Between 1934 and 1939, British toy brand Dinky Toys by Meccano produced a range of die-cast miniature vehicles and aircraft modelled on the British military. One such example was the Singapore Flying Boat, which was a realistic die-cast reproduction of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Short Singapore III. This replica model has a fascinating military history behind it.
At the end of the First World War, 37 Short Singapores were built to serve as vital coastal reconnaissance seaplanes and help patrol and protect the maritime territories of the British Empire. Made with a full-metal exterior capable of landing on water, the biplane flying boat had undergone three modifications since its first incarnation in 1926. With its enhanced specifications, the Short Singapore III weighed an incredible 9,237 kg and cruised at a maximum speed of 190 km/h, while being armed with two 250 kg and eight 11.35 kg bombs. This would have been fairly advanced for the interwar period.
One of the most significant operators of the Short Singapore III was the No. 205 Squadron of the RAF based at Seletar, Singapore. As one of the British colonies with a vital seaport, a total of ten Short Singapores were delivered to the squadron from 1935 to 1941 to carry out maritime reconnaissance along the Straits of Johor.
Before the Japanese advancement into Southeast Asia in 1941, the Short Singapores had become effectively obsolete. With the arrival of the more powerful Catalinas to Seletar Airbase, the use of the Short Singapore III eventually declined. The No. 205 Squadron in Singapore remained the last RAF operator of the Short Singapore III before it was taken over by the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) No. 5 Squadron as a stopgap before the arrival of modern aircraft like the Catalinas.
Under the RNZAF in Fiji at the beginning of World War II, the Short Singapores were deployed in anti-submarine patrols and air-sea rescue missions. Although the Short Singapores were obsolete in comparison to other seaplanes of the time, the RNZAF No. 5 Squadron accomplished an astonishing feat by submerging a Japanese submarine in the South Pacific. This proved to be the solitary achievement of the Short Singapore III in World War II.
Pre-war die-cast toys across the Dinky range were made with an unstable impure alloy. These impurities within the alloy made the toys susceptible to corrosion and caused them to flake and disintegrate over time. Hence, pre-war die-cast toys by Dinky that survive corrosion are incredibly rare. Dinky Toys resumed the production of pre-war military models after 1945 with improved alloys. In the case of the Singapore Flying Boat, Dinky Toys produced both a pre-war and a post-war version.