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Artistic rendition

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a British flying boat patrol bomber, developed and constructed by short brothers for the Royal Air Force (raf). the aircraft took its service name from the town (latterly, city) and port of Sunderland in Tyne and wear, north east England.

Developed in parallel with the civilian S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways, the Sunderland was developed specifically to conform to the requirements of British Air Ministry Specification R.2/33 for a long-range patrol/reconnaissance flying boat to serve with the Royal Air Force (RAF). As designed, it served as a successor to the earlier Short Sarafand flying boat. Sharing several similarities with the S.23, it featured a more advanced aerodynamic hull and was outfitted with various offensive and defensive armaments, including machine gun turretsbombsaerial mines, and depth charges. The Sunderland was powered by four Bristol Pegasus XVIII radial engines and was outfitted with various detection equipment to aid combat operations, including the Leigh searchlight, the ASV Mark II and ASV Mark III radar units, and an astrodome.

The Sunderland was one of the most powerful and widely used flying boats throughout the Second World War. In addition to the RAF, the type was operated by other Allied military air wings, including the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), South African Air Force (SAAF), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), French NavyNorwegian Air Force, and the Portuguese Navy. During the conflict, the type was heavily involved in Allied efforts to counter the threat posed by German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.

On 17 July 1940, a RAAF Sunderland (of No. 10 Squadron) performed the type's first unassisted U-boat kill. Sunderlands also played a major role in the Mediterranean theatre, performing maritime reconnaissance flights and logistical support missions. During the evacuation of Crete, shortly after the German invasion of the island, several aircraft were used to transport troops. Numerous unarmed Sunderlands were also flown by civil operator British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), traversing routes as far afield as the Pacific Ocean.

During the post-war era, use of the Sunderland throughout Europe rapidly declined, while greater numbers remained in service in the Far East, where large developed runways were less prevalent. Between mid-1950 and September 1954, several squadrons of RAF Sunderlands saw combat action during the Korean War. Around a dozen aircraft had also participated in the Berlin airlift, delivering supplies to the blockaded German city. The RAF continued to use the Sunderland in a military capacity up to 1959. In December 1960, the French Navy retired their aircraft, which were the last remaining examples in military use within the Northern Hemisphere

The type also remained in service with the RNZAF up to 1967, when they were replaced by the land-based Lockheed P-3 Orion. A number of Sunderlands were converted for use within the civil sector, where they were known as the Short Sandringham; in this configuration, the type continued in airline operation until 1974. Several examples were preserved, including a single airworthy Sunderland which has been placed on display in Florida at Fantasy of Flight.

During the Second World War, although British anti-submarine efforts were disorganized and ineffectual at first, Sunderlands quickly proved useful in the rescue of the crews from torpedoed ships. On 21 September 1939, two Sunderlands rescued the entire 34-man crew of the torpedoed merchantman Kensington Court from the North Sea. As British anti-submarine measures improved, the Sunderland began to inflict losses as well. A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Sunderland (of No. 10 Squadron) made the type's first unassisted kill of a U-boat on 17 July 1940.

During its service, the Sunderland Mark I received various improvements. The nose turret was upgraded with a second .303 (7.7 mm) gun. New propellers together with pneumatic rubber wing de-icing boots were also fitted. Although the .303 guns lacked range and hitting power, the Sunderland had a considerable number of them and it was a well-built machine that was hard to destroy. On 3 April 1940, a Sunderland operating off Norway was attacked by six German Junkers Ju 88C fighters; during the engagement, it shot one down, damaged another enough to cause it to retreat and later perform a forced landing and drove off the rest. The Germans are reputed to have nicknamed the Sunderland the Fliegendes Stachelschwein ("Flying Porcupine") due to its defensive firepower.

View of a deployed bomb rack


Sunderlands also proved themselves in the Mediterranean theatre. They flew many evacuation missions during the German seizure of Crete, carrying as many as 82 passengers. One flew the reconnaissance mission to observe the Italian fleet at anchor in Taranto before the famous Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm's torpedo attack on 11 November 1940.

New weapons made the flying boats more deadly in combat. In 1939 during an accidental fratricidal attack, one 100 lb anti-submarine bomb hit the British submarine Snapper doing no more damage than breaking its light bulbs; other bombs had reportedly bounced up and hit their launch aircraft. In early 1943, these ineffective weapons were replaced by Torpex-filled depth charges that would sink to a determined depth and then explode. This eliminated the problem of bounce-back, and the shock wave propagating through the water augmented the explosive effect.

Royal Air Force Coastal Command, 1939-1945. Sergeant Patrick McCombie, a flight engineer of the Royal Australian Air Force, in his bunk on board a Short Sunderland of No. 10 Squadron RAAF at Mount Batten, Plymouth, Devon.


While the bright Leigh searchlight was rarely fitted to Sunderlands, ASV Mark II radar enabled the flying boats to attack U-boats on the surface. In response, the German submarines began to carry a radar warning system known formally as "Metox", and informally as the "Cross of Biscay" due to the appearance of its receiving antenna, that was tuned to the ASV frequency and gave the submarines early warning that an aircraft was in the area. Kills fell off drastically until ASV Mark III radar was introduced in early 1943, which operated in the centimetric band and used antennas mounted in blisters under the wings outboard of the floats, instead of the cluttered stickleback aerials.

