'Superiority with the Snipe'
The title of this mission report is from the chapter on the featured aircraft in 'Sopwith - the Man and his Aircraft' by Bruce Robertson, one of a famous series of comprehensive aviation histories by British publishers Harleyford, this one dating from 1970. Quoting from that chapter:
'It is said that when No.4 (A.F.C.) Squadron after the Armistice took its Snipes to Cologne and showed their manoeuvring powers to some German airmen, they expressed first their astonishment and then their gratification that they personally had not met them in action...from performance figures and test reports the Martinsyde F.4 Buzzard it is often quoted as the best fighter of the 1914-1918 War period...however, the Martinsyde Buzzard did not enter squadron service and thereby few can dispute the statement that the Snipe was the finest fighter, from any country, to operate in the 1914-18 War.'
Whether or not the Sopwith Snipe truly merited that accolade can be debated, of course. However, with a significantly more powerful engine conferring higher speed and better altitude performance, a better view for the pilot, greater fuel and ammo capacity and less tricky flying characteristics, the Snipe was certainly an improvement over the aircraft from which it was developed, the redoubtable Camel. So it is a worthy machine on which to finish this set of mission reports.
That said, I can't help but feel that the Sopwith Dolphin would have been a better choice for inclusion in Wings over Flanders Fields. The Snipe saw combat only during the last six weeks of World War One. By war's end, just three squadrons had them - 4 (Australian), 43, and 208, compared to the Dolphin's four (19, 23, 79 and 87). Despite its engine troubles, the Dolphin was a fine fighter, said to have the agility of a Camel and the performance of an S.E.5. And it saw action for a much longer period, from February to November 1918. It also has the distinction of being the RFC and RAF's first multi-gun single seat fighter. Happily, I can fly the Dolphin in First Eagles 2 (thanks to moders at the A Team Skunkworks...who also provide a Snipe)...
...and of course in Rise of Flight - having just purchased the Strutter in the Halloween 2016 sale, I now have all the RoF Sopwiths, including the Dolphin, again seen here without the two extra Lewis guns it could carry...
The Snipe was an effort to improve the Camel, while the Dolphin could be said to have been an effort to improve on the Camel. The Dolphin was a very different design, notably adopting an in-line engine, a 200 hp geared Hispano Suiza. The Snipe stuck with a rotary engine, the Bentley B.R.2, at 230 hp, significantly more powerful than the B.R.1s and Clergets of the Camel. The Snipe prototypes were almost identical to the Camel, except they replaced the latters's straight top wing with one whose dihedral matched the lower wing. Combined with a large open panel in the centre, this lowered wing significantly improved upward visibility from the cockpit. Later, longer-span wings were fitted, with four rather than two bays of interplane struts. And a round-section fuselage was adopted, producing an aircraft which seemed to owe little to its famous predecessor. Having put in a reasonable amount of stick time into WoFF's Camel, I'm keen to see how I get on in its Snipe.
With such a short combat career, this was going to be a short campaign one way or another. And having chosen to fly with the Australians, it was going to be shorter still. For WoFF's No. 4 (Austrialian Flying Corps) Squadron gets its Snipes just in time for the Armistice - my new pilot, Robert Digger from Brisbane, kicks off his operational career on 1st November 1918. So I'll have to survive less than two weeks, to see the end of the War to End All Wars. A bigger worry is whether my modest PC will be able to handle a campaign in WoFF's CPU-intensive later war skies. There is, of couse, one way to find out...
I find myself stationed at the airfield of Auchel, quite a way from the front. However, I won't have to worry about tedious trips to the lines, because my first 'mission' is actually a transit flight - the squadron is relocating to Avelin, to the east and much closer to the scene of the action. Historically, this reflects the fact that the German armies were at that point in hostilities finally near collapse, being driven back all along the front, with revolution in the air back home and the abdication of the Kaiser just days away.
For the flight, I'm given just one companion, and after a while following on the heels of the others, I strike out direct for Avelin, noting that my machine is faster than any Camel I've flown, but like most of WoFF's aircraft, needs generous amounts of rudder in the turn.
Despite the briefing warning us to be on the lookout for the enemy, the flight is uneventful, and I have plenty of time to admire the cockpit and the scenery, the weather being cloudy, but fine.
About half-way there, we pass the town of Loos, the eastern side of which is much damaged by shellfire. Just beyond, we cross the former front lines, now abandoned but still churned up by the pounding it has taken from the guns of both sides over the many months of static trench warfare, now at last come to an end.
Soon, we are back over unravaged countryside, and the shelled ground falls behind...
...and not long after that, I'm coming into land at out new home, presumably a former German airfield but now very much in our hands. Thiis is signified by a pair of S.E.5s sitting on the airfield and some Snipes parked in front of the sheds, whose undamaged state indicates that their erstwhile occupants have left in a hurry.
Signs of enemy collapse and rumours of an Armistice notwithstanding, I have no reason to believe that the pace of operations will slacken off - the reverse if anything, given the need to keep the retreating enemy on the hop. I expect that this will be the last little cross country flight I'll be doing for a while, and that I'm about to find out just how good my new Snipe really is, where it matters most - in combat.
...to be continued!