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Heavy Bomber


Short Stirling

SHORT STIRLING - The Short S.29 Stirling was designed under the direction of Arthur Gouge as Short's response to Specification B.I2/36, which defined a heavy bomber to meet Operational Requirement OR. 40 drawn up by the Air Staff in 1936. Two prototypes ordered 1937, for competitive evaluation with Supermarine Type 316. Powered by four 1,150 hp Bristol Hercules Is, the first Short Stirling, L7600, flew at Rochester on May 14, 1939, but was damaged beyond repair when u/c collapsed on landing. Second prototype, L7605, flew on December 3, 1939, by which time Shorts had flown a l/2-scale Short Stirling (see Short S.31), and first Short Stirling production order had been placed.

Short Stirling

Extraordinarily, the first Stirling and Halifax heavy bomber squadrons were expected to operate from turf-surfaced airfields. This was not a problem in summer, but these 30-ton giants rutted and churned up runways at other times of the year and were often bogged down. No 7 Squadron at Oakington was the first with Stirlings and suffered with unsuitable surface conditions for many months until concrete runways were laid. Until sufficient concrete hardstandings were available, the Stirlings at Oakington were lined up on the out-of-use runways for bombing up, as in this photograph taken in March 1942. W7466/MG:B, with P Off M. R. Green and crew, failed to return from its sixth sortie, the Liibeck raid later in the month, crashing at Gnutz. The MG sports car is appropriate transport for a member of this squadron! (IWM CH5177)

Short Stirling I: Initial production version, with orders eventually totalling 267 by Shorts at Rochester, 266 by Short & Harland at Belfast and 191 by Austin Motors at Longbridge. First production Short Stirling flown on May 7, 1940, at Rochester, and first at Belfast on October 28, 1940. Initial aircraft were Series 1 (320 built) with 1,375 hp Hercules II engines and armament of eight 0.303-in (7.7-mm) m/gs in FN5A nose, FN4A tail and FN25A retractable ventral turrets. Bomb-load was up to 14,000 lb (6,350 kg), and crew of seven carried. Found operationally unfit, first ten Srs 1s classified as Short Stirling Trainers.

Short Stirling I Srs 2 (117 built) introduced 1,590 hp Hercules XI engines with two-speed superchargers in Short-designed powerplants, and had two beam m/gs in FN55A mounts to replace ventral turret. The Srs 3 (307) had Hercules XIs in Bristol-designed powerplants and FN7A or FN50A two-gun dorsal turret in place of beam guns; some aircraft (perhaps Srs 4) later had provision for a remotely-controlled FN64A ventral turret, and an FN20A rear turret. Short Stirling Is also used 1,400 hp Hercules III and 1,420 hp Hercules X engines. Deliveries began late 1940 to No 7 Sqn, which flew first operation on night of February 10/11, 1941. No 7 later became only Short Stirling unit in Pathfinder Force; all other Short Stirling bomber squadrons, comprising four by end-1941, three more in 1942 and further four in 1943, served in No 3 Group, Bomber Command; seven of these squadrons flew Short Stirling Is.

Short Stirling II: Proposed Canadian production version to be built at St Hubert, PQ, by Canadian Associated Aircraft, with 1,600 hp Wright R-2600-A5B Cyclone engines. Three Mk I airframes completed as Mk II prototypes in UK, with first flight at Rochester August 1941. Planned production of 140 in Canada cancelled, as also was proposed Mk II production at new shadow factory operated by Shorts at South Marston, near Swindon. One Mk II later converted to Mk III prototype.

Short Stirling III: Improved Mk I Srs 3 with 1,615 hp Hercules VI (and, later, Hercules XVI) engines in powerplants with under-slung oil coolers. Two Mk Is converted to Mk III prototypes (one having previously served as third Mk II), the first flying at Rochester in June 1942. Production switched from Mk'I to Mk III late 1942 and 1,037 built (266 by Shorts at Rochester/ South Marston, 342 at Belfast and 429 by Austin). A few Mk Is also converted to Mk IIIs. Standard armament comprised FN5A nose, FN50A dorsal and FN20A tail turrets; provision for FN64A ventral turret, seldom fitted. Installation of H2S with distinctive ventral radome soon became standard on Mk IIIs, and in early 1944 aircraft in at least five squadrons fitted with additional 0.50-in (12.7-mm) gun in aft escape hatch for rear defence. Mk III operations began in February 1943 and this variant used by nine squadrons.

