The Hawker Hurricane
Design of the Hurricane had begun in 1934, and its first flight had been made, from Hawker's establishment within the confines of the historic Brooklands motor racing circuit at Weybridge in Surrey, on 6th November 1935. Sydney Camm's design team at nearby Kingston upon Thames already had long experience of fighter design for the RAF, and drew heavily upon this experience to produce what was at first seen as a "Monoplane Fury" -- the Fury being the elegant biplane that still epitomised the equipment of Fighter Command upon its formation within the RAF in July 1936. Such advanced features as an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage were combined with traditional methods of construction using a tubular metal structure and fabric covering, that meant that the Hurricane could be easily and rapidly produced in existing facilities -- an advantage not enjoyed by the Spitfire with its advanced stressed-skin construction and complex shapes.
In February 1936, the prototype Hurricane (as yet unnamed), powered by an early Merlin C producing 900 hp and driving a Watts fixed-pitch two-bladed wooden propeller, was tested at the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment (A & AEE) at Martlesham Heath, giving Service pilots their first opportunity to experience the improvements in performance and handling that were to become available.
At a weight of 5,6721b (2,572 kg), the prototype demonstrated a speed of 315 mph (506 km/h) at the Merlin's rated altitude of 16,200 ft (4, 937 m) with 6 1b/sq. in boost (0.422 kg/sq. cm). After taking off into a 5 mph (8 km/h) wind with a run of 795 ft (242 m) to reach the 81 mph (180 km/h) lift-off speed, the Hurricane climbed to 15,000 ft (4,570 m) in 5.7 minutes and to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) in 8.4 min. Service ceiling was 34,500 ft (10,515 m) and the estimated absolute ceiling was 35,400 ft (10,800 m).
Convinced that the RAF would buy the new fighter in the prevailing mood of rearmament, the Hawker Company decided, in March 1936, to proceed with the production drawings and to make plans for large-scale production. Three months later in July, that action was vindicated when the Air Ministry confirmed that 600 Hurricanes were to be included in its expansion Plan F (which also provided for 300 Spitfires). By the time the Battle of Britain began, every single fighter in the hands of the RAF counted, and the early launch of Hurricane production had helped to ensure that just enough machines were in fact available to Fighter Command.
Even so! Meeting the RAF's rapidly expanding needs proved to be no simple matter and the Plan F target of 600 Hurricanes to be delivered by March 1939 was missed by some six months. There had been a succession of relatively minor but time consuming problems with prototype development, especially related to the Merlin, and the early intention to fit the Merlin F (Mk I) in the production Hurricane was changed to make use of the improved Merlin G; (Mk II)- which required a redesign of the installation and the front fuselage profile before production could begin. The cockpit canopy also produced its share of problems, with five failures recorded on the prototype before a satisfactory design was evolved.
The first production Hurricane I flew at Brooklands on 12th October 1937 fitted with an early example of the Rolls Royce Merlin II that was rated at 1,030 hp at 16,250 feet (4,955 m). This power unit drove a fixed pitch two bladed propeller and at a weight of 5,459 lb (2,476 kg), the aircraft attained a maximum speed of 318 mph (512 kph) at 17,400 feet (5,305 m).
In January 1939, the Merlin II gave way to the Merlin III with the fitting of a constant speed three bladed propeller and it was this amended specification that was adopted and all Hurricane Mark I's were constructed using this configuration. Other alterations being the armament, which was four Browning .303 machine guns mounted in the wings, metal stressed- skin covered the wings instead of fabric, which also covered the fuselage.
By the 27th September 1939, Hawker had delivered 497 Hurricanes to the RAF against the initial order of 3,500 and was enough to equip 18 Fighter Command squadrons. But despite the need to bring Britain's fighter strength to its potential, quite a number of Hurricanes were exported to other countries. Fifteen went to Turkey, another 15 went to Finland, and 12 went to Romania while 1 went to Poland.
During late 1939 and early 1940, 1,924 Hurricanes had been constructed by the Hawker works while Gloster Aircraft who also took on construction built 1,850. Hawker also put out tenders for the construction of the Hurricane overseas. One of these successful tenders was the Canadian Car and Foundry Works (CCF) and a licence was issued for the construction of both the Hurricane and the Sea Hurricane. A total of 1,451 machines were built and of these, 60 were flying by 10th January 1940. The Canadian Company built the Hurricane in a number of different versions. The original accepted design of the Mark I, the Mark X which was powered by the Merlin 28 engine and built by the Packard Car Co, the Mark XI which was built with Canadian equipment and the Mark XII's that now incorporated the Merlin 29 engine and 12 Browning guns. (8 guns in the Mark XIIA).
