Short Stirling, a good or a bad aircraft?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by pattle, Jul 27, 2013.

  1. pattle

    pattle Member

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    I hope this is not an old chestnut dealt with in previous threads but was the Short Stirling a good or a bad aircraft?
    Even though the Stirling is generally accepted as an inferior aircraft to both the Handley Page Halifax and particularly Avro Lancaster I still believe it's inferiority does offer some mitigation. True the Lancaster could fly higher, further and with a much greater bombload than the Stirling and true that the Lancaster had a capacious bomb bay while the Stirling's while large was divided in two by its structure. But in mitigation the Stirling was the only one of the three aircraft designed as a four engine bomber, and perhaps for this reason may have had the greater design potential being a larger aircraft.
    The Stirling was indeed further developed with Shorts having enhanced models of the Stirling on the drawing board that claimed to improve it's performance to a point were it would have allegedly rivalled the Lancaster's in most areas and bettered it in others but these versions were never put into production. Had these versions of the Stirling been placed into production they would of not only of had increased bomb load, range and ceiling but also would have been much more heavily armed with either 50 cals or cannon in place of the 303's fitted in the earlier Stirlings and its rivals. Whether these improved Stirlings would have been a success or failure we will never really know. Further mitigation is offered by the original requirement that specified that the Stirling should also be capable of carrying troops and after the Stirling was replaced as a bomber it did enjoy success in a number of transport roles.
    My own opinion on the Stirling is that it was an aircraft that suffered from it's share of limitations some of which could have been remedied while others could not. If we take the Stirling for what we actually saw of it rather than what it could have been then I believe it was an aircraft that was needed both as a heavy bomber early war and as a transport late war and as such proved itself as a very useful aircraft while not being ideal. My vote goes for the Stirling as being a good aircraft.
     
  2. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    I think one of the downfalls of the stiring was that it was designed with a shorter wingspan (according to specifications). If it had had the wingspan i tended, it would have been a better aircraft.
     
  3. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

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    The biggest problem with the Stirling was that it took away production from the much more needed Sunderland.
    At that point of the war Britain didn't need bombers (they couldn't find anything anyway) it needed more maritime aircraft, of which the Sunderland was superb.

    Tragic misallocation of resources that just got a lot of people killed (including its crews).
     
  4. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    Good glider tug .... :)

    MM
     
  5. Civettone

    Civettone Active Member

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    I read it could perform a corkscrew manoeuvre no night fighter could follow


    Kris
     
  6. swampyankee

    swampyankee Active Member

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    #6 swampyankee, Jul 27, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2013
    I think the Stirling would have had a much better reputation had it been assigned to maritime patrol duties. For that, it's poor altitude performance would not have been a handicap. Was it a bad airplane? No; it was reputed to have quite nice handling and to be very maneuverable (according to the delphic wikipedia, it could out-turn the Ju88 and Bf110) . Was it a good strategic bomber? No. Could it have been more useful? Yes: ASW patrol.
     
  7. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Plenty of aircraft types were built under license, it didn't have to be Short Bros alone to have built the Stirling, as the Stirling was largely based on the Sunderland flying boat this could have helped production through commonality. From memory both the original Stirling production plant and the first production Stirlings were destroyed by German bombing during the Battle of Britain. Supermarine's prototype four engine bomber fuselage was also destroyed when it's Southampton factory was bombed at about the same time, the Supermarine bomber was said to be a promising aircraft but I have my doubts about it.
     
  8. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    Short Stirling, good or bad, I'm not sure. Ugly - definitely.
     
  9. Denniss

    Denniss Active Member

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    Nice target for german AAA and nightfighters due to having to fly that low on the inbound route to target. Bomber command wa obviously in desperate need for bombers so they kept it in production for too long.
     
  10. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

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    Most comments agree with me here, waste of resources, workers and crews that would have far better spent on making and flying more (and much more needed) Sunderlands.
     
  11. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    This is pretty much the view that Harris had of the Stirling as well; he was so alarmed at the loss rate suffered by Stirlings and Halifaxes that he requested that those building these airframes begin building the Lancaster as soon as possible. Here's a quote from Max Hastings' Bomber Command that I think sums the Stirling up quite well;

    "The Lancaster inspired affection unmatched by any other British heavy bomber. The Stirling was easier to fly, a gentleman's aircraft according to Stirling pilots, but its lamentable ceiling made it the first target of every German gunner and night-fighter pilot, provoking the callous cheers from the more fortunate Lancaster crews when they heard at briefings that the clumsy, angular Stirlings would be beneath them."

    The Stirling was not based on the Sunderland and the two had little in common, apart from immaterial detail. The bomber's wing design was similar, but not the same as the Empire boats in structure.
     
