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Hawker Hurricane

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Forming the backbone of Fighter Command during the early stages of the Second World War the Hurricane was the unsung hero of the Battle of Britain. Serving in almost every theatre of war the type would fulfil a variety of different roles, with one of the more successful variants being the Hawker Hurricane Mk IID 'Tank Buster' which would earn the nickname 'Flying Can Openers'.

Quick Facts
Hawker Hurricane side profile image
First flight
6th November 1935
Entered service
15th December 1937
Total built

Front view
Hurricane front view photo
Side view
Hurricane side view photo
Rear view
Hurricane rear view photo

In 1933 Sydney Camm, Hawker's chief designer, discussed with the Air Ministry the prospect of a monoplane fighter. This aircraft was to be based on the Hawker Fury biplane and powered by a Rolls-Royce Goshawk. However the Air Ministry rejected the design. So Camm and his team went away and set about improving the aircraft's design. This aircraft, known as the Fury monoplane, would be based around the 1,000-hp Rolls-Royce PV.12, which would become the Merlin. Impressed with this redesign the Air Ministry placed an order for a prototype around Specification F.36/34, issued on the 4th September 1934, which was based on Specification F.5/34, this had called for a monoplane fighter with eight machine-guns, but specific for Hawker's aircraft with a single prototype ordered on the 21st February 1935. The first flight of the prototype Hurricane, powered by a 1,025-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin 'C' engine, would take place at Brooklands on the 6th November 1935 with George Bulman, test pilot at Hawker, at the controls.

The Hurricane prototype arrived at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment on the 5th March 1936 then an order for 600 aircraft was placed on the 3rd June 1936. In the same month on the 26th the aircraft was officially named the Hurricane. One of the conditions for the order was for the aircraft to be installed with a Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine and for the Hurricane to be fitted with eight machine-guns instead of the four it currently had. This meant a delay as a redesign was required for certain parts of the Hurricane. It wouldn't be until the 12th October 1937, 16 months after the order was placed, that the first Mk I production aircraft flew.

Powered by either the Merlin II or III the Hurricane Mk I had a top speed of 316 mph, a range of 525 miles with a service ceiling of 33,200 ft. Armament consisted of eight 0.303-in machine-guns and when No. 111 Squadron, based at RAF Northolt, received their first Hurricane on the 15th December 1937 the type became the first ever Royal Air Force monoplane fighter to enter front line service, the first to have eight machine-guns as well as the first to fly faster than 300 mph in level flight. The squadron was fully converted by the end of January 1938 and by the end of the year around 200 aircraft had been delivered, with a further 1,000 ordered in November 1938. When war broke out on the 3rd September 1939 the RAF had 18 Hurricane squadrons, double the amount of Supermarine Spitfire squadrons, available.

At the outbreak of hostilities four Hurricane squadrons Nos. 3, 79, 85 and 87 were sent to bases in France to support the British Expeditionary Force, with Nos. 1 and 73 sent to France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force. Little action was seen during the early months of the Second World War (1939 - 1945) in what was known as the 'Phoney War'. Although the Hurricane achieved two firsts during this period. On the 21st October 1939 it achieved the first successful radar interception of the war by Fighter Command. This saw No. 46 Squadron, RAF Digby shoot down six of nine Heinkel He 115s intercepted. It was also a Hurricane which was credited with being the first British aircraft to shoot down a German aircraft of the war on the Western Front when a Dornier Do 17P was shot down on the 30th October 1939 by a Hurricane flown by Pilot Officer Mould of No. 1 Squadron operating from Vassincourt, France.

After the German invasion of France and the low countries on the 10th May 1940 a further four Hurricane squadrons, Nos. 1, 73, 607 and 615, would be sent to France. When the Battle of France ended on the 25th June 1940 a total of 386 Hawker Hurricanes had been lost in the 46 days since the 10th May, many on the ground. A sole Hurricane squadron, No.46, was also sent to Norway during May, losing all of its aircraft as they made their way back to Britain when on the 8th June 1940 whilst aboard HMS Glorious (77) it was sunk with only two of the ten pilots surviving.

July 1940 saw the Battle of Britain begin and during the battle the Hurricane showed its worth as even with other aircraft and ground defences combined it shot down more enemy aircraft, 55%. It was also a Hurricane pilot, Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson of No. 249 Squadron who won Fighter Command's only Victoria Cross of the war. During the same period a tropical version of the type appeared with a number of changes, including a larger coolant radiator, and these would be sent to help with the defence of Malta with the first four arriving on the 21st June 1940 to fly alongside the Gloster Sea Gladiators there. A further twelve more Hurricanes and two Blackburn Skuas arrived in Malta to boost air defences further on the 2nd August 1940.

The Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engined Mk II would be the next to enter service, the prototype having made its maiden flight on the 11th June 1940, with a top speed of 340 mph, a range of 460 miles and a service ceiling of 36,000 ft and armament of eight 0.303-in machine-guns. These began to enter service on the 4th September 1940. Development of this variant saw the Mk IIB appear with an increase in armament to twelve 0.303-in machine-guns and able to carry two 500lb bombs. These made their operational debut on the 20th October 1941 when Malta based Mk IIBs attacked Italian airfields.