Short Stirling IV: Adaptation of Mk III as glider tug and/or paratroop transport. Nose and dorsal turrets removed. For glider-towing, fitted with coupling on stirrup mount round tail turret (which sometimes removed). As paratrooper carrying 20, had glazed cupola in place of tail turret, and no coupling; exit hatch in rear fuselage aft of bomb cells. One prototype of each version converted from Mk Ills, flown in August 1943. Production of Mk IIIs thereafter switched to Mk IVs and delivery commenced in last quarter of 1943.

Production totals were ten by Short and 450 by Short & Harland, with at least a further 130 Mk IIIs converted. Deliveries began early 1944 and operational use, on SOE sorties, started by March; two squadrons in UK and one in North Africa flew Mk IVs (and some Mk Ills) for this purpose. Eleven other squadrons eventually flew Short Stirling IVs in troop-transport and GT role; as a tug, could tow one Hamilcar, two Horsas or up to five Hotspurs.

Short Stirling V: Unarmed personnel, cargo and vehicle transport derivative of Mk III, to carry 20 paratroops, 40 troops, two jeeps with trailers or 12 stretchers and 14 sitting wounded. Lengthened nose fairing, hinged to give access to cargo compartment, and large loading door in starboard side. One prototype conversion of Mk III, first flown at Rochester August 1944, and 160 built at Belfast (ending November 1945) principally to be used by Tiger Force in Far East. Deliveries began September 1944, and five squadrons flying Mk Vs when war with Japan ended.

Specification Stirling
Mk. III Mk. V
Crew 7
Length 87 ft 3 in (26.59 m) 90 ft 7 in (27.61 m)
Wing span 99 ft 1 in (30.2 m)
Wing area 1,322 sq ft (122.81 sq m)
Empty 44,000 lb (19,504 kg)
Loaded 70,000 lb (31,751 kg) 72,000 lb (32,659 kg)
Engine Hercules VI Hercules XVI
Power 4 x 1,615 hp (1204 kW) 4 x 1,650 hp (1230 kW)
Max speed mph (km/h) 200 (322) 280 (451)
at altitude ft (m) 15,000 (4,572) 6,000 (1,829)
Ceiling 20,000 ft (6,096 m)
Range with 14,000 lb (6,350 kg) bomb-load 590 mi (949 km)

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Photo Description
Scheme modifications 'Stirling'

Scheme modifications "Stirling"

Short Stirling Mk III

Short Stirling Mk I

Winston Churchill with a party of foreign guests and officials, including senior US officers, during an inspection laid on at Northolt, 21 July 1941. Following Churchill is the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, always a dapper dresser. The bombers displayed included a prototype Lancaster, a recently arrived Fortress I, Halifax L9503/TL:P of No 35 Squadron and Stirling N6003/MG:V of No 7 Squadron in the foreground. (IWM CH17535)

Maintenance work on N3725/HA:D, of No 218 Squadron, at Downham Market in June 1942. In common with many other aircraft of the Gold Coast Squadron, it carried the name of a town in that country, in this case Mamprusi. At this time No 3 Group had six Stirling-equipped squadrons and there would be no expansion of the force until the following spring. The Stirling suffered the highest loss rate of the three four-engine bomber types, principally because of its poor ceiling, which made it more vulnerable to enemy defences. A cumbersome brute on the ground, it was, however, surprisingly manoeuvrable in flight. With one engine out of action it required careful handling; if two failed it did not want to remain in the sky. On its 31st operational sortie, on 14/15 September 1942, with P Off J. N Frankcombe and crew, N3725 lost the starboard outer over Wilhemshaven. It was nursed back to the vicinity of home base, only to have the remaining engine on the starboard wing cease to function. The aircraft immediately did a wing-over and crashed near Stoke Ferry. Only the wirless operator and the mid-upper gunner survived, badly injured. (IWM CHI7887)

Pilots controls and instruments on Mark I

Pilots controls and instruments on Mark I [IWM E-MOS-668]

First prototype L7600 at Rochester, 13 May 1939

First prototype L7600 at Rochester, 13 May 1939 [IWM MH 5155]

Second prototype L7605

Second prototype L7605 [IWM MH 5793]

Mark II prototype N3657, August 1941

Mark II prototype N3657, August 1941 [IWM MH 5157]

Mark II prototype N3711 at Boscombe Down, March 1942

Mark II prototype N3711 at Boscombe Down, March 1942 [IWM MH 5158]

Sewcond prototype Mark II  N3711 at Boscombe Down, March 1942

Second prototype Mark II N3711 at Boscombe Down, March 1942 [IWM MH 5160]


  • "Encyclopedia of military engineering" /Aerospace Publising/
  • "British warplanes of World War II" /under cor. Daniel March/
  • "RAIDING THE REICH. The Allied Strategie Offensive in Europe" /Roger A. Freeman/
  • "The Stirling File" /Compiled by Bryce Gomersall/