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The Grumman F4F Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service with both the United States Navy and the British Royal Navy (as the Martlet) in 1940. First used in combat by the British in Europe, the Wildcat was the only effective fighter available to the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during the early part of World War II in 1941 and 1942; the disappointing Brewster Buffalo was withdrawn in favor of the Wildcat and replaced as units became available. With a top speed of 318 mph (512 km/h), the Wildcat was still outperformed by the faster 331 mph (533 km/h), more maneuverable, and longer ranged Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But the F4F’s ruggedness, coupled with tactics such as the Thach Weave, resulted in an air combat kill-to-loss ratio of 5.9:1 in 1942 and 6.9:1 for the entire war.
Lessons learned from the Wildcat were later applied to the faster F6F Hellcat which, with the exception of range, could outperform the Zero on its own terms. The Wildcat continued to be built throughout the remainder of the war to serve on escort carriers, where larger and heavier fighters could not be used.
I would still assess the Wildcat as the outstanding naval fighter of the early years of World War II … I can vouch as a matter of personal experience, this Grumman fighter was one of the finest shipboard aeroplanes ever created.
—Eric M. “Winkle” Brown, British test pilot
|F4F-3 in non-reflective blue-gray over light gray scheme from early 1942|
|National origin||United States|
|First flight||2 September 1937|
|Primary users||United States Navy|
United States Marine Corps
Royal Canadian Navy
|Number built||7,885 |
Design and development
The XF4F-3 in 1939. It was written off in a fatal accident 16 December 1940.
Grumman fighter development began with the two-seat Grumman FF biplane. The FF was the first U.S. naval fighter with a retractable landing gear. The wheels retracted into the fuselage, leaving the tires visibly exposed, flush with sides of the fuselage. Two single-seat biplane designs followed, the F2F and F3F, which established the general fuselage outlines of what would become the F4F Wildcat. In 1935, while the F3F was still undergoing flight testing, Grumman started work on its next biplane fighter, the G-16. At the time, the U.S. Navy favored a monoplane design, the Brewster F2A-1, ordering production early in 1936. However, an order was also placed for Grumman’s G-16 (given the navy designation XF4F-1) as a backup in case the Brewster monoplane proved to be unsatisfactory.
It was clear to Grumman that the XF4F-1 would be inferior to the Brewster monoplane, so Grumman abandoned the XF4F-1, designing instead a new monoplane fighter, the XF4F-2. The XF4F-2 would retain the same, fuselage-mounted, hand-cranked landing gear as the F3F, with its relatively narrow track. (The unusual landing gear design was originally created in the 1920s by Leroy Grumman for Grover Loening. It was on all of Grumman’s fighter biplanes (from the FF-1 through the F3F) of the 1930s and on the J2F Duck amphibious flying boat as well.[N 1]) Landing accidents caused by failure of the gear to fully lock into place were distressingly common.
An early F4F-3 with prop spinner and cowl guns.
The overall performance of Grumman’s new monoplane was felt to be inferior to that of the Brewster Buffalo. The XF4F-2 was marginally faster, but the Buffalo was more maneuverable. It was judged superior and was chosen for production. After losing out to Brewster, Grumman completely rebuilt the prototype as the XF4F-3 with new wings and tail and a supercharged version of the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 “Twin Wasp” radial engine. Testing of the new XF4F-3 led to an order for F4F-3 production models, the first of which was completed in February 1940. France also ordered the type, powered by a Wright R-1820 “Cyclone 9″ radial engine, but France fell to the Axis powers before they could be delivered and the aircraft went instead to the British Royal Navy, who christened the new fighter the “Martlet.” The U.S. Navy officially adopted the aircraft type on 1 October 1941 as the “Wildcat.” Both the Royal Navy’s and U.S. Navy’s F4F-3s, armed with four .50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns, joined active units in 1940.
On 16 December 1940, the XF4F-3 prototype, BuNo 0383, c/n 356, modified from XF4F-2, was lost under circumstances that suggested that the pilot may have been confused by the poor layout of fuel valves and flap controls and inadvertently turned the fuel valve to “off” immediately after takeoff rather than selecting flaps “up”. This was the first fatality in the type.
