Short Sunderland V (ML824)

Short Sunderland V (ML824)  [@ RAF Hendon]

The design of the Short Sunderland, which eventually was to become one of the RAF's longest serving operational aircraft, was based on the stately Short C Class S.23 “Empire” flying boats, which was  operated by Imperial Airways during the 1930s.  It was the first British flying boat to have power-operated gun turrets as part of its defensive armament and the overall strong protective armament resulted in the Germans giving it the nickname "Fliegendes Stachelschwein" (Flying Porcupine).  On 3rd April 1940 a Sunderland operating off Norway was attacked by six Junkers 88s.  It shot one down, severely damaged another and drove the rest away.  RAF Sunderlands also saw service throughout the Korean War, first with 88 Squadron and then with 205 and 209 Squadron, and the type also took part in the Berlin airlift.  During the airlift 10 Sunderlands were used to transport goods from Finkenwerder on the Elbe near Hamburg and landing on the water near RAF Gatow.  The Sunderlands were particularly useful for transporting salt as their airframes were already protected against corrosion from seawater.  Transporting salt in standard aircraft risked rapid and severe structural corrosion in the event of a spillage.  During the winter months when the water froze the Sunderland's role was taken over by freight converted Handley Page Halifaxes and the salt was carried in panniers fitted under the fuselage to avoid the corrosion problem.  The Sunderland was also converted for civil use and was known as the Short Sandringham.

In 1933 the Air Ministry issued Specification R.2/33 which called for a flying boat for ocean reconnaissance.  The new aircraft had to have four engines and could be either a monoplane or a biplane.  Designed by Arthur Gouge the military version of the S.23 was designated S.25 and the design was submitted to the Air Ministry in 1934.  The original specification called for an offensive armament of a 37 mm gun and up to 2,000lbs of bombs and mines (later depth charges).  The ordnance was stored inside the fuselage in a bomb room and was winched up to racks, under the wing centre section, that could be traversed out through doors on each side of the fuselage above the waterline to the release position.

Powered by Bristol Pegasus X engines the maiden flight of the unarmed Sunderland prototype (K4774) took place on the 16th October 1937 from the River Medway.  Changes to the proposed gun armament, in particular the inclusion of four 0.303 Browning machine guns in a powered tail turret, resulted in a modification to the wings to compensate for changes in the centre of gravity.  The modified K4774 flew on the 7th March 1938 powered by four Bristol Pegasus XXII engines.  It was an all metal, mainly flush-riveted, construction except for the control surfaces which were fabric-covered.  The wings accommodated six fuel tanks with a total capacity of 2,025 Imperial gallons.  Later four smaller fuel tanks were added behind the rear wing spar to give an extra 525 Imperial gallons hence allowing up to 14 hour patrols.  In addition to the Nash & Thomson FN-13 powered rear turret the type had manually operated 0.303 Brownings on either side of the fuselage which were fired from ports just below and behind the wings and were later upgraded to 0.50 Brownings.  Usually the nose turret weapons were two 0.303 Browning machine guns and these were later augmented by four fixed guns, two each side, in the forward fuselage and were operated by the pilot.  Much later a twin-gun turret was to be dorsal-mounted on the upper fuselage, about level with the wing trailing edge, bringing the total defensive armament up to sixteen machine guns.

Short Sunderland V (ML824)

Short Sunderland V (ML824)  [@ RAF Hendon]

The first production Mk Is delivered to the RAF was to 230 Squadron based at Singapore from early June 1938 and by the outbreak of WW2 three more squadrons were equipped with the type.  By the end of 1940 the ASV radar (Mk.I), which operated at 1.5m, was fitted in twenty five Sunderlands and twenty four Lockheed Hudsons.  In total about two hundred of the sets were produced but in reality they were of limited use for detecting U-boats.  Sunderlands quickly proved useful in the rescue of the crews from torpedoed ships but U-55 became the first U-boat to be sunk with help of a Coastal Command Aircraft on the 30th January 1940 when it was attacked south-west of the Isles of Scilly by a Sunderland from 228 Squadron using depth charges.  The first unassisted kill of a U-boat was on the 17th July 1940 by a Sunderland from 10 Squadron (RAAF).  10 Squadron had been formed at RAAF Base Point Cook on the 1st July 1939 and later in the year were shipped to the UK to be trained on the Sunderland.  After the completion of the training the squadron stayed on in the UK and became both the first RAAF squadron and the first Commonwealth squadron to see active service during WW2.  The Achilles’ heel of the Sunderland was its inability to close the mid-Atlantic gap due to its limited range.  Coastal Command had to wait for the Consolidated Liberator to effectively cover the entire Atlantic from the summer of 1943.   However the sinking of twenty seven U-boats can be associated with the Sunderland.

