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Short Sunderland Flying Boat
By : Deborah Susan Jones : Editor & contributing writer.
"Nicknamed "The Flying Porcupine" ("Fliegende Stachelsweine") by the Luftwaffe because it was heavily armed and able to amply defend itself if attacked, it saw further unexpected but gallant service in 1948, at the dawn of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union sealed off all Allied land access to then occupied Berlin, leaving air as the only means of supplying the Allied-occupied sectors of the city.
During the Berlin Airlift (Codenamed Operation Plain Fare - 24th June 1948 - 30th September 1949) some of the resupply effort was carried out by British RAF Sunderland flying boats, using Lake Wannsee near Berlin for landing and taking off, to supply two million West Berliners with food, fuel and other supplies which, at its peak, saw one plane reach West Berlin every 30 seconds.
On 5th July the effort was augmented by ten Short Sunderland flying boats from No.201 (Sunderland GR V) and No.230 (Sunderland GR V) squadrons which flew a shuttle service from a temporary base at Finkenwerder on the Elbe near Hamburg, and were used to transport goods to the city, landing on the Havelsee lake beside RAF Gatow (until it iced over).
Each aircraft carried 4 1/2 tons into the city and flew out manufactured goods and starving refugees on each trip. They flew more than 1,000 sorties until ice-flows on the Havelsee stopped flights on 15th December. Being flying boats the Sunderlands could withstand salt corrosion so were ideally tasked to carry urgently needed salt supplies, which other aircraft could not carry due to the risk of corrosion leading to airframe failure, which could occur quite quickly.
Deborah Susan Jones : Editor