Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (1)

One of the world’s most bewitching aircraft is the Sunderland flying boat. When I was a boy, I never did save up enough pocket money for the Airfix kit, although it was only fifty pence or so in the 1960s. I should have bought it then, though. They’re fifty pounds now!

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a flying boat patrol bomber operated not just by RAF Coastal Command but also by the RAAF, the RCAF, the SAAF, the RNoAF and the Marinha Portuguesa. The last one’s a bit of a give away, but did you get all of the rest? This one’s Australian:

The Sunderland was designed and built by Short Brothers of Belfast, and the cynic inside me says that it was the only decent aircraft of their own that they made during the war. This model of the aircraft was numbered the S.25 because it was a warplane but it was a direct descendant of the S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways. Here it is, a beautiful aircraft:

The new aircraft S25 was very well designed for its purpose. The Sunderland had a wingspan of 112 feet, a length of 85 feet and a height of 32 feet. It was a big aeroplane! Even the stabilising floats on the wings were as big as a rowing boat or a small plane. Compare one of them with the man with a pram, and the Walrus behind them both:

A Sunderland had four Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines which gave it a total of 4,260 horse power:

And those powerful Pegasus engines gave it a range of around 1800 miles at a cruising speed of 178 mph Don’t fly too fast when you’re doing maritime reconnaissance!

The S 25 Sunderland featured a hull even more aerodynamic and more advanced than that of the S23. You can see why it’s called a “Flying Boat”:

Here’s lengthways:

Here’s the nose end of that hull:

Weapons included machine guns in front and rear turrets. The front turret had rather weak 0.303 guns which could not always penetrate thick metal, but at least I got a good shot of it:

I even got a good shot of the three jokers who seemed to be making off with the plane from the Hendon museum, trying to push it backwards through the very large French windows:

Here’s some close-ups for the wanted posters:

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I didn’t get any good photographs of the rear turret but it had heavier 0.50 calibre machine guns. You can just about spot it among the bits of other aircraft. It’s slightly right of centre:

There was also a heavy machine gun firing from each of the beam hatches. You can just about see one poking out here:

The Sunderland made extensive use of bombs, aerial mines, and depth charges. Here are four which have been winched out ready to drop. Hopefully, they are dummies:

Here they are in close up.

The Vickers Wellington’s immensely  powerful Leigh Lights, designed to light up U-boats on the surface at night, were rarely, if ever, fitted to Sunderlands.

Next time, a look inside the mighty Sunderland.



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Film & TV, History, Personal

27 responses to “Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (1)

  1. Not many left, and only one airworthy – and that is in the ÙS :-/

    • It’s such a pity that only one Sunderland is airworthy. I’ve always thought that there was money to be made by flying the very, very rich from island to island in a flying boat, whether that was in the West Indies or in the Pacific. Perhaps even a TV series, some kind of aerial version of “Love Island”.

  2. I can certainly see why it is called a flying boat. Your title keeps us in suspense for the rest. 🙂

  3. What a wonderful specimen she is, John! Such clean lines.

    • Yes, it’s a beautiful aircraft and fits quite neatly into a well documented family tree of Short’s flying boats.
      One of the major features of the design was apparently a much improved and more effective “step” in the hull. You can see this step in the photograph of the S.25 under the wing, level with the first, lower, set of largish windows.
      Apparently, as a flying boat takes off, unless you have an effective step, the aircraft may well remain “glued” to the water. With the step, as the speed builds up, air gets in, and the take-off is much easier and usually, much shorter,

  4. What a beast. I remember the Airfix kit but like you never had it in my collection.

    • Yes, indeed. My Dad told me that Lancaster crews were so jealous of the space inside a Sunderland, and of the fact that there was a galley and you could have cups of tea or simple meals. Such luxury probably comes from the fact that all od its predecessors were flying boats designed for paying passengers, attracted by the promise of “India in a week!”

  5. I well remember when I was young and that was just after the war that we used to listen to a radio show called Simon Black . Coastal command. They flew there Sunderland flying boat over the Bay of Biscay. That radio show was a very important part of my early years and I’ve always been a great fan of the Sunderland since then

    • A very large proportion of those Bay of Biscay aircraft were from the RAAF. As you will see, the Bay of Biscay was a very unforgiving environment and not many men were shot down there and survived the experience.
      The Australian Sunderland above, incidentally, is pictured at Pembroke Dock in south west Wales.
      This link tells the story of the plan to raise the wreck of the Sunderland which sank there in 1940 and was rediscovered in 2006.

  6. Jan

    John, I think you already know that Aaaron Spelling beat you to it: “Ze plane, ze plane!” The plutocrats had to rough it aboard a Grumann Widgeon rather than a Sunderland, but it was a true flyingboat and not a mere seaplane. Let me waft you back 40 years to Saturday night TV.

  7. Chris Waller

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sunderland. It’s a quite magnificent aircraft. I saw one coming in to land on the Solent when we were on holiday in Bournemouth. That would have been in 1956. It looked, to my eyes, absolutely enormous. I always think of it as one the last emblems of the British Empire and the days when one could fly BIA from Cairo to South Africa.

    • Yes, I would love to see a Sunderland land or take off! They were giant aircraft but at the same time, in no way like the Spruce Goose or the Princess, because they were a tried and trusted means of transport.
      If you search on Amazon for “flying boats” DVDs, there are a number of relevant titles at low price.

  8. The Sunderland is a fabulous aircraft one of (if not the most) successful from the Shorts factory. In the early stages of the war crews were transferred from Sunderland’s to Stirling’s, as Bomber Command crews didn’t know how to fly, or maintain, four engined bombers! My father worked on Sunderland’s, he told us that their tools were attached to corks so when working on engines whilst in the water, any that were dropped stayed afloat. Many were assembled on Windermere too, the enormous factory now a caravan site on the lakeside (a forthcoming post of mine). Lovely pictures John, always a challenge it Hendon and Duxford.

    • Thanks very much for that, especially the detail that all the tools would float. I shall be doing a post about Arthur Harris in the New Year and all the scathing things he said about the people at the top. It isn’t giving too much away to say that Butch’s verdict would surely have been that the one thing the Short’s factory did not lack were corks, with countless bottles of wine consumed at every board meeting.

  9. Pierre Lagacé

    Missed that one also John!

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  12. Gary Freer

    Pretty sure Sandy Powell flew these during WW2. Somewhat unmentionable raising …..

  13. Yes, I have been told that as well. He told me that he went to West Africa at one point and that he saw the Dornier Do-X ten engined flying boat which had been captured.
    The Forceswarrecords website never has a lot to say about WW2 veterans, but it did reveal that John Desmond Powell was a War Substantive Flying Officer who volunteered for the RAF at Birmingham after July 1942. His service number was 1816258.

    • Thank you very much, Pierre. And I did enjoy it. When I first went to the High School one of the more senior teachers,l I discovered, had been a Sunderland pilot during the war, although he seldom talked about what he had done. And my Dad certainly had great respect for them… aircraft where you could sleep and get hot food!

      • Pierre Lagacé

        I didn’t even watch it John. When I saw it I quickly wrote you a comment.
        Now I will enjoy it.

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