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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 German U-boats. Remaining in service with the Royal Air Force until 1959 the Short Sunderland would serve during the Berlin Airlift and Korean War.

Quick Facts
Short Sunderland side profile image
First flight
16th October 1937
Entered service
22nd June 1938
Total built

Front view
Sorry, no view photo available
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, designed by Sir Arthur Gouge and built to comply with Specification R.2/33 which the Air Ministry issued on the 23rd November 1933 and revised in March 1936 as R.22/36. The revision enabled an order for twenty one Sunderlands.

Flying from the River Medway the prototype made its first flight on the 16th October 1937, powered by four 950-hp Bristol Pegasus X engines, and featured a British flying boat first of power operated turrets being fitted. A large aircraft which had two levels and a crew of, normally, between seven and eleven it was anticipated that the aircraft would spend ten hours or more in the air either on patrol or undertaking reconnaissance. To make these long sorties easier for the crew there was a galley onboard and sleeping bunks.

Ninety Short Sunderland Mk Is were built with the power for this giant aircraft provided by four 1,010-hp Bristol Pegasus XXII engines. This gave the Mk I a top speed of 210 mph, range of 2,980 miles with a service ceiling of 17,900 ft. Armament consisted of eight 0.303-in machine-guns with a bomb load of 2,000-lb, either bombs, mines or depth charges, and was fitted with Air-to-Surface Vessel radar, with the 21st April 1938 seeing the first production aircraft fly. No. 230 Squadron based at RAF Seletor were the first squadron to be equipped with Sunderlands receiving their first on the 22nd June 1938 with further deliveries over the next six months.

On the home front at the outbreak of the Second World War (1939 - 1945) the Royal Air Force could call on four Sunderland squadrons. Nos. 204, 210 and 228 with the fourth being No. 10 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force. It was to be No. 228 Squadron who scored Coastal Commands first U-boat success when U-55 was scuttled on the 31st January 1940 although it had to share this victory with HMS Whitshed (D77) and HMS Fowey (L15) of the Royal Navy.

August 1941 saw the Sunderland Mk II appear powered by the 1,065-hp Pegasus XVIII engine which gave it a top speed of 205 mph, range of 2,800 miles and a service ceiling of 17,300 ft. Bomb load was 2,000lb with eight 0.303-in machine-guns, with a power operated turret replacing the beam guns that the Mk I had.

The Short Sunderland Mk III was also powered by the 1,065-hp Pegasus XVIII engines and featured a revised planning bottom. The 28th June 1941 saw the maiden flight of the Sunderland Mk III prototype with the first production example flying for the first time on the 15th December 1941 and had a top speed of 210 mph, range of 3,000 miles and a service ceiling of 17,200 ft. Armament for the Mk III was increased over the Mk I and Mk II, another three 0.303-in machine-guns were added bringing the total to eleven and two 0.50-in machine-guns were installed. Bomb load was also increased from 2,000lb to 4,950lb. The types wartime service also saw it serve with British Overseas Airways Corporation and Transport Command and known as the Short Hythe. These were aircraft which had bench seats installed and all armament removed. The Sunderland Mk IV was developed around a new Specification, R.8/42. This would end up becoming a new aircraft known as the Short Seaford.

Powered by the 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90 Twin Wasp 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. The Mk V had a top speed of 213 mph, range of 2,690 miles and a service ceiling of 18,000 ft. Armament consisted of ten 0.303-in machine-guns and two 0.50-in machine-guns and 2,000lb bombs. Air-to-Surface Vessel Mk IVC radar was also fitted and a number of Mk IIIs were upgraded to Mk V standard later on.

During the Second World War the Sunderland played a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic being credited with or sharing credit for the sinking of 26 German U-boats. It would also play a role in the evacuation of personnel from Crete during May 1941. Despite the war ending in Europe during May 1945 Sunderlands of Coastal Command still performed submarine patrols, with the 3rd June 1945 seeing the last one take place. Post-war the Sunderland would still play a role within the Royal Air Force, being used in the Berlin Airlift (1948 – 1949), flying 2,120 sorties, and three would be used in the Korean War (1950 – 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 RAF Seletar.

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 the 2nd April 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 with the 14th June 1946 seeing the last one produced.

Technical Details

Click on the aircraft image to view a larger version.

Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Sunderland Mk I 210 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 210 mph 3,000 miles 17,200 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 18,000 ft ten 0.303-in machine-guns
two 0.50-in machine-guns
2,000lb of bombs
Sunderland Mk V side profile image
Hythe Small number that served with Transport Command and BOAC.


Click on the photo to view a larger version.
Sunderland MR 5
Sunderland Mk V

See This Aircraft

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

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

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