The Short Sterling formed the backbone of British RAF heavy bomber groups beginning in January of 1941 and forged an operational existence from then through to the end of World War 2 in 1945, where it proved an obsolescent design and relegated to transport sorties. Designed from the outset as a four-engined heavy bomber (most RAF four engine bombers began life as twin-engined designs), the Stirling would reach its stride in the early 1940's through the Mk III variant as this proved the definitive principle bomber. Short Stirlings were fielded across twenty-eight total RAF bomber squadrons and certainly left their mark on the war despite the arrival of more famous mounts such as the Avro Lancaster.
The Short Stirling was born from an RAF requirement set forth in 1936 calling for a heavy four-engined bomber with suitable range and a lethal payload carrying capability. By 1938, a half-sized prototype was flying with a full-size prototype being delivered for testing in 1939. The rather conventional design made use of a forward-set flight deck, centralized internal bomb bay and tricycle undercarriage. Wings were straight and low-mounted with each assembly managing two leading edge engine nacelles. Each engine powered a three-bladed propeller. The undercarriage was retractable with the main legs left rather tall giving the Stirling bomber a rather noticeable nose-up profile when landed. The tail section was traditional, showcasing a single vertical tail fin flanked by two low-mounted horizontal planes. Typical crew accommodations included seven personnel made up of two pilots, a navigator/bombardier, nose gunner, flight engineer and two dedicated gunners. Defensive armament was 8 x 7.7mm (0.303 caliber) machine guns - 2 x in a powered nose turret, 2 x in a powered dorsal turret and 4 x in a powered tail turret. Offensively, the bomber could carry upwards of 14,000lb of internal stores.
By 1940, the Stirling was in serial production and entered operational service the following year. In its original Mk I form, the Stirling was powered by 4 x Bristol Hercules XI radial piston engines and it would be this mark that would be available during the critical war years - holding enough range to reach the German capital of Berlin if required. The Mk II model followed in prototype form and was fitted with 4x Wright Cyclone engines - though never produced. As such, the definitive Mk III followed with its 4 x Bristol Hercules XVI powerplants and would become the principle bomber variant in the Stirling series. The Mk III series was further fitted with specialized "Pathfinder" equipment, making it useful in airborne-related paratrooper operations or directing follow-up bomber formations to the proper target in low-light.
By 1944, the Stirling had seen its best fighting days. The tide had also begun turning in favor of the Allies with gains across Africa, the Pacific, France, Italy and in the Eastern Front. The Stirling was passed up for more modern offerings and therefore relegated to secondary duties such as glider / transport tug (Mk IV) and used extensively with airborne operations through the remaining years of the war. A dedicated transport model (Mk V) was spawned as the final variant of the Short Sterling.
Beyond the British RAF, the Short Stirling was used by Belgium, Egypt and Germany. In Belgium service, these were post-war mounts used by commercial venture Trans-Air. The Egyptian Air Force procured eight ex-Belgian airframes some time later. German use was limited to recovered examples and operated to a limited extent by the specialist Luftwaffe air group known as "KG 200" ("Kampfgeschwader 200"). KG 200 was disbanded after the war in 1945.
2,383 Short Stirlings were eventually produced, these through Short Brothers, Rochester Short Brothers and Harland and Belfast Austin Motor Company.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
Production 2,383 Units
Short Brothers / Belfast Austin Motor Company - UK
Belgium; Egypt; Nazi Germany; United Kingdom
- Ground Attack
86.94 ft (26.5 m)
99.08 ft (30.2 m)
22.74 ft (6.93 m)
43,202 lb (19,596 kg)
70,085 lb (31,790 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Short Stirling Mk III production model)
4 x Bristol Hercules XVI radial piston engines developing 1,650 horsepower each.
270 mph (435 kph; 235 kts)
16,995 feet (5,180 m; 3.22 miles)
590 miles (949 km; 512 nm)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Short Stirling Mk III production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 7.7mm machine guns in powered nose turret.
2 x 7.7mm machine guns in powered dorsal turret.
4 x 7.7mm machine guns in powered tail turret.
Maximum internally-held bombload of up to 14,000lb.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Short Stirling Mk III production model)
Mk I - Initial Production Model; powered by Hercules XI radial engines; 756 such models produced.
Mk II - Prototype Variant fitted with Wright Cyclone powerplants; never placed into production.
Mk III - Fitted with Hercules XVI powerplants; 875 produced as such; became main bomber production variant; first Stirling design fitted with twin-gun dorsal turret assembly.
Mk IV - Transport and Glider Tug Model; sans nose and dorsal gun emplacements; 577 such models produced.
Mk V - Transport Model Variant; 160 such models produced.
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry. The rating is out of a possible 100.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (270mph).
Graph average of 225 miles-per-hour.
Short Stirling Mk III operational range when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com.
Part of a network of sites that includes GlobalFirepower, a data-driven property used in ranking the top military powers of the world and WDMMA.org, the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft.