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

SplitRz

Airman 1st Class
138
194
Feb 6, 2021
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.
That was a fascinating and comprehensive reply there - thank you so much for your time and constructive input.

18 guns in some variants is a staggering number of weapons by any standard. Certainly the most by number (if not calibre) of any RAF / RAAF aircraft in WW2....?

It might lead me onto another post - I was aware of the higher rate of fire of the VGO, but not really considered the implications for firepower/weight. That might be an interesting topic to look further into...
 

ColFord

Airman 1st Class
140
433
Feb 18, 2010
Canberra
To add to the "Flying Porcupine" name, by chance I am currently reading "Maritime in Number Ten - the Sunderland Era" which is the history of No.10 Squadron RAAF from 1939 to 1945 operating Short Sunderlands, written by Flight Lieutenant K C Baff RAAF, published in 1983. It draws on the official records, but also draws heavily on the reminisences of many of the Squadron's wartime personnel, along with their accummulated collections of diaries, photos, press clippings and other memorabilia. What caught my attention was the details of a sortie in mid-July 1940 where one of the Squadron's Sunderlands flown by Flight Lieutenant Bruce Courtney RAAF was tasked with taking US journalist Virginia Cowles with them on a patrol of the western approaches to the south west of the UK. The history then gives the transcript of the article published by the journalist about a month later, which says in part.

QUOTE:
"The pilot...had been in the Australian Air Force about three years. When I asked him how he liked flying-boats, he grinned and said they were the best he'd ever flown.

'The certainly was little room for argument. Our ship was two-decked and built entirely out of metal. It carried fuel for 2000 miles, and was armed with guns, both bow and stern, port and starboard. The pilot said they spit fire from so many angles that the Germans had dubbed them "fliegende Stachelschwein" (flying porcupines).'
END QUOTE

Taken in context, up until this stage the Sunderlands of No.10 Squadron RAAF had only had a few brushes with German aircraft where they had exchanged fire. This had included Heinkel and Dornier seaplanes/flying boats and individual He-111 bombers attacking British merchant ships. So comparing the individual, hand held LMGs that in the main comprised the defensive armament of the Luftwaffe types at the time the No.10 Squadron RAAF Sunderlands had encountered up until that point, the number of machine guns the Sunderlands carried, particularly the four LMG tail turret would have seemed quite "prickly". The Squadron would not have its first encounter with Ju-88s, and then they were only the bomber version engaged in low level attacks on shipping (not the long range fighter version), would not be for another month or so after this quote was given to the US journalist. Also then begs on what basis a RAAF pilot, flying Sunderlands came to know of the nickname given to them by the Germans. But the timeframe, July 1940 is certainly an interesting one.

On another related note, the original book is quite a collectors item these days, and good second hand copies from what was originally a fairly small print run, attracts a premium price. I was lucky to find one through a local charity bookstore some months ago. However, a representative of the RAAF History and Heritage Branch has indicated that they are supporting the publication of a new edition of this classic RAAF WW2 Squadron history sometime hopefully in the next year.
 

WATU

Airman
78
45
Sep 1, 2019
To add to the "Flying Porcupine" name, by chance I am currently reading "Maritime in Number Ten - the Sunderland Era" which is the history of No.10 Squadron RAAF from 1939 to 1945 operating Short Sunderlands, written by Flight Lieutenant K C Baff RAAF, published in 1983. It draws on the official records, but also draws heavily on the reminisences of many of the Squadron's wartime personnel, along with their accummulated collections of diaries, photos, press clippings and other memorabilia. What caught my attention was the details of a sortie in mid-July 1940 where one of the Squadron's Sunderlands flown by Flight Lieutenant Bruce Courtney RAAF was tasked with taking US journalist Virginia Cowles with them on a patrol of the western approaches to the south west of the UK. The history then gives the transcript of the article published by the journalist about a month later, which says in part.

QUOTE:
"The pilot...had been in the Australian Air Force about three years. When I asked him how he liked flying-boats, he grinned and said they were the best he'd ever flown.

'The certainly was little room for argument. Our ship was two-decked and built entirely out of metal. It carried fuel for 2000 miles, and was armed with guns, both bow and stern, port and starboard. The pilot said they spit fire from so many angles that the Germans had dubbed them "fliegende Stachelschwein" (flying porcupines).'
END QUOTE

Taken in context, up until this stage the Sunderlands of No.10 Squadron RAAF had only had a few brushes with German aircraft where they had exchanged fire. This had included Heinkel and Dornier seaplanes/flying boats and individual He-111 bombers attacking British merchant ships. So comparing the individual, hand held LMGs that in the main comprised the defensive armament of the Luftwaffe types at the time the No.10 Squadron RAAF Sunderlands had encountered up until that point, the number of machine guns the Sunderlands carried, particularly the four LMG tail turret would have seemed quite "prickly". The Squadron would not have its first encounter with Ju-88s, and then they were only the bomber version engaged in low level attacks on shipping (not the long range fighter version), would not be for another month or so after this quote was given to the US journalist. Also then begs on what basis a RAAF pilot, flying Sunderlands came to know of the nickname given to them by the Germans. But the timeframe, July 1940 is certainly an interesting one.

On another related note, the original book is quite a collectors item these days, and good second hand copies from what was originally a fairly small print run, attracts a premium price. I was lucky to find one through a local charity bookstore some months ago. However, a representative of the RAAF History and Heritage Branch has indicated that they are supporting the publication of a new edition of this classic RAAF WW2 Squadron history sometime hopefully in the next year.
Very interesting on both points. I have wanted a copy for a while. The British Library has one and I have copied a few pages from that. A new edition would be very welcome.
 

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