World War I: The Sopwith Story

Founded at Brooklands, Surrey in June 1912, the Sopwith Aviation Company was the brainchild of Thomas Octave Murdoch (later Sir Tommy) Sopwith. When this failed to make the transition to peacetime products in 1920, T.O.M. Sopwith and Australian aviation pioneer Harry Hawker set up H.G. Hawker Engineering, later to become Hawker Aviation, the Hawker Siddeley group of companies and eventually part of BAe Systems. The Gloster Aircraft Company became part of Hawker Siddeley in 1934.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These aircraft models are currently on display at Jet Age Museum, Staverton, Gloucestershire GL2 9QL courtesy of Mr Robin Kilminster.  “Little Willie” was kindly contributed by Ron Brooks.

 

During the First World War – which saw internal combustion engines challenge the slower, less flexible railway systems of both sides – Shell was the main supplier of fuel to the British Expeditionary Force, sole supplier of aviation fuel and provided 80 % of the British Army’s TNT. In addition it volunteered all its ships to the British Admiralty although its holdings in Romania were destroyed and those in Russia confiscated by the Bolsheviks after 1917. However, proposals to merge Shell with truly British concerns such as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company or Burmah Oil came to nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOPWITH BABY

Founded at Brooklands, Surrey in June 1912, the Sopwith Aviation Company was the brainchild of Thomas Octave Murdoch (later Sir Tommy) Sopwith. When this failed to make the transition to peacetime products in 1920, T.O.M. Sopwith and Australian aviation pioneer Harry Hawker set up H.G. Hawker Engineering, later to become Hawker Aviation, the Hawker Siddeley group of companies and eventually part of BAe Systems.  The Gloster Aircraft Company became part of Hawker Siddeley in 1934.

Developed from the pre-War Tabloid and Schneider seaplanes, the Clerget rotary engined Sopwith Baby bomber first flew in September 1915 and was also built by Blackburn Aircraft in Leeds as well as Sopwith at Kingston, Surrey.

 

WW1_Sopwith_Pup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOPWITH PUP

First flown on 9 February 1916, the Pup’s use of ailerons rather than wing warping made it an agile fighter with an 80 horsepower Le Rhone rotary engine – in this case coupled to a black propeller –  offering power for a good rate of climb.  Although outclassing many German fighters of the time, by 1917 the Pup had been relegated to training and experimental duties, such as the first ever landing of an aircraft on a moving ship on 2 August 1917.

 

WW1_Sopwith_Triplane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOPWITH TRIPLANE

The agile “Tripehound” offered a good rate of climb and high ceiling after its introduction to the RNAS in December 1916 but was slower to dive than its German rivals. Despite this, and the inaccessibility of fuel and oil tanks for servicing, the Herbert Smith designed machine inspired the Fokker Dr1 flown by the Red Baron.

 

WW1_Sopwith_Camel

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOPWITH CAMEL

Another Herbert Smith design – introduced in June 1917 – the twin Vickers gun fitted Camel remains one of the most famous of all Great War aircraft and is credited with shooting down  1 294 enemy machines – more than any other fighter of the conflict.  However, its powerful rotary engine made it a difficult aeroplane to learn to fly.

 

WW1_Sopwith_Little Willie

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITTLE WILLIE

Completed in September 1915, “Little Willie” – or No 1 Lincoln Machine – was the first prototype tracked fighting vehicle and was designed by William Tritton of William Foster and Company to cross a five foot trench.  Its wheeled steering tail was continued on early gun armed production tanks although the American made track unit would be replaced by a rhomboid wrap-around system.

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