Corgi AA39502 RAF Short Stirling Mk. I Heavy Bomber - OJ-H, No.149 Squadron, Rawdon Hume 'Ron' Middleton VC, Turin Raid, November 1942 (1:72 Scale)
"I'll make the English Coast. I'll get you home."
- RAF Captain Rawdon Hume 'Ron' Middleton VC to his wounded air crew, Turin Raid, November 1942
The Short Stirling was the first four-engined British heavy bomber of the Second World War. The Stirling was designed and built by Short Brothers to an Air Ministry specification from 1936, and entered service in 1941. The Stirling was fated to have a relatively brief operational career being relegated to second line duties from 1943 onwards when other four-engined RAF bombers, specifically the Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster, took over its role.
Although smaller than the US and Soviet experimental designs, the Stirling had considerably more power and far better payload/range than anything then flying. The massive 14,000 lb (6.25 long tons, 6,340 kg) bombload put it in a class of its own, double that of any other bomber. It was larger than the Handley Page Halifax, and the Avro Lancaster which would replace it, but both of these were originally designed to have twin engines. The Stirling was the only British bomber of the period to see service designed from the start with four engines. (The Avro Lancaster was a re-engined Avro Manchester while the Halifax was originally planned to be powered by twin Vulture engines but was re-designed to use four Merlins in 1937 as the problems with the Vulture engines became clear.
The design mounted nose and tail turrets (the latter was notable for the wide angles of fire), and included a retractable ventral ("dustbin") turret just behind the bomb-bay. This proved almost useless due to cramped conditions, with the added distraction that the turret tended to drop and hit the ground when taxiing over bumps. It was removed almost from the start and temporarily replaced by beam hatches mounting pairs of machine guns, until a twin-gun dorsal turret could be provided. However, this installation also had problems; it had a metal back fitted with an escape hatch which turned out to be almost impossible to use. The later Stirling Mk.III instead used a fully glazed turret (the same FN.50 as in Lancaster) that had more room and an improved view. Later Stirlings could also carry an improved, low-drag remotely controlled FN.64 ventral turret.
Attention was paid to reducing drag - all rivets were flush headed and panels joggled to avoid edges - but the application of camouflage paint probably negated the benefit. The wing was fitted with Gouge flaps similar to those of the flying boats. The first few Mk.Is received the Hercules II engines, but the majority received the 1,500 hp (1,100 kW) Hercules XIs. The Mk.III, introduced in 1943, was similar with the exception of the new dorsal turret and the improved 1,635 hp (1,200 kW) Hercules VI or XVI engines, which improved maximum speed from 255 to 270 mph (410 to 435 km/h).
Even before the Stirling went into production, Short had improved on the initial design with the S.34 in an effort to meet requirement B.1/39. It would have been powered by four Bristol Hercules 17 SM engines, optimized for high-altitude flight. The new design featured longer span wings and a revised fuselage able to carry dorsal and ventral power-operated turrets each fitted with four 20 mm Hispano cannon. However, despite the obvious gains in performance and capability, the Air Ministry was not interested.
Pictured here is a 1:72 scale replica of a RAF Short Stirling Mk. I heavy bomber that was attached to No. 149 Squadron and piloted by Captain Rawdon Hume 'Ron' Middleton VC.
Release Date: November 2012
Historical Account: "I'll Get You Home" - On November 28th, 1942, Rawdon Hume 'Ron' Middleton was captain of a Stirling I bomber (serial BF372) detailed to bomb the Fiat works at Turin. It was his twenty-ninth combat sortie, one short of the thirty required for completion of a 'tour' and mandatory rotation off combat operations.
Middleton and his crew arrived over Turin after a difficult flight over the Alps, due to the low combat ceiling of the Stirling. Middleton made three low-level passes over the target to identify it, and on the third of these passes his aircraft was hit by heavy and sustained anti-aircraft fire which wounded both pilots and the wireless officer. Middleton suffered numerous grievous wounds, including shrapnel wounds to the arms, legs and body, having his right eye torn from its socket and his jaw shattered.
He passed out briefly, and his second pilot, Flt Sgt LA Hyder, who was also seriously wounded, managed to regain control at 800 feet and drop the bombs, before receiving first aid from the other crew. Middleton regained consciousness in time to help recover control of his stricken bomber. Middleton was in great pain, was barely able to see, was losing blood from wounds all over his body, and could breathe only with difficulty. He must have known that his own chances of survival were slim, but he nonetheless determined to fly his crippled aircraft home, and return his crew to safety. During the return flight he frequently said over the intercom "I'll make the English Coast. I'll get you home."
After four hours of agony and having been further damaged by flak over France, Middleton reached the coast of England with five minutes of fuel reserves. At this point he turned the aircraft parallel to the coast and ordered his crew to bail out. Five of his crew did so and landed safely, but his front gunner and flight engineer remained with him to try to talk him into a forced landing on the coast, something he must have known would have risked extensive civilian casualties. He steered the aircraft out over the sea off Dymchurch, and ordered the last two crew to bale out Eventually they too bailed out, but did not survive the night in the English Channel. Middleton stayed with the aircraft, which crashed into the Channel. His body was washed ashore on February 1st, 1943.
The last line of his Victoria Cross Citation reads: "His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force".
Flight Sergeant Rawdon Hume Middleton VC was posthumously promoted to Pilot Officer, and is buried at Beck Row, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. His Victoria Cross and uniform are displayed at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
P/O GR Royde (Observer) was awarded a DFC, while F/S LA Hyder (2nd pilot), F/S D Cameron (Upper gunner) and Sgt HW Gough (rear gunner) all were awarded the DFM.