Sunderland Mark IIIs fitted with ASV Mark III were called Sunderland Mark IIIAs. Centimetric radar was invisible to Metox and baffled the Germans at first. Admiral Karl Dönitz, commander of the German U-boat force, suspected that the British were being informed of submarine movements by spies. In August 1943, a captured RAF airman misled the Germans by telling them that the aircraft were homing in on the signals radiated by the Metox, and consequently U-boat commanders were instructed to turn them off.

The Germans responded to Sunderland attacks by fitting some U-boats with one or two 37 mm and twin quad 20 mm flak guns to fire back at their attackers. While Sunderlands could suppress flak to an extent with their nose turret guns, the U-boats guns had superior range, hitting power and accuracy. Attempting to shoot down Allied aircraft did, however, prolong the U-boat's presence on the surface, which made sinking the vessel easier. Nonetheless, fitting of substantial arrays of anti-aircraft guns temporarily decreased U-boat losses while both Allied aircraft and shipping losses rose.

As a countermeasure to the increased defensive armament of the U-boats, the Australians fitted their aircraft in the field with an additional four .303s in fixed mounts in the nose, allowing the pilot to add fire while diving on the submarine before bomb release. Most aircraft were similarly modified. The addition of single .50 inch (12.7 mm) flexibly mounted M2 Browning machine guns in the beam hatches behind and above the wing trailing edge also became common.

Two gunners in a Short Sunderland Mark I sit at their positions with .303 Vickers K-type machine guns, mounted in the upper fuselage hatches


The type's capacity to defend itself was demonstrated in particular by an air battle over the Bay of Biscayon 2 June 1943, when eight Junkers Ju 88Cs attacked a single Sunderland Mk III of No. 461 Squadron RAAFEJ134, squadron code: "N for Nuts". The 11 crew, led by F/Lt Colin Walker, were on an anti-submarine patrol, while also watching for any signs of a missing airliner, BOAC Flight 777. At 1900 hours, the rear gunner saw the Ju 88s, which belonged to V.Kampfgeschwader 40 and were led by Leutnant Friedrich Maeder.

Walker ordered the dumping of the bombs and depth charges, and took the engines to full power. Two Ju 88s made simultaneous passes at EJ134 from both sides, scoring hits and disabling one engine, while the pilots fought fires and took the Sunderland through corkscrew manoeuvres. On a third pass, the dorsal turret gunner badly damaged or shot down a Ju 88, although the Sunderland's rear gunner was knocked unconscious.

The next Ju 88 that attacked was hit by fire from the dorsal and nose turrets, and appeared to have been shot down. By this time, one crew member on the Sunderland had been mortally wounded and most of the others were wounded to varying degrees, while the aircraft's radio gear had been destroyed, among other damage. However, the rear gunner had recovered, and when EJ134 was attacked from behind, another Ju 88 was badly damaged and left the fight. The remaining Ju 88s continued to attack and the front gunner damaged one of these, setting its engines on fire. Two more Ju 88s were also damaged and the Germans disengaged. EJ134 was badly damaged and the crew threw everything they could overboard, while nursing the aircraft over the 350 mile journey to Britain.

At 2248 hours, Walker managed to beach the aircraft at Praa Sands, Cornwall. The 10 surviving crew members were able to wade ashore, while the Sunderland broke up in the surf. Walker received the Distinguished Service Order and several other crew members also received medals. They claimed three Ju 88s destroyed. (With the exception of Walker, the crew returned to operations in a new "N for Nuts", which was lost over the Bay of Biscay two months later, in an attack by six Ju 88s. On 2 June 2013, a memorial was opened on the green at Praa Sands.

At the end of the Second World War, a number of new Sunderlands built at Belfast were simply taken out to sea and scuttled as there was nothing else to do with them. In Europe the type was removed from service relatively quickly but in the Far East, where well developed runways were less common and large land based maritime patrol aircraft like the new Avro Shackleton could not be used so easily, there was still a need for it, and it remained in service with the RAF Far East Air Force at Singapore until 1959, and with the Royal New Zealand Air Force's No. 5 Squadron RNZAF until 1967.

During the Berlin Airlift (June 1948 – August 1949) 10 Sunderlands and two transport variants (known as Hythes) were used to transport goods from Finkenwerder on the Elbe near Hamburg to the isolated city, landing on the Havel river near RAF Gatow until it iced over. The Sunderlands were frequently used 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. When the Havelsee did freeze over the Sunderland's role was taken by freight-converted Handley Page Halifaxes with salt being carried in panniers fitted under the fuselage to avoid the corrosion problem.

From mid-1950, RAF Sunderlands also saw service during the Korean War initially with No. 88 Squadron but shortly followed by Nos. 205 and 209 Squadrons. The three squadrons shared the operational task equally with rotational detachments of three or four aircraft and crews based at Iwakuni, Japan. Missions lasting 10 to 13 hours were flown daily throughout the war, and also during the Armistice period that followed, until September 1954. The Sunderland also saw service with the RNZAF until 1967.

The French Navy Escadrille 7FE, which received Sunderlands when it was formed in 1943 as No. 343 Squadron RAF, continued to operate them until December 1960, the last unit to operate Sunderlands in the Northern Hemisphere.



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