The first of the RAF’s four-engine bombers to see service, the Short Stirling was also the first to be withdrawn. Designed around Specification B.12/36 the Stirling was selected after the Supermarine entry was destroyed in an air raid. An initial order for 100 was given to Shorts at Rochester and later another 100 were ordered from Short and Harlands new factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The prototype took to the air in May 1939 but was soon written off when a brake seized on landing causing the undercarriage to collapse. A second prototype flew seven months later. Production deliveries to the RAF began in August 1940, when 7 Squadron received Stirlings to replace its Wellingtons. The Stirlings first operational sortie occurred on the night of 10/11 February 1941. This was a three aircraft attack on the oil storage tanks at Rotterdam.
The Stirling proved to be a rugged and capable bomber. It proved to be very manoeuvrable, and on one occasion a Stirling from 218 Squadron survived four night fighter attacks, the crew shot down three of their attackers, and returned safely to base. The Stirling went through a number of changes, mainly with different engines and defensive armament.
By late 1944 the Stirlings were withdrawn from front line service. This was due to the aircraft’s inability to operate from 20,000ft, which was the normal operating height of the Lancaster and Halifax. It also had a smaller bomb bay, which could not be adapted to accommodate the larger bombs that were being used by the other two bombers. The role of the Stirling changed from that of a bomber to that of a glider tug/transport. As a glider tug the Stirling could tow either one Hamilcar or two Horsas. The transport version could accommodate 40 troops or 20 fully equipped paratroopers. The nose hinged open and there was a large cargo door on the right-hand side of the rear fuselage. The transport version was designated Stirling MkV.
In late November 1948 a Belgian Company Trans-Air asked an ex-RAF pilot, Geoffrey Allington, if he would instruct some pilots to fly the Halifax. The company had three such aircraft, one of them being OO-XAB that it wanted to use for passenger and freight work. After consultation with Monsieur Jaune, Trans-Airs owner, it was agreed that the Halifax was the wrong type of aircraft and that Stirling MkV transports would be a better choice.
Geoffrey approached the Air Ministry about the possibility of purchasing a number of Stirlings. He was told that all the remaining aircraft had been sold for scrap. After a search a number of Stirling MkVs were found at RAF Polebrook in Northamptonshire. A deal was struck and ten Stirlings plus a quantity of spares was purchased for £2,000. It has also been quoted that 12 aircraft were purchased. This is not the case as according to an official invoice only 10 Stirlings were purchased. The aircraft were refurbished by Airtech Ltd at Thame, England. Six of the transports were converted to carry passengers and had two toilets and a wash basin fitted in the rear of the fuselage. The bomb bays were fitted with sliding doors for the luggage. The freighter had a longer nose that hinged upwards and a large loading door to the rear of the starboard fuselage. One ton of cargo could be carried in the nose and six tons in the fuselage. In this configuration the aircraft had a cruising speed of 210mph, which was faster than the DC-4.
The first Stirling was ferried over to Belgium in May 1947 and was registered OO-XAC on 2 June 1947. In June the aircraft carried out the companies first charter flight, which was a load of pigs going from Manston to Bergamo, Italy. As the aircraft left the runway at Manston the port outer engine failed and pilot kept the aircraft low as he carried out a circuit and landed. A replacement engine was soon fitted and the flight continued to Italy. The charter flights not only covered Europe but also included flight to China.
In October 1947 the remaining Stirlings were sold to another Belgian company Air Transport S.A., of Brussels. On the 22 December 1947, OO-XAC was at K’un-ming, China. With a full load of passengers the Stirling failed to get of the ground and careered into a cemetery at the end of the runway. The co-pilot was killed and the pilot suffered a broken arm and hip. The passengers all survived unhurt, while the Stirling was a complete write off.
With the creation of the independent state of Israel in 1948 the neighbouring Arab countries took up arms against this new nation. The Royal Egyptian Air Force was on the look out for some heavy bombers and the Stirling was selected. In October 1948 six Stirlings, OO-XAD, -XAE, -XAH, -XAK, -XAL and –XAM, were sold to the Tangiers Charter Company Limited, another Belgian company. This may have been a cover as the real destination for the Stirlings was Egypt. OO-XAL was reportedly sold in Czechoslovakia, although it did eventually end up in Egypt, and another Stirling OO-XAS set out for Spain in 1948 and was never heard from again. Geoffrey Allington flew out the first Stirling, possibly OO-XAD on 7-8 August 1948. The aircraft took off from Blackbushe, England with a load of generators plus a number of 12v batteries. The aircraft went on a southerly route over the South of France across the Med and eventually landed at Castle Benito, Tripoli. After refuelling the Stirling was flown to El Adem and then a short hop across to Almaza, where the cargo was unloaded.
The ferry dates of the Stirlings were;
- OO-XAD: 7-8 August 1948 ferried via Brussels-Tripoli-Cairo.
- OO-XAE: Date unknown.
- OO-XAH: 23-24 October 1948 ferried via Brussels-Cairo.
- OO-XAK: 8-9 September 1948 ferried via Brussels-Cairo.
