M.Goodall, A.Tagg British Aircraft before the Great War (Schiffer)
Deleted by request of (c)Schiffer Publishing
H.King Sopwith Aircraft 1912-1920 (Putnam)
Pushers and Gun Buses
Just as it has been thought fit to accord a single chapter to the Bat Boats, their notable variations notwithstanding (for in truth they represented a species rather than a type) so, now, we consider those wholly individual Sopwith products genetically called 'Gun Bus' though including also the 'Greek Seaplane' and the Pusher Seaplane Gun-carrier No. 127'. (Though the Bat Boats were themselves of pusher form they had, as we have seen, a very strong marine individuality of their own).
The true chronology and lineage of the family of floatplanes and landplanes now to be studied is indeterminate and unimportant; but they were all of 1913/14 vintage - even though production of the last Robey-built landplanes was still in hand late in 1915.
At this early point in our account it must be remarked that as long before the war as August 1913 (one whole year, that is) there was a seemingly firm report of a Sopwith type then known as 'the 80-ft. span machine", and as mentioned in the following context (the rendering being a precise transcription):
'The dimensions of the floats for the "gun ‘bus" are:- Length, 16 ft.; beam, 2 ft. 9 ins. For those on the machine of 80 ft. span the length is 20 ft. and the beam is 3 ft. 9 ins. It is interesting to note that, although the total weight of the latter machine in working order is somewhere in the region of 2 1/3 tons, the loading per square foot, owing to the enormous span, is very nearly as small as that on the average Brooklands "box-kite". We await its trials with more than ordinary interest, for with its engine of 240-H.P. and its span of 80 ft. something distinctly unusual in the way of weight-carrying and decollage from the water should be seen."
Here, then, we have two different (or differentiated) aircraft: one of unstated span, referred to as the 'gun 'bus' and having floats measuring 16 ft (4.9 m) in length; and another, called "the machine of 80 ft. span' (24.4 m), having much bigger floats 20 ft (6.1 m) long, and a whole foot (0.3 m) broader in beam and powered with an engine of unusually high output (240 hp) which, jointly with the great span (and implicit aspect ratio and area) was expected to confer extraordinary lifting capacity.
There is now a great temptation to affirm that the smaller machine of this pair was the gun-carrying floatplane bearing the British Service number 93 and having an Auslro-Daimler engine of 120 hp, while the huge weight-lifter with double the power was another gun-carrier, numbered 127.
Temptation having thus been recognised, it is permissible to advance the reasonable assumption that such an affirmation would be approximately true, and accordingly to restate the following entry from British Aircraft Armament 1909-1939, made under the heading 'Sopwith Pusher Seaplane Gun-carrier No.127'. Thus:
'The identity and significance of this historic aircraft is apparently now established for the first time, the significance being that it was armed with the 1 1/2-pdr Vickers gun before that weapon was transferred to Short S.81 No.126. First, there is the testimony of Sir Arthur Longmore that "one of our Sopwith pusher seaplanes" (at Calshot before the 1914 war) carried a 1 1/2-pdr gun weighing 265 lb, with which Lieut R. H. Clark-Hall conducted many successful tests. Second, it was stated on the occasion of the Naval Review in July 1914 that a "Sopwith Gun Carrier" with 200-hp Salmson (Canton-Unne) engine was unable to fly because of tail alterations. On this same occasion the Short S.81 No.126 was present carrying a 1 1/2 pdr gun and it was remarked: "The gun on the Short is the biggest weapon yet used in aircraft. It was first used on the Sopwith, and later was used to test the Short's ability to stand the recoil."
'Aircraft No 127 is on record as being a Sopwith with 200-hp Canton-Unne engine, and it may be supposed that this and the Short machine were ordered as a pair for trials with heavy guns. That No.127 was of the well-known Greek Gun Bus type is certainly open to question, having regard to the fact that this was a much smaller machine than the Short No.126 ... and there can be little doubt that No.127 was the Hydro Biplane Type S of 80 ft span, already associated by J. M. Bruce with a quick-firing gun. Thus No.127 must take its place in history, not only on account of its big gun, but as the largest British aeroplane of its time.'
The foregoing extract is quoted not with any motive of vindication but to stress these points: (1) That Sopwith appear to have built 'the largest British aeroplane of its time' a feat which, in itself, should go far towards justifying the issue of this present book. (2) The company's early use of increasingly powerful engines now in the 200 hp+ bracket. (3) This same company's equally early involvement with the development of aircraft armament. (The stressing of any aeroplane to withstand the recoil of a 1 1/2 pdr gun, especially when this was exerted in any of several directions, was a job demanding mathematical skill, as well as structural ingenuity). (4) The inception of peculiarly Sopwith armament innovations - all of which will later have their places in these pages, and best exemplified, perhaps, by the classic '2 x 0.303 in.' installation on the Camel: by multi-gun combinations on the Dolphin and Snark; internal stowage on bombers ranging from 1 1/2 Strutters to the Cobham; and pioneering work in the highly specialised field of torpedo-dropping.
