The Sunderland - aka 'The Flying Porcupine'... where were the extra guns?

SplitRz

Airman 1st Class
138
194
Feb 6, 2021
Here's a question which has always intrigued me.

Why the nickname? In its basic form, the Shorts Sunderland was no better armed than any of the four engined heavies of the RAF (and even some of the twins...)

Depending on production model, it seems it had the standard four gun FN tail turret, a one or two gun front turret - and either a twin gun dorsal turret, or two dorsal openings with manually operated Vickers K (I'm presuming single mounts. All guns in 0.303

Later models introduced four fixed browning forward so the pilot could strafe the decks of U boats to keep their AA gunners heads down (but thats probably of little relevance to wary JU88 or 110 crew inventing nicknames, I would have thought...?)

I've read that occasionally a pair of .50s were mounted through the side hatches... but even with these, its hardly a 'porcupine'. I HAVE read *somewhere* (though lord knows quite where) that it could have mounted 'up to 16 guns'. But what? And where? Are there any photos or descriptions?
 

pbehn

Lieutenant Colonel
11,891
8,382
Oct 30, 2013
Here's a question which has always intrigued me.

Why the nickname? In its basic form, the Shorts Sunderland was no better armed than any of the four engined heavies of the RAF (and even some of the twins...)

Depending on production model, it seems it had the standard four gun FN tail turret, a one or two gun front turret - and either a twin gun dorsal turret, or two dorsal openings with manually operated Vickers K (I'm presuming single mounts. All guns in 0.303

Later models introduced four fixed browning forward so the pilot could strafe the decks of U boats to keep their AA gunners heads down (but thats probably of little relevance to wary JU88 or 110 crew inventing nicknames, I would have thought...?)

I've read that occasionally a pair of .50s were mounted through the side hatches... but even with these, its hardly a 'porcupine'. I HAVE read *somewhere* (though lord knows quite where) that it could have mounted 'up to 16 guns'. But what? And where? Are there any photos or descriptions?
Because they were compared to their opposition. There may have been occasions that Bf110s came across a Sunderland but most of the time it was Ju88s. Compare the forward armament of a Ju 88 to all a Sunderlands guns, with or without the fixed forward firing mgs. The Sunderland was surprisingly agile for its size and the Sunderland was one of the few aircraft where the turret concept really worked. Additional guns were in side positions against a beam attack. If you were in a Ju88 how would you attack it when you are 500 miles from land, he is in a flying boat and you are in a flying aeroplane? What guns have you pointing forward at him and what has he pointed at you. It was like attacking a group of machine gun nests with a single AK-47.


This thread is a good read. Sunderland vs. eight Ju 88's
 

SplitRz

Airman 1st Class
138
194
Feb 6, 2021
Because they were compared to their opposition. There may have been occasions that Bf110s came across a Sunderland but most of the time it was Ju88s. Compare the forward armament of a Ju 88 to all a Sunderlands guns, with or without the fixed forward firing mgs. The Sunderland was surprisingly agile for its size and the Sunderland was one of the few aircraft where the turret concept really worked. Additional guns were in side positions against a beam attack. If you were in a Ju88 how would you attack it when you are 500 miles from land, he is in a flying boat and you are in a flying aeroplane? What guns have you pointing forward at him and what has he pointed at you. It was like attacking a group of machine gun nests with a single AK-47.
I'm particularly interested in the implication that extra guns were fitted (possibly only semi officially and once in squadron service) beyond the normal production installations as per the 'up to 16' snippet I read. That would certainly enhance that perception, wouldn't it

C series JU88s had a fairly respectable nose armament with 3 x 7.92 machine guns and a 20mm FF. I presume they'd try and stay out of the effective range of the 0303s if they could and lob some shells at it. It would at least present a large target to aim at.
 

pbehn

Lieutenant Colonel
11,891
8,382
Oct 30, 2013
I'm particularly interested in the implication that extra guns were fitted (possibly only semi officially and once in squadron service) beyond the normal production installations as per the 'up to 16' snippet I read. That would certainly enhance that perception, wouldn't it

