The Short Sunderland 

Great Britain
Great Britain

side view front view under view

The Short Sunderland is Britains most famous seaplane of World War 2. The real succes of this aircraft can be seen in light of it's long operational career, and the respect it earned with friend and foe.
In 1933 the Air Ministry decided it needed a powerful 4-engine maritime reconnaissance flying boat, and issued its R.2/33 requirement. Two of the contenders for this contract had already experience with this type of aircraft, Saunders-Roe with its Type A.33 and Short with its type S.25. Both companies received an order for one prototype. The A.33 was not as advanced as the S.25, and for a variety of reasons did not make its first flight until October 1938. When it finally did, it broke its back as a result of a structural weakness revealed by the type’s tendency to porpoise on the water.
The S.25 had an excellent starting point in the S.23 series of civil flying boats ('Empire' or 'C-Class'), from which it was a direct descendant. The 'Empire' was already been operated by Imperial Airways, and this proven lineage was a leading factor in the decision of the Air Ministry who ordered 21 aircraft of the S.25 in March 1936. This was actually some 18 months before the first prototype made its maiden flight in October 1937.
The Sunderland inherited the basic configuration and structure of the S.23 Empire, and was therefore a clean cantilever high-wing monoplane of all metal construction with a semi-monocoque hull and stressed-skin flying surfaces. The flying boat was based on a two-step hull of good aerodynamic cleanliness, and this carried the cantilever flying surfaces, which consisted of a conventional tail unit with a low-set horizontal surface and a single vertical surface, and the slightly dihedraled wing. This wing was tapered in thickness and chord, carried two wire-braced underwing stabilizing floats on struts just outboard of the outer engine nacelles, and was fitted with the standard trailing-edge combination of inboard flaps and outboard ailerons.
The hull of the Empire was extensively adapted to suit the new type's different role; the most noticeable external changes were the Frazer-Nash bow and tail gun turrets, which were the first power-operated turrets installed in a British flying boat. Together with the two manually operated beam guns, the turrets provided the Sunderland with an excellent defensive armament. The flying boat would descend to sea level when it was attacked in order to protect its vulnerable under surfaces and then fight back with its powerfull defensive guns. This earned the Sunderland the German nickname ‘fliegende Stachelschwein’ (flying porcupine).
To offset the weight of the tail turret, the wings were swept back slightly to keep the center of gravity in the right position relative to the center of lift, the installation of the nose turret required that the flightdeck be moved slightly to the rear, and the rear hull step was changed from a transverse step to a vertical knife-edge. Further hull changes were the adoption of a two-deck interior whose upper deck provided stowage for the bomb racks that were winched outboard through side hatches to positions under the center section before release.

The initial production model was the Sunderland Mk I that entered service in the summer of 1938 with No.230 Squadron at Singapore and No.210 Squadron at Pembroke Dock, replacing the Short Singapore Mk III in both units.

Version list:

Further pictures:

Short Sunderland moored in some harbor
Short Sunderland moored in some harbor

Short Sunderland during take-off.
Short Sunderland during take-off.

 

Technical data on the Short Sunderland Mk I
Powerplant 4 × Bristol Pegasus XX radial, rated at 1010 hp (752.94 kW) each Role during war
  • U-boat Destroyer
  • Maritime/Coastal patrol reconnaissance Bomber
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Sea-Air rescue Aircraft
Length 85 ft 4.1 inch Height 32 ft 2 inch
Empty weight 30589 lb Operational weight 45210 lb typical,
49000 lb max
Wing Span 112 ft 9.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio 8.56
Wing Area 1487 sq ft Service ceiling 15000 ft
Maximum speed 209 mph at 5000 ft Cruising speed 170 mph at 5000 ft
Initial climb rate Climb to 5,000 ft in 7 min 12 sec Range 1790 miles typical,
2500 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 2,025 Imp gal (2,432 US gal) Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 × 0.303 inch Vickers 'K' trainable forward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 11 nose turret
  • 4 × 0.303 inch Browning trainable rearward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 13 tail turret, 500 rounds each
  • 2 × 0.303 inch Vickers 'K' trainable lateral-firing, one in each beam position
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 2,000 lb of disposable stores carried on two hardpoints in the fuselage, rated at 1,000 lb each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 4 × 500 lb bombs, or
  • 8 × 250 lb or 100 lb bombs
Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 10: pilot, co-pilot, navigator/bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator, up to 5 gunners Naval or ground based Naval
First flight (prototype) October 1937 Operational Service Summer 1938 - May 1959
Manufacturer Short Brothers Ltd. Number produced 739 total, 90 this version
Metric system
Length 26.01 m Height 9.8 m
Empty weight 13875 kg Operational weight 20507 kg typical,
22226 kg max
Wing Span 34.38 m Wing Aspect ratio 8.56
Wing Area 138.14 m² Service ceiling 4572 m
Maximum speed 336 km/h at 1524 m Cruising speed 274 km/h at 1524 m
Initial climb rate Climb to 1.525 m in 7 min 12 sec Range 2881 km typical,
4023 km max
Fuel capacity internal 11.055 liters Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 × 7,7 mm Vickers 'K' trainable forward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 11 nose turret
  • 4 × 7,7 mm Browning trainable rearward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 13 tail turret, 500 rounds each
  • 2 × 7,7 mm Vickers 'K' trainable lateral-firing, one in each beam position
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 907 kg of disposable stores carried ion two hardpoints in the fuselage, rated at 454 kg each. General disposables load consisted of:
  • 4 × 227 kg bombs, or
  • 8 × 113 kg or 45 kg bombs
Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Short Sunderland Mk III
Powerplant 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90B Twin Wasp radial, rated at 1200 hp (894.59 kW) each Role during war
  • U-boat Destroyer
  • Maritime/Coastal patrol reconnaissance Bomber
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Sea-Air rescue Aircraft
Length 85 ft 3.5 inch Height 34 ft 6 inch
Empty weight 36900 lb Operational weight 65000 lb max
Wing Span 112 ft 9.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio unknown
Wing Area 1687 sq ft Service ceiling 17900 ft
Maximum speed 213 mph at 5000 ft Cruising speed 133 mph at 2000 ft
Initial climb rate unknown Range 2690 miles typical
Fuel capacity internal unknown Fuel capacity external unknown
Machine guns
  • 2 × 0.303 inch Vickers 'K' trainable forward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 11 nose turret
  • 4 × 0.303 inch fixed forward-firing in the nose
  • 4 × 0.303 inch Browning trainable rearward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 13 tail turret, 500 rounds each
  • 2 × 0.50 inch trainable lateral-firing, one in each beam position
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 4,960 lb of disposable stores carried on hardpoints in the fuselage, rating unknown. General disposables load consisted of:
  • bombs, mines, or depth charges
Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 10: pilot, co-pilot, navigator/bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator, up to 5 gunners Naval or ground based Naval
First flight (prototype) October 1937 Operational Service Summer 1938 - May 1959
Manufacturer Short Brothers Ltd. Number produced 739 total, 456 this version
Metric system
Length 26 m Height 10.52 m
Empty weight 16738 kg Operational weight 29484 kg max
Wing Span 34.38 m Wing Aspect ratio unknown
Wing Area 156.72 m² Service ceiling 5456 m
Maximum speed 343 km/h at 1524 m Cruising speed 214 km/h at 610 m
Initial climb rate unknown Range 4329 km typical
Fuel capacity internal unknown Fuel capacity external unknown
Machine guns
  • 2 × 7,7 mm Vickers 'K' trainable forward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 11 nose turret
  • 4 × 7,7 mm fixed forward-firing in the nose
  • 4 × 7,7 mm Browning trainable rearward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 13 tail turret, 500 rounds each
  • 2 × 12,7 mm trainable lateral-firing, one in each beam position
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 2.250 kg of disposable stores carried on hardpoints in the fuselage, rating unknown. General disposables load consisted of:
  • bombs, mines, or depth charges
Torpedoes/rockets -

Technical data on the Short Sunderland Mk V
Powerplant 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90B Twin Wasp radial, rated at 1200 hp (894.59 kW) each Role during war
  • U-boat Destroyer
  • Maritime/Coastal patrol reconnaissance Bomber
  • Reconnaissance Aircraft
  • Sea-Air rescue Aircraft
Length 85 ft 4 inch Height 32 ft 10.5 inch
Empty weight 37000 lb Operational weight 65000 lb max
Wing Span 112 ft 9.5 inch Wing Aspect ratio unknown
Wing Area 1482 sq ft Service ceiling 17900 ft
Maximum speed 213 mph at 5000 ft Cruising speed 133 mph at 2000 ft
Initial climb rate 840 ft per min,
Climb to 12,000 ft in 16 min 0 sec
Range 2690 miles typical,
2980 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 2,552 Imp gal (3,064 US gal) Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 × 0.303 inch Browning trainable forward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 11 nose turret
  • 4 × 0.303 inch Browning fixed forward-firing in the nose
  • 2 × 0.303 inch Browning trainable in the power-operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 7 dorsal turret, 1,000 rounds each
  • 4 × 0.303 inch Browning trainable rearward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 13 tail turret, 1000 rounds each
  • 2 × 0.50 inch trainable lateral-firing, one in each beam position, 400 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 4,960 lb of disposable stores carried on hardpoints in the fuselage, rating unknown. General disposables load consisted of:
  • bombs, mines, or depth charges
Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 10: pilot, co-pilot, navigator/bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator, up to 5 gunners Naval or ground based unknown
First flight (prototype) October 1937 Operational Service summer 1938 - may 1959
Manufacturer Short Brothers Ltd. Number produced 739 total, 150 this version
Metric system
Length 26.01 m Height 10.02 m
Empty weight 16783 kg Operational weight 29484 kg max
Wing Span 34.38 m Wing Aspect ratio unknown
Wing Area 137.68 m² Service ceiling 5456 m
Maximum speed 343 km/h at 1524 m Cruising speed 214 km/h at 610 m
Initial climb rate 256 m per min,
Climb to 3.660 m in 16 min 0 sec
Range 4329 km typical,
4796 km max
Fuel capacity internal 11.601 liters Fuel capacity external -
Machine guns
  • 2 × 7,7 mm Browning trainable forward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 11 nose turret
  • 4 × 7,7 mm Browning fixed forward-firing in the nose
  • 2 × 7,7 mm Browning trainable in the power-operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 7 dorsal turret, 1,000 rounds each
  • 4 × 7,7 mm Browning trainable rearward-firing in power operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 13 tail turret, 1000 rounds each
  • 2 × 12,7 mm trainable lateral-firing, one in each beam position, 400 rounds each
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 2.250 kg of disposable stores carried on hardpoints in the fuselage, rating unknown. General disposables load consisted of:
  • bombs, mines, or depth charges
Torpedoes/rockets -

