Sopwith 1½ Strutter

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Sopwith 1½ Strutter
RAF Sopwith 1 1-2 Strutter.jpg
Role Biplane general purpose aircraft
National origin United Kingdom
Manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company
First flight December 1915
Introduction April 1916
Primary users Royal Naval Air Service
Royal Flying Corps
Aéronautique Militaire
Number built 4,500 France
1,439 Great Britain

The Sopwith 1½ Strutter was a British one or two-seat biplane multi-role aircraft of the First World War.[1] It is significant as the first British-designed two seater tractor fighter, and the first British aircraft to enter service with a synchronised machine gun. It was given the name "1½ Strutter" because of the "one-and-a-half" (long and short) pairs of cabane struts supporting the top wing.

As well as serving with both British air services, it also saw widespread but rather undistinguished service with the French Aéronautique Militaire.

Design and development[edit]

In December 1914, the Sopwith Aviation Company designed a small, two seat biplane powered by an 80 hp (60 kW) Gnome rotary engine, which became known as the "Sigrist Bus" after Fred Sigrist, Sopwith's Works Manager. The Sigrist Bus first flew on 5 June 1915, and although it set a new British altitude record on the day of its first flight, only one was built, serving as a company runabout.[2][3]

The Sigrist Bus formed the basis for a new, larger fighter aircraft, the Sopwith LCT (Land Clerget Tractor), designed by Herbert Smith, powered by a 110 hp (82 kW) Clerget engine. Like the Sigrist Bus, each of the upper wings (there was no true centre section) was connected to the fuselage by a pair of short (half) struts and a pair of longer struts, forming a "W" when viewed from the front, this giving rise to the aircraft's popular nickname of the 1½ Strutter.[1] The first prototype was ready in mid-December 1915,[3][4] undergoing official testing in January 1916.

The 1½ Strutter was of conventional, wire braced, wood and fabric construction. The pilot and gunner sat in widely separated tandem cockpits, with the pilot sitting in front, giving the gunner a good field of fire for his Lewis gun. The aircraft had a variable incidence tailplane that could be adjusted by the pilot in flight, and airbrakes under the lower wings to reduce landing distance.[2][5]

A preserved Sopwith 1½ Strutter at the RAF Museum, London, showing the W-form pairs of "1½" struts that gave the aeroplane its name, and the centrally-mounted Vickers machine gun

The Vickers-Challenger synchronisation gear was put into production for the Royal Flying Corps in December 1915,[6] and in a few weeks, a similar order for the Scarff-Dibovski gear was placed for the RNAS.[7] Early production 1½ Strutters were fitted with one or the other of these gears for the pilot's fixed .303-in Vickers machine gun; due to a shortage of the new gears some early aircraft were built with only the observer's gun. Later aircraft were either fitted with the Ross or the Sopwith-Kauper gears.[8] None of these early mechanical synchronisation gears were very reliable and it was not uncommon for propellers to be damaged, or even entirely shot away.

The Scarff ring mounting was also new and production was at first slower than that of the aircraft requiring them. Various makeshift Lewis mountings as well as the older Nieuport ring mounting, were fitted to some early 1½ Strutters as an interim measure.[9] The two-seaters could carry four 25 lb (11 kg) bombs underwing, which could be replaced by two 65 lb (30 kg) bombs for anti-submarine patrols.[10]

From the beginning a dedicated light bomber version was planned, with the observer's cockpit eliminated to allow for more fuel and bombs to be carried in the manner of the Martinsyde Elephant and the B.E.12, with an internal bomb bay capable of carrying four 65 lb (30 kg) bombs.[10][11]

Operational history[edit]

In British service[edit]

