Reviews: New Windsock Datafiles

J.M. Bruce, Sopwith Baby, Datafile #60 (Berkhamsted, Herts, UK: Albatros Publications Ltd.). 40 pp, 90 photographs. £7.50.

The Sopwith Baby has long been a favorite for me among First World War aircraft. Its clean, rectilinear lines contrast and compliment the sizeable, blocky floats of its landing gear. Datafile #60 is the first publication dedicated to describing this aircraft. The title of this volume should probably read "Sopwith Schneider/Baby", for indeed the Baby was a development of the successful 1914 Schneider Trophy winner, a modified Sopwith Tabloid. The Sopwith racing floatplane handily won the contest with an average speed of 86.6 mph with a malfunctioning Gnome Monosoupape rotary engine. This victory bestowed the design with a name as the Sopwith Schneider.

With the outbreak of the war in the summer of 1914, there was considerable concern in Britain for bombing attacks by German Zeppelins against the Royal Navy. The strategy developed to counter this real threat was to embark aircraft aboard ships in order that this menace could be countered as far from potential targets as possible. The availability of a nimble, swift single-seat float plane in the Schneider made it the obvious choice for the Royal Navy's first ship-borne fighter aircraft. Early operational uses of the Schneider were fraught with problems, particularly weakness in float construction resulting in the loss of several aircraft operationally.

There were also problems with providing these machines with effective armament. Initially, the Sopwith floatplanes carried Ranken Darts (special, hand-launched incendiary bombs designed to pierce a Zeppelin's covering and burst inside the gas cells) and grenades. Lewis machine guns were also used, but these were never effectively synchronized to fire through the propeller of this (or any other) aircraft, and were never well employed on these machines. With the added weight of armament the Schneider came a decrease in its overall performance. The development of the Baby design, with a more powerful engine and redesigned wings, was an attempt to improve this fighter design's performance and enable it to compete with newer designs of the enemy. While a number of innovative developments were tried, including full span flaps to improve lift, the pace of these improvements was slow. Sopwith Babies were in production almost until the end of the war, well after it had essentially become an obsolete aircraft.

Jack Bruce makes another excellent contribution to the Albatros Datafile series with this well-written and concise text and its wealth of photographs. Indeed, this volume is one of the larger books in the Datafile series, even though it covers only the basic Sopwith designs (Blackburn, Fairey, and the Italian license builder Ansaldo all produced variations on the basic design). Series editor Ray Rimell promises that these sub-types will be the focus of a future publication. This monograph is an excellent addition to the enthusiast's library and an invaluable reference for the modeler. Highly recommended.

P.M. Grosz, Brandenburg W.12, Datafile #61 (Berkhamsted, Herts, UK: Albatros Publications Ltd.). 36 pp, 54 photographs. £8.00.

The next volume in the Datafile series describes the Brandenburg W.12, a well designed two-seat floatplane fighter and a formidable opponent in air action over the North Sea in WW I. This is another relatively well- known aircraft from this conflict, which until now has not received very much detailed coverage in print. In comparison with the volume described above, the content of the W.12 Datafile seems skimpy. It contains slightly more than half the number of photographs and four fewer pages than the Sopwith volume, but it commands a higher cover price.

Author Peter Grosz provides a good descriptive text that follows the development of the W.12 design from Austro-Hungarian land plane designs to the close relationship which developed between Hansa-Brandenburg and the German navy. Many details are lacking in Grosz's information on this aspect of the aircraft and his photographic coverage is limited. The quality of the photographs is for the most part excellent—there are no less than 9 images of the prototype W.12 alone. Unfortunately this is nearly 20 percent of the volume's photo coverage.

Operationally, the W.12 seaplane was a fast and maneuverable aircraft which provided numerous headaches for the Royal Naval Air Service. It had the advantage of a two man crew and was ruggedly built. Unfortunately, the design suffered some handling difficulties which were never fully rectified. Attempts to increase armament caused performance to suffer. The W.29 monoplane fighter (subject of Datafile #55) was developed as a W.12 replacement in response to these shortcomings. The external changes that accompanied development of the airplane are well illustrated in the 1/72 and 1/48 scale plans, a hallmark of the Datafile series. Five pages of contemporary general arrangement drawings complete with nearly unreadable dimension tables clearly shows, however, that the Datafile has been padded to fill a minimum number of pages.

It is unfortunate that the available records on this aircraft are obviously so limited. The author has clearly done the best with what he has. The significance of this machine in WW I and the fact that this is likely to be the only monograph produced on this design make this volume desirable for both enthusiast and modeler. However, the book purchaser might have hoped for a cover price which better reflects the limited content. Recommended, if price is not an issue.

P.M. Grosz, Halberstadt Fighters, Classics of WW I Aviation #1 (Berkhamsted, Herts, UK: Albatros Publications Ltd.). 48 pp, 84 photographs, £13.95. 11 5/8 x 8 1/4, soft covers.

This is the initial volume in a new series launched by Albatros Publications. The book uses the same format as the well-established Datafile series, but offers a few additional pages. Halberstadt Fighters covers the development the Halberstadt D-type fighters, the first biplane fighters to serve with the German Fliegertruppe. During 1915 and early 1916 Fokker and Pfalz monoplane fighters, with their synchronized forward-firing machine guns, swept Allied aircraft from the skies over the western front. But, during the Somme offensive of mid-1916, the German monoplanes were outclassed by Allied Nieuport and de Havilland scouts. The Halberstadt was designed redress this situation.

The Halberstadt biplane fighters were built around Mercedes and Argus inline engines. They proved more maneuverable and had higher performance than the monoplanes. When flown in mock combats against contemporary Albatros D-type fighters, the Halberstadt proved more agile even though it was slightly slower overall. Halberstadts were the first German airplanes to carry experimental wireless transmitters. A total of 206 Halberstadt D-type aircraft were constructed, so these machines were never available at the front in large numbers. In the Jagstaffeln, it was thus overshadowed by Albatros biplanes.

The Halberstadt fighters have received little attention in publications on first world war aircraft. This volume is thus a valuable contribution. Overall, the photographic coverage in this book is very good and will provide good references for modelers. Many of the photographs have not been previously published. Like earlier Datafiles, this volume contains 1/72- and 1/48-scale plans, for the Halberstadt D-II, III, and V in this case. Editor/illustrator Ray Rimell has given us a total of seven color profiles, printed on the covers. Mr. Rimell, even prints an admirable disclaimer in the text, noting that he has no access to authentic WW I aircraft fabric samples and must therefore speculate as to the colors used. Highly recommended.

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Text © 1997 by Charles Hart.