Military Wiki
Sopwith Pup
Role Biplane fighter
Manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company
Designer Herbert Smith
First flight 9 February 1916
Introduction October 1916
Primary users Royal Flying Corps
Royal Air Force
Royal Naval Air Service
Produced 1916-1918
Number built 1,770
Variants Beardmore W.B.III

The Sopwith Pup was a British single seater biplane fighter aircraft built by the Sopwith Aviation Company. It entered service with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service in the autumn of 1916. With pleasant flying characteristics and good manoeuvrability, the aircraft proved very successful. The Pup was eventually outclassed by newer German fighters, but it was not completely replaced on the Western Front until the end of 1917. Remaining Pups were relegated to Home Defence and training units. The Pup's docile flying characteristics also made it ideal for use in aircraft carrier deck landing and takeoff experiments.

Design and development

Sopwith Pup in flight (1917)

In 1915, Sopwith produced a personal aircraft for the company's test pilot Harry Hawker, a single-seat, tractor biplane powered by a 50 hp Gnome rotary engine. This became known as Hawker's Runabout; another four similar aircraft have been tentatively identified as Sopwith Sparrows. Sopwith next developed a larger fighter that was heavily influenced by this design, though more powerful and controlled laterally with ailerons rather than by wing warping.[1]

The resulting aircraft was a single-bay, single-seat biplane with a fabric-covered, wooden framework and staggered, equal-span wings. The cross axle type main landing gear supported on V-struts attached to the lower fuselage longerons. The prototype and most production Pups were powered by the 80 hp (60 kW) Le Rhône rotary engine. Armament was a single 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun synchronized with the Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer.

A prototype was completed in February 1916 and sent to Upavon for testing in late March. The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) quickly ordered two more prototypes, then placed a production order. Sopwith was heavily engaged in production of the 1½ Strutter, and produced only a small number of Pups for the RNAS. Deliveries commenced in August 1916.

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) also placed large orders for Pups. The RFC orders were undertaken by sub-contractors Standard Motor Co. and Whitehead Aircraft. Deliveries did not commence until the beginning of 1917. A total of 1,770 Pups were built by Sopwith (96), Standard Motor Co. (850), Whitehead Aircraft (820), and William Beardmore & Co. (30).

Operational history

In May 1916, the RNAS received its first Pups for operational trials with "A" Naval Squadron. The first Pups reached the Western Front in October 1916 with No. 8 Squadron RNAS, and proved successful, with the squadron's Pups claiming 20 enemy machines destroyed in operations over the Somme battlefield by the end of the year.[2] The first RFC Squadron to re-equip with the Pup was No. 54 Squadron, which arrived in France in December. The Pup quickly proved its superiority over the early Fokker, Halberstadt and Albatros biplanes. After encountering the Pup in combat, Manfred von Richthofen said, "We saw at once that the enemy aeroplane was superior to ours."[3]

The Pup's light weight and generous wing area gave it a good rate of climb. Agility was enhanced by installing ailerons on both wings. The Pup had half the horsepower and armament of the German Albatros D.III, but was much more manoeuvrable, especially over 15,000 ft (4,500 m) due to its low wing loading. Ace James McCudden stated that "When it came to manoeuvring, the Sopwith [Pup] would turn twice to an Albatros' once ... it was a remarkably fine machine for general all-round flying. It was so extremely light and well surfaced that after a little practice one could almost land it on a tennis court."[3] However, the Pup was also longitudinally unstable.

At the peak of its operational deployment, the Pup equipped only four RNAS squadrons (Nos. 3, 4, 8 and 9), and three RFC squadrons (Nos. 54, 46 and 66). By spring 1917, the type was already outclassed by the newest German fighters and the RNAS had replaced theirs, first with Sopwith Triplanes, and then Sopwith Camels. The RFC Pup squadrons on the other hand had to soldier on, in spite of increasing casualties, until it was possible to replace the last frontline Pups with Camels, in December 1917.

Home Defence duties

Pup with 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape engine

The raids on London by Gotha bombers in mid-1917 caused far more damage and casualties than the earlier airship raids. The ineffective response by British interceptor units had serious political repercussions. In response, No. 66 Squadron was withdrawn to Calais for a short period, and No. 46 was transferred for several weeks to Sutton's Farm airfield near London. Two new Pup squadrons were formed specifically for Home Defence duties, No. 112 in July, and No. 61 in August.

The first Pups delivered to Home Defence units utilised the 80 hp Le Rhône, but subsequent Home Defence Pups standardised on the more powerful 100 hp Gnome Monosoupape, which provided improved rate of climb. These aircraft were distinguishable by the addition of vents in the cowling face.[4]

Shipboard use

Sqn Cdr E. H. Dunning landing on HMS Furious in a Sopwith Pup (August 1917)

Sopwith Pups were also used in many pioneering carrier experiments. On 2 August 1917, a Pup flown by Sqn Cdr Edwin Dunning became the first aircraft to land aboard a moving ship, HMS Furious. Dunning was killed on his third landing when the Pup fell over the side of the ship.[5] The Pup began operations on the carriers in early 1917; the first aircraft were fitted with skid undercarriages in place of the standard landing gear. Landings utilised a system of deck wires to "trap" the aircraft. Later versions reverted to the normal undercarriage. Pups were used as ship-based fighters on three carriers: HMS Campania, Furious and Manxman. A number of other Pups were deployed to cruisers and battleships where they were launched from platforms attached to gun turrets. A Pup flown from a platform on the cruiser HMS Yarmouth shot down the German Zeppelin L 23 off the Danish coast on 21 August 1917.[4]

The U.S. Navy also employed the Sopwith Pup with famed Australian/British test pilot Edgar Percival testing the use of carrier-borne fighters. In 1926, Percival was catapulted in a Pup off the battleship USS Idaho at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Training duties

The Pup saw extensive use as a trainer. Student pilots completing basic flight training in the Avro 504k often graduated to the Pup as an intermediate trainer. The Pup was also used in Fighting School units for instruction in combat techniques. Many training Pups were in fact reserved by senior officers and instructors as their personal runabouts while a few survived in France as personal or squadron 'hacks' after the type was withdrawn from combat.


The Pup was officially named the Sopwith Scout. The "Pup" nickname arose because pilots considered it to be the "pup" of the larger two-seat Sopwith 1½ Strutter. The name never had official status as it was felt to be "undignified,"[6] but a precedent was set, and all later Sopwith types apart from the Triplane acquired animal names (Camel, Dolphin, Snipe etc.), which ended up with the Sopwith firm being said to have created a "flying zoo" during the First World War.


Sopwith Admiralty Type 9901
The original Admiralty designation.
Sopwith Pup (official designation Sopwith Scout)
Single-seat fighter scout biplane; 1,770 built.
Sopwith Dove
Two-seat civilian biplane; 10 built.
Alcock Scout
Aircraft built partially from the remains of a crashed Pup and other aircraft; one built.


 Russian Empire
 Soviet Union
 United Kingdom
 United States

Survivors and reproductions

G-EBKY of the Shuttleworth Collection, in flight

Sopwith Pup reproduction at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Reproduction at the RAAF Museum

Sopwith Pup N5182

Built by Sopwith Aviation Co. at Kingston upon Thames in 1916. N5182 was operated by several RNAS squadrons in Belgium and Northern France. It was flown by the noted aces Edward Grange and Robert A. Little, both of whom scored victories with the aircraft. A private collector acquired N5182 from the French Air Force in 1959 and restored it to airworthy condition. N5182 was acquired by the Royal Air Force Museum in 1982 and is currently on display at the Royal Air Force Museum London.[7]

Sopwith Pup N5195

Served in the Royal Naval Air Service in France. Currently on display at the Museum of Army Flying.

Sopwith Pup B1807

Built by Standard Motors in 1917 and delivered to a Home Defence squadron. This aircraft was originally fitted with a 100 hp (75 kW) Gnome Monosoupape engine, along with the distinctive three-quarter vented cowling. It was refitted by the 80 hp (60 kW) Le Rhône engine sometime in 1918. B1807 was sold at Croydon in 1920 and entered the civil register as G-EAVX. It appeared on 16 July at the 1921 Aerial Derby in Hendon, where it was groundlooped by its pilot. The wings were removed and the fuselage disappeared until 1973, when the current owner discovered the remains of the aircraft in a barn in Dorset. G-EAVX is currently being restored to airworthy condition at RNAS Yeovilton.

Sopwith Dove G-EBKY

One Dove was converted to Pup configuration in the 1930s and continues to fly today with the Shuttleworth Collection.

Specifications (80 hp Le Rhône)

Data from British Naval Aircraft since 1912 [8]

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 19 ft 3¾ in (5.89 m)
  • Wingspan: 26 ft 6 in (8.08 m)
  • Height: 9 ft 5 in (2.87 m)
  • Wing area: 254 ft² (23.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 787 lb (358 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 1,225 lb (557 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône air-cooled rotary engine, 80 hp (60 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 97 knots (111½ mph, 180 km/h) at sea level
  • Service ceiling: 17,500 feet (5,600 m)
  • Endurance: 3 hours
  • Climb to 10,000 ft (3,050 m): 14 min
  • Climb to 16,100 ft (4,910 m): 35 min


See also



  1. Bruce 1992, pp. 509–512.
  2. Bruce 1954, p. 9.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Sopwith Pup." Retrieved: 16 July 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bruce 1954, p. 10.
  5. Bruce 1954, p. 11.
  6. "Sopwith Pup." Royal Air Force Museum. Retrieved: 18 August 2008.
  7. "Sopwith Pup N5182/G-APUP/9213M Museum Accession No.82/A/1067." RAF Museum Record. Retrieved: 9 March 2012.
  8. Thetford 1978, pp. 301–303.


  • Bruce, J.M. The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps. London: Putnam Publishing, Second edition 1992. ISBN 0-85177-854-2.
  • Bruce, J.M. "The Sopwith Pup". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 1/Part 2. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., Fourth revised edition 1976, First edition 1965. ISBN 0-85383-411-3.
  • Bruce, J.M. "The Sopwith Pup: Historic Military Aircraft No 6". Flight, 1 January 1954, pp. 8–12.
  • Bruce, J.M., Gordon Page and Ray Sturtivant. The Sopwith Pup. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2002. ISBN 0-85130-310-2.
  • Franks, Norman and Harry Dempsey. Sopwith Pup Aces of World War I (Aircraft of the Aces). London: Osprey Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-84176-886-3.
  • Robertson, Bruce. Sopwith – The Man and His Aircraft. London: Harleyford, 1970. ISBN 0-900435-15-1.
  • Thetford, Owen. British Naval Aircraft since 1912. London: Putnam, Fourth edition 1978. ISBN 0-370-30021-1.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Sopwith Pup Naval Fighter". Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes (Aviation Factfile). London: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-641-3.

External links

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