With a lack of air cover and the need for more modern aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm the Sea Hurricane was born. Carried by Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen (CAM) or Merchant aircraft
carriers (MAC) ships the Hawker Sea Hurricane would be launched when required.
With the Fleet Air Arm requiring more modern aircraft a Supermarine Spitfire was tested during 1939 for its suitability to be used aboard an aircraft carrier. However priority of the type was
given to the Royal Air Force and so the FAA went ahead with an order for the Fairey Fulmar. As 1940 progressed a lack of air cover was still an issue and contributed to rising losses during the
Battle of the Atlantic and with the Spitfire's impressive performance during the Battle of Britain late 1940 would again see the FAA try to secure some Spitfires. Again they were knocked back in
their request but were able to secure some Hawker Hurricanes which would be navalised and would be a vast improvement on their current Blackburn Skua and Gloster Sea Gladiator aircraft. It wouldn't
be until 1942 that the naval version of the Spitfire, the Seafire first flew.
The navalised Hurricanes would be known as Sea Hurricanes and the first of these was the Mk IA, nicknamed the Hurricat. Essentially these were Hurricane Mk Is with the addition of catapult spools.
These would be carried by Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen (CAM) ships, the Fulmar had also been considered for this role but lacked the performance required. This would see the aircraft launched by a
rocket-propelled catapult but with nowhere to land the pilot, either Fleet Air Arm or Royal Air Force, had to ditch his aircraft or bale out near the convoy and hope to be picked up. This situation
was improved during August 1941 with the introduction of external fuel tanks.
To get ready for the arrival of the new aircraft No. 880 Naval Air Squadron were formed on the 15th January 1941 and would be the first operational users of the type. This was followed two months
later on the 15th March by the first flight of the Sea Hurricane. The major issue that the Fleet Air Arm had was that the Sea Hurricanes they received at first were battle weary Hurricanes converted
for this use, so needed work to be considered operational, as well as a lack of spares.
Shortly afterwords the Sea Hurricane Mk IB appeared, these included a V-frame arrester hook along with the catapult spools. Powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine they had a top speed of 317 mph,
which was over 60 mph faster then the recently introduced Fairey Fulmar, and had eight 0.303-in machine-guns. In October 1941 these planes began to go aboard large merchant ships which had a small
flight deck added known as Merchant aircraft carriers (MAC). These aircraft were kept on deck as there was no accommodation aboard.
February 1942 saw the arrival of the Sea Hurricane Mk IC and as with the Mk IB catapult spools and arrester hooks were fitted. This was followed by the Mk IIC which had its
catapult spools removed as they were intended for aircraft carriers and four cannons replacing the eight machine-guns and a top speed of 342 mph. The Sea Hurricane Mk IIC was also installed with
FAA radio equipment and the Merlin XX engine. The last Sea Hurricane was the Mk XIIA which were converted Canadian built Hurricane Mk XIIAs.
Its time with the Fleet Air Arm would see the Sea Hurricane proved convoy support over the Atlantic, Gibraltar and for convoys destined for Russia. It would also play a role in a number of
operations including Operation Pedestal (3rd August - 15th August 1942) which saw a convoy depart Britain for the besieged island of Malta which would enable it to continue to act as a base for
British shipping and aircraft. Its last major contribution to the Fleet Air Arm was its involvement in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa by the Allies, which began on the 8th November
As 1944 ended the Sea Hurricanes time with the Fleet Air Arm was coming to an end as the Superarmine Seafire and American built carrier aircraft had started to enter service and by the time the last
Sea Hurricane was delivered, a Mk IIC, during August 1943 over 1,700 had been either built or converted.
Also see Hawker Hurricane