The 1933, Air Ministry Specification R2/33 called for a new generation flying boat for ocean reconnaissance. Short’s Chief Designer, Arthur Gould, set about the task and, following the submission of a proposal designated the S.25 in 1934, the Ministry ordered a prototype for evaluation. The prototype K4774 first took flight in 16th October 1937 with Chief Test Pilot, John Lankester Parker, at the controls. Official enthusiasm for the project was so great that in March 1936 the Ministry pre-ordered 21 production aircraft, the first of which, the Sunderland, was ready by April 1938.
The first Sunderlands were powered by 4 x Bristol Pegasus XXII engines of 1,010 hp. The aircraft’s fuselage contained two decks incorporating six bunks, a galley with kerosene pressure stove, yacht-style flush lavatory and small machine shop for in-flight repairs. An originally intended crew of 7 was quickly increased to 11 or more. The aircraft entered service with the RAF in 1938 and when war broke out in September 1939, three Coastal Command squadrons were operational with a total of 34 machines. The Sunderland quickly proved useful in the rescue of the crews from torpedoed ships and as British anti-submarine measures improved, soon began to show its offensive capability. The type’s first unassisted kill of a U-boat took place on 17th July 1940 and it became a major player in the Battle of the Atlantic.
A wide range of munitions including bombs, mines and depth charges could be carried both internally and winched out beneath the wings, together with manually launched flares, sea markers and smoke-floats. Defensive armament comprised 16 x .303in Browning machine guns mounted in various turrets and ports supplement by 2 x .5in M2 Browning in beam hatches. Such was its defensive firepower that the Germans were reputed to have nicknamed the Sunderland the Fliegendes Stachelschwein (“Flying Porcupine”). A total of 27 U-boats were lost to it.
Post-war, the Sunderland took part in the Berlin Airlift, saw service in the Korean War and remained in service with the RAF until 1959. It equipped 8 RAF squadrons, served with the air arms of 7 other countries and a total of 777 were built. One airworthy survivor is purported to exist at the ‘Fantasy of Flight’ in Florida and several are on display in museums with examples at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.