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Hawker Hurricane

The Hawker Hurricane was by far the most numerous of British combat aircraft from the outbreak of war in 1939 until well into 1941, and bore the brunt of the RAF's early battles with the Luftwaffe over France and Britain. Designed by Sidney Camm - Hawker's Chief Designer - as a Fury monoplane with Goshawk engine and spatted landing gear, what became the Hurricane was altered on the drawing board to have the more powerful PV.12 (Merlin) engine and inwards-retracting landing gear and - later - to have eight Browning machine-guns instead of the four at first intended. The British Air Ministry wrote Specification F.36/34 around Camm's design, and in June 1936 after tests with the prototype ordered the at that time extraordinary total of 600 aircraft. By the outbreak of war in September 1939 497 of the 600 had been delivered, and they equipped 18 front-line squadrons. By August 1940 - during the Battle of Britain - 2,309 Hurricanes had been delivered, as compared with 1,383 Spitfires. Gloster alone were at this stage producing 130 Hurricanes per month. During the Battle of Britain it became apparent that the Spitfire, with its superior performance, was better able to contend with the German Bf109 fighter.  Nonetheless the Hurricane had its advantages over the Spitfire - amongst which were that it was much more sturdy and resistant to battle-damage, that it was a more stable gun platform, and that it was both cheaper to build and easier to maintain. Thought was never the equal of the German single-seat fighters, the Hurricane proved invaluable as a night fighter, attack bomber, naval fighter and gun-armed tank-buster.  Total production of Hurricanes came to the huge total of 14,231,  of which 1,451 were built in Canada. Nearly three thousand were transferred to the Soviet Union, where they were used very effectively in  the ground attack role.


The Hawker Hurricane was the first fighter monoplane to join the Royal Air Force and the first combat aircraft adopted by that arm capable of exceeding 300 m.p.h. in level flight. The Hurricane shouldered the lion's share of Britain's defense during the " Battle of Britain".

Often underrated in favor of the Spitfire , the Hurricane was the main victor of the Battle of Britain. The Royal Air Force had at that time 32 Hurricane squadrons, compared with 19 Spitfire squadrons. This meant that 620 Hurricane and Spitfire fighters (with another 84 assorted fighters like the Gloster Gladiator) had to face the German air threat of 3,500 bombers and fighters. During the "Battle of Britain", 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.

The synthesis of many years' intimate experience of fighter biplane design translated into the modern formula; a compromise between tradition and requirements born of a new era in air warfare--such was the Hawker Hurricane. The first fighter monoplane to join the Royal Air Force and the first combat aircraft adopted by that arm capable of exceeding 300 m.p.h. in level flight, the Hurricane shouldered the lion's share of Britain's defense during the " Battle of Britain", and was largely responsible for the successful outcome of this conflict for the defending forces, equipping more than three-fifths of R.A.F. Fighter Command's squadrons. The Hurricane also proved to possess an astounding propensity for adaptation, and the multifarious roles that it undertook earned for it the distinction of being the most versatile of single seat warplanes to emerge from the Second World War.

The Hurricane was the work of Sydney Camm, who began its design in 1934. The prototype first took to the air on November 6,1935, at Brooklands, and the initial production Hurricane I entered RAF service in December 1937, with No 111 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 483 km/h (300 mph), and its first eight-gun fighter.

Under the command of Sqn. Ldr. J. W. Gillan, No. 111 Squadron quickly settled down with its new monoplanes, and on February 10, 1938, the commander personally demonstrated the prowess of the Hurricane by flying from Edinburgh to Northolt at an average speed of 408 m.p.h. Even with a stiff tail-wind this was a remarkable performance. Squadrons were rapidly equipped with the Hurricane--thanks to the foresight of the Hawker Aircraft directors--and at the time war was declared, on September 3, 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. The Hurricane I, at 7,127 Ib. all-up weight, possessed a maximum speed of 325 m.p.h. at 17,500 feet, a range of 700 miles at 200 m.p.h. at 15,000 feet, a service ceiling of 36,000 feet, and the ability to climb to 20,000 feet in 9 minutes.

Hawker Aircraft Limited evolved from Sopwith and had spent its entire life in developing single engined warplanes. None was to achieve more fame than the Hurricane.

The early history of the Hurricane is an interesting parallel in many ways with that of the Supermarine Spitfire with which it was to form an immortal partnership; but while the Spitfire was an entirely new conception based on specialized experience, the Hurricane was the logical outcome of a long line of fighting aircraft. Thus, although the two airplanes met broadly the same requirements, they represented entirely different approaches to the same problem. The two approaches were reflected to an interesting degree in their respective appearances; the Hurricane workmanlike, rugged and sturdy, the Spitfire slender and ballerina-like. One was the studied application of experience, the other a stroke of genius.

Early in 1934 Sydney Camm, chief designer of Hawker Aircraft, learned of the work being undertaken by Rolls-Royce to develop a powerful new engine, then known as the PV-12. At that time the Hawker design team had been working on a fighter project known as the Fury Monoplane which had been designed around the 660 h.p. Rolls-Royce Goshawk steam-cooled engine. As the new engine offered a substantial improvement in performance, the projected fighter was re-designed for the new power plant. In view of Air Ministry interest, project design work was rapidly completed, stressing commencing in March 1934, and work on detail drawings beginning in May.

On October 23,1935, the prototype fighter, bearing the serial number K5083, was moved from Kingston to Brooklands for its first flight, which was effected on November 6 with P. W. S. "George" Bulman, the company's chief test pilot, at the controls. As measured at Brooklands, the prototype's loaded weight was 5,416 lb. The Hawker monoplane was a clean aircraft. 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 Merlin "C", the name that had earlier been bestowed upon the PV-12, which drove a Watts two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller.

During the Battle of Britain, which began in earnest on August 8,1940, 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 a Fighter Command pilot was won by Ft Lt James Nicolson, a Hurricane pilot of No 249 Squadron who, on August 16,1940, 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 highest scoring Allied pilot of the battle - a Czech named Sergeant Josef Frantisek, who claimed 17 victories - was also a Hurricane pilot.

When it became clear that the Hurricane was becoming outclassed as a pure fighter, other duties were assigned to it. The 'Hurribomber' fighter-bomber came into being, carrying either two 113 kg (250 lb) or two 226 kg (500 lb) bombs under its wings.

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 113 kg (250 lb) or two 226 kg (500 lb) 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 differed from the Mark II in two respects: it used a Merlin 24 or 27 which developed 1,620 h.p. 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 in service by March 1943 and was operational in the Middle and Far East theatres until the end of the war, and in Europe until the end of 1944. The development of the aircraft rocket had introduced a new factor in the use of aircraft as ground-assault weapons, and the Hurricane IIB and IIC were the first single-seaters to employ the rockets operationally. After extended trials at the A. & A.E.E. and elsewhere with rockets launched from Hurricanes (commencing with Z2415 which was fitted with three launching rails under each wing early in 1942), No. 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.

A late series Hurricane IIC with two 44 gallon auxiliary drop tanks.

Of the 14,533 production Hurricanes built, some had gone for service with other air forces. In particular, nearly 3,000 were dispatched to the Soviet Union to aid its fight against the Germans on the Eastern Front. The first Hurricane sorties in Russia were made on September 11,1941 in defense of Murmansk, pilots from France, Britain and America helping the Soviets in their task.




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