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

nuuumannn

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Oct 12, 2011
Nelson
I do love a good flying boat. The RAF Museum's Sundy Mk.V and its gun positions visible.

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Before we look at the guns on this beastie, it's worth noting that the Sunderland was considered for a variety of armament changes that didn't happen, but were planned owing to the U boat threat, including larger calibre guns in different turrets, such as the Curran Brockhouse CBI turret armed with two 50 cal Brownings in the nose, which was eventually fitted to the Seaford, but not the Sunderland, and a single 37mm Vickers gun in an open nose position instead of the turret. Another scheme saw two Vickers guns mounted vertically and aimed downward to emerge on the planing bottom, but this was impractical. A forward firing Vickers 40mm S Gun was also considered for the nose position, but the Sunderland was never fitted with it because of the work required in strengthening the nose section to house it. A Nash & Thompson quad 50 cal Browning armed mid upper turret was also planned, the FN.36, but this was cancelled.

The nose guns, with four fixed forward firing .303 Brownings and a Nash & Thompson FN.5 turret with two .303 Brownings.

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The four fixed guns were fired by the pilot from the cockpit and were first used by a 10 (RAAF) Sqn Sunderland and became standardised in Sundy Mk.Vs, as seen here. Early Sunderland Mk.Is and IIs had FN.11 single Vickers gun nose turrets, within which the gun was offset to the side to enable the gunner to serve as an observer also. The FN.5 was standardised on British bombers, such as the Wellington, Manchester, Stirling and Lancaster, so it made sense for it to be fitted to the Sunderland.

Sunderland Mk.IIIs were also fitted with a Vickers .303 inch K gun in their galley hatches, I'm presuming it's the square opening forward of the bomb bay cutout under the wing in the picture below, which was an emergency exit located in the galley on either side of the central walkway through the aircraft.

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This is the port side opening for the beam guns, which were nominally .303s, but in Mk.Vs these were often removed and the positions used for observation.

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This is what the inside of the rear fuselage looks like at this point; a bit more space for the gunners than the early model Sundy Mk.Is, that Green Knight posted a piccie of. This was taken inside a former RNZAF Sunderland V undergoing restoration and I talked to a guy who formerly served as an Observer/Air Gunner aboard the RNZAF Sunderlands and he explained that although trained as an air gunner, during anti-submarine patrols, the gunners in this position served primarily as extra sets of eyes, as even though the Sunderlands were fitted with radar under the wings, the Mk.I eyeball was (and still is in traditional maritime patrol aircraft) a good sensor for close in submarine detection despite increasing sophistication of ASW equipment post-war. It's worth noting the RNZAF retired the Sunderland in 1967, the last fulltime operator of the type, to replace them with P-3s; a huge leap in capability.

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Sunderland Rear Gun positions

In this side view, above the beam positions can be seen the flat for the top turret, which in the Sunderland Mks.II, III and early Vs was a Nash & Thompson FN.7 turret, a woeful thing that gunners didn't like at all and contributed to aerodynamic problems in the Manchester bomber.

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This is an FN.7 cupola.

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FN.7

Finally, Sunderland Nash & Thompson FN.4 rear turret armed with four .303 Brownings. The first tail turret the Sunderland Mk.Is were fitted with was the FN.13, which was designed especially for the Sunderland, like the Vickers gun equipped nose turret, to enable the gunner to serve as an observer.

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The Sunderland was the first maritime patrol aircraft fitted with power turrets and one of the first 'bombers' of any type to enter service with power turrets fitted as standard armament, the unique thing with the Sunderland being that the turrets were not just defensive in nature, but served an offensive purpose, with the aim of attacking submarines, as much as defending itself against air attack,
 
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nuuumannn

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I should note that Barnes in his Putnam book Shorts Aircraft since 1900 mentions the Germans called the Sunderland the Flying Porcupine, or some such long-ass German word, but since Barnes also perpetuates the rumour that the Stirling's wingspan was restricted in length to fit into existing RAF hangar doors, I suspect this is a myth also.
 

Thumpalumpacus

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

I bet the starboard gunner was none to happy about hanging his torso out in the breeze. There's definitely some incentive to aim well!

"Fliegendes Stachelschwein" is the supposed title heaped upon it by the awestruck Luftwaffe...

Who in the world is gonna dislocate their jaw like that to praise an enemy a/c?
 
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Schweik

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As for the 'Stachelschwein' status of the Sunderland - Sure a B-17 or B-24 has more guns, but if it's flying a raid over Bremen it can be attacked by Bf 109s, Fw 190s, 'Schwer' / upgunned Bf 110 / 210 / Ju 88 / Do 217 etc., whereas what is going to run into a Sunderland is more likely to be a Fw 200, an Ar 196, a BV 138, an He 111, a "regular" Ju 88 (or maybe a Ju 88 C).

