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Old Man

Short 827 (converted) RNAS Mesopoptamia, 1915, Scratch-Build in 1/72

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Royal Navy assistance to the Indian Army's riverine campaign in Mesopotamia in 1915 came to include three Short 827 float-planes of the Royal Naval Air Service. It was found these could give better service on wheels than floats, in conditions described as 'too much water for the soldiers and not enough water for the sailors'.

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Among the various float-planes Short Bros produced for the Admiralty before the Great War was No.135, a derivative of the '160hp Folder' with a shortened span and a 135hp Salmson water-cooled radial. With very little modification, this became the pattern for the Short 'Type C', a two-bay twin-float biplane with unequal-span wings which could be folded back alongside the fuselage, suitable both for service at sea and patrols from shore stations. It was intended to begin production with a trial batch, half with the new British-built Sunbeam V8, and half with Salmson motors, but when the new Short Bros. factory was ready in April, 1914, neither motor was to hand, and the first 'Type C' machines built were fitted with 100hp Gnome rotaries, and referred to by the Admiralty as 'Improved Type 74'. By spring of 1915, a half dozen examples had been delivered with the 135hp Salmson radial and a half dozen with a 150hp Sunbeam. The Salmson powered version was designated Type 830, and the Sunbeam powered version designated Type 827. The pilot was seated in the rear cockpit, allowing solo operation with a larger useful load at need, and there was provision for fitting wireless equipment.

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The Sunbeam powered version proved preferable to the Admiralty, and more than a hundred were ordered, most from sub-contractors who did not always deliver promptly. The Short Type 827 saw service ranging from patrol and training work from Naval stations on the English coast to operation in Belgian hands in the Congo against German forces around Lake Tanganyika. They operated in the Mediterranean, both off the Ben-my-Chree and from Otranto, and off the coast of German East Africa, based on Zanzibar, from the Laconia, Himalaya, and Manica (which also sported drachen balloons). Four were still flying patrols from the Isle of Grain early in 1918, and several were still on RAF strength, including one at Otranto, as late as October, 1918. Some of the late serving machines had their aileron controls altered to a more modern pattern from the original 'uncompensated' arrangement, which left the ailerons to hang when the machine was at rest, and had their crew accommodations altered to put the pilot in the front seat.

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In June, 1915, three of the original Sunbeam examples, Nos. 822, 825, and 827, were dispatched on the armed liner Laconia to the East African coast, intended to reinforce a struggling air contingent trying to find the S.M.S. Konigsberg in the Rufiji Delta. The German cruiser had already been wrecked, however, by the time they arrived, in July. After some operation on the coast of German East Africa, these machines were shipped up to Basra, where they joined in September a Royal Navy flotilla operating on the Tigris in support of the India Army's 'Force D', and vessels of the Royal India Marine, which was at that time preparing to advance against Kut-al-Amara. In command of the flying detachment was Major Gordon of the Marines, with Flight Lieutenant Blackburn and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Dunn as pilots.

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The small R.N.A.S. contingent was pitched into conditions both strange and extreme. The Tigris, running at this point more west to east than otherwise, was in full flood, with marsh to its north and mud to its south. Men moved, and machines operated, in a muggy heat exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit (approaching 50 degrees Centigrade), and swarming with mosquitoes and flies. The twists and turns of the river, the many obstacles in its flood, and the heat of the air, made taking off from the water a difficult proposition. Panels were stripped off the cowlings, leaving the motors bare, in hopes of mitigating at least slightly their pronounced tendency to overheat. Malaria quickly got in among both pilots and ground crew. Still, several useful reconnaissances were made, and direction provided for artillery (4.7" naval guns mounted on boats normally used to transport horses).

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It is not clear when the decision was made to put the Shorts on wheels rather than floats, but it seems to have been done before the battle of Ctesiphon, and likely that the sorties flown by the Naval pilots in support of the advance north from Kut were flown more off the same improvised aerodrome near Kut employed by the Australian pilots attached to the Indian Flying Corps, and of the skeleton 30 Sqdn RFC, rather than off the water of the Tigris. After Gen. Townsend's defeat at Ctesiphon in late November, the Shorts flew on several occasions to attack the advancing Turks with bombs. As the Turks closed in to invest Kut, the Naval ground crew got out on steamers, and the pilots flew out to Ma'Gil aerodrome at Basra on December 4th.

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While at Ma'Gil, during December, No. 822 broke its undercarriage and damaged its upper wing in an accident. Fragmentary records suggest this may have occurred on the 14th, but in any case it led to the machine being extensively photographed by an Australian fitter at Ma'Gil, Sgt. Shorland. In January, a relief expedition got underway, starting off from Ali Garhbi. It made fair progress initially. On 17 January, the R.N.A.S. contingent at Basra received a reinforcement of two Voisin biplanes. It was not until the 30th, though, that transport up the river for stores and men to establish an operational unit could be had. Two of the Shorts and both Voisins took off to fly north; one of each came to grief during the flight. On February 14, 1916, No. 822, with Sub-Lieutenant Dunn at the controls, ran its wheels into a muddy ditch at Orah aerodrome, south of Kut, and ended up on its back with considerable damage. Soon thereafter, a further reinforcement of five 'Short 225' machines (Short Type 184 with 225hp Sunbeam motors) reached the R.N.A.S. detachment, and No. 822 was never repaired.

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This is a scratch-build, inspired by an article in an old Cross and Cockade number which contains a good many of Sgt. Shorland's photographs of Ma'Gil and its denizens. There is a resin kit of the 827, also in 1/72, but it would take a good deal of work to make into one of the Mesopotamia machines, and in any case, I confess I rather like making a model up without a kit....

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Build thread can be found here:

http://www.britmodeller.com/forums/index.php?/topic/234961961-short-827-converted-rnas-mesopoptamia-1915-scratch-build-in-172/

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Superb old man, now that came out rather well !.......definitely a magnificent flying machine. As you rightly point out it's good fun building a model without a kit. Great back story too......

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A fantastic application of your research; a beautiful scratch-build; and a great model. :clap2: Excellent Old Man!

FLY NAVAL AIR SERVICES!

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That is absolutely astounding. What a superb bit of modelling and an interesting tale or early Naval aviation. Great work.

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I have been watching this, any body who can do scratch building deserves all the credit, well done

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That looks great, Very nice work

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What a lovely result! This build has been a pleasure to follow and the end result is stunning!

I wouldn't like to have to look round that radiator to see where I was going though...

Regards,

Adrian

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Thank you so much for the fascinating lecture and for providing such splendid modelling inspiration!

A real tour de force.

Kind regards,

Joachim

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Thank you all very much, Gentlemen!

I had a lot of fun doing this build, it is one that has been in my mind to do for quite a while. Events in the Middle East during the Great War tend to get over-looked, and that is a shame: not only are they interesting in their own right, but they had consequences which can still be seen in today's head-lines.

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Goodness me, where to start the aircraft is exceptional whilst the history behind the aircraft makes it if anything even better !

Cheers Pat

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Can't add any more to that already said above. And scratchbuilt to boot, what can I say! Nice back story too.

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Superb work! Your build thread is duly posted, and filed under incredible! :)

Cheers,

Bill

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I have watched the build thread and been impressed. Great history article with it. Excellent modelling. It must have been very enjoyable and satisfying to build it and finish it.

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Again, Gentlemen: thank you very much.

I am glad you like the model, and enjoyed the commentary.

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