The Weapon of Choice for World War I Flying Aces

While it might seem silly that when most people think of the famed World War I aerial combat aircraft, the Sopwith Camel, they think of the comic strip Peanuts in which Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy went to war with the infamous Red Baron flying the Sopwith Camel on mission after mission.  The good that the late Charles Schulze did by including this theme in his outstanding comic strip is that it made the history of aerial warfare even as far back as World War I more well known.   And it is likely that many fans of World War I aerial combat can trace the beginning of their fascination with this period of military history to good old Snoopy and good old Charlie Brown.

The Sopwith Camel actually holds an honored place in the history of the Great War because until the British developed the design of the Sopwith Camel, the Germans controlled the war from the skis.  And even the most casual student of military strategy knows that maintaining air supremacy has always been a key to victory in a conflict.  So while the name “The Red Baron” is amusing and interesting to us, that one World War I flying ace really did strike terror in the skis during the time when German ruled the skies during the World War I.

The Sopwith Camel changed all that and it gave Britain a weapon that could challenge Germany in the skies in a way that had never been tried before.  The design and construction of the Sopwith Camel made it a formidable fighting machine.  The engine was a breakthrough in power and speed, which vastly improved the ability of pilots using the Sopwith Camel to take on seasoned foes such as The Red Baron and stand a chance in an aerial battle situation.  

The Sopwith Camel was an impressive military design for its time.  Every aspect of the airplane was focused on making the pilot more effective in aerial warfare.  The controls were all isolated to a narrow area so the pilot had complete awareness without having to turn or change position in the cockpit.  The tail of the Sopwith Camel was weighted to offset the large engine mounts in front so the Sopwith Camel was perfectly balanced in the air.  And the two Vickers machine guns mounted on the front became the pilot’s right and left hands in firing on enemies in the sky.

This is not to say that the design of the Sopwith Camel did not create problems.  The external mounted engines made them susceptible to damage from enemy fire.  The heavy tail could easily send the Sopwith Camel spiraling to the ground if the aerial battle caused the airplane to become unbalanced.  Nonetheless, it was the Sopwith Camel that gave Germany’s enemies the ability to challenge fearsome enemies such as the Red Baron in the skies and turn the tide of World War I against Germany.

It was also a Sopwith Camel that eventually was used to bring the Red Baron down in defeat.  The flying ace that used the Sopwith Camel to end the reign of terror that the Red Baron held over his enemies was piloted by Arthur “Roy” Brown.  It is Arthur Brown that Snoopy is emulating during those fictional battles against the “dreaded Red Baron” in the Peanuts comic strips.  Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that the hero that stopped the Red Baron had the same last name as Snoopy’s sad sack owner, Charlie Brown.  Perhaps they were related.

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