The other two main Mk II sub variants were the Hurricane Mk IIC whose armament consisted of four 20mm cannons and able to carry either two 250lb or 500lb bombs. This would be the most produced variant and were nicknamed 'Hurribomber'. It would be the Hurricane Mk IID 'Tank Buster' that would give the type a new lease of life. The prototype made its first flight during December 1941 with a new wing designed to enable a 40mm Vickers 'S' anti-tank gun under each wing and a 0.303-in machine-gun to help with aiming. When the aircraft entered service during 1942 it was to prove successful against both German and Japanese armour. There was a Hurricane Mk IIE but this would eventually become the Mk IV.

The next planned Hurricane was the Mk III, which was to be powered by a Packard Merlin, but this never went past the prototype stage, so the next variant to enter service was the Mk IV. The prototype making its first flight on the 14th March 1943. Powered by either a 1,620-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin 24 or 27 engine enabling a top speed of 330 mph with a range of 495 miles the Mk IV featured a 'universal wing' that turned it into a specialised ground attack aircraft enabling different armaments depending on the wing type used. This would see it carry rocket projectiles, two 250lb bombs or two 500lb bombs. It was to be a Mk IV that would use air-to-ground rocket projectiles operationally for the first time on the 2nd September 1943. This variant was mainly used in the Mediterranean and Far East.

Powered by a 1,645-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin 32 and fitted with a Rotol four bladed propeller three Hurricane Mk Vs would be produced with two of these being Hurricane Mk IVs converted to Mk V standard. The first one flew on the 3rd April 1943 but with no real improvement in performance of the type it never progressed further than these three aircraft.

The Hurricane's time in front line service with the Royal Air Force in Europe started to come to an end in 1944 as they were replaced by the Hawker Typhoon. The type would remain in service elsewhere with the last operational Hawker Hurricane sortie undertaken by a Royal Air Force squadron done by No. 6 Squadron on the 13th January 1947. This was followed two days later on the 15th when the same squadron had their remaining Hurricane Mk IVs replaced by the Hawker Tempest. Bringing an end to the types twelve year RAF service. The Hurricane also saw service with other air forces including Russia, who would receive 2,952 as part of Lend-Lease, whilst the South African Air Force operated a number of squadrons. Finland would also use a handful during the Winter War (1939 – 1940) with the Portuguese Air Force the last to retire their Hurricanes which they did in 1954.

A naval version of the Hurricane known as the Sea Hurricane was also produced and these would operate from catapult aircraft merchantmen, merchant aircraft carriers and aircraft carriers. One of the more unusual aircraft considered was the Hillson FH.40 Slip-Wing Hurricane. This saw an additional wing added to the aircraft giving it the appearance of a biplane. The idea was to produce extra lift on take-off and provide extra fuel with the wing being jettisoned when no longer needed. This never got past the trials stage. During the Second World War a number of two-seater Hurricanes were also produced after modifications in the field to help train Russian Air Force pilots on the type. The United States Army Air Force modified three to serve as two-seater trainers. There were only two official two-seaters built by Hawker, known as Hurricane Mk T.IIC, with the first one flying on the 27th September 1946.

Two further uses saw a Hurricane Mk I used by No. 527 Squadron, who were formed at RAF Castle Camps on the 15th June 1943 to perform radar calibration duties, painted in a red-orange colour for use in this role. Whilst the following year saw No. 1697 (ADLS) Flight formed as part of Transport Command. These would have their underwing tanks converted to hold mail.

Hurricane Mk IIC known as 'The Last of the Many' was the final Hurricane of 14,583 to be built, including 1,451 in Canada by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company, when production ended in July 1944 of a type that served in almost every theatre of war.

Technical Details

Click on the aircraft image to view a larger version.

Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Hurricane Mk I 316 mph 525 miles 33,200 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
Hurricane Mk I side profile image
Hurricane Mk II 340 mph 460 miles 36,000 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
Hurricane Mk IIC side profile image
Hurricane Mk III Powered by the Packard Merlin but none produced under this designation.
Hurricane Mk IV 330 mph 495 miles 32,100 ft two 40mm Vickers 'S' guns
two 0.303-in machine guns
and either two 250lb bombs or
two 500lb bombs or
eight 60lb rocket projectiles
Hurricane Mk V Three aircraft, two of which were converted Mk IVs, with a 1,645-hp Merlin 32 engine.
Hurricane Mk X Built in Canada and powered by the 1,300-hp Packard Merlin 28.
Hurricane Mk XI 339 mph 460 miles 32,400 ft eight 0.303-in machine-guns
Hurricane Mk XII Built in Canada and powered by the 1,300-hp Packard Merlin 29.


Click on a photo to view a larger version.
Hurricane Mk I
Hurricane Mk IIB
Hurricane Mk IIC Hurricane Mk XII

See This Aircraft

(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

Hurricane Mk I Battle of Britain Memorial
Hurricane Mk IIC x2 Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitors Centre
Hurricane Mk IIA Brooklands Museum
Hurricane Mk I Eden Camp
Hurricane Mk I x 2 Imperial War Museum, Duxford
Hurricane Mk IIB
Hurricane Mk XIIA
Hurricane Mk ? (F) Jet Age Museum
Hurricane Mk I Kent Battle of Britain Museum
Hurricane Mk IIC RAF Manston Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial Museum
Hurricane Mk I (C) Romney Marsh Wartime Collection
Hurricane Mk IIC Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford
Hurricane Mk I Royal Air Force Museum, London
Hurricane Mk I Science Museum
Hurricane Mk I Tangmere Military Aviation Museum
Hurricane Mk IV Thinktank - Birmingham Science Museum
Hurricane Mk IIC (R) Wings Museum
Hurricane Mk I Yorkshire Air Museum

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