ML824 was built by Shorts at Queen's Island, Belfast, as an Mk III and delivered to the RAF on the 30th June 1944.  Converted to the Mk V standard from the 6th July 1944 by Shorts at Belfast ML824 was posted to 57 MU at RAF Wig Bay (sometimes known as RAF Stranraer) near Stranraer, Dumfrieshire on the 6th Nov 1944.  Transferred to RAF Calshot on Southampton Water, Hampshire, on the 9th February 1945 ML824 finally entered RAF service with 201 Squadron at Castle Archdale, Northern Ireland, as their first Mk.V Sunderland.   After completing ten anti U-Boat patrols and one convoy patrol ML824 was transferred on the 17th April 1945 to 330 (Norwegian) Squadron based at Sullom Voe on the Shetland Islands.  After the last flight with 330 Squadron on the 16th May 1945 ML824 was placed into storage at RAF Alness,  Invergordon.  During June 1945 330 Squadron moved from Sullom Voe to their new Norwegian base at Sola outside Stavanger on the west coast of Norway.  Officially Struck off Charge on the 20th May 1948 by 57 MU at RAF Stranraer, ML824 was prepared for use in the Berlin airlift but was in fact not used.  The engines of ML824 were replaced with P&W R-1830-900 twin Wasps during August 1949 and during August 1950 ML824 went to Short Bros and Harland, in Belfast for a complete overall.    Upon completion ML824 became one of 14 Sunderlands transferred to the French Aeronavale in 1951 under the Western Union Defence Programme.  ML824 served mainly in West Africa, at Dakar, Senegal, with Flotilles F7, 12S, 27F and 50s.  The Aeronavale eventually operated a total of 19 Sunderlands.  ML824 flew in French service for the last time on the 8th December 1960 and the final flight was after 2,900 flying hours on the 24th March 1961 when ML824 flew from Lanveoc-Pouloc, near Brest, to Pembroke Dock, Wales.  hauled from the water for the last time the following day ML824 became a visitors attraction at the dockyard.  During March 1971 ML824 was transported to RAF Hendon for restoration and placed on display during October 1976.  ML824 is displayed in the colours of 201 Squadron

Sunderlands also proved themselves to be very useful in the Mediterranean theatre.  This included helping in the evacuation of Crete during May/June 1941 and the reconnaissance of the Italian fleet at anchor in Taranto before the torpedo attack by Swordfish of the Fleet Air Arm on the night of the 11th November 1940.  From October 1941 Sunderlands were fitted with ASV Mk II radar, essentially a more reliable version of its predecessor.  In total 75 Sunderland Mk Is were built, 60 in the Shorts' factories at Rochester, Kent, at Belfast, Northern Ireland, and 15 by Blackburn Aircraft at Dumbarton on the Firth of Clyde.

Short Sunderland V (ML796)Short Sunderland V (ML796)

Short Sunderland V (ML796)  [@ RAF Duxford]

