Sopwith Salamander

The Sopwith TF.2 Salamander was a British ground-attack aircraft of the First World War designed by the Sopwith Aviation Company which first flew in April 1918. It was a single-engined, single-seat biplane based on the Sopwith Snipe fighter but with an armoured forward fuselage to protect the pilot and fuel system from ground fire during low level operations.

It was ordered in large numbers for the Royal Air Force, but the war ended before the type could enter squadron service, although two were in France in October 1918.


Sopwith Salamander
Class Aircraft
Type Attack
Manufacturer Sopwith Aviation Company
Production Period 1918 - 1919
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1918
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1918 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Sopwith Aviation Company 1918 1919 497 View

In August 1917, the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) introduced the coordinated large-scale use of single-seat fighter aircraft for low-level ground-attack operations in support of the offensive at Ypres, with Airco DH.5s, which were unsuitable for high-altitude combat, specialising in this role. The tactic proved effective, and was repeated at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 by both DH.5s and Sopwith Camels being used in strafing attacks. While the tactic proved successful, losses of the unarmoured fighters proved to be extremely high, reaching up to 30% per day when aircraft were deployed in such attacks. Most losses were due to ground fire, although low-flying aircraft also proved vulnerable to attacks from above by enemy fighters. On the German side, two-seat fighters such as Halberstadt CL.II, originally designed as escort fighters, were also deployed in a similar ground-attack mission, playing an important role in the German counter-offensive at Cambrai. While the CL-type fighters were not armoured, the Germans also introduced more specialised heavily armoured two-seat aircraft such as the Junkers J.I for contact patrol and ground-attack work.

As a result of the high losses sustained during strafing and after seeing the success of the new German types, the RFC instructed the Sopwith Aviation Company to modify a Camel for the close air support mission by fitting downward-firing guns and armour. The modified Camel, known as the "TF.1" (for "trench fighter"), flew on 15 February 1918. Two Lewis guns were fixed to fire downwards and forwards at an angle of 45 degrees and a third gun was mounted on the upper wing. The downward-firing guns proved to be of little use, being almost impossible to aim. The TF.1 did not go into production, but information gained in testing it was used for the Salamander design.

Work on a more advanced armoured fighter, conceived as an armoured version of the Sopwith Snipe, began early in 1918. The forward portion of the fuselage was a 605 lb (275 kg) box of armour plate, forming an integral part of the aircraft structure, protecting the pilot and fuel system, with a 0.315 in (8 mm) front plate, a 0.433 in (11 mm) bottom plate, 0.236 in (6 mm) side plates and rear armour consisting of an 11-gauge and 6-gauge plate separated by an air gap. The rear (unarmoured) section of the fuselage was a generally similar structure to the Snipe’s, but flat sided, to match the forepart. The two-bay wings and tailplane were identical in planform to those of the Snipe, but were strengthened to cope with the extra weight, while the fin and rudder were identical to the Snipe. The new aircraft used the same Bentley BR2 rotary engine as the Snipe, covered by an unarmoured cowling – the foremost armour plate forming the firewall.

Originally an armament of three machine guns was planned, with two Lewis guns firing forwards and downwards through the cockpit floor as in the TF.1, and a forward firing Vickers machine gun. This was changed to a conventional battery of two synchronised Vickers guns in front of the cockpit, as on the Snipe, before the first prototype was complete. The guns were staggered, with the starboard gun mounted a few inches forward of the port one to give more room for ammunition. Four light bombs could also be carried.

The first prototype started flight tests at Brooklands aerodrome on 27 April 1918 and was sent to France for evaluation on 9 May. It was wrecked in a crash on 19 May while being flown by No. 65 Squadron when the pilot had to avoid a tender crossing the aerodrome responding to another crash. While the Salamander was generally considered promising in the ground-attack role, lateral control was recognised as poor. To rectify these problems, the Salamander underwent many of the same modifications to the tail and ailerons as the Snipe.

Production was intended to be on a very large scale – an initial order for 500 aircraft was placed with Sopwith on 18 June, followed by additional orders with Wolseley Motors, the Air Navigation Co., Glendower Aircraft, Palladium Motors and the National Aircraft Factory No. 1. A total of 1,400 Salamanders were ordered. Production was slowed, however, by problems producing the armour plate, this being prone to distortion during the hardening process, and shortages of the BR.2 engine. By the end of October 1918 only 37 Salamanders were on RAF charge, and just two of these were in France. The first Salamander-equipped squadron, 157 Squadron, was due to fly out to France with 24 aircraft on 21 November, with more squadrons in the process of forming in the United Kingdom.

With the Armistice, the immediate need for a specialist close support aircraft evaporated, and 157 Squadron was quickly disbanded. Production continued for several months following the Armistice, with at least 497 completed. It was discovered postwar that 70 Salamanders had been fitted with Sopwith Snipe wings instead of the stronger wings of the Salamander, rendering the aircraft unsafe, while the armoured section was subject to spontaneous distortion, misaligning the airframe and again making the aircraft dangerous. The Salamander was used in trials of various patterns of disruptive camouflage in 1919, while some Salamanders were still in use at Heliopolis, Egypt in 1922. One example went to America, and was still in existence at McCook Field in 1926.

Role Ground attack
Manufacturer Sopwith
First flight 27 April 1918
Introduction 1918
Primary user Royal Air Force
Produced 1918-1919
Number built 497
Unit cost £1,138 (airframe)
£880 (engine)
Developed from Sopwith Snipe


General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 19 ft 6 in (5.95 m)
  • Wingspan: 31 ft 2? in (9.52 m)
  • Height: 9 ft 4 in (2.85 m)
  • Wing area: 272 sq ft (25.28 sq m)
  • Empty weight: 1,844 lb (838 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 2,512 lb (1,142 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Bentley BR2 rotary engine, 230 hp (172 kw)
  • Fuel: 29 Imperial gallons (110 litres)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 125 mph (109 knots, 201 km/h) at 500 ft (150 m)
  • Endurance: 1 hr 30 min
  • Service ceiling: 13,000 (3,960 m)
  • Climb to 6,500 ft (1,980 m): 9 min 5 s
  • Climb to 10,000 ft (3,050 m): 17 min 5 s

Armament

  • Guns: 2 × 0.303 in Vickers machine guns, 2,000 rounds of ammunition
  • Bombs: 4 × 25 lb (10 kg) bombs

End notes