Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 3: Short Stirling

Short Stirling

Data current to 23 March 2021.

 (IWM Photo, HU 107751)

Short Stirling of No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) in flight, 1 Jan 1942.

The Short Stirling was the first British four-engined bomber in service during the Second World War, entering RAF Squadrons early in 1941.  Many were flown with RCAF aircrews during the war.  During its use as a bomber, pilots praised the type for its ability to out-turn enemy night fighters and its favourable handling characteristics, while the altitude ceiling was often a subject of criticism.  The Stirling had a relatively brief operational career as a bomber before being relegated to second line duties from late 1943.  During its later service, the Stirling was used for mining German ports; new and converted aircraft also flew as glider tugs and supply aircraft during the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944–1945.

There is a Canadian connection to the Stirling.  An order for 150 Short Stirling bombers was placed with Canadian Associated Aircraft Ltd ( the company which built the Hampden).  These aircraft were intended to be Stirling Mk. II bombers, using Wright Cyclone engines, but when these engines were installed and test flown in England the aircraft was found to be under-powered, so this version was never built.  Ultimately, the Lancaster was built instead.  In 1944 a lone Stirling was flown across the Atlantic as part of a navigation training exercise and did a tour of bases in Eastern Canada, before flying back to England.  (Mike Peapell)

For those who may not have read it, Rob Ridley highly recommends Murray Peden's autobiography, "A Thousand Shall Fall" about his operations on the Short Stirling.  Murray is originally from Portage La Prairie, and was assigned to the RAF once he was posted overseas.   Paul Gribbons noted Peden also piloted Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses while serving with No. 214 Squadron, RAF, as they converted from the Short Sterling.  He also mentioned Canadian Alan Larden CGM and his Stirling pilot, Arthur Aaron VC, No. 218 Squadron, RAF.

Don Christopher noted, "many RCAF airmen flew in 'RAF' squadrons and refused to leave their mates once 6 Group was created."  Carl Christie noted, "more members of the RCAF served in RAF units than in RCAF ones during the Second World War."  He added, "the storied No. 617 Squadron was...a good example of the "Royal Commonwealth Air Force", including an American, RCAF Squadron Leader Joe McCarthy."

Joseph Charles "Big Joe" McCarthy, DSO, DFC, CD (31 August 1919 – 6 September 1998) was an American aviator who served with the RCAF in Bomber Command He is best known as the commander and pilot of Avro Lancaster coded AJ-T ("T-Tommy") in Operation Chastise, the "Dambuster" raid of 1943.

 (L. Faux Photos)

In June 1944, this Short S.29 Stirling B Mk. IV (Serial No. LK589), coded V3, RAF, was flown across the Atlantic as part of a navigation training exercise and did a tour of bases in Eastern Canada. It is shown here at Malton, Ontario.  It was flown back to the UK after a two-week visit. (L. Faux Photos)

LK589 was produced by Austin Motors in the Uk, this Stirling was equipped with a transparent nose fairing instead of a front nose turret, and under the fuselage is a bubble-like fairing for a radar navigation and bomb aiming device (H2S system). This aircraft was attached to the Central Navigation School.  It was painted in the standard late war night camouflage scheme.

Stirling LK589 left RAF Shawbury on the morning of 2 June 1944, and arrived at Dorval, Quebec in the evening of 3 June 1944, after making stops at Prestwick in the UK, Rekjavik, Iceland and Goose Bay, Labrador.  From Dorval, where lectures and demonstrations were given, the aircraft flew to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and back.  Over a period of 14 days, LK589 made numerous stops, and its aircrews gave lectures and demonstrations at RCAF Station Rockliffe, near Ottawa, Ontario, Malton, near Toronto, and London, Ontario, Winnipeg and RCAF Station Rivers, Manitoba, Calgary, Alberta, RCAF Station Boundary Bay and Patricia Bay in British Columbia.  Lectures were again given at Dorval, Quebec, before the crew and aircraft returned to the UK via RCAF Station Summerside, Prince Edward Island (lectures and demonstrations) and RCAF Station Goose Bay, Labrador.  LK589t arrived at RAF Shawbury via Prestwick on the evening of 26 June 1944.  It is estimated that some 4,000 personnel were shown over the aircraft during its stay in Canada.

The following aircrew participated in the flight to Canada: 

DDT Nav Air Ministry. G/Capt K W Niblett DFC
Pilot/Captain/Liason. 40125 S/Ldr D C McKinley DFC (later Air Vice Marshall)
Nav/Lecturer. 60329 S/Ldr A Potter
Radar/Liason. 74773 S/Ldr S F Evans
Second Pilot/Lecturer. 78867 F/Lt J F Davis DFC (later Air Commodore)
Nav/Lecturer 118107 F/Lt A A Creamer DFC
W/Op 161634 P/O H Stringer
Fitter (2E) 907092 Cpl Willoughby RPC
Fitter (FME) 979341 LAC Wiggins E
Rigger (FMA) 1205406 LAC Pashley E
Radar Mechanic R105534 LAC Madill K
Electrician 910316 LAC Dean B.

