The Sopwith Pup was the predecessor of the Sopwith Camel - the most successful fighter aircraft of World War One in terms of the number of planes shot down. Just like the aircraft that followed, the Pup as specifically designed as a fighter and was used by both the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).
Officially, the plane was called the Sopwith Scout, but as it was smaller than its ‘brother’ - the Sopwith Strutter - it was nicknamed the Pup by the pilots after it entered service in 1916.
Unlike the Camel, the Pup was considered to be easy to fly and so was popular among pilots - particularly those without a lot of experience. However, it was eventually outclassed by developments in German aerial engineering and had to be withdrawn from combat at the end of 1917 when the Sopwith Camel and SE 5 were developed.
The Sopwith Pup was a single-seater pilot, constructed from a wooden frame with a canvas cover. Powered by an 80 hp engine, the Pup had a maximum speed of 110 mph and was able to climb 10,000 feet in 14 minutes. It was also armed with a Vickers machine gun on the front.
The RNAS was technically the first service to order the Pup but it only ordered a few, while the RFC ordered significantly more. A total of 1,770 Pups were built, with more than 1,600 ordered subcontracted out to other aircraft builders.
The first time the Pup was used in combat was towards the end of thee Somme campaign, in October 1916. It was instantly praised by pilots for being light and manoeuvrable. James McCudden was also particularly taken by it, calling it a “remarkably fine machine”. However, the speed of aircraft development during World War One meant no plane was on top of its game for long and the Sopwith Pup was soon being outclassed by German rivals and was replaced by December 1917.
Despite this, the Pup was still considered a good and efficient plane so many of those that survived their time on the Western Front were brought back to Britain and put on the Home Defence duties, while others were used for training in France. Those tasked with the former were also fitted with more powerful engines to give them a greater rate of climb, such was the fear of German aerial attacks following raids such as Operation Turkenkreuz.
The Sopwith Pup has also gone down in history as being the first plane to land on a moving ship - an accolade it claimed on 2nd August 1917. Some were even fitted with skid undercarriages to catch the traps set up on ships decks to stop them. Eventually this resulted in the development of aircraft carriers as the manoeuvre was so dangerous. In fact, the first man to achieve this feat - Lieutenant Commander Edwin Dunning - was killed on the third occasion he tried after his Pup fell over thee side.
After the war ended, many Pups had survived and so were used in the newly formed Royal Air Force as training craft.
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