The Sopwith 2F.1 Camel or Ship’s Camel was a naval version of the Sopwith F.1 Camel, that was intended for ship-borne use, but that was also used as a land based fighter by the RNAS and later by the RAF.
The history of the development of the 2F.1 seems a little confused. In 1917 Sopwith designed the FS.1, which was essentially a float plane version of the Camel. None appear to have been built. Next came an aircraft numbered N4, but also known as the Floatplane Scout, Camel Seaplane or Improved Baby. This aircraft crashed in March 1917.
Next came N5, a Sopwith built Naval Camel that appears to have been a landplane version of the FS.1. It appears to have been examined at Martlesham in March 1917 and tested at the Isle of Grain on 4 April 1917. It was armed with a fixed Lewis gun that was carried upside down on the upper wing to make it easier to change the ammo magazine. This aircraft also carried a single Vickers gun on the port side, and the rear fuselage may have been removable. During the summer of 1917 the inverted Lewis gun was replaced with a new Admiralty Top Plane mounting, which allowed the gun to be moved from a forward to upward firing position, as well as making it easier to change the magazine. Eight Le Prieur rockets were also tested on the wings.
The prototype was powered by a 130hp Clerget engine, but production aircraft were given a 150hp Bentley BR.1, the same engine used in most RNAS F.1 Camels.
The most important difference between the F.1 and the 2F.1 was that the fuselage of the naval version was built in two parts, which joined behind the bottom wing and could easily be separated to allow it to be stored onboard ship. New externally carried elevator controls were also required, to make it easier to separate the two halves.
The 2F.1 also had a smaller centre section on the upper wing, which gave it a shorter wingspan. The lower wing was also shortened to match. New streamlined steel tube struts were used to carry the centre section.
The 2F.1 was armed with a single Lewis gun on the Admiralty Top Plane Mounting and a single Vickers gun on the port side of the fuselage. In service other combinations were often tried.
The first production contract, for fifty aircraft (N6600 to N6649) went to Sopwith, and the first aircraft were delivered in the autumn of 1917. Beardmore were given three contracts, for a total of 180 aircraft, although the last thirty were cancelled. Their first aircraft was ready by late February 1918. Clayton & Shuttleworth and Hooper both produced 2F.1s, but orders with Fairey, Pegler and Sage were cancelled at the end of the war. Around 250 2F.1s were produced. Naval serial numbers were in the ranges N6600-N6649, N6750-N6949, N7100-N7149, N7200-N7389, N7650-N7679, N7850-N7998 and N8130-N8229, but this will include the cancelled aircraft
Combat Record – Home Based
The 2F.1 was used by a range of home based RNAS units, which had a range of inconsistent unit titles as the RNAS didn’t have a centralised system. Most of these units then joined the RAF, where they were given numbers in the 200 range.
The 2F.1 was one of several types used by RNAS Great Yarmouth, which became No.212 Squadron.
2F.1s operated from lighters were one of the types used by the Boat Flight at Great Yarmouth. This unit became No.228 Squadron, RAF, in August 1918.
The 2F.1s was used at RNAS Felixstowe in 1918. The Camel flights becamse No.230 Squadron, RAF, in September 1918.
The 2F.1 was one of many types used by RNAS Seaplane Base, Dover, in 1918. This became No.233 Squadron, RAF, in September 1918.
The 2F.1’s main role was to intercept German aircraft and Zeppelins that came within range of the fleet. It was used on a wide range of ships. On capital ships it was launched from a turret platform above one of the main gun turrets. Cruisers got a fixed foredeck platform. It was used on the new aircraft carriers and from lighters towed behind destroyers.
One of the 2F.1’s most famous exploits came on 19 July 1918 when six specially prepared aircraft from HMS Furious attacked the Zeppelin sheds at Tondern. Each aircraft carried two 50lb bombs, and the raid resulted in the destruction of Zeppelins L54 and L60. However three of the aircraft were forced to land in Denmark, one ditched in the sea with the loss of its pilot and only two made it back to the fleet. They too had to be ditched, but their pilots (including further Marshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson) were rescued by destroyers.
Lt Col C.R. Samson carried out the first test launch of a 2F.1 from a towed lighter, on 30 May 1918, although on this occasion the aircraft’s skids got caught up, the aircraft fell into the sea and the lighter ran over it. However the idea continued to be developed.
On 10 August 1918 a twin Lewis gun armed version flown by Lt S.D. Culley took off from a towed lighter after a take-off run of only five feet. It then climbed to catch Zeppelin L.53, which was shadowing the Navy’s Harwich Force, and opened fire when 300 feet below. One of the guns jammed but the other shot it down, making L.53 the lat German airship to be shot down during the war. Culley ditched his aircraft with only a pint of fuel left, and it was hoisted back onto its lighter.
Combat Record - France
The St. Pol Seaplane Defence Squadron gained the 2F.1 in September 1917. It became No.13 Squadron, RNAS in January 1918 and No.213 Squadron RAF in October 1918. It used its aircraft to defend Allied seaplanes operating over the area within range of German fighters.
Combat Record – Overseas
The RNAS operated the 2F.1 Camel with several units in the Mediterranean. As they had fairly changeable names we will list them under their eventual RAF squadron numbers.
The RNAS also operated the 2F.1 Camel from Italy. RNAS Otranto was formed in 1917 and became Nos.224 and 225 Squadron, RAF. RNAS Taranto was also formed in 1917 and became Nos.226 and 227 Squadrons, RAF. All four squadrons used the Camel during 1918
No.220 Squadron was formed as C Flight, RNAS Imbros in 1916 and became C Squadron in 1917. During 1918 it operated the 2.F1 Camel alongside the D.H.9. In September 1918 it became No.220 Squadron, but was disbanded in December.
No.221 Squadron was originally D Flight, RNAS Stavros, and became D Squadron in 1917. In 1918 it operated the Camel F.1 and Camel 2F.1 in 1918-1919, alongside the D.H.9. It became No.221 Squadron in April 1918. In 1919 it moved to southern Russia to support the Whites, and was disbanded on 1 September 1919.
No.222 Squadron was formed as A Flight, RNAS Thasos, and became A Squadron in 1917. It operated the Camel F.1 and the D.H.9 in 1918. On 1 April 1918 it became No.222 Squadron, RAF and in February 1919 it was disbanded.
No.223 Squadron was formed as B Flight, RNAS Lemnos in 1917. It operated the Camel 2F.1 and the F.H.9 in 1918. On 1 April 1918 it became No.223 Squadron, RAF. In October 1918 it moved to Otranto and operated as a day bomber squadron. It was disbanded in May 1919.
Some navy ones get jettisonable undercarriage, clips on spreader bar to catch arresting wires, prop guard to guard against nose-over landing
The 2F.1 remained in use as a standard RAF type until 1921, so lasted slightly longer than the original F.1. In 1919 the 2F.1 was used to test deck arrester gear on HMS Argus, and in the summer of 1920 a 2F.1 with arrester gear was operating on the Eagle.
Span: 26ft 11in
Length: 18ft 9in
Empty Weight: 1,036lb
Maximum Weight: 1,530lb
Maximum Speed: 122mph at 10,000ft
Climb rate: 11min 30sec to 10,000ft
Guns: One Vickers gun and one Lewis gun standard