These crews are far less well equipped to handle a beast like a Sunderland and will probably be somewhat dismayed to see one. With three effective power turrets and plenty of ammunition, it is likely to cause some damage to any attacker. Armament is basically like a Wellington but with an additional turret and two more guns on the back (did Wellington have a four gun tail turret as well?)

I'd say it's not just the guns it's the power turrets and the quantity of ammunition. Also Sunderland is so big it probably takes a lot of hits (or some very accurate ones) to bring it down. There is a lot of more or less empty space in that thing that you can put holes in to little actual effect.
 

Schweik

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Let us also not forget the mighty Sunderland Mk IV aka 'Seaford' which retained the fixed .303s but replaced all of the turret mounted .303s with 6 x .50s and 2 x 20mm cannon. Also much bigger engines and 60 mph faster. It is a safe bet that you wouldn't want to run into that 'Kampfstachelschwein' in a dark alley.

It came late so only ten were made, but daam! Specifically made for the Pacific.

 

nuuumannn

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Nelson
At least one later model did, yes. Four .303s iirc.

Yup, the Wellington III and subsequent models, which were fitted with a Nash & Thompson FN.4 rear turret with four .303s. Early Mk.Is had Vickers installations with hydraulics for actuating the guns built by Frazer Nash in the nose and tail, these had one gun only and were not turrets as such, but Mk.IA Wellingtons were fitted with proper Nash & Thompson turrets, the twin gun FN.5 mounted at both ends.

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Hornet133

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The site is suspended by the hosting company (as of about 4-6 weeks ago) as the yearly hosting fee has not been paid by the owner due to a dispute between the two parties.

There is no guarantee that it will become available again which is unfortunate as there were a number of useful postings in the forum pages.

The site was never 'unsafe' which is a very different thing.
 

kodos

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Whilst I do not claim to be an authority, I want to add that apparently the flying porcupine moniker was discovered very early on in the war and like many have mentioned here, compared to other aircraft at that time, especially German, there was an abundance of defensive guns on the these boats. I have read that Sunderland crews thought of the term somewhat humorously as they were not sure it was a well deserved description of their aircraft being how venerable they felt I guess against the faster enemy aircraft. So perhaps there is some merit to the claim, at least in my reasoning.
Also along with the 10 Sqn RAAF modification credit mentioned above, the galley gun mod that preceded it has been claimed to be incorporated first by 461 Sqn RAAF, at least according to Ivan Southall, former 461 Sqn Sunderland Captain and author of “fly west” and “they shall not pass unseen”.
Aussies tend to make unwarranted claims on occasion though, just ask the Kiwis ;)
 

Sydhuey

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The response I wrote on Aussie modeler is gone as the site has closed down, pity lots of good info on their over the years, I believe the "Porcupine" name was just Allied propaganda, just like "Whispering Death" for the Beaufighter , here is a breakdown of the Sunderland armament over the years, they starter with 4 x .303 Brownings and 3 x .303 VGO's and final renditions had up to 18 MG's by late 44 early 45, 2 x .50, 12 x .303 Brownings, and 6 x .303 VGO's.

One of my favourite aircraft the Sunderland , in particular Australian ops in Europe, the Australian use of the Sunderland was special, The Australian Sqn's were the origin of almost all mods that were done during WW2 , 10 Sqn in particular was unique in their operations , as 10 Sqn "owned" their aircraft unlike almost every other Sqn in the UK were assigned aircraft from RAF commands, as the RAAF bought new Sunderland's in 1939 the RAF had an agreement to replace lost/damages aircraft throughout the war , because of this 10 Sqn did mods to their aircraft which would have been rejected by the RAF to other Sqn's .
By 1943 with more than 3 years' experience on Sunderland's 10 Sqn had fed a lot of information back to RAF HQ and Shorts on improvement to the Sunderland this was being rejected so 10 Sqn went it alone , 10 Sqn had already modified their aircraft internally with improvements to galley and bunk area and extra navigation equip fitted etc, the big modification programs were to involve the improvement of the armament fit.

The first modification was the fit of VGO "K" guns to the Galley , the Galley hatch opens inward and upward and could be opened in flight , the edge of the galley hatch was strengthened and a pintol mount fitted to the Galley Hatch frame this mod was instigated in April/ May 43 by 10 Sqn and by June 43 this was fitted to most 10 Sqn machines and starting to be fitted to 461 Sqn machines , EJ134 "N" was the second Sunderland at 461 to be fitted with Galley guns when it had its famous encounter with 8 x JU88's. (one of these 88's was shot down by the front turret with its single VGO when the 88 flew past the Sunderland after its attack run and pulled up in front of the aircraft where the nose turret gunner was able to put almost a full 100 round magazine into the 88, the VGO had a higher rate of fire to the Browning .)