Because of the weather conditions in Canada and especially Nova Scotia where many of them were based, the normal retractable undercarriage was dispensed with and fixed skis were used in their place. This allowed the aircraft to take off and land on snow and ice.
During 1939 and 1940, 24 Hurricane Mark I's were delivered to Yugoslavia, and Belgium was also granted a licence to build the fighter, although 20 had been acquired from Britain only 15 of these had been delivered.
Hurricane Mark II through to Mark V
On 11th June 1940 a Hurricane Mark I was fitted with a two stage supercharged Rolls Royce Merlin XX engine that at sea level was rated at 1,300 hp rising to 1,460 hp at 6,250 feet (1905m). After numerous tests the aircraft was given the designation of Mark II, the improved power plant being the only difference from the Mark I. This first model of the MkII was known as the Series I. Further modifications took place as designers tried to make improvements to the Hurricane. The next model was given the title of Mark II Series 2. The fuselage was given added strengthening which was needed to accommodate the redesigned wings that incorporated attachment points for external stores. A bay was also introduced into the fuselage that also increased the length by an additional 7 inches (7.7mm).
In November 1940, the Mark II Series 2 was given additional firepower by the inclusion of 12 .303 machine guns mounted in the wings. This version was known as the Hurricane IIB. The Hurricane IIC followed by having four 20mm Hispano cannons also mounted in the wings.
Many of these versions flew during the Battle of Britain with a number of Mark II's being fitted with drop-tanks, some being fitted with light to medium bombs while others had increased stores such as additional room for bullets for the machine guns.
After the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane was further developed, mostly up to and including 1942 even though it was relieved as a front line attack aircraft in the air to air war, and was used mainly as a ground attack aircraft. The Mark IIC served until June 1942 when the Hurricane IID appeared which was basically a IIC but with two 40mm cannons and two .303 machine guns.
The Hurricane II gave way to the Hurricane III with a Packard Merlin power plant, then came the Hurricane IV, the first prototype flying on 14th March 1943 which had been previously known as the Hurricane IIE, but after the designation change was fitted with reinforced under wing attachments to carry bombs and rockets and was given the new Merlin 24 engines that put out 1,620 hp. A further alteration saw the Mk V which was a Mk IV but given even more power by the fitting of the 1,700 hp Merlin 32 engines and having four bladed propellers.
Some 2,952 Mark IIs and IVs were supplied to Russia during the War and this produced quite an oddity. Hawker sold 12 Hurricanes to Finland in January 1940 during that country's first war with Russia, and by the time of the second, or "Continuation," war, the Russians also had Hurricanes. Further, in a reversed Lend-Lease operation, Britain supplied Hurricanes to American fighter squadrons that arrived in Europe and North Africa that were not yet equipped with American fighters.
The Hurricane was a fighter plane that could have had a great future. At the time when the first prototype took to the skies, it had performance not yet seen in combat aircraft. Many were, even in the mid-thirties, looking towards the Spitfire which was already in prototype stages and being based on earlier designs that had won the Schnieder Trophy race and it looked as if it was a race to see what aircraft would be first in production.
But the Spitfire was taking longer to produce in the early stages, and it was the Hurricane that entered service first.
Whether it was slow to respond to pilots' controls or the rate of climb, the Hurricanes were no match for the Messerschmitt Bf-109s which outclassed them.
In the hands of a skilled pilot, the Hurricane could achieve great success. In fact during the Battle of Britain between July and October 1940, 1,720 of them took part and had the honour of claiming 80% of enemy aircraft shot down by Fighter Command and proportionately was shot down less than the Spitfire. The main reason for this was that Hurricane squadrons were often tasked with attacking enemy bombers, whilst Spitfires, because of their superior performance, engaged the German fighter escort. During the Battle of Britain there were 32 squadrons of Hurricanes but only 18 squadrons of Spitfires.
