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Short Sunderland

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The four-engined Sunderland flying boat played a pivotal role for Coastal Command in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War in the fight against the U-boats. Nicknamed the 'Flying Porcupine' by the Germans the Short Sunderland had a range of 3,000 miles and would remain in service with the Royal Air Force until 1959.

Quick Facts
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First flight
16th October 1937
Entered service
June 1938
Total built

Front view
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Side view
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Rear view
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Imperial Airways had used flying boats during the 1930s to establish long distance air routes using the C class flying boat, deriving out of this came the S.25 flying boat, the Sunderland, built to comply with specification R.2/33 which the Air Ministry revised in March 1936 as R.22/36, the revision enabled an order for 21 Sunderlands. Flying from the River Medway, Rochester, the prototype made its first flight on the 16th October 1937, and featured a British flying boat first, of power operated turrets being fitted.

Ninety Short Sunderland Mk Is were built with eight 0.303in machine guns to provide defensive armament and was able to carry either bombs, mines or depth charges. The power for this giant aeroplane was from four Pegasus 22, 29 or 32 engines. August 1941 saw the Mk II appear powered by four Pegasus XVIII engines and a power operated turret replaced the beam guns that the Mk I had.

No. 230 Squadron based at Seletor, Singapore were the first squadron to be equipped with Sunderlands, beginning in June 1938 and being completed six months later. This squadron was to operate from North Africa, Egypt and East Africa during the war.

On the home front at the outbreak of World War Two the Royal Air Force could call on three Sunderland squadrons, including No. 228 Squadron, who in November 1938 had their Supermarine Stranraers replaced, and who on the 31st January 1940 gave Coastal Command its first U-boat kill. Then on the 3rd April 1940 the Short Sunderland earned its nickname the 'Flying Porcupine' after 1 fended off an attack from 6 Junkers Ju 88s destroying 1, repelling 4 and 1 into a forced landing in Norway.

The Short Sunderland Mk III featured a revised planning bottom and was fitted with Air-to-Surface Vessel (ASV) Mk II radar, which had also been fitted to both the Mk I and Mk II Sunderlands, this new Mk flew for the first time on the 15th December 1941. A Sunderland Mk IV was also developed around a new Specification, R.8/42 and this would end up becoming the Short Seaford.

Powered by four Pratt & Whitney wasp radial engines the Short Sunderland Mk V introduced during March 1944 featured the new engines to overcome the engine wear problem on the Pegasus engines as a result of having to run them on full power. ASV Mk IVC radar was also fitted and a number of Mk IIIs were upgraded to Mk V standard later on. The types wartime service also saw it serve with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) and RAF Transport Command and known as the Short Hythe. These were aircraft which had bench seats installed and all armament removed.

After the Second World War the Sunderland would still play a role within the Royal Air Force, being used in the Berlin Airlift (June 1948 – May 1949) and three would be used in the Korean War (June 1950 – July 1953) operating from Iwakuni, Japan. It wouldn't be until the 20th May 1959 that the Short Sunderland made its last flight with the RAF when two Mk Vs of No. 205 Squadron made a formation flight taking off from Seletar, Singapore.

Other users of the type were the Naval Air Arm of the French Navy who retired their last two on the 30th January 1962 and the Royal New Zealand Air Force who used them until June 1967. Some Sunderlands would be used on selected passengers routes into the 1960s.

During its ten year production run between 1936 and 1946 749 Short Sunderland aircraft were built.


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Max Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Sunderland Mk I 209 mph 2,980 miles 17,900 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
2,000lb of bombs
Sunderland Mk II 205 mph 2,800 miles 17,300 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
2,000lb of bombs
Sunderland Mk III 199 mph 3,000 miles 14,993 ft eleven 0.303-in machine-guns
two 0.50-in machine-guns
4,950lb of bombs
Sunderland Mk IV Became the Short Seaford.
Sunderland Mk V 213 mph 2,690 miles 17,900 ft ten 0.303-in machine-guns
two 0.50-in machine-guns
2,000lb of bombs
Hythe Small number that served with RAF Transport Command and BOAC.


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On Display

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

Variant Location
Sunderland Mk V Imperial War Museum, Duxford
Sunderland MR 5 Royal Air Force Museum, London

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