Such swiftly mounting experience and, even more important, determination to lead and be seen to lead (for the haze around the '80 ft span machine' may well have arisen from 'security' rather than obscurity) must inevitably have aroused commensurate interest overseas; and although the German Bat Boat has already had its place, the first Sopwith export order for aeroplanes in quantity came from Greece. This event was signalled in Flight of 10 July, 1914, by the printing of four fine photographs, though these featured personalities rather than aircraft and were accompanied by the merest note under the old 'rag-bag' heading Eddies. Thus:
'Some details are to hand regarding the work of Capitaine de Freigate Collyns P. Pizey, who before his appointment to the Marine Royale Hellenique, was so well known to our readers from his connection with the Bristol Co. A very flattering report is given of the work of the Anzani-engined Sopwith "pusher" seaplane, which in one month was flying for some 40 odd hours [sic]. Five Greek officers have been trained on it, and they are now ready for solo flights. This is probably the first time that naval officers have been taught to fly directly from the sea without first doing land flying.'
Another Sopwith 'first'?: eloquent testimony, surely, not only to the tractability of the first (dual-control trainer) Sopwith Anzani-engined 'Greek Seaplane' (as we shall call the type concerned) but indicative also of the distinction now arising between 'sea’ and 'land' flying. The following facts must, however, be appended:
The man behind the scenes here was not, in fact, Collyns Pizey, but Rear-Admiral Mark Kerr, an air-minded British Naval officer who had been appointed in 1913 as an advisor to the Greek Government. Though in British naval-air history the name of Mark Kerr is inevitably overshadowed by that of Sir Murray Sueter there was certainly liaison between the two men concerning the 'Greek Seaplane", not least respecting coast-defence in narrow waters - a problem facing Greece as well as Britain. It was, as matters transpired, through long Anglo-Greek associations, as much as by a twist of fate, that in April 1929 the Hawker company (Sopwiths' successor) received an order for six Horsley torpedo-bombers, as adopted for coast-defence by Britain. Six, likewise, was the number of ‘Greek Seaplanes' ordered as gun-carriers, though these were additional to the single machine supplied as a sample and a trainer - and clearly the one referred to in the quoted Flight report.
The fourth machine of the main Greek order for six gun-carriers - to which type the designation 'S.P.Gn.', signifying Sopwith Pusher Gun [carrier] was seemingly applicable was already on test at Woolston, Southampton, by late June 1914; but when war came in a few weeks' time the entire batch of Greek Seaplanes was taken over by the British Admiralty. To these the Service numbers 896-901 were apparently allocated, though the reported fitting of 200 hp Canton-Unne engines in the aircraft so numbered adds confusion - especially so as C. F. Snowden Gamble recorded in his splendid book The Story of a North Sea Air Station that Nos.897, 898 and 899 were at Great Yarmouth in September 1914. powered by 100 hp Gnome engines. More comprehensible, having regard to later developments yet to be recorded, is the classifying of these three examples as 'bomb droppers' as well as 'gun machines'.
P.Lewis British Aircraft 1809-1914 (Putnam)
Sopwith Greek Seaplane
During 1913 one dual-control pusher seaplane trainer with a 100 h.p. Anzani engine was supplied to the Greek Naval Air Service. Six additional operational aircraft were ordered in March, 1914, without dual-control and fitted with a machine-gun in the nose, but were taken over by the Admiralty on the declaration of war. Span, 50 ft.
Flight, July 10, 1914.
SOME details are to hand regarding the work of Capitaine de Freigate Collyns P. Pizey, who before his appointment to the Marine Royale Hellenique, was so well known to our readers from his connection with the Bristol Co. A very flattering report is given of the work of the Anzani-engined Sopwith "pusher" seaplane, which in one month was flying for some 40 odd hours. Five Greek officers have been trained on it, and they are now ready for solo flights. This is probably the first time that naval officers have been taught to fly directly from the sea without first doing land flying. The names of the first five officers to join the corps that Mr. Pizey is organising for the Greek Government are :- Lieut. Moriatinis, Lieut. Papageogin, Lieut. Panioton, War. Officer Meletopoulos and War. Officer Courbelis. The conditions under which the school is working are anything but favourable, as there are no sheds or shops, but in spite of that good progress is being made. Some time ago Mr. Pizey made several flights over the British fleet anchored in Phaleron Bay, and among the passengers taken up was Admiral Mark Kerr. In connection with his work Mr. Pizey has the assistance of four keen British "boys" - Lapray, Gaskell, Simms, and Radley - who rank as warrant-officer mechanics.