The next mod was more substantial , the fitment of fixed nose guns , this mod had been discussed by various Sunderland sqn's with RAF HQ with all sorts of suggestions , the RCAF and Norwegian Sqn's mounted 2 x .50's thru the bomb aimers window and various combinations of 2 or 4 .303, 2 x .50 and even 2 x 20mm was discussed and rejected by RAF HQ it was decided 4 x .303's was the best as the aim of the fixed guns was to spray AA Gun crews on U boats not as anti material weapons like a .50 or 20mm . 10 Sqn designed and build a 4 gun installation with 2 x fixed .303 brownings each side of the nose , this started to be fitted in Jun 43 and most 10 Sqn machines were fitted by Aug 43.
10 Sqn was unique as being a regular RAAF Sqn and not an article XV or RAF Sqn like most other units in CC had a much bigger ground crew establishment than other units and were able to spare fitters for design and development of the requested mods , having a dedicated mods team , the Sqn also had two pre war draftsman in the Sqn so were able to produce very accurate technical drawings of their mods and pass them on to RAF HQ and Shorts , if fact 10 Sqn had such a close association with Shorts because of the quality of the mods and Drawings 10 Sqn produced, Shorts passed drawings and mods directly to 10 Sqn to do upgrades and mods at Sqn level.

The next mod was fitment of a FN5 turret with twin Brownings replacing the FN11 turret with a single VGO on the R/H side of the turret , 10 Sqn acquired a FN5 from a crashed Wellington in mid 43 and set about modifying the nose of the Sunderland to take the FN5 , once this mod was approved mod kits and aircraft sent for overhaul had the FN5's fitted this happened in the last half of 1943 , once again 10 Sqn had all its aircraft converted to twin gun nose turrets by late 43 , many books and documents incorrectly state that Sunderlands had twin gun FN11's this is wrong , the FN11 was only capable of taking a single gun on the R/H side (though the Canadians managed to squeeze a .50 into an FN11 at one of the Canadian Sunderland Sqn's but this was a one off mod), the twin gun turrets are FN5's .

The next program was the .50 waist gun positions , this was a huge mod and pushed 10 Sqn to its technical limits , because of the close relationship 10 Sqn had with Shorts , Shorts passed to 10 Sqn the plans of the waist gun position it intended to fit to the Sunderland IV(Short Seaford) which 10 Sqn modified to fit the Sunderland III , this was a much bigger modification than the Galley gun, fixed nose gun or FN 5 turret modifications requiring significant modifications to the mid fuselage and with large cutouts for the hatches , walkways for the gunners and mount and ammo feed systems, this modification started to be fitted in early 1944 and most 10 Sqn machines fitted by mid 44 .
All these armament improvement modifications instigated by 10 Sqn were usually fitted fairly quickly to 10 Sqn machines , with 461 usually getting mod kits and aircraft exchange with 10 Sqn with the mods fitted , ex 10 Sqn machines that would go for overhaul to Shorts then re issued to other Sqns this then caused other Sqn's to put pressure on RAF HQ to get these modifications.

Time line for mods .
Galley VGO guns , development Mar/April 43 , Sqn fittment from April 43
Fixed nose guns ,development Mar/May 43 , Sqn fittment from Jun 43
FN5 nose turret replacing FN11, development June 43 , Sqn fittment from Aug 43
.50 Waist gun positions , development late 1943 ,sqn fittment from early 44
as you can see by the timeline the heavy MG fit was not really in play before early to mid 44 , the "Porcupine" name was introduced to the British public well before this.
From 39 till mid 43 the Sunderland operated with std gun fit it was only when Sunderland losses increased in 43 from german fighter sweeps and increased AA armament on U-boats that 10 Sqn started the mods to its aircraft .

This gave the Sundelands by mid 44 , 3 x turrets with belt fed .303 Brownings, 2 x nose, 2 x mid Upper and 4 x tail, 4 x fixed Browning in Nose, 2 x .303 VGO Galley Guns and 2 x.50 Waist guns , additional VGO's could be fitted to positions either side of the nose just behind the fixed guns shooting to the side and several VGO's were fitted to the rear of the cockpit thru side windows behind the pilots though these last 2 positions were not very common .

Hope that explains Sunderland Gun armament.
 
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Thumpalumpacus

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The internet gods aren't allowing me to repost Drach reading the after-action report for the 8v1 encounter over the bay of Biscay.


It's at about 57:30 on episode 204 of the Drydock
 
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