The prototype two-seater flew in December 1915[4] and production deliveries started to reach the RNAS in February 1916. By the end of April, No. 5 Wing RNAS had a complete flight equipped with the new aircraft. The Sopwiths were used both for escorting the Wing's Caudron G.4 and Breguet bombers and for carrying out bombing raids themselves.[12][13] The War Office had ordered the type for the RFC in March but because Sopwith's entire production capacity was pre-contracted to the navy, the RFC orders had to be placed with Ruston Proctor and Vickers[14] and production from these manufacturers did not get into its stride until August. Since the Somme offensive was planned for the end of June and with the RFC having a shortage of up-to-date aircraft to support the planned offensive, it was agreed that a number of Sopwiths would be transferred from one service to the other, allowing No. 70 Squadron to reach the front by early July 1916, with Sopwith-built Strutters originally intended for the Navy.[15]

A replica Sopwith 1½ Strutter in 1916 RNAS livery, flying at a 2006 air show

At first No. 70 did very well with their new mounts. The period of German ascendency known as the Fokker scourge was over, and the 1½ Strutter's long range, coupled with its excellent armament for the period, enabled effective offensive patrolling deep into German held territory.[16] However by the time No. 45 Squadron reached the front in October the new Albatros fighters were appearing in the Jagdstaffeln. By January 1917, when No 43 Squadron arrived in France, the type was outclassed as a fighter. While the fitting of a more powerful 130 hp Le Clerget 9B improved performance slightly, this came too late to reverse the situation.[17] It was still a useful long-range reconnaissance aircraft when it could be provided with adequate fighter escort,[18] but was one of the types to suffer severely during "Bloody April" - No. 43 squadron alone suffering 35 casualties, from an officer establishment of 32.[19]

Like other early Sopwith types, the 1½ Strutter was very lightly built and its structure did not stand up very well to arduous war service. It was also far too stable to make a good dogfighter, and the distance between the pilot and the observer's cockpits impeded cooperation between them. The last front line 1½ Strutters in the RFC were replaced by Camels in late October 1917.[18]

This was by no means the end of the Sopwith two seater's service. The type's long range and stability were good qualities for a home defence fighter and it served with three home defence squadrons, No. 37, No. 44 and No. 78 Squadrons. Most of the 1½ Strutters supplied to home defence units had been built as two-seaters but many were converted "in the field" to single seaters in order to improve performance. Some of these single-seaters were similar to the bomber variant but others were of different type, known (like similarly adapted Sopwith Camels) as the Sopwith Comic. The cockpit was moved back behind the wings and one or two Lewis guns, either mounted on Foster mountings or fixed to fire upwards, outside the arc of the propeller, replaced the synchronised Vickers.

The RNAS used most of their 1½ Strutters as bombers (in the Aegean and Macedonia as well as in France) and as shipboard aircraft. In this service it was known as the Ship's Strutter and flew from aircraft carriers and other warships of the Royal Navy, as well as from the HMAS Australia.

The RNAS and the RFC (and after April 1918 the RAF) used the type as a trainer after its combat operational days were over. Like the Pup, it proved a popular personal aircraft for senior officers.

In French and foreign service[edit]

Belgian Air Force Sopwith on display in the Brussels Military Museum

The largest user of the Sopwith was the French Aéronautique Militaire. By May 1916 it was obvious that the pusher Farman and Breguet bombers of the time had become obsolete and pending the appearance of French tractor aircraft, the Sopwith was ordered in very large numbers from French manufacturers - in three versions, the SOP. 1A2 (two seater reconnaissance), SOP. 1B2 (two-seater bomber) and SOP. 1B1 (single-seater bomber).[20][21] For want of a better alternative, the French Sopwiths had to soldier on long after they had become obsolete and were not fully replaced by later types until early 1918. Three Belgian squadrons also flew French-built Sopwiths, and surplus French Sopwiths were used by several countries postwar.

During the war, several 1½ Strutters that were interned after landing in the Netherlands were purchased for the Dutch Luchvaart Afdeeling.

Over 100 1½ Strutters were also built in Russia by Duks and Lebedev,[22] supplemented by large numbers delivered directly from Britain and France. The 1½ Strutter remained in large scale use by both the Soviet forces and White Russians during the Russian civil war and Polish-Soviet war.[23] Three were captured during this war and used by the Poles in 1919–1920.[24] Other captured ones were used by Baltic states.

