Canadian Warplanes 3: Short Stirling

Short Stirling

(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.  It was powered by four Bristol Hercules Mk. XVI air-cooled radial piston engines, and flown with a seven-man crew. It had a maximum speed of 435 km/h (270 mph) at 4,420 metres (14,500 feet), a range of 3,235 km (2,010 miles), with a 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) bomb load. It was armed with eight .303-inch Browning machine guns, with two in the nose, two in the mid-upper dorsal turret and four in the rear turret. It could carry a bombload of 6,350 kg (14,000 lb) in the lower fuselage and wing cenre section.

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.

Detailed records of all known RCAF and Canadian casualties in the RAF during the Second World War may be viewed on line in the Canadian Aircraft Serials Personnel Information Resource (CASPIR). The CASPIR website is researched, coded, maintained entirely by Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM) volunteers with only one staff assisting periodically. This work has taken several years and is unlikely to be finished as continuing research leads to “new finds” and rediscovered Canadian aviation heritage and history.  The CWHM volunteer team looks forward to continuing to update and correct the record as additional information and photos are received. Check here.

(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.

The Short Stirling was a British four-engined heavy bomber of the Second World War. It has the distinction of being the first four-engined bomber to be introduced into service with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The Stirling was designed during the late 1930s by Short Brothers to conform with the requirements laid out in Air Ministry Specification B.12/36. Prior to this, the RAF had been primarily interested in developing increasingly capable twin-engined bombers but had been persuaded to investigate a prospective four-engined bomber as a result of promising foreign developments in the field. Out of the submissions made to the specification Supermarine proposed the Type 317, which was viewed as the favourite, whereas Short's submission, named the S.29, was selected as an alternative. When the preferred Type 317 had to be abandoned, the S.29, which later received the name Stirling, proceeded to production. In early 1941 the Stirling entered squadron service. During its use as a bomber pilots praised the type for its ability to out-turn enemy night fighters and its favourable handling characteristics whereas 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. This was due to the increasing availability of the more capable Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster, which took over the strategic bombing of Germany. Decisions by the Air Ministry on certain performance requirements (most significantly to restrict the wingspan of the aircraft to 100 feet) had played a role in limiting the Stirling's performance; the 100ft limit also affected earlier models of the Halifax (MkI & MkII) though the Lancaster never adhered to it.

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 during 1944–1945. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the type was rapidly withdrawn from RAF service, having been replaced in the transport role by the Avro York, a derivative of the Lancaster that had previously displaced it from the bomber role. A handful of ex-military Stirlings were rebuilt for the civil market. (Wikipedia)

(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 Mk/ I (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. RAF Waterbeach.

(IWM Photo, CH 5988)

The air and ground crews responsible for the maintenance, servicing and flying of a Short Stirling B Mk. I of No. 218 Squadron RAF at Marham, Norfolk. Standing at the front is the aircrew; captain, second pilot, flight engineer, observer (navigator), wireless operator, air gunner/bomb aimer and two air gunners. Behind them stand the meteorological officer, a WAAF parachute packer and the Flying Control officer. In the third rank stand 12 flight maintenance crew and 18 ground servicing crew, and behind them the tractor driver with his bomb-train in front of the 11-strong 'bombing-up' team. Behind the aircraft to the left is the refuelling team of 3 airmen with their petrol bowser, and finally, to the right, the oil bowser and its driver.

(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, IWM Photo TR37)

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.

17/18 Aug 1943.  74 RCAF bombers took part in Operation Hydra, a night attack by RAF Bomber Command on a German scientific research centre at Peenemünde.  244 Short Stirlings and Handley Page Halifax bombers attacked in the first wave, 131 Avro Lancasters attacked in the second wave.  The third wave was made up of 117 Lancasters of No. 5 Group RAF, and 52 Halifax and nine Lancaster bombers of No. 6 (RCAF) Group. They were guided to their targets by G/C John H. Searby, CO of No. 83 Squadron RAF, who commanded the operation.  This was the first time that Bomber Command used a master bomber to direct the attack of the main force. Hydra began the Crossbow campaign against the German V-weapon programme. 215 aircrew and 40 bombers were lost on this operation.  The Luftwaffe lost twelve night-fighters and about 170 German civilians were killed, including twoV-2 rocket scientists.  Prototype V-2rocket launches were delayed for about two months, testing and production was dispersed and the morale of the German survivors was severely affected.  The Luftwaffe dispatched 213 night fighters once the British bombers made landfall over Denmark, including 158 conventional twin-engined aircraft and 55 single-engined Wilde Sau (Wild Boar) Bf 109 and Fw190 fighters.  German night-fighters shot down 28 bombers in about fifteen minutes, some using the new upward-firing firing “Schräge Musik”. The bomber gunnersshot down five of the German fighters. (Wikipedia)

(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, summer 1945.

(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 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---.

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