  12. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Because of of it's size and the short wing the Stirling had less range than the other two 4 engine bombers which makes it a poor choice for anti-sub patrols. Better than nothing perhaps but it actually won't do much more than some of the twins could on a long range (long endurance) mission and needed twice the fuel to do it.
     
  13. swampyankee

    swampyankee Active Member

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    Certainly, this may be the case, but it would also carry a heavier warload than the twins. That may be irrelevant, as ASW patrol aircraft didn't even need to be armed to seriously degrade submarine utility (at least before SSN). The reason for this is that the submarine crew can't know the aircraft is unarmed or if there are armed aircraft which can be directed towards the submarine by the unarmed plane.
     
  14. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    #14 Shortround6, Jul 28, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
    This was one of the Stirlings failings, while it could carry a heavy bomb load it could do so only over short distances.

    The full 14,000lbs was carried over 690 miles. To be fair a lot of other bombers could carry the really big loads only over short distances.
    However the Stirling MK III was also rated at carrying 3500lb over 2010 miles. A MK III Wellington could carry 3500lbs over 1440 miles and 1500lbs over 2040 miles. The Whitley could carry 3500lbs about 1900 miles and the Hamden could carry 3000lbs ( two 500lbs under the wings which didn't help) 1820 miles.

    In some cases these longer ranges maxed out the existing fuel tanks and without modifying the aircraft you weren't going to squeeze more than few hundred more miles out of the plane even with no bombs.

    MK I Halifax was supposed go 3000 miles with 2500lbs and A MK III Lancaster was supposed to do 1660 miles with 14,000lb load the the Stirling carried 690 miles.

    The Stirling may have been too much effort ( fuel and engine maintenance) for too little result in the anti-sub role.
     
  15. pattle

    pattle Member

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    #15 pattle, Jul 28, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
    Nuuumann you say The Stirling was not based on the Sunderland and the two had little in common, apart from immaterial detail. The bomber's wing design was similar, but not the same as the Empire boats in structure.
    The Stirling was not a variant of the Sunderland but it shared a lot of its structure and technology, if the Sunderland had not of existed then neither would have the Stirling. How else do you explain why the Stirlings tail was raised? this was a flying boat feature designed to keep the tail out of the water and not something needed for land planes.
    Yes of course Bomber Harris realised that the Stirling was not a patch on the Lancaster but he also realised that he had to continue using the Stirling until he could get enough Lancasters to replace the Stirlings. Harris was never saying withdraw the Stirling from service, what he was saying was replace it with Lancasters asap. Harris would never have accepted the void that removal from service of the Stirling would have created before it was able to be replaced by the Lancaster, during the first 1000 bomber raids every aircraft the RAF could find was used including even OCU and Coastal Command aircraft.


    Old Skeptic, how did Stirling production create a shortage in Sunderlands? Shorts had production problems but they were mostly confined to their Belfast plant where there was a reluctance to use unskilled labour, Stirlings and for that matter Sunderlands were manufactured on a number of sites and did not conflict. The RAF had the Catalina being built for them by the Americans and during the Battle of the Atlantic the RAF needed the Catalina more than the Sunderland because of the Catalina's excellent range. In any case as Swampyankee has already pointed out the Stirling itself could have made a good ASW aircraft as it had a good bomb bay and plenty of room in the fuselage for all the equipment needed, and I assume that it would have been cheaper and easier to build than the excellent Sunderland.
    While on the topic of why the Stirling was not used by Coastal Command the answer most commonly given is that the Stirling was already earmarked for the glider tug, transport troop carrying role. The Stirling was well suited for this role as it was able to carry parachute containers in its bomb bay and some twenty odd troops in its large fuselage and was equipped with the correct doors for this operation. The Stirling was in fact so good in this role that it continued in production until the end of the war and was the first powered RAF aircraft to be fitted with a rolling floor.
    Both Old Skeptic and Nuuumannn, I sense a certain amount of prejudice in your posts, and to be honest until recently I shared these prejudices with you. What has changed my mind is that I have looked at the Stirling again and what I have discovered are really two things. Firstly that as a bomber it could have been developed further as the two proposed versions put forward by Shorts claim to have been able to have remedied it's problems. Bomber Harris is said to have believed that while he believed the proposed improved Stirling would have been a better bomber he was concerned with production problems, he believed it better to concentrate on making as many Lancasters as possible. A number of very successful aircraft including the Lancaster and arguably the Mustang were not successful in their first incarnations but later blossomed into classics and it is possible that the Stirling could have joined them.
    A large part of the problem of how unfairly the Stirling was been treated by history is the lack of appreciation shown towards the undervalued members of transport command, the role performed by transport aircraft during World War Two is by far the most unglamorous and overlooked of the war. Please spare a thought for the bravery of the airmen on both sides who died delivering and resupplying the troops at Arnhem, Stalingrad, North Africa and on D Day and in Burma amongst other places. Once the Stirlings were finished as bombers they were not just melted down as scrap and we should remember when judging it how well it did as a transport and ask ourselves what would have taken its place should it not have been available.
     