In August 1941 production of the Mk IIs started of which only 43 were built (five by Blackburn); these were fitted with Pegasus XVIII engines with two-stage superchargers, a twin-gun dorsal turret, an improved rear turret and ASV Mk II radar.  The major production version was the Mk III, with a modified hull; the first Short-built Sunderland Mk III flew on 15th December 1941 and the parent company eventually produced 286 Mk IIIs, a further 170 being built by Blackburn Aircraft.  The Sunderland Mk III equipped 11 RAF squadrons (including one Polish and one Free French) and proved to be one of the RAF Coastal Command's major weapons against the U-boats, along with the RAF Consolidated Catalina.  As the U-boats began to use Metox passive receivers which detected the presence of hunting aircraft using active ASV radar it became necessary to upgrade to the ASV Mk III which operated at 10cm wavelengths and was based on the cavity magnetron developed by J.T.  Randall and H.A.H.  Boot at Birmingham University.  The defensive reputation of the Sunderland was also further enhanced when a RAAF Mk III of 461 Squadron was attacked on the 2nd June 1943 by no less than eight Junkers 88s.  Although on routine anti-submarine patrol the Sunderland was also searching for the remains of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines/BOAC Flight 777, a Douglas DC-3 that had left Lisbon the day before and had subsequently been shot down by Junkers 88 over the Bay of Biscay, killing 17, among them, the actor Leslie Howard.  Despite heavy damage to the Sunderland and a severely wounded crew including the death of a side gunner the Sunderland survived the attacks and landed at Praa Sands on the Cornish coast.  In the attacks the crew of the Sunderland had managed to destroy three Ju 88s, set the engines of the forth on fire and damaged the remainder.

Following on was the Sunderland Mk IV, a larger and heavier development with 1700hp Bristol Hercules engines, eight 12.7mm (0.50in) machine guns and two 20mm (0.79in) Hispano cannon.  In fact, only two prototypes and eight production aircraft were built and given the name S.45 Seaford, but after evaluation by Coastal and Transport Commands the Sunderland IV/Seaford was abandoned and the aircraft later converted for commercial use as the Short Solent.  Intended for service in the Pacific this variant didn’t go beyond operational trials with the RAF and never saw active service

Short Sunderland V (ML796)

Short Sunderland V (ML796)  [@ RAF Duxford]

ML796 was one of the first production Mk5s to be built by Shorts at Rochester, Kent, in 1945 and after completion was posted to RAF Calshot on Southampton Water, Hampshire, on the 15th May 1945.   RAF Calshot was responsible for the repair, maintenance and modification of RAF flying boats, specialising in the maintenance of Sunderlands.   On the 4th March 1946 ML796 moved 4 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit based at RAF Alness near Invergordon, which had specialised in Sunderland training since October 1943.  On the 10th July 1946 ML796 was transferred to 57 MU RAF Wig Bay (sometimes known as RAF Stranraer) near Stranraer, Dumfrieshire for storage.  After being overhauled by Shorts in Belfast ML796 was placed in a batch of 19 Sunderlands during August of 1957 and were sold to the naval air arm of the French Navy, the Aeronavale.  ML796 served with the 7FE (Flottille d’Exploration) at Dakar, Senegal, until December 1960.  The Sunderlands were flown back to France and placed into storage at Lanveoc-Poulmic airbase near Brest, however the Aeronavale continued to operate three Sunderlands from Toulon, southern France, and did not retire the last two until 30th Jan 1962; one of the last pair being ML796.  Sold into private hands in 1965 ML796 became a shore-based discotheque and bar at Maisden-le-Riviere and four years later was moved to La Baule, Brittany to become a nightclub and restaurant.  Finally on the 9th July 1976 ML796 arrived at RAF Duxford for restoration and was later placed on static display in the markings of 201 Squadron of Coastal Command.

As a result of the increasing weight demands on the Sunderland it became clear that the Pegasus engines were making the type under powered so two Mk IIIs were taken off the production lines in early 1944 and fitted with four American 1200hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90 Twin Wasps as used RAF Consolidated Catalinas and Douglas Dakotas.  This variant became the Sunderland Mk V and had a similar armament to the Mk III but with ASV Mk VI radar, a more sophisticated version of its predecessor.  The variant entered RAF service during February 1945 with eventually 100 being built by Shorts and 50 by Blackburn with another 33 Mark IIIs being converted to Mark V specification.  In Europe after the WW2 the Sunderland was quickly replaced by land based maritime patrol aircraft like the Avro Shackleton but in the Far East there was a need for the type.  The last RAF Sunderland Vs (DP198 and ML797) retired from 205 Squadron at Changi, Singapore, on the 30th June 1959 and were scrapped at the base.  Nineteen Sunderland Mk Vs were exported to France's Aeronavale, retiring in 1960, and 16 to the RNZAF, where they served until 1966/67.  The last Sunderland was delivered in June 1946 making a total production of 777 aircraft.