 (IWM Photo, CH 3295)

Short Stirling Mk. I (Serial No. W7429), coded  LS-J, No. 15 Squadron, RAF, based at Wyton, Huntingdonshire, c1942.

 (IWM Photo, HU 107751)

Short Stirling of No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), being refuelled at Waterbeach, 1942.

 (IWM Photo, HU 107814)

Short Stirling of No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), aircrew briefing c1942.

 (IWM Photo, HU 73788)

Short Stirling, coded B, No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), 1942.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, coded G-MG, c1942.

 (IWM Photo, CH 3175)

Short Stirling (Serial No. N3663), coded MG-H, No. 7 Squadron, RAF, on display at Newmarket Heath, Suffolk, during a visit by King Peter of Yugoslavia, 29 July 1941.  A typical bomb load is on view beneath the aircraft for the King's inspection.

 (IWM Photo, COL 203)

Short Stirling B Mk. I bombers, No. 7 Squadron, RAF, RAF Oakington, Cambridgeshire, England, c1942.

 (IWM Photo, TR 135)

Short Stirling (Serial No. W7455), coded OJ-B, No 149 Squadron, RAF, with its 7-man crew under the nose, waiting while their aircraft is being bombed-up.

 (IWM Photo, CH 5282)

Short Stirling B Mk. I, coded MG-A, No. 7 Squadron, RAF, being refuelled on the flight line at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, England, prior to a night raid on Dortmund, Germany,15 April 1942.

(RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, many of which were flown by RCAF aircrew during the Second World War.

 (British Ministry of Information Photo, BRO 94230)

Short Stirling bombers (Serial No. N3676), coded S, (Serial No. N6096), coded G, and (Serial No. N6069), coded C, No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), flying south-west in formation, with the outskirts of Waterbeach, England, in the foreground and Cambridge in the distance, 1 Apr 1942.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling bombers, (Serial No. N3676), coded S, (Serial No. N6096), coded G, and (Serial No. N6069), coded C, No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), RAF, flying south-west in formation, with the outskirts of Waterbeach, England, in the foreground and Cambridge in the distance, 1 Apr 1942.

 (IWM Photo, TR 9)

Short Stirling Mk. I (Serial No. N3676), coded S, No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), RAF, at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, England.  The aircrew are in full flying kit walking beneath the nose of N3676, while the ground crew run up the engines, 1942. 

 (IWM Photo, TR 8)

Short Stirling (Serial No. N6101),coded E, of No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), RAD, at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire in England.  RAF armourers are checking over the sixteen 250 lb bombs before they are loaded, 1 April 1942.

 (RCAFA Photo)

Short Stirling fleet in D-Day invasion stripes, lined up in preparation to serve as glider tugs and supply aircraft during the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944.

 (IWM Photo, CL 2629)

British airborne troops just disembarked from a Short Stirling, coded C5--, at Gardermoen airfield near Oslo, Norway.

 (IWM Photo, CH 3130)

Short Stirling Mk. I (Serial No. N3641), coded D-MG, No. 7 Squadron, RAF, running up its engines on the ground at Oakington, Cambridgeshire, England.

 (SDA&SM Archives)

Short Stirling, coded W-ZO.

 (SDA&SM Archives)

Short Stirling.

 IWM Photo, HU 107752)

Short Stirling Mk. I (Serial No. W7459), coded O, No. 1651 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit), RAF, in flight, 1942.

 (IWM Photo, 15898)

Czecho-Slovak orphans from German concentration camps make their way to Short Stirling GT Mk. IV, coded V8-K, of No. 570 Squadron, RAF, parked at Prague airport, which will fly them to the United Kingdom for rehabilitation.

 (IWM Photo, CH 5136)

Short Stirling, coded N-Nuts running up its engines at Mildenhall, UK as armourers of No. 19 Squadron fit bomb carriers to a pair of 1,000-pounders, 10 March 1942.

 (IWM Photo, CH 16996)

Short Stirling Mk. I (Serial No. N3725), coded HA-D, No. 218 Squadron, RAF, running its starboard outer engine at Marham, Norfolk, England.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, coded P.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, coded OJ-B.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling (Serial No. --50-).

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling (Serial N4069).

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, coded Q---.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, coded TV-Y.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, coded T-L5.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Stirling, coded W---.