  16. Gixxerman

    Gixxerman Member

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    #16 Gixxerman, Jul 28, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
    Given the Ministry requirement (that imposed the small wing...due to the then hangering 'fit', I believe) Shorts probably produced the best they could.
    Of course this led to the disastrous low ceiling etc etc but I suspect few then realised or understood how deadly flak and night-fighters would become.

    As for the dilution of resources, that's a very good point and sadly it was something the UK would suffer from long after the war (the 3 V bombers being a very good case in point).
    Hindsight shows that the best idea would probably have been to concentrate on Lancasters as when it was shown to be the performer it was, but in the middle of a war to the death taking the time out to drop the Halifax Sterling retool, increase component supplies educate workers all the rest to switch to just making Lancasters was probably seen as very undesirable.

    Plus the usual British phobia for 'eggs all in one basket'.
     
  17. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    #17 nuuumannn, Jul 28, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
    Do you have any evidence that the manufacturers intended it to be this way that supports this? I thought that the Stirling's unusual gait was as a result of its awkward ground stance, which makes more sense than an imaginary and unecessary hangover from the Short brothers' flying boat experience. Yes, the all metal structure was similar, but that is as a result of accumulative experience; remember, the Short Brothers built their first all metal aeroplane in 1919. I'll repeat it; the Stirling was most certainly not 'based' on the Sunderland, it was a whole new design. Further evidence of this can be found from the fact that the Shorts' first tender to B.12/36, the S.29 was criticised for incorporating too much flying boat DNA and Shorts were asked to redesign it. That is despite being considered as an alternative to the Supermarine 316/317 as the preferred contender. As a result Shorts underwent a reappraisal of their tender to the specification, which also entailed a suggested alternative to the Napier Dagger engines in the Hercules.

    As for Harris' demand that the Stirling be replaced by Lancasters, no, if I can remember correctly he wanted the Stirling removed from active service. I can't find a reference to hand, but I do remember reading it somewhere.

    This is a good point well made Pattle, but in our position so many years after the fact it is easy for us to be dispassionate about technology and events. Regardless of how you look at it, the truth of the matter was that the Stirling was not a big success as a bomber; yes, it had its virtues, but in the unforgiving German skies during the war its deficiencies were too great to warrant its being classifed as anything other than unsuccessful in its intended role. As a transport aircraft it was certainly needed, but it was designed as a heavy bomber. A bomber becoming a useful transport is not an indication of its success, merely that it is able to fulfil a need. It's a bit like the argument that you were more likely to survive being shot down in a Halifax than in a Lancaster; the fact that makes this 'advantage' a little less palatable is that you were more likely to be shot down in a Halifax than in a Lancaster.
     
  18. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    #18 nuuumannn, Jul 28, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2013
    No, this is another one of those legends that has mistakenly become 'fact' due to authors repeating it in countless books. The truth of the matter was that at the time the British had hangars with door spans that were 120 feet, which negated the 'less than 100 ft to fit in existing hangars' statement. The Stirling's wing span was deliberately made smaller than 100 ft to prevent it becoming too large; it's biggest handicap was its increasing weight whilst under development. On completion as a result of this it did not meet the performance specifications laid down in B.12/36, despite having more powerful engines than the Daggers that Short Bros originally stipulated in their tender, or the shrinking of the span to keep size/wieght down.

    This is very true. Harris was prone to sweeping statements and on many occasions Portal just ignored his ranting requests rather than deal with him directly. Such an undertaking would have been upsetting, but the fact that Harris flew off the handle about it shows his passion for the subject - I remember reading that this was used as an example of his humility toward his 'boys', quite apart from the cold, calculating individual he's always portrayed as.
     
  19. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    A lot of times production expediency dictated which aircraft went to which roles. Not which aircraft were actually better.

    For transports the British could have had:

    4022L.jpg

    or

    York-i.jpg

    or ?????

    Using old bombers is a cheap, don't screw with production, expedient.

    Loading anything bigger/heavier than people in the thing is a problem

    196132d1331915307t-british-bombers-transport-aircrafts-short-stirling-1-.jpg
     
  20. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    Nowt wrong with the Avro York; a very competent aeroplane. It was more capacious inside and faster than the C-54 and could carry a heavier load across a similar distance. During the Berlin Airlift the York got an unfair reputation as being unreliable; the truth was that its Merlins overheated because they didn't like the short distances flown and the frequency of use. The other problem was there was never enough of them.
     
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