WW2 Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane

The Hurricane was the first monoplane fighter produced by Hawker, and was available in substantial numbers at the beginning of World War II. Hurricanes played a decisive role in the Battle of Britain when it equipped 26 RAF and 1 RCAF squadrons, and went on to fly on more fronts than any other British fighter. The Hurricane also earned distinction for being the most versatile of single seat warplanes to emerge from the Second World War. Later in the war, Sea Hurricanes were launched by catapult from ships at sea to defend convoys against air attack. A "tank buster" version with 40mm cannon was used in North Africa.

The Hawker Hurricane was the work of Sydney Camm, who began its design in 1934. On 23 October,1935, the prototype fighter, bearing the serial number K5083, was moved from Kingston to Brooklands for its first flight on 6 November 1935 with PWS "George" Bulman, the company's chief test pilot, at the controls.

WW2 Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane fighter

Its tubular metal construction and fabric covering were similar to those of the earlier Fury fighter biplane, and many of its contours, particularly the tail surfaces, were characteristic of earlier Camm designs. The continued adherence to fabric covering was viewed with misgivings by some, and was, in fact, soon to be supplanted by metal skinning for the wings; but this seemingly dated feature was linked with what were for that time ultra-modern items such as a fully retractable under-carriage and a sliding cockpit canopy. For its first flight the fighter was powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin "C", the name that had earlier been bestowed upon the a powerful new engine, the PV-12, which drove a Watts two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller.

The initial production Hurricane I entered RAF service in December 1937, with 111 RAF Squadron. Powered by the famous Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, it became the first RAF monoplane fighter with an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage, its first fighter capable of a level speed in excess of 300 mph (483 km/h), and its first eight-gun fighter.

Squadrons were rapidly equipped with the Hurricane, thanks to the foresight of the Hawker Aircraft directors, and at the time war was declared, on 3 September, 1939, just short of 500 Hurricanes had been delivered and eighteen squadrons had been equipped. These were all of the Mark I type, armed with eight 0.303-in. machine-guns but having alternative propeller installations: a Merlin II engine driving a Watts two-blade fixed-pitch wooden propeller, or a Merlin III of similar power having a standardized shaft for de Havilland or Rotol three-blade metal propellers.

When it became clear that the Hurricane was becoming outclassed as a pure fighter, other duties were assigned to it. In October 1941 the 'Hurribomber' fighter-bomber came into being, carrying either two 250lb (113 kg) or two 500lb (226 kg) bombs under its wings. The Mk IID of 1942 was fitted with two 40 mm cannon for tank busting and two machine guns, and was operated mainly in North Africa against Rommel's desert forces and in Burma against the Japanese. Other Hurricanes carried rocket projectiles as alternative ground attack weapons.

The year 1943 saw two important developments in the Hurricanes history--the introduction of the Mark IV and the adoption of the Hurricane to fire rocket missiles or, as they were initially known, "unrifled projectiles". The Hurricane IV used a Merlin 24 or 27 which developed 1,620 hp for take-off, and it featured "low attack" or universal armament wings. These wings were derived from those fitted to the Hurricane IID and could carry the 40-mm. Vickers or Rolls Royce cannon, bombs, drop-tanks or rocket projectiles. The Hurricane IV was operational in the Middle and Far East theatres until the end of the war, and in Europe until the end of 1944.

WW2 Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane fighter

The Hurricane IIB and IIC were the first single-seater aircraft to employ rockets operationally. After extended trials with rockets launched from Hurricanes at the A & AEE, Boscombe Down (commencing with Z2415 in 1942), 137 Squadron took its rocket carrying Hurricanes into action for the first time at the beginning of September 1943. Hurricane IIBs, IICs, and IVs were fitted with four rockets under each wing.

