5 facts about the Sopwith Camel

The most dangerous fighter plane of World War One – for enemy and pilot alike.

This article was first published in the March 2016 issue of History Revealed

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5 facts about the Sopwith Camel
A Sopwith Camel, photographed c1917. (IWM via Getty Images)

With one pilot, two machine guns, four wings and nine cylinders in its engine, no other Allied craft achieved more aerial victories in World War One than the quick and powerful Sopwith Camel.

With the right pilot, it was a manoeuvring masterpiece, as it was more agile than its predecessor, the Sopwith Pup, and its German foes. Several celebrated pilots made their names in a Camel – from Canadian Billy Barker (who shot down 46 enemy craft) to Snoopy, who pretends to fly one while taking on the Red Baron in the beloved Peanuts comic.

To the inexperienced, however, the Camel was a temperamental beast, even a dangerous one. Devilishly tricky to control, hundreds of trainee pilots died when their plane would stall and spin. No wonder the men of the Royal Flying Corps would joke that the Camel offered a choice between, “a wooden cross, the Red Cross or a Victoria Cross”.

Here are 5 facts about the Camel

1) RACKING UP THE NUMBERS

The British bi-plane was credited with shooting down at least 1,294 enemy craft from mid-1917 to the end of the war, while some claim it racked up 3,000.

2) GET THE HUMP

To reduce drag, a metal fairing was placed over part of the guns (it also prevented them freezing at altitude). This looked like a hump to its designers, which gave the craft its name.

3) RAT-A-TAT

Mounted in front of the pilot were two Vickers 0.303 machine guns, carefully synchronised with the propeller so that they fired in between the blades. Beneath the fuselage, the Camel carried four Cooper bombs, each weighing between nine and 11kg.

4) FRONT AND CENTRE

The engine, fuel tanks, cockpit and machine guns (about 90 per cent of the overall weight) was positioned in the first two metres of the craft, giving it a very close centre of gravity. 

5) CLERGET 9B ROTARY ENGINE

The nine-cylinder, 173kg engine could produce up to 130 horsepower. As the torque of the engine was so great, it caused performance problems so that on left turns, the Camel would climb while it would dive when veering right. The engine cost over £900, which was more than the rest of the plane.

 

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