The Sopwith Pup preceded the more famous Sopwith Camel – the most successful fighter aircraft of World War One in terms of the number of aircraft shot down. The Sopwith Pup, like the Sopwith Camel, was a fighter and was used by both the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Officially, the Sopwith Pup was known as the Sopwith Scout but because it was smaller than its ‘brother’ – the Sopwith Strutter – it was nicknamed the ‘Pup’ by pilots and the name stuck.
The Sopwith Pup entered service in 1916. Unlike the Camel, the Pup was considered to be an easy aircraft to fly but was eventually outclassed by new German fighters so that it was withdrawn from combat towards the end off 1917 when the Sopwith Camel and SE 5 became the pre-eminent British fighters.
The Pup was a single-seat fighter constructed out of a wooden frame that was covered with canvas. An 80 hp engine powered it. This gave the Pup a maximum speed of 110 mph and a rate of climb to 10,000 feet in 14 minutes. It was armed with a single Vickers machine gun that was synchronised to the propeller.
The RNAS was the first to order the Pup but only ordered a few while the RFC ordered far more. In total 1,770 Pups were built with over 1600 aircraft orders subcontracted out to other aircraft builders.
The Sopwith Pup was first used in combat towards the end of the Somme campaign – in October 1916. Pilots spoke favourably about the new fighter, as it was light and manoeuvrable. Ace James McCudden called the Pup “a remarkably fine machine”.
However, such was the speed of aircraft development during World War One, that the Sopwith Pup was soon outclassed. Brought into actual service in October 1916, it was replaced by more modern fighters by December 1917.
However, it was always going to be highly unlikely that so many new aircraft were simply going to be scrapped. Many of the Pups that survived the Western Front were brought back to the UK and put onto Home Defence duties. Some remained in France for training purposes. Such was the fear of German aerial attacks – especially after the raids on London as a result of ‘Operation Turkenkreuz’ – that the Pups on Home Defence were fitted with more powerful 100 hp engines, which gave them a better rate of climb.
The Sopwith Pup did have one major claim to fame. It was the first aircraft to land on a moving ship (August 2nd 1917). Some Pups were fitted with skid undercarriages to catch the traps set up on decks to stop them. A development of this was the introduction of aircraft carriers to facilitate the skills learned by these pilots. Landing on a moving ship was a very dangerous manoeuvre. The first man to do this, Lieutenant Commander Edwin Dunning, was killed on the third occasion he tried to land when his Pup fell over the side. Pups were also carried on battleships and cruisers where they were launched from specially constructed platforms and landed on carriers.
After World War One many Pups still existed and they were used in the newly formed Royal Air Force as trainers.