Perhaps the most important sub-variant was the Sea Hurricane This operated from aircraft carriers, being fitted usually with catapult spools and arrester hook. However, most Sea Hurricanes were not newly-built fighters but converted RAF types, and were deployed originally not for aircraft carrier operations but to protect merchant shipping. To combat German maritime-reconnaissance bombers, some ships were converted into CAMs (catapult aircraft merchantmen) which meant that a Hurricane fighter could be launched from the ship when danger approached. The biggest problem was that the fighter could not re-land on board, and so the pilot had to ditch it in the sea. The main areas of operation for the 'Catafighters' were in the Mediterranean and Baltic, but by 1943 the Sea Hurricane had all but disappeared from service.

Of the 14,533 production Hurricanes built, some had gone for service with other air forces, and Canadian Car and Foundry manufactured 1,451 Hurricanes between 1938 and 1943. In particular, Hurricane wartime production supplied 2,952 of these aircraft to the USSR, to aid its fight against the Germans on the Eastern Front. As a result of convoy shipping losses not all reached their destination. Other wartime deliveries went to Egypt (20), Finland (12), India (300), Irish Air Corps (12), Persia (1) and Turkey (14), and total production in the UK and Canada amounted to 14,231. The first Hurricane sorties in Russia were made on 11 September,1941 in defense of Murmansk, pilots from France, Britain and America helping the Soviets in their task.

Once the Fleet Air Arm took delivery of the Hurricanes from the RAF, starting with 880 squadron in March 1941 and 804 squadron in April 1941 it then started the mammoth task of shipping the Hurricanes to operational squadrons in all theatres around the world. A large consignment was shipped out in HMS Furious to 807 squadron in Gibraltar on 1 July 1941 (eg V7301 and V7623). Whilst others were shipped to South Africa in SS City of Bombay on 9 January 1942 (eg Z4056). Half a year later further consignments were shipped out on SS Belgian Seaman to Takoradi from Liverpool on 30 June 1942 (eg BP709), and to Simonstown in SS Lt St Lonbert Brie thence to 800 sqn on HMS Indomitable in July 1942 (eg V7416). However, quite a number were lost with the HMS Eagle which sank on 11 August 1942.

WW2 Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane fighter

Only sixty of all these aircraft were built as Sea Hurricanes, a batch of Mk.IIC's with 4-cannon wings built by Hawker and delivered between December 1942 and May 1943. All other Sea Hurricanes were conversions from Hurricanes including veterans from Hawker's first production batch delivered to the RAF in 1938 and 1939. The oldest of the conversions was Hurricane L1663, originally delivered to 32 Squadron RAF in 1938 and later converted to a Sea Hurricane IB in March 1941. Most operational squadrons last used the Hurricane between 1943-44, when they were relegated to second-line squadrons. The last of the wartime delivered Hurricanes to serve in the Fleet Air Arm were in 774 squadron until February 1945 (eg LF630), in 771 squadron up until January 1945 (LF704) and the final one, LF630 returned to the RAF at BAFO Communication Flight in June, 1945.

The Fleet Air Arm Hurricane and Sea Hurricane saw significant operational activities in many theatres of the war. They were involved in Operation Harpoon, Operation Pedestal to Malta, Operation Ironclad to Madagascar, the Western Desert, and in convoy duties where the aircraft claimed a high number of enemy aircraft shot down. Hurricanes equipped 32 RAF squadrons, some with Fleet Air Arm pilots seconded to these RAF Fighter command squadrons, and shot down more enemy aircraft than all other aircraft combined during the Battle of Britain.

Often under-rated in favour of the Spitfire, the Hurricane was the main victor of the Battle of Britain. 620 Hurricane and Spitfire fighters, with another 84 fighter types including from FAA 804 and 808 squadrons under the command of RAF Fighter Command, had to face the German air threat of 3,500 bombers and fighters. During the Battle, along with the Spitfire, it helped to force the Luftwaffe to use the Bf 109 to protect the poor performing twin engine Bf 110 escort fighter. As an indication of their value, the Hurricane accounted for 80% of all German kills during the Battle. The highest scoring Allied pilot of the Battle - a Czech named Sergeant Josef Frantisek, who claimed 17 victories - was a Hurricane pilot.

