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Hawker Hurricane

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Hawker Hurricane
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Hawker
Introduction 1937
Status Out of service
Number built 14,000

The Hawker Hurricane was a low-wing, single-seat, single-engined fighter aircraft which served with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in World War II. Whilst answering the same basic specifications - and meant for the same tasks - as the Supermarine Spitfire, the two aircraft were totally different in appearance and in basic design philosophy.

Unlike the inspired design of its more famous partner in the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane represented a comparatively logical and extended design curve. It was the successor to the Hawker Fury, a fixed-undercarriage, biplane fighter development of the Hawker Hart. In many ways the airframe resembled a monoplane version of the Fury, and at first retained the fabric covering of the rear fuselage and flying surfaces.

Hawker's chief designer Sidney Camm, in 1934, saw the potential in a new monoplane fighter using the tried and tested Hawker construction methods (tubular steel frames covered with doped fabric) married to the potent new Rolls Royce Merlin V12, inline, liquid-cooled engine. This powerplant was to remain unchanged (apart from upgrades to the Merlin itself) as the propulsive force of the Hurricane throughout its life.

First flight of the Hurricane prototype was in October 1935. The plane fulfilled every requirement of the RAF specification, and was accepted into squadron service with the RAF. By 1940, some 18 squadrons of the RAF were equipped with the type - the first modern, low-wing monoplane fighter in the RAF, and the first to exceed 300mph in level flight.


Mid-1940 saw the successful evacuation of British ground forces from France, at Dunkirk, leaving French airfields in German hands. The Battle of Britain which followed shortly after, saw the Hurricane (equipping some 32 squadrons of the RAF, compared to about 19 with Spitfires) shouldering the main burden of the fighting. Wherever possible, the faster Spitfires tackled the Messerschmitt Bf 109 Es of the fighter escort, leaving the Hurricanes to hit the bombers.

On numerous occasions, however, Hurricanes were left to handle the Bf 109s and Bf 110s as well as the bombers. Despite a comparatively slower climb rate and maximum speed, the Hurricane could actually turn inside both the Bf 109 and the Spitfire. Out of its class at high altitude, at about 15000ft it held its own against the more highly-rated German machines. This rough parity was lost when the Bf 109 F appeared in late 1940.

The Hurricane was recognised as having lost its effectiveness in air-to-air combat, almost immediately after the Battle of Britain. The robust airframe, however, was to prove the vehicle for an astoundingly effective ground-attack aircraft. Always a stable gun platform, the Hurricane now entered a new phase of its career. The Hurribomber could carry 2 x 250lb or 2 x 500lb bombs under its wings, and was first employed - to great effect - in North Africa in 1941.

The employment of the Hurricane abroad, in the early stages of the war, was hampered by lack of training, equipment shortages, climatic problems, and the simple factor of enemy initiative. The squadrons in France in 1940 were simply overrun on the ground by German land forces before they were fully equipped to carry out an aerial campaign. A similar sorry tale came back from Burma in 1941. British forces abroad at that time, were not fully attuned to the needs of war. The Germans and Japanese were.

An early deployment of the Hurricane in the fighter role, was as the Catafighter. This concept saw superannuated RAF airframes (usually old Mk Is) mounted on Catapult Armed Merchant Ships (CAMS). The Hurricane provided a useful "one-shot" protection against raiders or reconnaissance aircraft. Employed in the Mediterranean and Arctic convoys, they saw some heroic actions by aircrew. Unable to recover to his parent ship, as on a conventional aircraft carrier, the pilot had to complete his flying operations, then "ditch" and wait to be rescued by his own or another friendly ship.

The Sea Hurricane was another sea-going development of the basic design - once again based on the Mk I airframe. Fitted with an arrestor hook, the Sea Hurricane, with its robust construction and wide-track undercarriage, was an excellent carrier-borne aircraft. However, the successful adaptation of the Spitfire for carrier operations saw the Sea Hurricane declared obsolete by 1942.

That robust airframe, however, refused to die. Hawker engineers kept on coming up with uses for it. The Mk II D carried two huge Vickers 40mm cannon. This machine became the best tank-buster of the war. If no tanks were available as targets, any strongpoint or building was equally acceptable.

The Mk IV appeared in 1943. It sported a "Universal" wing with a variety of stores, but the most "hairy-chested" of these was the 8 x 60mm rocket fit. Not very accurate, these were simply "terror" weapons. They struck fear into the enemy with their destructive power - and increased the morale of friendly forces accordingly.

Unlike the Spitfire's record of almost doubling its performance between 1939 and 1945, the Hurricane stayed in the same groove throughout the war - unspectacular, but hugely capable and dependable. Increases in power to its Merlin engine, were always matched with additional tasks. To put it simply, the Hurricane just kept on lifting and delivering heavier loads as the Merlin became more powerful. The performance specifications given below are for the Mk I, but are typical for the Hurricane throughout its career.


Wingspan 40ft

Length 32ft 3ins

Height 8ft 9ins

Weight - Empty 5658lbs

Weight - Maximum 8500lbs

Maximum Speed 325mph @ 22000ft

Service Ceiling 36500ft

Range 480miles

Armament 8 x .303" Browning wing-mounted MGs. (Later models mounted either 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon or 2 x 40mm cannon plus 6 x .303" Browning MGs; or 2 x 250lb/500lb bombs plus 8 x .303" Browning MGs/4 x 20mm cannon; or 8 x 60mm rockets plus 8 x .303" Browning MGs/4 x 20mm cannon.)

A total of 14000 Hurricanes were built, some 3000 of these going to the Soviet Union, where they served with distinction.