The Short Singapore was the oldest of a group of biplane flying boats still in RAF service at the start of the Second World War, although the last squadrons to use it replaced their aircraft before entering combat.
The military Singapore had a long gestation period. In 1924 the Air Ministry gave Shorts a contract to build a single experimental flying boat, with a metal hull and the flying surfaces of the Felixstowe F.5. This aircraft, the Short S.2, made its maiden flight on 5 January 1925. It then spent a year being tested by the MAEE, to see if the metal hull was watertight and how well it resisted corrosion.
At the same time as they were working on the S.2, Shorts also began to design the hull for the S.5 Singapore, and early in 1925, after the first flight of the S.2 but before it had passed the MAEE tests, they were awarded with a contract to produce a single Singapore I (to specification 13/24). This aircraft was complete by the summer of 1926, and made its maiden flight on 17 August.
The Singapore I was a twin-engined biplane, with wings of unequal size. The wings were fabric covered, while the main structure and wing-tip floats were made of duralumin. The hull had a deep keel and a narrow beam, which gave it good water handling properties. The pilots were carried in an open side-by-side cockpit. Defensive armament was provided by three Lewis guns, one in the nose and two behind the wings. Inside the hull were the radio operators station, crew quarters and a kitchen.
Despite performing well in tests, the Singapore I was not ordered into production. The single aircraft was instead loaned to Sir Alan Cobham, who in 1927-28 used it on a 28,000 mile flight around Africa. Cobham reached Africa at Benfhazi, then travelled down the Nile, before using the great lakes to reach South Africa. From there he returned north along the west coast, eventually returning to Gibraltar before returning to Plymouth on 31 May 1928.
In 1927 the Air Ministry issued a specification for an aircraft to replace the Supermarine Southampton. Shorts’ submission was the only one not awarded with a contract for a prototype. Shorts complained about this, and were rewarded for their persistence with a contract to produce an aircraft to specification R.32/27. The resulting Singapore II was a four engined version of the earlier aircraft, with a similar hull. The four engines were mounted back-to-back in two nacelles, mounted between the upper and lower wings.
The wings were of more equal size, although the upper wing still had a wider span than the lower. The Singapore II had a similar internal layout to the Singapore I, with a twin side-by-side open cockpit, nose gun position and two amidships gun positions. The fuselage contained the radio and navigation stations as well as a cooker, bunks and ice box. A crew of six was to be carried.
The Singapore II made its maiden flight on 27 March 1930. After service tests in Britain and at Aden the rudder was changed from the original single rudder to a triple fin and rudder, the planing bottom was modified and an enclosed cockpit was installed.
In August 1933, nine years after work on the Singapore had started Shorts were given a contract to produce four Short S.19 Singapore IIIs. The four pre-production aircraft were followed by thirty-three further aircraft. These were powered by four 675hp Kestral engines, and had a number of detailed differences from the Singapore II. They were delivered between August 1933 and June 1937.
The Singapore III entered serve with No.230 Squadron in April 1935, and was eventually used by Nos.203, 205, 209, 210 and 240 squadrons. The Singapore served in home waters, at Singapore, Iraq and Egypt. The Singapore was very soon superseded by the next generation of flying boats – the Saro London and Supermarine Stranraer, and in the same year that it entered service Shorts were already working on the Empire class flying boats and the Short Sunderland.
By the start of the Second World War only No.203 Squadron in Iraq and No.205 Squadron at Singapore were still operating the Singapore. No.205 Squadron completed replacing its Singapores with Catalinas just before the Japanese attack, and No.203 Squadron used its aircraft over the Persian Gulf until March 1940, just before the Italian entry into the war made East Africa an active warzone. A number of No.205 squadron’s aircraft then went to No.5 Squadron, RNZAF, based on Fiji, where they remained in use until 1945.
Engine: four Rolls-Royce Kestrel VIII 12-cylinder inline engines
Power: 560hp each
Wing Span: 90ft
Height: 23ft 7in
Maximum speed: 145mph
Service ceiling: 15,000ft
Maximum range: 1,000 miles
Armament: one 0.303in Lewis gun in each of nose, dorsal and tail positions
Bomb load: 2,000lb