Even before the Wildcat had been purchased by U.S. Navy, both the French Navy and the British Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) had ordered the Wildcat, with their own configurations..
The F4F Wildcat (known in British service as the “Martlet”) was taken on by the British Fleet Air Arm (FAA) as part of an interim replacement for the Fairey Fulmar. The Fulmar was a two-seat fighter with good range but at a performance disadvantage against single-seater fighters; navalised Supermarine Spitfires were not available because of the greater need of the Royal Air Force. In the European theater, the Wildcat scored its first combat victory on Christmas Day 1940, when a land-based Martlet destroyed a Junkers Ju 88 bomber over the Scapa Flow naval base. This was the first combat victory by a US-built fighter in British service in World War II. The type also pioneered combat operations from the smaller escort carriers.
Six Martlets went to sea aboard the converted former German merchant vessel HMS Audacity in September 1941 and shot down several Luftwaffe Fw 200 Condor bombers during highly effective convoy escort operations. These were the first of many Wildcats to engage in aerial combat at sea.
A Fleet Air Arm Wildcat in 1944, showing “invasion stripes”
The British received 300 Eastern Aircraft FM-1s as the Martlet V in 1942/43 and 340 FM-2s as the Wildcat VI. In total, nearly 1,200 Wildcats would serve with the FAA. By January 1944, the Martlet name was dropped and the type was identified as “Wildcat.”[N 2]
In March 1945, Wildcats shot down four Messerschmitt Bf 109s over Norway, the FAA’s last victory with a Wildcat.
The last air-raid of the war in Europe was carried out by Fleet Air Arm aircraft in Operation Judgement, Kilbotn on May 5, 1945. Twenty eight Wildcat VI aircraft from Naval Air Squadrons 846, 853 and 882, flying from escort carriers, took part in a successful attack on a U-boat depot near Harstad, Norway. Two ships and a U-boat were sunk with the loss of one Wildcat and one Avenger torpedo-bomber.
U.S. Navy and Marines
The Wildcat was generally outperformed by the Mitsubishi Zero, its major opponent in the early part of the Pacific Theater, but held its own partly because, with relatively heavy armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, the Grumman airframe could survive far more damage than its lightweight, unarmored Japanese rival. Many U.S. Navy fighter pilots also were saved by the Wildcat’s ZB homing device, which allowed them to find their carriers in poor visibility, provided they could get within the 30 mi (48 km) range of the homing beacon.
In the hands of an expert pilot using tactical advantage, the Wildcat could prove to be a difficult foe even against the formidable Zero. After analyzing Fleet Air Tactical Unit Intelligence Bureau reports describing the new carrier fighter, USN Commander “Jimmy” Thach devised a defensive strategy that allowed Wildcat formations to act in a coordinated maneuver to counter a diving attack, called the “Thach Weave.”
Four U.S. Marine Corps Wildcats played a prominent role in the defence of Wake Island in December 1941. USN and USMC aircraft formed the fleet’s primary air defense during the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, and land-based Wildcats played a major role during the Guadalcanal Campaign of 1942–43. It was not until 1943 that more advanced naval fighters capable of taking on the Zero on more even terms, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair, reached the South Pacific theatre.
F4F-4s on Guadalcanal, 1942
The Japanese ace Saburo Sakai described the Wildcat’s capacity to absorb damage:
I had full confidence in my ability to destroy the Grumman and decided to finish off the enemy fighter with only my 7.7 mm machine guns. I turned the 20 mm cannon switch to the “off” position, and closed in. For some strange reason, even after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman, the airplane did not fall, but kept on flying. I thought this very odd—it had never happened before—and closed the distance between the two airplanes until I could almost reach out and touch the Grumman. To my surprise, the Grumman’s rudder and tail were torn to shreds, looking like an old torn piece of rag. With his plane in such condition, no wonder the pilot was unable to continue fighting! A Zero which had taken that many bullets would have been a ball of fire by now.—Saburo Sakai, Zero
Grumman’s Wildcat production ceased in early 1943 to make way for the newer F6F Hellcat, but General Motors continued producing Wildcats for both U.S. Navy and Fleet Air Arm use. At first, GM produced the FM-1 (identical to the F4F-4, but with four guns). Production later switched to the improved FM-2 (based on Grumman’s XF4F-8 prototype) optimized for small-carrier operations, with a more powerful engine, and a taller tail to cope with the increased torque.
