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A.36 Lerwick
Lerwick L7265, ‘WQ-Q’ of 209 Squadron. Taking off from Loch Ryan, March 1941
Role Maritime patrol/Anti-submarine aircraft
Manufacturer Saunders-Roe
First flight November 1938
Introduction 1940
Retired 1942
Primary users Royal Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
Number built 21

The Saunders-Roe A.36 Lerwick was a British flying boat built by Saunders-Roe Limited (Saro). It was intended to serve alongside the Short Sunderland in the Royal Air Force's Coastal Command, but it was a flawed design and only a small number were built. They had a poor service record and a high accident rate - out of 21 aircraft, 10 were lost to accidents and one for an unknown reason.

Design and development

Air Ministry Specification R.1/36 (to meet Operational Requirement 32[1]) was issued in March 1936 to several companies that had experience in building flying boats. The specification was for a smaller flying boat for anti-submarine, convoy escort and reconnaissance duties. It would replace the Royal Air Force's biplane flying boats such as the Saro London and Supermarine Stranraer. The specification called for a cruise speed on 230 mph, and a weight of no more than 25,000 lb.[2] Designs were tendered by Saunders-Roe (S.36), Supermarine (Type 314), Blackburn Aircraft (b. 20) and Shorts. The Blackburn B.20 was a radical design that offered much better performance by reducing the drag associated with a flying boat hull and so a prototype was ordered to test the concept. Of the other designs the Supermarine was the first choice with Saro and Shorts tied in second place. The Supermarine was ordered "off the drawing board" i.e. without requiring prototypes to be produced and flown first. However Supermarine's commitment to the Spitfire meant that work was not expected to start for two years and so the Ministry looked to the other designs. Saunders-Roe had redesigned the S.36 in the meantime – replacing low hull and gull wing with a deep body and high wing – and the Supermarine order was transferred to the S.36.[3] The contract was issued in June 1937 to buy 21 of the S.36 receiving the service name Lerwick (after the coastal town of the same name). The Lerwick was a compact twin-engined, high-winged monoplane of all-metal construction. It had a conventional flying boat hull with a planing bottom and two stabilising floats carried under the wings on long struts. It was powered by two Bristol Hercules radial engines and initially had twin fins and rudders. For defence, the Lerwick was equipped with three powered gun turrets. The nose turret had a single 0.303 inch Vickers K gun; the other two had 0.303 Browning machine guns, two guns in the Nash & Thomson FN.8 turret in the dorsal position and four in the Nash & Thomson FN4.A turret at the tail.[4] Offensive weapons were a total of 2000 lb (900 kg) of bombs or depth charges – four 500 lb or eight 250 lb bombs, or four depth charges[5] – which were carried in two streamlined nacelles behind the engines;[6] a configuration shared by the Martin PBM Mariner.

The first three aircraft were used as prototypes, with the first being launched on 31 October 1938 after numerous delays during design and construction. The Lerwick was immediately found to be unstable both aerodynamically and on the water, and not suited to "hands off" flying. The latter was a major problem in an aircraft designed for long-range patrols. Numerous adjustments, including the addition of a greatly enlarged single fin and an increase in the wing angle of incidence, failed to remedy its undesirable characteristics which included a vicious stall and unsatisfactory rates of roll and yaw.[7] In service, several aircraft were lost because of wing floats breaking off, suggesting this was a structural weakness. Persistent problems with the aircraft's hydraulics resulted in bomb doors sometimes dropping open during flight[8]

On one engine the Lerwick could not maintain height, nor could it maintain a constant heading as the controls could not counter the torque of one engine on maximum power.[9] Hence, an engine failure would inevitably see the aircraft flying in slowly descending circles. On one occasion, the loss of an engine forced a Lerwick to make an emergency landing in the Caledonian Canal. The aircraft was then towed to Oban at the end of a string of coal barges.[10]


In the summer of 1939, four Lerwicks were allocated to 240 Squadron. By October, the squadron had stopped flying them and reverted to its older and slower Saro London flying boats. The Lerwick programme was cancelled on the 24 October but restarted on 1 November. In December 1939, Air Vice-Marshal Sholto Douglas recommended the Lerwicks be scrapped and Saunders-Roe put to building Short Sunderlands but the production change would have taken months and with the start of World War II, aircraft were urgently required.[11]

Lerwick in the markings of 209 squadron

Production continued and the type entered service with 209 Squadron based at Oban in 1940, replacing Short Singapores. The squadron soon began losing aircraft to accidents. During the service with 209 Squadron, all the Lerwicks were grounded twice for urgent safety modifications;[12] on only two occasions were U-boats ever attacked by a Lerwick and neither of the submarines was damaged.[12]

In April 1941, 209 Squadron began receiving the US Consolidated Catalina. The last of a total of 21 Lerwicks was delivered in May but the type was withdrawn from front-line service in the same month.[12] Most of the remaining Lerwicks were transferred to Number 4 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit at Invergordon; three were sent to 240 Squadron for service trials at the highly-secret[citation needed] Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Helensburgh. In the Summer of 1942, the Lerwicks were briefly returned to service for the purpose of operational training with 422 Squadron and 423 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force,[13] based at Loch Erne. By the end of 1942 the type had been declared obsolete; by early 1943 the survivors had been scrapped.


