Hawker Hurricane

Sydney Camm, an aircraft designer working for the Hawker Company, began work on the Hawker Hurricane in 1934. Like Reginald J. Mitchell, the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I, Camm was inspired by the announcement that the Air Ministry was looking for a new fighter plane.

The Hawker Hurricane prototype made its first flight on 6th November, 1935. It reached a maximum speed of more than 315 mph (506 km/h) at 16,500 ft (5,000 m). It was therefore the first fighter plane to break the 300 mph barrier. Like the Supermarine Spitfire, the aircraft used the 1,030 hp Rolls Royce Merlin II and carried 8 machine-guns.

On 3rd June, the Royal Air Force ordered 600 of these aircraft. The first of these came off the production line in October 1937. It was all-metal in structure and except for the metal nose was covered in fabric.

On the outbreak of the Second World War there were 497 Hurricanes in service. The majority of these were sent to France during Germany's Western Offensive and large numbers were destroyed by the Luftwaffe .

By August 1940, a total of 2309 Hawker Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force and they formed the backbone of Fighter Command. Statistics show that Hurricanes destroyed more German aircraft than all other British types combined during the early stages of the war.

At the beginning of the Battle of Britain the RAF had 32 squadrons of Hurricanes and 19 squadrons equipped with Supermarine Spitfires. It was decided to use the Hurricanes against the massive bomber formations of the Luftwaffe whereas the Spitfires were mainly employed against German fighters.

This Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF by four to one. However, the British had the advantage of being closer to their airfields. German fighters could only stay over England for about half an hour before flying back to their home bases. The RAF also had the benefits of an effective early warning radar system and the intelligence information provided by Ultra.

Throughout the war Sydney Camm made improvements to the Hurricane. This included the Hawker Hurricane Mk. II in 1940 which had the more powerful 1,280 hp Rolls Royce Merlin XX and the Hawker Hurricane Mk D which carried two 20 mm cannons which were extremely effective against tanks and were used chiefly in the Desert War.

A total of 2,952 Hurricanes was also delivered to the Soviet Union. Total production in Britain was 12,708 and a further 1,451 were manufactured in Canada.

Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane

Primary Sources

(1) In his autobiography, Tale of a Guinea Pig: The Exploits of a World War II Fighter Pilot, Geoffrey Page compared the merits of the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire.

Although the Spitfire and the Hurricane were basically alike, inasmuch as they were low-wing, single-seater monoplanes, powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines; to the fighter pilot's eye, the similarity ended there. Whereas the Spitfire had all the speed and grace of the greyhound in its sleek appearance, the Hurricane portrayed the excellent qualities of the bulldog, being slower but much more solidly built than the other. To the Spitfire pilot there will be only one machine, and similarly to the man who flew the Hurricane.

(2) Douglas Bader first flew a Hawker Hurricane for the first time in June, 1940 when he became squadron leader of 242 Fighter Squadron.

The Hurricane was slower than the Spitfire, with a maximum speed of 335 mph against 367 mph. The Hurricane also was less elegant to the eye, but then there has never been such a beautiful areoplane as the Spitfire. For all that, like other fighters from the Hawker stable, and the result of the design genius of Sydney Camm, the Hurricane was a thoroughbread and looked it. Like the Spitfire it was immensely strong: a pilot had no need to fear the danger of pulling the wings off, no matter how desperate the situation became.

When I first flew the Hurricane in June 1940, I was agreeably surprised at the compact feel of the aeroplane. It had seemed big on the ground in comparison with the Spitfire; in the air it felt nothing of the sort. You could see out of it better and the controls were perfectly harmonized. It climbed steeply and at a lower speed but required a good deal of right rudder in the climb, to counteract the engine torque. I found this a considerable nuisance on a long climb.

Like all pilots who flew and fought in the Hurricane, I grew to love it. It was strong, highly maneuverable, could turn inside the Spitfire and of course the Me 109. Best of all, it was a marvellous gun platform. The sloping nose gave you a splendid forward view, while the eight guns were set in blocks of four in each wing, close to the fuselage. The aeroplane remained rock steady when you fired. Unlike the Spitfire with its lovely elliptical wing which sloped towards the tip, the Hurricane wing was thicker and straight. The Spitfire was less stead when the guns were firing because, I have always thought, they were spread further along the wing, and the recoil effect was noticeable.

(3) After being involved in a dogfight with a German pilot Alan Deere wrote a report on the relative merits of the Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, and Messerschmitt Bf109.

In my written report on the combat I stated that in my opinion the Spitfire was superior overall to the Me 109, except in the initial climb and dive; however this was an opinion contrary to the belief of the so-called experts. Their judgement was of course based on intelligence assessments and the performance of the 109 in combat with the Hurricane in France. In fact, the Hurricane, though vastly more manoeuvrable than either the Spitfire or the Me 109, was so sadly lacking in speed and rate of climb, that its too-short combat experience against the 109 was not a valid yardstick for comparison. The Spitfire, however, possessed these two attributes to such a degree that, coupled with a better rate of turn than the Me 109, it had the edge overall in combat. There may have been scepticism by some about my claim for the Spitfire, but I had no doubts on the score; nor did my fellow pilots in 54 Squadron. Later events, particularly in the Battle of Britain, were to prove me right.

(4) The Manchester Guardian (10th April, 1941)

Two Hurricane pilots on patrol over the South-East Coast yesterday, afternoon ran into six of the new Messerschmitts 109F, Germany's latest fighter, and after damaging two of them sent all six packing back to France.

The Germans came head-on at the British patrol, says the Air Ministry News Service, but were outmanoeuvred. The flight which followed began at 16,000 feet and went on until the fighters were down to 6,000 feet. It ended with two of the "crack" German fighters in such bad shape that when last seen they were flying unsteadily for home, losing height as they went. One of them was without its cockpit cover and, in the words of the pilot officer responsible, "full of bullet-holes from nose to tail."The other left a trail of thick black smoke streaming behind as it went

Both the Hurricanes landed safely. One of the pilots said: "We were just off the South coast when we saw the six Germans coming towards us. They were the new Me 109F. We kept straight on. The last of the six turned out to attack me and I squirted at him. Immediately the enemy plane went up into the clouds and tried to nip round on to our tails. Then began a terrific dogfight which lasted for ten minutes, during which I fired at two. One of them dived and waffled away at a low altitude and the other poured out black smoke. During the fight we were hard pressed, but this was not due to any advantage in the German machines but to the fact that we were two against six."

This is the first official news of the German fighters, although they have taken part in recent daylight sweeps across the Channel.

The new Messerschmitts, designed to operate in the rarefied atmosphere found above 30,000 feet, are said to have a top speed of 380 miles an hour. Having sacrificed heavy armament to attain supremacy in high-altitude flying, the machine has been equipped with only one cannon firing through the airscrew and two machine-guns. The Hurricane (Mark 2), with probably greater speed than the new German fighter carries superior armament consisting of the usual eight guns or cannon.