81 - Short Sunderland at Malta

Short Sunderland 

in Malta (1941)

Models and diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen

The Sunderland flying boat was the RAF’s

longest-serving operational aircraft.

It was first flown on October 1937 and the Mk.I

entered service with four RAF squadrons in 1939


At the end of 1941 the Sunderland Mk.II began

to replace the Mk.I.

The MkII had a twin gun Botha-type dorsal turret

in place of the ‘midship gun ports; an improved

tail-turret and ASV radar.

The Mk.II became the prototype for the chief

production model, the Sunderland Mk. III, which

had its first flight on December 1942. A total of

461 Mk. III was produced.

The Sunderland Mark III proved to be one of the RAF Coastal Command's major weapons against the

German submarines.

During the Mk. III's life there were a large number of almost continuous improvements made, including four more machine guns in a fixed position in the wall of the forward fuselage just behind the turret.


Mediterranean Theatre of Operations

The roles of Gibraltar and Malta were critical to

allied strategy and survival during the war in the


The Sunderland flying boats based in Malta

achieved some successes against axis shipping

and submarines and keeping a watch on the

movement of the Italian fleet.

While performing these missions, the Sunderlands

were frequently jumped by Italian CR-42s and

Macchis, often resulting in the big flying boat

shooting down the Italian aircraft.

The Flying Porcupine

The heavily armed Sunderland earned its German

nickname ‘das fliegende Stachelschwein’ (the flying porcupine) not without good reasons: the Mk.III had

16 × 0.303 inches (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns and 2× Browning 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns –

for an enemy aircraft, it seems that machineguns

were poking out all over the big flying boat!

One Sunderland was attacked by six Ju-88’s in

April 1940 when escorting ships during the

Norwegian campaign. It managed in shooting

down one, damaging another and fighting off

the rest.

Besides; an Arado Ar-196, a Macchi MC.200, a

Bf-110 and some more Ju-88’s were claimed by

Sunderland gun crews.


On another occasion in North Africa, a Sunderland

was attacked by four Curtiss Mohawk (!) fighters

from the French Vichy air force. Although many

Vichy pilots refused to shoot at Allied planes, this

group was a little bit more aggressive.

The Sunderland was hit many times, and some

crew members were wounded, but they managed

to shoot down two, damage another and return

home safely.

Normal tactic for a Sunderland pilot, when

attacked by enemy fighters, was to descend to

water-level to protect the vulnerable hull from

being riddled with holes and fight it out.

However, the Sunderlands did not always have

things all their own way:

On July 1940, a Sunderland was attacked by

three Fiat CR-42s.

The crew shot down one of the biplanes and

scored hits on another.

The aircraft itself was heavily damaged and just

struggled back to Malta.

Another Sunderland was bounced by three

Macchi 200. Its crew claims to have shot down

one and forced another to break because of


Incidents also involved Sunderlands being directly

attacked at their base in Malta.

During March 1941, four Sunderlands were

strafed at their moorings.

Two of the flying boats being destroyed.

On the 7th of March 1941, a Sunderland was

attacked at its Kalafrana moorings by two Bf109s.

The boat guard managed to get his Vickers gun into action before being fatally hit.

The Sunderland was badly damaged and caught fire.


Three days later, the Sunderlands, was again attacked and set alight by two Bf109s from 7/JG26. The Sunderland had been rendered immobile during the strafing attack by the Messerschmitts that belonged to the same Staffel, 72 hours earlier.

The aircraft sank when efforts were made to tow it ashore.

At the end of March 1941, the Sunderland Flying Boats left Malta for their new base in Alexandria, Egypt.

The Diorama

is inspired by the old b/w photographs, showing the two Bf109s attacking and destroying the Sunderland in its Kalafrana moorings.

The picture above and below:

The Sunderland attacked and destroyed at its mooring at Kalafrana harbour in March 1941

Building the Sunderland

The Airfix 1/72 kit is an old and somewhat basic kit with thick plastic and heavy rivet details.

The kit included beaching gear parts, crew figures (both for cockpit and gun towers) and bomb racks for 2 x 4 bombs.

Neither of these parts was of any use to me, as built a moored Sunderland.

The model was built out of the box without any extras.

Without thinking, I built and painted the Mk.III variant (which was the model in the kit).

I soon discovered that this was wrong.

The Mk.III had its first flight in 1942, and I was building a 1941 diorama.

Hence, I had to make the Mk.III into an Mk.II and repaint the camouflage colours.

The white paint which was used on the Mk.III was also introduced in 1942.

All the Sunderlands operating in 1941 had the green and grey camouflage not only on the upper surfaces but also on the fuselage sides, as well as on the floats.

I also had to remove the upper gun turret, fill in the gap, and place the new gun opening on the port side of the upper fuselage.

The rigging for the floats was made with EZ-elastic lines.

It was still not 100% an Mk.II, but much better than the first attempt.

Just for fun, I’ll show pictures of both variants.

All the paint on the Sunderland was made by hand with Vallejo acrylic paint.

The Sunderland was a flying boat and spent most of its time in the wet element.

The weathering had to reflect this, with a lot of growth, dirt and paint-damage at the waterline.

Initially, I built an Mk.III version of the Sunderland and had to convert it to an Mk.II version. Here is the result:

I also placed both models in a submarine hunting situation.

That was after all the Sunderland’s primary mission.

(The pictures are made by pasting a photo of the model into a more suitable background)

Building the


The two attacking

Messerschmitts had to be

part of the diorama.

To make the distances

more believable, I choose

to make a “forced

perception” by using a

1/72 and a 1/144 model.

The 1/72 would be the same scale as the Sunderland, while the 1/144 would seem to be farther away when placed together with the 1/72 scale.

A brass rod was placed in the 1/72 Bf109. The strafing fighter would pass right above and close to the Sunderland. The rod would eventually be hidden in the explosion.

A thin wire would be fixed in the 1/144 fighter, and the wire fixed to the ocean.

Building the fire/explosion

The Sunderland is moored to a buoy and the underwater keel needed to be removed.

The keel was sawed off which made it easy to place the flying boat in the water.

The starboard wing tank exploded, during the attack, and the wing was torn apart.

The wing was therefore cut in two by a saw.

The Sunderland was listing, and the float on the port side was pushed underwater and therefore removed from the model.

The open underwater hull and the cut-off wing made the supply of electricity to the LED lamps easy.

All the wires to the twelve 9V LED lamps were connected inside the fuselage, and only a couple of thin wires were led through the base and to the power source (a 9V battery).

These small 9V LEDs do not issue any heat and can be on for a long time without any risk of heating.

A small cage of chicken wires was placed on the wing, the support rod to the Bf109 was placed inside the chicken wire, and some light coloured cotton was placed on the cage and on the brass rod extending from behind the fighter, to the explosion.

Papier Mache is used around the aircraft

The cicken wires

Cotton fixed on the wire and on the brass rod

The wing is sawed off

The keel is removed

The LED lamps

The Bf109 mounted on a brass rod

The LED lamps in action

The Base and the Background

The base is an OSB-board 70 x 70 cm which is covered with a thin layer of silicone to illustrate a relative calm sea surface.

The surface was then painted with shades of blue, a small amount of Papier Marche was used around the aircraft to make sure there was no gap between the cut-off fuselage and the water.

The backdrop is a printed colour foto of Valetta, the capital of Malta.

This actually not were the Sunderland was moored.

They were laying at their base in Kalafrana harbour, a little south of Valetta.

But the view of Valetta is much more interesting than that of the Kalafrana harbour.

And this is the Diorama:

I hope you enjoyed this website

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments



Bjørn Jacobsen

February 2019