- OO-XAL: 1-2 October 1948 ferried via Brussels-Cairo.
- OO-XAM: 12-13 August 1948 ferried via Brussels-Tripoli-Cairo.
The aircraft were taken on strength by 8 Bomber Squadron and crew training began almost immediately. In an effort to provide some form of self-defence some of the Stirlings were fitted with guns. One is reported to have been fitted with the turret from an Anson. Bomb racks were created from ex-RAF scrap from different aircraft.
In November a Stirling took off on a training flight. It had not been up for long when it suddenly blew up killing the pilot, Wing Commander Muhammad Adli Kafafi, and co-pilot, Squadron Leader Mustafa Sabri Abd al Hamid. Although the reason behind the explosion was never discovered sabotage was not ruled out.
During the later part of the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 the Stirlings took part in a number of raids. The first sortie was carried out in the early morning of the 23rd December, when one Stirling carried out a high altitude raid on Tel Nof. Very little damage was inflicted. Christmas Day saw another single Stirling drop a number of bombs in the Mishmar Ha’ Emek area, which was next to the Israeli airfield at Megiddo. This time a number of casualties were inflicted on some civilians. Later on in the day another Stirling attacked barracks at Tel Litvinski which were situated to the East of Tel Aviv. Another attack was carried out when a bridge at Allenby on the Jordan River was bombed. This area was held by the Jordanians and may have been the result of a navigational error. Also it may have been carried out by a C-47.
The 29th December saw a Stirling, from Cairo West, carry out a daylight attack on an Israeli column in the Abu Ageila area. A number of runs were made over the column, but little damage was inflicted. Abu Ageila was again targeted the next day along with Israeli positions in the Al Auja area. Because the attack was carried out at high altitude the results were negligible. During the 1st of January a single Stirling bombed the outskirts of the Israeli held West Jerusalem. Further sorties were carried out but records fail to identify aircraft type. These may have included Stirlings.
The ultimate fate of the Egyptian Stirlings in unclear. It has been reported that most were lost during the 1948 conflict with Israel but no hard evidence has come to light. In the 1950 annual report to the Air Ministry by the British Air Attaché in Cairo, he stated that there were six (probably only five) Stirlings on strength, although they were in an unserviceable condition. These were still present in 1951, although number and condition is unclear, but by 1952 they were no longer mentioned. It seems likely that sometime in 1951 the remaining Stirlings were either sold or scrapped, with the later being more likely.
Stirling MkV’s operated by Trans-Air and Air Transport S.A. and later sold on to Egypt:
||Registered to Trans-Air in June 1947; sold to Air Transport in October 1947; crashed at K'un-ming, China; on 22 December 1947
||Registered to Trans-Air in June 1947; sold to Air Transport in October 1947; in 1948 registered to Tangiers Charter Company; to REAF in August 1948
||Registered to Air Transport in October 1947, in 1948 registered to Tangiers Charter Company, to REAF in 1948
||Registered to Trans-Air in July 1947, sold to Air Transport in October 1947, in 1948 registered to Tangiers Charter Company, to REAF in October 1948
||PK136 or PK135
||Registered to Air Transport in May 1948; in 1948 registered to Tangiers Charter Company; to REAF in October 1948
||Registered to Air Transport in June 1948; sold to Tangiers Charter Company Co. Ltd, in 1948; sold to REAF in October 1948
||Allocated for Air Transport but markings not applied; registered G-AKPC for ferry flight from RAF Polebrook to Thame (Airtech Ltd.); sold to Tangiers Charter Company Co. Ltd.; sold to REAF in August 1948
||PK182 or PK186
||Allocated for Air Transport but markings not applied; to REAF in 1948
||Registered to Air Transport in April 1949; to REAF in 1949
||Registered to Air Transport in April 1949; to REAF in 1949
Colours and Markings
The exact colours of the Stirlings are unclear. When they were in the service of Trans-Air the aircraft were natural metal or aluminium overall. Registration markings were in large black letters on the fuselage and over the upper and lower wings. The ‘OO’ was on the port wing, the two letters being separated by the outer engine and the remaining three letters evenly spaced out on the port wing. The name ‘Trans-Air’ was placed below the cockpit about half way down the fuselage. In Air Transport service the name ‘Air Transport’ was placed under the cockpit. In Egyptian service they may have been camouflaged or they may have been left in natural metal. They would have worn Egyptian roundels for the period above and below the wings and fuselage sides. Serials, if carried, would have been in Arabic and placed on the fuselage aft of the roundel. They would most likely have been repeated under the wings facing opposite directions as per RAF practice.
If anyone has further info on the Egyptian Stirlings I would be grateful if they could pass it on. I am also looking for info/photos on Egyptian Lancaster and Halifax bombers. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stirlings in Egypt by Yannis Trypitis.
Stirling Civil Servants by Geoffrey Allington, Aeroplane Monthly November 1982.
The Stirling File, Air Britain.
Short Stirling. Warpaint series No15. Alan W Hall.
Spitfires over Israel by Chris Shores. Published by Grub Street.