In Biggles Follows On, Biggles uses a "Scorpion" flying boat to rescue Guardsman Ian Ross from Kratsen. Johns describes the Scorpion as "a military development of the Short Sunderland, designed for long-distance work, but later modified for civil transportation. It had not gone into production, but the prototype had for some years been on the establishment of a Royal Air Force Communication squadron." This description almost exactly fits the Short Seaford and one must therefore wonder why Johns did not use the actual name.
The Short SeafordEdit
The Seaford was the result of an Air Ministry issued Specification R.8/42 for a replacement of the Sunderland with more powerful Bristol Hercules engines. Originally called the Sunderland Mk IV, the resulting aircraft was different enough to merit a new name and was called the Seaford.
The Seaford had a slightly longer fuselage, and a larger tail fin and tailplane for increased aerodynamic stability. It also carried a much more powerful defensive armament than the Sunderland, which was itself already called the "flying porcupine".
The Seaford had a much greater range than the Sunderland (3,100 miles compared to 1,780 miles) and was intended for long-distance work in the Pacific. However, in the event, only 10 were built--2 prototypes and 8 production aircraft. The aircraft were evaluated by R.A.F. but were too late to see action in the Second World War. In 1948, 6 production aircraft were modified for civil use to the standard of the Short Solent and leased to B.O.A.C. as the Short Solent 3. The first two production aircraft, NJ200 and NJ201 (not the prototypes as Johns stated), were retained by the R.A.F. at the Marine Aircraft Evaluation Establishment at Felixstowe. Biggles would probably have used one of these two.
Biggles and the Scorpion/SeafordEdit
The Scorpion/Seaford was Biggles' platform for the operation to rescue Ross from Kratsen on the Chinese Manchuria coast facing the Yellow Sea. For this mission, Biggles chose for his base the (fictional) international marine aircraft establishment at Kungching in South Korea where servicing facilities were available as well as an R.A.F. maintenance unit. From this base, Wung Ling was first inserted to conduct a reconnaissance using a smaller (unnamed) borrowed aircraft. After three days, he was picked up by the Scorpion and flown back to base. Wung Ling's intelligence was studied and the rescue operation was then launched the same night. The Scorpion flew the few hundred miles to the target, put down on the sea near Kratsen, and there it waited while the shore party went ashore to liberate the prisoners and also sabotage the enemy base.
The choice of a marine aircraft is obvious as Kratsen is on the coast and there was no guarantee of any suitable landing spot in the area--this was later proven right, as the ground proved considerably boggy and muddy. Furthermore a large aircraft was needed as Biggles did not know how many people he might have to carry back with him. Johns describes the Scorpion as being able to carry 16, and Biggles commented that it might be a squeeze. In reality the Solent development of the Seaford could carry 34 passengers--more than enough for all the people Biggles had to bring back.
Nonetheless the Scorpion/Seaford is one of the several puzzling aircraft choices made by Johns in his novels. Why could not Biggles simply use a Sunderland? He had done so before, and he would do so again, in a later novel. What is more, Sunderlands were indeed used by R.A.F. 88 Squadron during the Korean War. Biggles could simply have borrowed one.
True, the Seaford had a longer range (almost twice that of the Sunderland) and a much heavier defensive armament (although in reality, NJ201 was a unarmed trainer), but Biggles doesn't exploit either the range or the armament at all during the story. From any point in South Korea to the Manchuria coast would only have been a short hop of a few hundred miles.
Perhaps Johns wanted to introduce his young readers to a different aircraft type and provide some variety. In that case, why not give the actual name of the aircraft?
- Crew: 8 — 11 (two pilots, radio operator, navigator, engineer, bomb-aimer, three to five gunners)
- Length: 88 ft 6¾ in (27.00 m)
- Wingspan: 112 ft 9½ in (34.38 m)
- Empty weight: 45,000 lb (20,412 kg)
- Loaded weight: 75,000 lb (34,020 kg)
- Engines: 4 × Bristol Hercules radial engines, 1,720 hp each (compare: 1,065 hp of the Bristol Pegasus for the Sunderland)
- Maximum speed: 242 mph (210 knots, 389 km/h) at 500 ft (150 m)
- Cruise speed: 155 mph (138 knots, 249 km/h)
- Range: 3,100 mi (2,696 nmi, 4,988 km)
- Guns: 6 × .50 in Browning machine guns (two each in nose and tail turrets and two beam guns), 2 x 20 mm Hispano cannon in dorsal turret and 2 × fixed .303 in Browning machine guns
- Bombs: 4,960 lb (2,250 kg) of bombs and depth charges