C series JU88s had a fairly respectable nose armament with 3 x 7.92 machine guns and a 20mm FF. I presume they'd try and stay out of the effective range of the 0303s if they could and lob some shells at it. It would at least present a large target to aim at.
You asked a question and I answered it, when 8 fighters attack a maritime recon plane and only two return to base, the two crews who returned would be entitled to say that they had attacked a flying porcupine, it had inflicted 75% losses in planes and crews for the loss of one plane and one crew member. The standard armament of a Sunderland was 8 guns in turrets, add to that 4 fixed forward firing guns makes 12. To take it up to 16 just needs another 4 in beam positions, and the Sunderland mentioned in the link had a crew of 11, when under attack why not give them a machine gun? In the infantry even the cooks are trained how to fire a gun and given access to one.

In the natural world only desperate predators take on a porcupine because they sometimes lose Lion kills porcupine, but is quilled to death.
 

Shortround6

Major General
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11,810
Jun 29, 2009
Central Florida Highlands
C series JU88s had a fairly respectable nose armament with 3 x 7.92 machine guns and a 20mm FF. I presume they'd try and stay out of the effective range of the 0303s if they could and lob some shells at it. It would at least present a large target to aim at.
Doesn't work.
The 20mm MG/FF may have been a 20mm cannon but it wasn't a high velocity one or a long ranged one. In fact the German 7.9mm machine gun had shorter times of flight to either 300 or 600 meters than the 20mm gun did firing Mine shells. The .303 would have had a time of flight somewhere in between.
difference in point of impact on a 150mph airplane would have been over 50 ft along the length of the plane or along the direction of flight. The 20mm shells getting there about 1/4 of second after the 7.9mm bullets. In fact time of flight to 600 meters for the 20mm mine shell from the MG/FF was just under 1.5 seconds so our JU 88 pilot would have to aim about 330ft in front of the Sunderland if it was doing even 150mph.
 

FLYBOYJ

"THE GREAT GAZOO"
Staff
Mod
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Apr 9, 2005
Colorado, USA
Here's a question which has always intrigued me.

Why the nickname? In its basic form, the Shorts Sunderland was no better armed than any of the four engined heavies of the RAF (and even some of the twins...)

Depending on production model, it seems it had the standard four gun FN tail turret, a one or two gun front turret - and either a twin gun dorsal turret, or two dorsal openings with manually operated Vickers K (I'm presuming single mounts. All guns in 0.303

Later models introduced four fixed browning forward so the pilot could strafe the decks of U boats to keep their AA gunners heads down (but thats probably of little relevance to wary JU88 or 110 crew inventing nicknames, I would have thought...?)

I've read that occasionally a pair of .50s were mounted through the side hatches... but even with these, its hardly a 'porcupine'. I HAVE read *somewhere* (though lord knows quite where) that it could have mounted 'up to 16 guns'. But what? And where? Are there any photos or descriptions?
From Wiki -

  • Guns:
    • up to 16 × 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns – four fixed in nose, two in nose turret, four in rear turret, two in dorsal turret, plus various beam and rear/ventral flexible guns
    • On some aircraft 2× Browning 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns in waist position replacing two of the .303s
 

Geoffrey Sinclair

Senior Airman
416
753
Sep 30, 2021
The Sunderlands over the Bay of Biscay were being intercepted by mainly Ju88C, the fighter version with forward firing 20mm cannon. Sunderland mark III came with a front turret with 1 gun, a dorsal turret with 2 guns and a tail turret with 4 guns, With the U boats switching to staying on the surface and fighting in mid 1943 four fixed forward firing 0.303 inch machine guns were added plus at least some upgrades of the front turret to 2 guns, on top of that with the increased risk of interception single hand held guns were added to each of the galley hatches, 0.303 or 0.50 inch.