The American Expeditionary Force purchased 384 two-seat Strutter observation aircraft and 130 single seat bombers from France in 1917-18.[25] While mainly used for training, they were used operationally by the 90th Aero Squadron as an interim measure, due to a shortage of later types.[21] The U.S.Navy used a number of the two seat Sopwiths as ships' aircraft in the early post-war years.

The 1½ Strutter also served in the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force - some examples serving in the Japanese expeditionary force in Siberia during 1918.

Around 1,500 1½ Strutters were built for the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service and between 4,200 and 4,500 were built in France.

Variants and designations[edit]

Sopwith Land Clerget Tractor (or Sopwith LCT)
Sopwith company designation.
Sopwith Type 9400
Admiralty designation for two seater, number from serial of last aircraft in first batch ordered.
Sopwith Type 9700
Admiralty designation for single seater bomber, number likewise assigned.
Sopwith Two-seater
RFC designation.
Sopwith 1½ Strutter
Unofficial name due to configuration of struts, also used by US Navy.
Sopwith Comic
Single seat home defence fighter
Ship(s) Strutter
Shipboard version
SOP. 1
French built version.
LeO 1
Lioré et Olivier licence-built version.
So-shiki Model 1
Japanese licence-built bomber version.[26]
So-Shiki Model 2
Japanese licence-built LeO 1 reconnaissance version.[26]

Survivors[edit]

Sopwith No. 556 on display in the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace at Paris le Bourget

Original Sopwith 1½ Strutter aircraft are preserved at the following locations.[27]

Belgium
S85, Koninklijk Legermuseum/Musée Royal de l'Armée, Brussels.
France
No. 556, Sop.1A.2 at Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, Paris Le Bourget airport.
France
No. 2897, Sop.1B.2 at the Association Memorial Flight, La Ferté-Alais near Paris (under restoration 2009).
New Zealand
former Argentinian machine formerly in the possession of Kermit Weeks' Fantasy of Flight museum at Polk City, Florida is under restoration with Peter Jackson's firm, The Vintage Aviator Limited in New Zealand.[28]

A number of reproductions of this popular machine now exist. Visitors to the Scottish National Museum of Flight in April/May 2013 can see a Sopwith 1½ Strutter being built in the Concorde hangar. This machine differs from originals in being powered by a radial engine instead of a rotary.

Operators[edit]

Military[edit]

1½ Strutter operators.
 Afghanistan
  • Afghanistan Air Force received a single aircraft from the Soviet Union in September 1921, which remained in existence until at least December 1924.[29]
 Australia
 Belgium
 Brazil
  • Escola de Aviação Militar used three aircraft for liaison and army co-operation duties.[26]
 Estonia
 France
 Greece
 Japan[21]
 Latvia
 Lithuania

 Mexico

 Netherlands
  • Luchtvaart Afdeling used five 1½ Strutters that forced landed in neutral the Netherlands and were interned and subsequently purchased.[23]
 Poland
 Romania[21]
 Russia
 Soviet Union
 Ukraine

A single aircraft acquired from Russia in 1918.[23]

 United Kingdom
 United States

Civil[edit]

 Argentina

Two aircraft registered in 1928. R-105 (later LV-BAA) and R-106 (later LV-CAA). One of these two preserved in Florida.[22]

 France

55 aircraft on French civil register in 1922.[22]

 Japan

At least seven aircraft registered.[22]

 Sweden

Possibly one aircraft from Switzerland in 1926.[22]

  Switzerland

Two aircraft, CH-53 registered 9 April 1921, cancelled 9 October 1923. CH-67 registered 5 December 1923, cancelled December 1926 as sold to Sweden.[22]

 United Kingdom

One civil registered aircraft, G-EAVB.[22]

Specifications (1½ Strutter - two seater, 130 hp Clerget)[edit]

Data from British Aeroplanes 1914-18[38]