 United Kingdom

Operational losses

Date Aircraft Cause of loss
1 Sep 39 L7249 Operating with the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Felixstowe, sank after launching as a camera hatch was left open; written off
20 Feb 1940 L7253 (WQ-G) Made an emergency touch–down in the Firth of Lorn, 5 miles west of Oban.[14] A wing float broke-off as it touched down and the aircraft rolled inverted; four crew died.[8]
29 June 1940 L7261 Wing float broke-off while taxing after landing, rolled over and sank in Ardentrive Bay, Kerrera; no casualties. The aircraft was recovered but was a total loss[15]
21 Nov 1940 L7251 Sank at its moorings in Loch Ryan
6 Dec 1940 L7255 (WQ-A) Sank, when it lost a wing float in a gale while moored on Loch Ryan
7 Jan 1941 L7262 Sank after an accident during take-off on Lock Ryan;[16] two crew died.
22 Feb 1941 L7263 (WQ-L) Went missing while on patrol in good weather with a crew of 14[12]
24 Mar 1941 L7252 Sank after an emergency touch–down in the Bristol Channel – an engine partially broke loose from its mountings and one of the propeller blades slashed the fuselage. The aircraft slowly sank and crew rescued by HMS Jackal after spending 24 hours in an inflatable dingy.[17]
14 Oct 1941 L7268, Operating with No. 4 (C)OTU, crashed into the sea, killing nine[12]
16 Oct 1941 L7254 Sank after striking a rock during taxing
21 Oct 1941 L7248 First Lerwick built. While on an MAEE calibration flight the starboard engine failed. Unable to maintain height on one engine, L7248 hit telegraph wires before crashing into a hillside above Faslane, killing six RAF personnel and a civilian technician. An investigation was unable to find the cause for the engine failure.[18]
11 November 1941 L7257 (WQ-F) Sank at its moorings during a gale; salvaged in December 1941.[19] Struck off charge in 1942 as being beyond repair
21 Dec 1941 L7265 (WQ-Q) Flying with No. 4 (C)OTU, it was written off after crashing during landing
6 Sept 1942 L7267 Lost during an aborted landing - the pilot increased power to go-around but one engine failed to respond. A wingtip struck the water and the aircraft was spun around, opening a gash in the hull. The crew climbed out through the astrodome and swam toward shore as the aircraft sank, but were picked up by a boat[20]

Specifications (Saro Lerwick)

Data from Saunders Roe and Saro Aircraft since 1917[21]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 6
  • Length: 63 ft 712 in (19.40 m)
  • Wingspan: 80 ft 10 in (24.64 m)
  • Height: 20 ft 0 in (6.10 m)
  • Wing area: 845 ft² (78.5 m²)
  • Loaded weight: 28,400 lb (12,880 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 33,200 lb (15,060 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Bristol Hercules II radial engine, 1,375 hp (1,026 kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 214 mph (186 knots, 345 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 166 mph (144 knots, 267 km/h)
  • Range: 1,540 miles (1,339 nmi, 2,479 km)
  • Service ceiling: 14,000 ft (4,270 m)
  • Rate of climb: 880 ft/min (4.50 m/s)


See also



  1. Buttler p236
  2. Buttler p136
  3. Buttler p137
  4. London 2003, p. 172.
  5. Buttler p145
  6. London 2003, p. 173.
  7. Bowyer 1991, p. 149.
  8. 8.0 8.1 London 2003, p. 185.
  9. London 2003, p.183.
  10. "Life and Times of 422 Squadron RCAF". Retrieved 2009-02-20. [dead link]
  11. London 2003, p. 174.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 London 2003, p. 186.
  13. "Saro Lerwick". AEROWARE/ Retrieved 9 September 2009. 
  14. "Saro Lerwick I, Firth of Lorn". Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland. Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  15. "Saro Lerwick I, Ardantrive Bay, Kerrera, Firth of Lorn". Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland. Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  16. "Saro Lerwick I, Loch Ryan". Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland. Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  17. "P.O. Ronald John Fyfe and the Saro Lerwick S36". Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  18. "SARO A.36 Lerwick L7248". Air Crash Sites Scotland. Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  19. "Saro Lerwick L7257". Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  20. "Life and Times of 422 Squadron RCAF". Retrieved 2009-02-20. [dead link]
  21. London 1988, p. 189.


  • Bowyer, Chaz. Coastal Command at War. Sheperton, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-7110-0980-5. (p. 30.)
  • Bowyer, Michael J.F. Aircraft for the Few: The RAF's Fighters and Bombers in 1940. Sparkford, near Yeovil, Somerset, UK: Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1991. ISBN 1-85260-040-3. (pp. 148–151.)
  • Buttler, T British Secret Projects: Fighters and Bombers 1935-1950 Midland Publishing
  • Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War, Volume Five: Flying Boats. London: Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1962 (Fifth impression 1972). ISBN 0-356-01449-5. (pp. 84–87.)
  • London, Peter. British Flying Boats. Sutton Publishers Ltd. 2003. ISBN 0-7509-2695-3
  • London, Peter. Saunders and Saro Aircraft Since 1917. London: Putnam (Conway Maritime Press), London, 1988. ISBN 0-85177-814-3.
  • March, Daniel J. British Warplanes of World War II: Combat Aircraft of the RAf and Fleet AIr Arm, 1939-1945. Hoo, nr Rochester, Kent, UK: Aerospace Publishing Ltd., 1998. ISBN 1-84013-391-0. (p. 191.)
  • Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to British Aircraft of World War II. Hamlyn (publishers),1982 (republished 1994 by Chancellor Press, reprinted 2002). ISBN 1-85152-668-4. (p. 181.)

External links

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