Snipes was serial number E6351 which was assigned to the 1st Fighter Detachment. The pilot G. S. Sapozhnikov had the name “Nelly” painted on the starboard side of the fuselage behind the cockpit.

The paint scheme was basically the standard PC-10 finish with light gray panels around the cockpit and a natural metal cowl, under-sufaces are clear doped linen. National markings were red stars painted over the British RAF roundels. The rudder was still painted in the standard British tri-color stripes.

Sapozhnikov's Snipe was repainted. All of the British markings were removed. The new national markings were only applied to the bottom surfaces of the lower wing. Some profiles show the stars as red, however latest research state they are in fact black. A black Ace of Spades cover the fuselage roundels. The rudder is painted blue with a curved black arrow. Sapozhnikoz was killed in this aircraft when his engine failed on takeoff on December 8, 1920.

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