From 1943 onward, Wildcats equipped with bomb racks were primarily assigned to escort carriers for use against submarines and attacking ground targets, though they would also continue to score kills against Japanese fighters, bombers and kamikaze aircraft. Larger fighters such as the Hellcat and the Corsair and dedicated dive bombers were needed aboard fleet carriers, and the Wildcat’s slower landing speed made it more suitable for shorter flight decks.
In the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944, escort carriers of Task Unit 77.4.3 (“Taffy 3″) and their escort of destroyers and destroyer escorts found themselves as the sole force standing between vulnerable troop transport and supply ships engaged in landings on the Philippine island of Leyte and a powerful Japanese surface fleet of battleships and cruisers. In desperation, lightly armed Avengers and FM-2 Wildcats from Taffys 1, 2 and 3 resorted to tactics such as strafing ships, including the bridge of the Japanese battleship Yamato, while the destroyers and destroyer escorts charged the enemy. Confused by the fierce resistance, the Japanese fleet eventually withdrew from the battle.
U.S. Navy Wildcats participated in Operation Torch. USN escort carriers in the Atlantic used Wildcats.
In all, 7,860 Wildcats were built.[N 3] During the course of the war, Navy and Marine F4Fs and FMs flew 15,553 combat sorties (14,027 of these from aircraft carriers), destroying 1,327 enemy aircraft at a cost of 178 aerial losses, 24 to ground/shipboard fire, and 49 to operational causes (an overall kill-to-loss ratio of 6.9:1). True to their escort fighter role, Wildcats dropped only 154 tons of bombs during the war.
U.S. Navy Wildcats
The original Grumman F4F-1 design was a biplane, which proved inferior to rival designs, necessitating a complete redesign as a monoplane named the F4F-2. This design was still not competitive with the Brewster F2A Buffalo which won initial U.S. Navy orders, but when the F4F-3 development was fitted with a more powerful version of the engine, a Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-76, featuring a two-stage supercharger, it showed its true potential.
U.S. Navy orders followed as did some (with Wright Cyclone engines) from France; these ended up with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm after the fall of France and entered service on 8 September 1940. These aircraft, designated by Grumman as G-36A, had a different cowling from other earlier F4Fs and fixed wings, and were intended to be fitted with French armament and avionics following delivery. In British service initially, the aircraft were known as the Martlet I, but not all Martlets would be to exactly the same specifications as U.S. Navy aircraft. All Martlet Is featured the four .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns of the F4F-3 with 450 rpg. The British directly ordered and received a version with the original Twin Wasp, but again with a modified cowling, under the manufacturer designation G-36B. These aircraft were given the designation Martlet II by the British. The first 10 G-36Bs were fitted with non-folding wings and were given the designation Martlet III. These were followed by 30 folding wing aircraft (F4F-3As) which were originally destined for the Hellenic Air Force, which were also designated Martlet IIIs. On paper, the designation changed to Marlet III(A) when the second series of Martlet III was introduced.
Poor design of the armament installation on early F4Fs caused these otherwise reliable machine guns to frequently jam, a problem common to wing-mounted weapons of many U.S. fighters early in the war.[N 4] It was an F4F-3 flown by Lieutenant Edward O’Hare that in a few minutes shot down five Mitsubishi twin-engine bombers attacking Lexington off Bougainville on 20 February 1942. But contrasting with O’Hare’s performance, his wingman was unable to participate because his guns would not function.[N 5]
F4F-3s of VF-5, 1941.
A shortage of two-stage superchargers lead to the development of the F4F-3A, which was basically the F4F-3 but with a 1,200 hp (890 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90 radial engine with a more primitive single-stage two-speed supercharger. The F4F-3A, which was capable of 312 mph (502 km/h) at 16,000 ft (4,900 m), was used side by side with the F4F-3, but its poorer performance made it unpopular with U.S. Navy fighter pilots. The F4F-3A would enter service as the Martlet III(B).
