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

Short Sunderland

Data current to 7 March 2021.

 (DND Photo)

Short Sunderland, coded Z, 15 Apr 1943.

The Short S.25 Sunderland was an RAF long-range patrol and reconnaissance flying boat.  The aircraft took its service name from the town  of Sunderland in North East England.  It had an advanced aerodynamic hull and was outfitted with various offensive and defensive armaments, including machine gun turrets, bombs, aerial mines and depth charges.

The Sunderland was powered by four Bristol Pegasusu XVIII radial engines and was outfitted with various detection equipment to aid in combat operations, including the Leigh searchlight, the ASV Mk. II and ASV Mk. III radar units and an astrodome.

The Sunderland served as 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 RCAF and many other allied nations.  During the war, the Sunderland was heavily involved in Allied efforts to counter the threat posed by German U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic.  

The RAF continued to use the Sunderland in a military capacity up to 1959.  One is preserved in the RAF Museum. 

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 5081614)

Short Sunderland, RCAF crew, L to R: F/O Frederick Field, P/O N.C. Rowley, WO1 T.E. Campbell, F/O W.J. Bice and WO1 J.O. Fink, Coastal Command, after their machine-gun attack on a German U-boat which had been attempting to harass Allied shipping.

 (IWM Photo,  CH832)

Short Sunderland Mk. I flying boat of No. 210 Squadron RAF based at Oban in Scotland, patrols over a Canadian troop convoy on its way to Greenock, 31 July 1940.

 (IWM Photo, CH12236)

Short S.25 Sunderland Mk. III Short Sunderland, coded 2E, No. 422 Squadron RCAF based at RAF Castle Archdale, Northern Ireland.

 (RAF Photo)

Short S.25 Sunderland Mk. III (Serial No. EK591), coded 2-U of No. 422 Squadron RCAF based at RAF Castle Archdale, Northern Ireland in 1944, sank German U-boat U-625 on 10 March 1944.  Warrant Officer 2nd Class W. F. Morton was on his first operational sortie as captain when he and his crew attacked and sunk U-625 west of Ireland at position 52º53’N 20º19’W . The Type VIIC was skippered by Oberleutnant zur See Siegried Straub.  The entire crew of 53 hands were on their 11th day of patrolling when they perished in the attack, but not before they struck back with fierce flak that damage the port front hull of the Sunderland. 

 (IWM Photo)

U-629 sinking.

 (IWM Photo, CH 854)

Short Sunderland, Frazer-Nash FN13 rear turret, August 1940.  The Sunderland was the first RAF flying boat to be fitted with power-operated gun turrets.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Sunderland Mk. V, coded CT, flown by RCAF aircrew during the Second World War.  None are preserved in Canada.  One is preserved in the RAF Museum, Hendon, UK.  RCAF No. 422 Squadron and No. 423 Squadron flew the Sunderland during the war.

 (Chad Kainz Photo)

Short Sunderland, RAF (Serial No. ML796), nose gun turret, IWM Duxford.

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.

 (RuthAS Photo)

Sunderland V ML824 displayed at the RAF Museum London at Hendon wearing the codes of No. 201 Sqn RAF.

 (RAF Photo)

Short Sunderland, flown by RCAF aircrew during the Second World War.

 (IWM Photo, CH 14837)

Short Sunderland and Catalina flying boats of RAF Coastal Command at Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland, January 1945.  Nearly all the aircraft on strength with three Coastal Command squadrons are visible here, drawn up out of the water at Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland as Logh Erne froze over in January 1945.  More than 30 aircraft can be seen, including Sunderlands of No. 201 Squadron, and No. 423 Squadron, RCAF, and No. 202 Squadron's Catalinas.

 (IWM Photo, C 4614)

Short Sunderland (Serial No. EK573), coded P of No. 10 Squadron, RCAF, 'unsticks' after picking up three survivors from a Vickers Wellington shot down in the Bay of Biscay, 27 August 1944.  Despite a heavy swell - and the knowledge that many such landing attempts had ended in disaster - Flight Lieutenant W.B. (Bill) Tilley executed a successful rescue.  The No. 172 Squadron Wellington had crashed after being hit by return fire during an attack on U-534 the previous night.