Hawker Hurricane

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The challenge to replace the Spitfire and Hurricane: Supermarine twin fighters

When the time came to replace both the Hurricane and Spitfire, the Air Ministry had a very hard act to follow...

‘Czech’ Hurricane to fly soon

Battle of France veteran fighter refinished in Duxford-based Czechoslovak squadron markings

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Historic aircraft - UK flight experience guide

A raft of companies offering experience flights in all manner of historic aircraft have sprung up to offer the opportunity to get behind the control columns of aircraft once reserved for a fortunate few. Aviation News provides a who’s who, detailing companies’ fleets and flights

Duxford to mark a half century of airshows

This month’s season-closing air display at IWM Duxford, the Flying Finale, will also salute 50 years of shows at the famous airfield

New dual scheme for Duxford Hurricane

Photographer Darren Harbar captures the ‘new look’ Hurricane over Duxford

Revealed: new Polish squadron colours for HAC Hurricane

Dual identity salutes two different Polish Battle of Britain pilots who served at Duxford on the same unit

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Flying Hurricane ‘boat busters’ in India

In an extract from her new book on the Hurricane, Jacky Hyams tells the story of Canadian pilot Jim Ashworth and his time flying Hurricane IID ‘boat busters’ in India.

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EXCLUSIVE! How the last of 'the Few's' Hurricane will fly again

Hawker Restorations is known  for its Hurricanes, with eight projects completed and a ninth now well under way — no less than the aeroplane last flown by the man who is the sole remaining member of ‘the Few’

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The miniature Hurricane replica built by a United Airlines pilot

The story of Fred Sindlinger and his miniature Hawker Hurricane was told in the October 1973 issue of Aeroplane Monthly.

BBMF gears up for coronation

Lancaster and four fighters set for King Charles’s London flypast

Often overshadowed by the exploits of the iconic Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker’s Hurricane was the mainstay of the RAF’s fighter squadrons during the Battle of Britain (BoB). More numerous than the Spitfire in mid-1940, the type’s creation preceded the ‘Spit’ and when the first Hurricanes were delivered to frontline squadrons from late 1937 onwards, they represented a leap forward in both performance and capability.

The design thinking that led to the Hurricane began long before Britain came under direct threat from Nazi Germany. Successful work by Hawker designers, allied to several pertinent Air Ministry specifications, resulted in the prototype taking to the air on November 6, 1935 – pre-dating the Spitfire’s first flight by almost four months. Manufacturing orders for the initial production version, the Hurricane Mk.I, were placed from mid-1936.

RAF Fighter Command received its preliminary deliveries in late 1937. The first frontline unit to accept operational-standard Hurricanes, 111 Squadron, obtained its early examples during December that year. The Hurricane thus became a highly important part of the rapid RAF (Royal Air Force) expansion taking place at the time to counter the growing military danger from Germany. When Britain entered World War Two on September 3, 1939, the RAF had at least 16 squadrons operational with the type, while others were in the process of working-up or transitioning. An often-quoted figure states there were 280 operational Hurricanes at the time, although some of these were early examples with partial fabric covering on their wings. Later production machines had all-metal stressed skin mainplanes, but throughout manufacture the Hurricane retained fabric covering on part of its fuselage. Rugged, comparatively easy to repair, and able to sustain considerable battle damage, it was a true workhorse. Its eight .303in Browning machine guns, four in each wing, delivered potent firepower, although all too often did not inflict enough damage to bring down the enemy aircraft being fired upon. The Hurricane totalled eight machine guns, with four on each wing.

Before the Battle of Britain, the RAF deployed several squadrons of Hurricanes to French airfields, where they became important participants in the conflict known in mid-1940 as the Battle of France, alongside French aerial assets. Despite severe losses, RAF Hurricane squadrons subsequently played a central role later that year.


Hawker Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain lasted from July to October 1940 – an ‘official’ historical review of the battle resulted in the acceptance by the Air Ministry in 1960 of dates that now appear to have become standardised – from 0001hrs on July 10 to 2359hrs on October 31, 1940. Air Ministry documents state that 29 squadrons of Hurricanes were operational on or by August 8, 1940 (see table), just prior to the intensity of the air fighting, although several subsequent published sources have challenged this total.