General characteristics

Performance

Armament

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Lake 2002, p. 40.
  2. ^ a b Bruce 1982, p. 499.
  3. ^ a b Jarrett 2009, p. 56.
  4. ^ a b Bruce 28 September 1956, p. 544.
  5. ^ Jarrett 2009, pp. 56, 8.
  6. ^ Bruce 28 September 1956, p. 543.
  7. ^ Bruce 5 October 1956, p. 586.
  8. ^ Bruce 1957, p. 542.
  9. ^ Bruce 1957, pp. 542—543.
  10. ^ a b Jarrett 2009, p. 59.
  11. ^ Bruce 2000, p. 6.
  12. ^ Bruce 28 September 1956, p. 545.
  13. ^ Thetford 1978, p. 292.
  14. ^ Bruce 1982, p. 500.
  15. ^ Bruce 1982, pp. 501, 503.
  16. ^ Bruce 5 October 1956, p. 587.
  17. ^ Bruce 1982, p. 504.
  18. ^ a b Bruce 5 October 1956, p. 588.
  19. ^ Herris and Pearson 2010, p. 51.
  20. ^ Bruce 2000, pp. 10–11.
  21. ^ a b c d Bruce 5 October 1956, p. 590.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Jarrett 2009, p. 60.
  23. ^ a b c d Jarrett 2009, p. 66.
  24. ^ a b Kopański 2001, pp. 73–78.
  25. ^ Swanborough and Bowers 1963, p. 560.
  26. ^ a b c d e Jarrett 2009, p. 65.
  27. ^ Jarrett 2009, p.70.
  28. ^ "Rare Sopwith for New Zealand." Aeroplance Monthly, April 2011, p. 6.
  29. ^ Andersson Air Enthusiast May/June 2003, p. 26.
  30. ^ Gerdessen 1982, pp. 64, 76.
  31. ^ Jarrett 2009, p. 64.
  32. ^ Jarrett 2009, pp. 65–66.
  33. ^ Humberstone, Richard. Latvian Air Force 1918–1940. London: Blue Rider Publishing, 2000, ISBN 1-902851-04-8.
  34. ^ Vistakas 1985, p. 61.
  35. ^ Flores Aeroplane, May 2010, p. 94.
  36. ^ Bruce 1982, p. 508.
  37. ^ Swanborough and Bowers 1976, p. 495.
  38. ^ Bruce 1957, pp. 549—550.

Bibliography[edit]

. London: IPC. ISSN 0143-7240.

  • Gerdessen, F. "Estonian Air Power 1918–1945". Air Enthusiast No 18, April - July 1982, pp. 61–76. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Herris, Jack and Pearson, Bob Aircraft of World War I. London: Amber Books, 2010: ISBN 978-1-906626-65-5.
  • Jarrett, Philip. "Database:The Sopwith 1½ Strutter". Aeroplane, Vol. 37, No, 12, Issue No 440, December 2009, pp. 55–70. London:IPC. ISSN 0143-7240.
  • King, H.F. Sopwith Aircraft 1912-1920 London: Putnam, 1981. ISBN 0-370-30050-5.
  • Kopański, Tomasz Jan. Samoloty brytyjskie w lotnictwie polskim 1918–1930 (British aircraft in the Polish air force 1918–1930)(in Polish). Warsaw: Bellona, 2001. ISBN 83-11-09315-6.
  • Lake, Jon. The Great Book of Bombers: The World's Most Important Bombers from World War I to the Present Day. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company, 2002. ISBN 0-7603-1347-4.
  • Swanborough, F.G. and Peter Bowers. United States Military Aircraft since 1909. London: Putnam, 1963.
  • Swanborough Gordon and Peter Bowers. United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. London: Putnam, Second edition 1976. ISBN 0-370-10054-9.
  • Taylor, John W.R. "Sopwith 1½ Strutter". Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the Present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.
  • Thetford, Owen. British Naval Aircraft since 1912. London: Putnam, Fourth edition 1978. ISBN 0-370-30021-1.
  • Visatkas, C. "The Annals of Lithuanian Aviation". Air Enthusiast, Number Twenty-nine, November 1985-February 1986, pp. 61–66. Bromley, UK:Fine Scroll. ISSN 0143-5450.

External links[edit]