During the Battle of Britain, which began in earnest on 8, August,1940, Hurricanes concentrated mainly on the destruction of the German Heinkel He 111 and Dornier Do 17 bombers. These were the aircraft that would cause the most damage if allowed to get through. The only Victoria Cross ever awarded to an RAF Fighter Command pilot was won by Ft Lt James Nicolson, a Hurricane pilot of 249 Squadron who, on 16 August,1940, while attacking a German aircraft in front of him, was pounced on from above and behind by other German aircraft. Nicolson's aircraft caught fire, but he continued his attack until he had shot down his original target, then parachuted to safety. The Fleet Air Arm Hurricanes were also used, with special dust filters, in the Western Desert campaigns against Rommel in 1942/1943, and the majority of Fleet Air Arm claims on attacks on enemy aircraft were made with Sea Hurricanes. The FAA used at least twenty-four Hurricane I's, some of which formed part of the equipment of naval squadrons operating in the Western Desert as shore-based fighter units. These squadrons also employed 39 Mk.I/Trops.

WW2 Battle of Britain Hawker Hurricane fighter

Hawker Sea Hurricane - At the same time as the Hawker Hurricane was achieving its greatest fame during the Battle of Britain in the summer months of 1940, another serious threat to Britain's survival was fast developing at sea; this was the increasing success of the German Navy's U-boat and German maritime reconnaissance bomber aircraft attacks on British shipping conveys in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

The only fighter cover was from the main fleet aircraft carriers but they were too few in number. As a stopgap temporary measure the Royal Navy converted some of their ships and 35 merchant ships to carry a single fighter aircraft launched by means of rocket assisted catapults. These were known as CAMs Catapult Aircraft merchantmen. If the aircraft was not within range of land it was a one way flight as the pilot had to ditch in the sea. The aircraft could not land back on the ship. These Fleet Air Arm Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk IAs nicknamed 'Hurricats' or 'Catafighters' were converted from RAF Hurricane Mk1s. They were armed with four .303 machineguns in each wing. They had a few notable successes in shooting down German long-range bombers. The first kill came on 3rd August 1941 when Lt RWH Everett in a Hurricat shotdown a Focke-Wulf FW 200 Condor. In August 1941 the CAM ships were fitted with more powerful catapults. This enabled the Sea Hurricanes to be fitted with heavy long-rang drop-tanks to give them extra range.

The Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk1B were given a V-frame arrester hook for use on the MAC-ships Merchant Aircraft Carrier ships, large merchant ships that were fitted with a small flight deck to enable better convey air protection. Early in 1942 the new Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk1Cs with their more potent 20mm cannons, two in each wing, catapult spools and arrester hooks arrived and operated from the new light aircraft carriers. The Mark 11Cs were fitted with the more powerful Rolls Royce Merlin XX engine just in time for the intense air battles over Malta and Gibraltar in August 1942 during operation "Pedestal". During three days of continuous attacks by German and Italian torpedo-bombers, bombers and fighters on British shipping convoys in the Mediterranean, 39 enemy aircraft were shot down for the loss of eight Fleet Air Arm navel fighters.

They also played an important part in operation "Tourch" landings in North Africa in November 1942. With the introduction of the more powerful Corsair, Hellcat and Supermarine Spitfire navel carrier conversion Seafire the hawker Sea Hurricane was relegated to serving aboard numerous small escort carriers and shore training establishments for the rest of the war. Amongst the last operational machines were the 835 Squadron Sea Hurricanes 11Cs aboard HMS Nairana on convoy duties to Russian artic regions and southwards to Gibraltar during the summer months of 1944. Fleet Air Arm Sea Hurricanes were also went hunting for German U-boat submarines. On 22nd August 1944 three Hawker Sea Hurricane from FAA 825 squadron attacked a U-boat. The next day 825 Squadron Sea Hurricanes attacked two different U-boats.

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