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Short Sunderland 
Short S.25 Sunderland The oficial type designation of Short was the type S.25. Later it became known as the Short S.25 Sunderland, or Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland Mk I This first production version was ordered even before the first prototype flew. For technical details see table.
Number built: 78
Short Sunderland Mk II This version was the successor of the Sunderland Mk I, and flew for the first time in August 1941. The main difference was the powerplant: 4 × Bristol Pegasus XVIII radial, rated at 1,065 hp (794 kW) each, at an altitude of 1,250 ft (381 m). These had the same propellers as the Mk I, 3-bladed metal de Havilland variable pitch.
Later production aircraft had the two manually operated beam guns replaced by one power-operated Frazer-Nash F.N. 7 dorsal turret, armed with 2 × 0.303 inch (7,7 mm) guns. An air-to-surface radar was fitted in the form of an ASV.Mk II radar, giving the Sunderland it's distinctive antennaes (4 on top, and 4 on each side). All aircraft were built by Short and Blackburn
Number built: 58
Short Sunderland Mk III This version flew in June 1942 for the first time, and it was the first version to enter large scale production. It was based on late-production Mk II Sunderlands, but had a revised planing bottom that incorporated a forward step that was much reduced in depth.
During 1943 German submarines, the 'natural prey' of the Sunderland, changed tactics in leaving French submarine pens. They simply took off high-speed on the surface, defended by their own light anti-aircraft battery of 20 mm or 37 mm cannon. To counteract this, Short fitted the Sunderland with an additional 4 × 0.303 inch (7,7 mm) guns controlled by the pilot. The pilot could thus sweep the deck of the Sub, and put the German gunners out of action. Then it would in the same maneuver overfly the sub, and drop depth charges on it.
This version was built by Short and Blackburn as well.
Number built: 407
Short Sunderland Mk IIIA The Mk IIIA differed only from the Mk II with respect to the radar used. In this instance, it was the ASV.Mk III air-to-surface radar
Number built: unknown out of 407
Short Sunderland Mk IV There was a Mk IV once, but since it differed too much from the original Sunderland, another name was designated: Short S.45 Seaford
Short Sunderland GR.Mk V During development of the Sunderland the powerplant based on Bristol Pegasus engines couldn't really cope with the increase in weight anymore. So, another powerplant was needed, and found, in the form of 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90B Twin Wasp radial, rated at 1,200 hp (895 kW) each. The propeller was changed as well, to the De Havilland 3-bladed metal propeller of the constant-speed type.
Number built: 150

Operational remarks:

The Sunderland was the most well known British flying boat in it's time. It performed well in the roles it was assigned to, as a maritime reconnaissance aircraft and as a submarine destroyer.
The first kill of the Sunderland was made on 31 January 1941 when a Coastal Command Sunderland of No. 228 Squadron sighted the German submarine U-55. It was promptly bombed and destroyed. This was the first U-boat kill recorded for Coastal Command as well.
Another story tells the good defensive capabilities of the Sunderland. On 3 April 1941 a lone Sunderland was attacked by six Junkers Ju 88's. The Sunderland dove down to sea level in order to protect the vulnerable lower surfaces, meanwhile firing it's guns in defence. In the ensuing fight it destroyed one, and damaged another which made a force landing in Norway. The other four were driven off as well.
The Sunderland was operational almost all over the world, from the North Sea to the Indian Ocean. In Afica a tale of the endurance of the Sunderland was told when a Sunderland on convoy-escort duties ran into engine troubles. It landed close to the convoy, and was subsequently taken in tow by the closest corvette for 3 full days in bad weather conditions. The Sunderland came out of it unscathed.
After the war the SUnderland was pahased out slowly, but for a brief period was very active again. Only three squadrons remained when the air-lift to Berlin started. During the Berlin Airlift the aircraft of No.s 201, 230 and 235 Squadron hauled 4.800 tons of freight from Hamburg to Berlin Havel See in the period between June and December. After that the first two Squadrons remained operational until 1957 with Sunderlands. In the Far East the last Sunderland left operational service in 1959.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

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© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 5/27/02