RAF Hawker Hurricane Squadrons August 8, 1940

10 Group
87 Squadron Exeter
213 Squadron Exeter
238 Squadron Middle Wallop
11 Group
17 Squadron Debden
85 Squadron Martlesham Heath
151 Squadron North Weald
56 Squadron Rochford
43 Squadron Tangmere
601 Squadron Tangmere
145 Squadron Westhampnett
1 Squadron Northolt
257 Squadron Northolt
615 Squadron Kenley
111 Squadron Croydon
32 Squadron Biggin Hill
501 Squadron Gravesend
12 Group
73 Squadron Church Fenton
249 Squadron Church Fenton
46 Squadron Digby
242 Squadron Coltishall
229 Squadron Wittering
13 Group
79 Squadron Acklington
607 Squadron Usworth
605 Squadron Drem
232 Squadron Turnhouse (det. at Sumburgh)
253 Squadron Turnhouse
245 Squadron Aldergrove
3 Squadron Wick
504 Squadron Castletown

At the start of July 1940, Britain’s aerial defence rested almost entirely on Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons spread between three main sectors. These were 11 Group, headquartered at Uxbridge, Middlesex, covering the southeast and the ‘home counties’, which was to be the main arena of conflict during the battle. This area contained famous fighter airfields such as RAF Biggin Hill, Tangmere and North Weald. Further north was 12 Group, whose assets included RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire. Air defence of the east coast and the northeast of Britain rested with 13 Group. Apart from comparatively small numbers of Boulton Paul Defiants and twin-engined Bristol Blenheims, all squadrons in these three key areas were equipped with Hurricanes or Spitfires. By August 1940, a fourth area of operations had been added to the RAF’s order of battle, 10 Group in the southwest, with its fighter stations at Middle Wallop and Filton. This part of the UK also became crucial to our aerial defence as the battle wore on.


Widespread combat

Hurricanes were involved in most, if not all, of the BoB’s key actions. It has often been said that Hurricanes were tasked with attacking German bombers, while the Spitfires dealt with Messerschmitts (particularly the single-engined Bf 109). Certainly, the Spitfire could take on all German warplanes, while the Hurricane was considerably slower than the Bf 109 and much better suited to tackling ‘heavies’. But aerial warfare is never that straightforward and combat ensued on many occasions with all types involved.

British fighters were often heavily outnumbered. The RAF’s expansion in the immediate pre-war and early war period ensured that many squadrons were available to Fighter Command, and the continuing production of Hurricanes resulted in sufficient numbers being available to cover losses as the battle continued. Squadrons in the immediate areas of aerial fighting could be withdrawn to quieter locations to re-equip, their place taken by refreshed units available for deployment to sectors where they were needed. They were bolstered by units that became operational during the battle, often comprising foreign nationals who had come to Britain to fight on against the Germans, notably Czechs and Poles. In 1940, Fighter Command became a truly international military force.

The scope of Hurricane operations was well demonstrated on one of the key dates of the battle, August 15, which the Germans called Adler Tag (Eagle Day). Hurricane squadrons were in action from the most southerly combat stations, defending Portland in Dorset, to engaging incoming raids attempting to strike more northerly targets across the North Sea. It was one of several days when Hurricanes gained significant victories.

According to figures released following the battle, Hurricanes accounted for 55% of aerial victories achieved over Luftwaffe aircraft. The highest-scoring BoB Hurricane unit is acknowledged by most historians to have been the predominantly Polish-manned 303 Squadron.

Many notable personalities flew Hurricanes during the BoB, including the famous aces Douglas Bader and Robert Stanford Tuck. For his actions on August 16, Flt Lt James Nicolson of 249 Squadron was awarded the Victoria Cross. He had continued to engage Luftwaffe fighters after being seriously wounded and his Hurricane ablaze, and successfully shot down one of the enemy aircraft before baling out. He was the only BoB pilot, and the only member of Fighter Command, to be awarded the VC during World War Two.

Prior to the end of the BoB, a new mark of Hurricane began to reach RAF squadrons, albeit initially in small quantities. This was the Mk.II, powered by the Merlin XX. It was basically an improved Mk.I with more power, and it successfully continued the Hurricane family and its frontline operations beyond the battle.


Hawker Hurricane Mk.1 Specifications

Powerplant 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin II or III, producing 1,030hp (768kW) at 16,250ft (4,953m)
Crew One
Length 31ft 4in (9.55m) – with Watts propeller unit
Wingspan 40ft (12.19m)
Height 13ft 2in (4.01m) – with Watts propeller unit
Empty weight 4,982lb (2,260kg) – with Merlin III and Rotol propeller unit
Normal take-off weight 6,447lb (2,924kg) – with Merlin III
Maximum speed 324mph (521km/h) at 17,800ft – with Merlin III
Range Approx 440 miles (708km)
Service ceiling 31,000ft (with Merlin III)
Armament 8 x .303in machine guns, four in each wing