Following on from their successful Pup, Triplane, Camel and Dolphin, Sopwith’s next major contribution to British aviation was the 230hp Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe. The prototype Snipe appeared in September 1917 and was designed to be powered by a 110hp to 150hp rotary engine, featured single bay Pup like wings with a cut away center section (similar to the Dolphin) for improved visibility, a Camel style tailplane with unbalanced rudder and a flat sided fuselage. Interestingly 300 production aircraft were apparently erroneously ordered at about the same time as 6 further prototypes (numbers B9962-B9967) were requested in October 1917 (the production order was subsequently cancelled). The 6 prototypes featured many changes from the original design and B9965 (now with longer wingspan 2 bay wings with increased dihedral, a 230hp Bentley BR.2 engine, faired fuselage sides and a revised tailplane with a balanced rudder) was sent to France in March 1918 for further evaluation where additional changes were suggested, including increasing the size of the rudder further. Full scale production was ordered from numerous manufacturers in late March 1918 but it was not until late 1918 that sufficient aircraft were available to fully equip 43 Sqn RAF and 4 Sqn AFC (Australian Flying Corps) in France. Despite its operational use during the First World War being restricted to the final few weeks, the Snipe performed excellently in combat.
In an effort to improve maneuverability further, later production aircraft featured larger, balanced, upper ailerons and had the fin and rudder areas further increased. The Sopwith Snipe continued to serve the RAF post war , against the Bolsheviks in Russia, occupational duties in Germany, in home service and ‘policing’ duties in Egypt and Iraq. The Snipe was the last rotary engine powered fighter to serve in the RAF and was only completely replaced in 1927 by the radial engine powered Gloster Grebe, Hawker Woodcock and Armstrong Whitworth Siskin. The Snipe saw very limited foreign use with the Brazilian Navy, Canadian Air Force and Soviet Red Air Fleet.
WW1 aircraft colours are contentious at the best of times and we have done our best to provide what we consider to be accurate painting information. Because Sopwith Snipes were manufactured by over half a dozen companies it is quite likely that they were doped with both PC10 and PC12, although it is only the latter that has been noted on original examples of Snipe fabric we have examined; fabric from late production upper ailerons manufactured by Sopwith (closely matching FS30040) and Whitehead? (closely matching FS26120). There is considerable controversy as to what colour PC10 (Protective Covering number 10) actually was. Made from mixes of yellow ochre, iron oxide and lamp black pigments it varied between olive drab and chocolate brown, depending on the mix and, presumably, time spent exposed to the elements. It appears that fresh PC10 appeared more olive drab while later mixes and aircraft exposed to the elements for some time would appear more chocolate brown. PC12 is slightly less controversial although previous reports of it being red brown are in error and it was actually a dark chocolate brown. The undersides of the wings, tailplane and sometimes the fuselage were left CDL (Clear Doped Linen). Cowlings, fuselage panels, undercarriage and, remarkably, RAF rigging wires were usually painted ‘Service Grey’ or with a PC10/12 equivalent. Some aluminium cowls appear to have been left unpainted and given a ‘turned’ metal finish. The interplane and center section struts and their metal fittings also appear to have been painted dark brown, grey or with a PC10 equivalent. Steel components, fittings and brackets were often black although many appear to have been finished in grey. All fabric surfaces exhibited a gloss appearance when new which would lose its shine relatively quickly in service.