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.
During the late 1930s the Fleet Air Arm were in need of more modern aircraft and in 1939 they tried to secure some Supermarine Spitfires, however priority of the type was given to the Royal Air Force
so the FAA proceeded 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, so
again the Fleet Air Arm asked for some Spitfires and again were knocked back, but they were able to secure some Hawker Hurricanes. Whilst not designed for carrier operations during the
Norwegian campaign in May and June they had to take off and then land on, without an arrestor hook, HMS Glorious when No. 46 Squadron had been sent to bases in Norway.
These navalised Hurricanes, known as Sea Hurricanes, would be a vast improvement on the Fleet Air Arm's Blackburn Skua and Gloster Sea Gladiator currently in service. The first Sea Hurricane was the Mk IA, nicknamed the Hurricat. Essentially these were Hurricane Mk Is with the addition of catapult spools
and arrester hooks and would operate from 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. August 1941 would see a Sea Hurricane catapulted from a ship score its first aerial victory when on the 3rd a Mk IA
piloted by Lt. R.W.H. Everett shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor.
Shortly afterwords the Sea Hurricane Mk IB appeared these included a V-frame arrester hook along with catapult spools and became the first dedicated naval monoplane single seat carrier fighter to
be used by the Fleet Air Arm when they joined HMS Furious in July 1941 as the Mk IA had simply been a conversion. Powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine it 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. It was No. 880 Naval Air Squadron aboard HMS Furious who scored the Mk IB's first aerial victory,
shooting down a Dornier Do 18 on the 31st July 1941. In October 1941 these planes also 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.
January 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 and these had eight 0.303-in machine-guns instead of four 20mm cannons.
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
In total 38 FAA Squadrons used the type with the last Sea Hurricanes being phased out of service during April 1944 as by that time the Supermarine 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