Sopwith with Pup Aces of World War I

Review by Martin Koenigsberg

51st Book Review of the Year!!

When the Dashing young RAC pilots of 1916/17 got into their first Sopwith Pups, they were excited about the improvements over the Company’s first effort , the 1 and A Half Strutter, the faster speed, the bigger engine and the better lift from the wings, but they still had just the one Machine Gun. Synchronized to fire through the propellers though it was- and relatively easy to aim for the pilot, it was still a single machine gun, very liable to freeze up for any number of reasons- and far away from the future 4 50 Caliber Guns in each wing, cannons or insanely science fiction to a WWI human – the Heat seeking or TV Guided Missiles Fighters used today. And yet… with that single .303 Caliber Vickers Machine Gun a lot of fine young men from all over the British Empire managed to become aces, shooting down five or more German aircraft in late 1916 and 1917.

Norman Franks, a noted author on Military Aircraft of the 1914-1945 Period (… ) uses the Osprey Publishing “Aircraft of The Aces” format to give us the basics of the story. Each pilot gets a quick outline, a description of as many of his skirmishes as possible, and a quick discussion of his later life(if he survived). The classic Central colour plates in 6 pages show you good silhouette schemes for most of the tops guys. At the back the appendices cover who flew what airframe- often pilots flew what was available and ready to fly- not their personal aircraft which might easily be in the hangar, given the technology of the day. All along, you get b/w pics of both planes and men, bringing the prose to life. It’s a nice little read. The Sopwith Scout, the Pup’s real name- was allied with the early SE-5s to try and regain air superiority in 1917, although it was the later Sopwith Triplane and the Iconic “Camel’ (whose “hump” was there to cover the TWO Machine guns that gave it extra lethality) that really gave the British the opportunity to push back the German “Jastas” as their early wings were called. With Spads and Nieuports and other allied Aircraft in full production- the weight of Quality and Quantity could really tell. This book is more about a knife’s edge of parity- where who saw who first or who held their nerve under the most combat pressure or actual Gs were the keys to victory or death. That said- the author does take a minute to remind us that with the limited speed and visibility of the era- many targeted pilots would go into a spin by choice- with a good chance to get out of it at a lower altitude- so not all “forced down” stories actually result in a casualty. The planes of the period built mainly of wood and fabric, did burn rather well, though and the self dealing fuel tank was well in the future, so some battles do have decisive results. It’s really another world of aircraft from our present day… The prose style is basic enough, but some of the fights can get a little bit graphic if a Junior reader has an active imagination, so I’d say its best for about 13/14 years of age. For the Gamer/Modeler/Military Enthusiast crowd, for whom these book are written, it’s a pretty good haul. Lots of Scenarios for the WWI Aircraft Gamer, from “Dawn Patrol” to “Last Light Recce”- with plenty in between. All the German planes are here- the Fokkers, Albatroses and Halberstadts, so you have all the 1917 choices. For the Military enthusiast, there is insight into how the RAC/FAA (Fleet Air Arm- the Navy sent Squadrons too) worked and how these amazing young men from all over the British Empire came to France to risk their lives in a technology barely 15 years old! It’s a fun little book and a good addition to the WWI Aircraft library.

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