Sopwith Camel, British biplane of WW1
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Sopwith Camel

Successful and Versatile British Fighter of WWI

By , Aug. 2001. Updated April 16, 2012.

It had wicked torque and killed a lot of novice British pilots, but the Sopwith Camel (5,490 produced) shot down more German aircraft (1,294) than any other Allied plane.

Its name derived from the slight hump forward of the cockpit. Its twin 30 caliber Vickers machine guns enabled it to destroy its (by WW2 or modern standards) flimsy opponents.


The Camel grew out of the Sopwith Pup, a little fighter introduced in 1916, but which was soon outclassed by the German Albatroses and Halberstadts. Sopwith's chief designer, Herbert Smith, began work on the Pup's successor in late 1916, and by December, the prototype "F.1" was ready to fly. Sopwith built several prototypes:

In appearance and design, the plane was not revolutionary. A biplane combining a distinct dihedral in the lower wing with a flat upper wing, it did have a distinctive "tapered gap." The fuselage was a wooden, box-like structure, covered with aluminum up front, plywood-covered around the cockpit, and then fabric-covered back to the tail.

With its center of gravity very far forward (the engine, fuel tank, guns, and pilot were all in the front third of the plane), the aircraft was tricky to fly, but very maneuverable for a skilled pilot. While 413 Camel pilots were shot down in combat, 385 were lost in non-combat related situations, many due to the Camel's difficult handling

Specifications of the F.1 Camel:

Firms that Produced the Sopwith Camel

Camel Units

No. 3, 4, 6, 8, and 9 Naval Squadrons were among the first to receive Camels. On July 4, 1917, Camels of No. 4 Squadron attacked a flight of German Gotha bombers over Ostend, destroying at least one - the Sopwith Camel's first aerial victories.

That same month, No. 70 Squadron of the RFC also received Camels, soon followed by No. 45 and No. 43 Squadrons.

Camel Squadrons - Autumn 1918
Squadron No. Front Airfield Comments
3 France Lechelle -
46 France Busigny -
54 France Merchin -
65 France Bissegham -
70 France Droglandt -
73 France Malencourt -
80 France Bertry -
151 France Bancourt -
152 France Carvin -
201 France La Targette former No. 1 Naval
203 France Bruille former No. 3 Naval
204 France Heule former No. 4 Naval
209 France Bruille former No. 9 Naval, Roy Brown
210 France Boussieres former No. 10 Naval
213 France Bergues former No. 13 Naval, Ray Collishaw
43 - IAF France Bettancourt -
28 Italy Treviso -
66 Italy San Pietro Billy Barker
150 Greece Salonica -
222 Greece Thasos -
44 England Hainault Farm -
50 England Bekesbourne -
51 England Marham -
78 England Sutton's Farm -
112 England Throwley -
143 England Detling -
Victoria Cross WWI: WWI Airmen and Their Aircraft

The RNAS pioneered Sop Camels with their early aircraft carriers HMS Furious and Pegasus. Camels from Furious, in July 1918, bombed and destroyed the Zeppelin sheds at Tondern.

The versatile little planes were used as balloon busters and fighters. When equipped with LePrieur rockets, they were deadly against all airships. At sea, they were deployed from cruisers, battleships and even towed platforms. With Cooper bombs, they were useful as light bombers, and were also used extensively against German infantry in the trenches.

Two U.S. Air Service squadrons, the 17th and 148th, used the Camel in combat while assigned to British forces during the summer and fall of 1918. Such famous U.S. pilots as George Vaughn, Elliot White Springs, Errol Zistel and Larry Callahan were members of the 17th and 148th.

Famous Aces

Among the high-scoring aces to fly the Camel were the Canadian aces: Billy Barker, Ray Collishaw, Roy Brown (who shot down the Red Baron), Donald MacLaren.

Postwar Service

Relatively few Camels served after the Armistice; some flew for Belgium, Greece, and Poland. Camels also flew with "White" British units in the Russian Civil War.

Very few Sopwith Camels have survived into the Third Millenium. One source indicated that there are only seven originals left (not counting replicas).