In a recent blog post, I wrote about the most famous flying boat of World War Two, the Short Sunderland. I was lucky enough to visit the RAF Museum at Hendon in north London, where the aircraft is positioned in a very large space, unlike the way it was rather cramped way it was displayed when I went to Duxford in 2009:
With the Sunderland, under its starboard wing almost, is a Supermarine Walrus, which is not a flying boat but an amphibian, an aircraft which can go on land as well as on water.
The Walrus is an extremely unattractive flying machine, and it is extremely difficult to imagine that it was designed by RJ Mitchell, the man who designed the world’s most beautiful aircraft ever. This was the fighter that was originally to be called the Supermarine Shrew, until the name was changed to Supermarine Spitfire (“just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose.” (Mitchell)).
The Walrus was intended to be a gunnery spotting aircraft for sea battles between big warships, but this only happened twice, in the Battle of Cape Spartivento and the Battle of Cape Matapan. In actual fact, the Walrus’ main task was to patrol the seas looking for German or Italian submarines and surface warships. By 1941, the Walruses, or perhaps Walri, had air-to-surface radar for this purpose, although by 1943, all catapult-launched aircraft on Royal Navy ships, including the Walrus, were being phased out as the catapult and the hangar took up too much deck space.
The Walrus was then used at sea only on aircraft carriers as its landing speed was very low and neither flaps nor a tail-hook was necessary. The Royal Navy didn’t have that many aircraft carriers, so the main use of the Walrus now became chiefly air-sea rescue from land bases.
Before the Walrus, the British had not had any aircraft specifically designed for air-sea rescue in home waters.
Here’s the Walrus from the front:
And here it is from the back. Notice how the four bladed propeller is so close to the rear gunner that it may give him a short-back-and-sides haircut if he is not careful:
Here are the wheels which the pilot would lower before landing in the normal way on a runway. As I mentioned above, the Walrus had such a low stalling speed that it could land on an aircraft carrier without recourse to an arrester hook or to any safety nets. Presumably this allowed the Walrus to transport very badly wounded casualties to an aircraft carrier for immediate medical treatment, if the wounded man was too badly injured for a long flight to land :
Here are the floats underneath each wing tip. They appear to have about three thousand of Rosie the Riveter’s finest holding them together:
And to finish up, here’s an overall view of a Walrus:
It flies at about 55mph, but finds long climbs rather challenging. No, just joking!