As a fighter, the Hurricane was generally surpassed by the German Messerschmitt Bf-109. As the Hurricane was improved, so was the 109. The Hurricane was outclassed as an interceptor fighter by mid-1942, but with the new wing and heavier armament, it became a highly successful low-level fighter-bomber and tank buster.
Altogether, Hawker built 9,900 Hurricanes; Gloster, 2,749; Austin, 300; Canadian Car, 1,606 and Avions Fairey (in Belgium), two. The last Hurricane built, a Mark IIC, was delivered by Hawker in September 1944.
Sea Lauched Hurricanes
In August 1941 Robert Everett volunteered for a singular & dangerous mission. He agreed to test in open combat an extraordinary invention that hoprfully could take on the marauding German U-Boats which threatened Great Britain with starvation.It was the world's first rocket propelled fighter. Lt. Everett was flying a one way only mission in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the summer of 1940 Winston Churchill was confronted with a new & serious crisis. Nazi Germany had unleashed a formidable weapon against the convoys bringing food from America to the beleaguered people of Britain. It was the Focke Wulf FW 200 Condor, the first military aircraft capable of flying within range the East Coast of the United States. Churchill called the Condor the scourge of the Atlantic. Three years later in October 1943 a six engined Junkers Ju 390V2 long-distance maritime patrol aircraft demonstrated its potential by flying from Mont-de-Marsan in occupied France to a point 20 km (12.4 miles) north of New York City completely undetected by the Americans, and back. Fortunately for the Americans the production cost of this aeroplane was so high it was never put into mass production.
The four engined Focke Wulf FW 200 Condor wrought havoc & destruction on a massive scale. In a matter of months they sank nearly one million tons of allied shipping. The Condors had another more ominous roll. In addition to being a bomber they became the eyes & ears of the U-Boat fleet. They reported the locations of convoys to the U-Boats. There were area's in the Atlantic where the allies could provide their merchant convoys with no protection against German reconnaissance & bomber aircraft which meant they could spot & direct U-Boats into those area's to carry out attacks on allied shipping at will. The unholy alliance between the Condors & the U-Boats threatened to bring Britain to her knees.
Many battleships of the period were equipped with steam powered catapults to launch spotter planes. It was proposed such catapults be put on the decks of merchant ships to launch a fighter aircraft. No existing catapult was powerful enough to launch a heavy fighter like a Hurricane, however a proposal was but forth to the research unit at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Within a week they developed a rocket sled to get the Hurricanes airborne. This was the only way to get a fully fuelled & armed Hurricane off the deck of a merchantmen in a very short space. The catapult was powered by a cluster of thirteen solid fuel rockets. It was the largest catapult at the time. The rockets had to instantaneously reach a speed capable of getting the plane off the deck but the kick of the rocket couldn't be too great otherwise the acceleration might break the pilots neck. The first manned test flight went well however there was one major problem of the idea with the catapult, once launched there was no way the pilot could return & land on the ship. This was a one way mission & possibly a suicide mission.
The Hurricanes used in this roll had to modified & were called Hurricats. They were piloted only by volunteers. The first battle between a Hurricat & a Condor occurred on the 3rd of August 1941. The Hurricat pilot Robert Everett was a former jockey & winner of the 1929 Grand National on a horse called Gregalach. It was to be the first test of this new strategy. High in the clouds above the convoy the patrolling Condor didn't see the rocket fire when Lt. Everett's Hurricat was launched. The crew were taken by surprise but still managed to severely damage the Hurricat. The Condor was equipped with eight machine guns & a heavy cannon. Knowing that he was all that stood between the convoy & it's destruction, Everett fired the last of his ammunition straight into the Condor's cockpit causing it to go down in flames, the first target to be destroyed by a Hurricat. Everett now had to find his way back to the convoy or risk being lost at sea. Lt. Everett's luck held, he managed to climb to 2000 feet (610 m) in the stricken plane & from there he spotted the convoy. He landed the plane safely on the water close to the British ships but the Hurricat flipped over on it's back & quickly began to sink taking Lt. Everett down with it. With difficulty he got the cockpit canopy open & was very lucky to struggle to the surface. For shooting down the Condor, Robert Everett was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by King George VI. He was killed the following year while on active service.
The Hurricats had turned the tide of battle against the Condors. Now that they could be intercepted the Germans were less inclined to press home attacks or reconnaissance missions against convoys.