As for EJ134 N/461 versus the 8 Ju88 on 2 June 1943 the fight certainly took place, lasted 45 minutes and the Sunderland lasted long enough to return to base. Claiming 3 certain, 1 probable and 1 possible kills. V/KG40 reported the fight but no losses. See the book Bloody Biscay by Chris Goss (History of V/KG40)

Whether the Luftwaffe ever called the Sunderland the flying porcupine is an open question.
 

fastmongrel

1st Sergeant
4,527
3,606
May 28, 2009
Lancashire
I always understood that the"Flying Porcupine" name came from the ASV aerials mounted on top of the rear fuselage.
p1.jpg
 

SaparotRob

Unter Gemeine Geschwader Murmeltier XIII
8,775
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Mar 12, 2020
Long Island, NY
The Sunderlands over the Bay of Biscay were being intercepted by mainly Ju88C, the fighter version with forward firing 20mm cannon. Sunderland mark III came with a front turret with 1 gun, a dorsal turret with 2 guns and a tail turret with 4 guns, With the U boats switching to staying on the surface and fighting in mid 1943 four fixed forward firing 0.303 inch machine guns were added plus at least some upgrades of the front turret to 2 guns, on top of that with the increased risk of interception single hand held guns were added to each of the galley hatches, 0.303 or 0.50 inch.

As for EJ134 N/461 versus the 8 Ju88 on 2 June 1943 the fight certainly took place, lasted 45 minutes and the Sunderland lasted long enough to return to base. Claiming 3 certain, 1 probable and 1 possible kills. V/KG40 reported the fight but no losses. See the book Bloody Biscay by Chris Goss (History of V/KG40)

Whether the Luftwaffe ever called the Sunderland the flying porcupine is an open question.
 

WATU

Airman
78
45
Sep 1, 2019
The origin of the Porcupine name is being debated on a Sunderland Facebook page. Nobody there has come up with a primary source for its origin. I lean toeards British propaganda or maybe a German tongue-cheek nickname. I don't see the Germans fearing it as some feared flying monster.
 

GrauGeist

Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
I do question the term, as B-17s had a considerable number of defensive positions beyond that of the Sunderland, and with .50MGs no less, yet the Luftwaffe referred do it simply as a "Boeing".

No glamarous or nefarious nicknames even though it was a dangerous enough of an opponent that the Luftwaffe modified fighters with armor and heavier weapons just to engage it...
 

WATU

Airman
78
45
Sep 1, 2019
I asked a couple of authors who have written extensively on Biscay, Coastal Command, etc. One simply felt we will never know. The other had no hard source but backed the British propaganda origin. Seems it really is a mystery.
 

nuuumannn

Major
9,761
8,344
Oct 12, 2011
Nelson
Can't say much about the nickname Flying Porcupine, it sounds like one of those things like the Lightning called the Fork Tailed Devil, but looking at the Sunderland's armament, it was designed with power turrets in mind and when it entered service in 1938 it had a total of seven machine guns, which later improved with a twin nose turret and a top turret as well as the fixed nose guns and beam guns, nevertheless, in 1938 the Sunderland had better defensive armament than almost every other foreign bomber in service, the He 111, Do 17, B-18 Bolo, Savoia Marchetti SM.79 etc...

It's worth remembering that when the B-17B and C entered service in 1939 and 1940, the Sunderland had a larger number of guns than these types, equipped with five machine guns, none of which were mounted in power turrets. It wasn't until the B-17E in 1942 that the type had equivalent defensive armament to the Sunderland.

If your aircraft is being attacked by another one, you're gonna hope your crew is gonna fire every gun available, which in the Sunderland in 1939 to 1941 was considered a lot, so any attacker is gonna be very wary of it.
 

fastmongrel

1st Sergeant
4,527
3,606
May 28, 2009
Lancashire
Unofficially any porthole or door can have a bracket fixed and a Lewis or Vickers K mounted to spray tracer in the general direction of an attacker. There must have been plenty of spare light machine guns available as aircraft like the Battle, Demon and Hart were removed from front line duties.
 

GrauGeist

Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
Here's a photo of a Sunderland's waist guns... one of the few aircraft where both beam guns can fire on both beams!

View attachment 645452
I bet the guy on the Port side wasn't too thrilled about the Starboard gunner shooting right over his head :D
 

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