At the time of Pearl Harbor, only Enterprise had a fully equipped Wildcat squadron, VF-6 with F4F-3As. Enterprise was then transferring a detachment of VMF-211, also equipped with F4F-3s, to Wake. Saratoga was in San Diego, working up for operations of the F4F-3s of VF-3. 11 F4F-3s of VMF-211 were at the Ewa Marine Air Corps Station on Oahu; nine of these were damaged or destroyed during the Japanese attack. The detachment of VMF-211 on Wake lost seven Wildcats to Japanese attacks on 8 December, but the remaining five put up a fierce defense, making the first bomber kill on 9 December. The destroyer Kisaragi was sunk by the Wildcats, and the Japanese invasion force retreated.
In May 1942, the F4F-3s of VF-2 and VF-42, onboard Yorktown and Lexington, participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Lexington and Yorktown fought against the Zuikaku, Shōkaku and the light carrier Shōhō in this battle, in an attempt to halt a Japanese invasion of Port Moresby on Papua. During these battles, it became clear that attacks without fighter escort amounted to suicide, but that the fighter component on the carriers was completely insufficient to provide both fighter cover for the carrier and an escort for an attack force. Most U.S. carriers carried less than 20 fighters.
The F4F-3S “Wildcatfish”, a floatplane version of the F4F-3. Edo Aircraft fitted one F4F-3 with twin floats.
This floatplane version of the F4F-3 was developed for use at forward island bases in the Pacific, before the construction of airfields. It was inspired by appearance of the A6M2-N “Rufe”, a modification of the Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zeke”. BuNo 4038 was modified to become the F4F-3S “Wildcatfish”. Twin floats, manufactured by Edo Aircraft Corporation, were fitted. To restore the stability, small auxiliary fins were added to the tailplane. Because this was still insufficient, a ventral fin was added later.
The F4F-3S was first flown 28 February 1943. The weight and drag of the floats reduced the maximum speed to 241 mph (388 km/h). As the performance of the basic F4F-3 was already below that of the Zero, the F4F-3S was clearly of limited usefulness. In any case, the construction of the airfields at forward bases by the “Seabees” was surprisingly quick. Only one was converted.
One of the main features of the F4F-4 were the folding wings.
A new version, the F4F-4, entered service in 1942 with six machine guns and folding wings which allowed more aircraft to be stored on an aircraft carrier, increasing the number of fighters that could be parked on a surface by more than a factor of 2. The F4F-4 was the definitive version that saw the most combat service in the early war years, including the Battle of Midway. The F4F-3 was replaced by the F4F-4 in June 1942, during the Battle of Midway; only VMF-221 still used them at that time.
This version was less popular with American pilots because the same amount of ammunition was spread over two additional guns, decreasing firing time. With the F4F-3′s four .50 in (12.7 mm) guns and 450 rpg, pilots had 34 seconds of firing time; six guns decreased ammunition to 240 rpg, which could be expended in less than 20 seconds. The increase to six guns was attributed to the Royal Navy, who wanted greater firepower to deal with German and Italian foes. Jimmy Thach is quoted as saying, “A pilot who cannot hit with four guns will miss with eight.” Extra guns and folding wings meant extra weight, and reduced performance: the F4F-4 was capable of only about 318 mph (512 km/h) at 19,400 ft (5,900 m). Rate of climb was noticeably worse in the F4F-4; while Grumman optimistically claimed the F4F-4 could climb at a modest 1,950 ft (590 m) per minute, in combat conditions, pilots found their F4F-4s capable of ascending at only 500 to 1,000 ft (150 to 300 m) per minute. Moreover, the F4F-4′s folding wing was intended to allow five F4F-4s to be stowed in the space required by two F4F-3s. In practice, the folding wings allowed an increase of about 50% in the number of Wildcats carried aboard U.S. fleet aircraft carriers. A variant of the F4F-4, designated F4F-4B for contractual purposes, was supplied to the British with a modified cowling and Wright Cyclone engine. These aircraft received the designation of Martlet IV.
Two F4F-3s (the 3rd and 4th production aircraft, BuNo 1846/1847) were fitted with a Wright R-1820-40 engine and designated XF4F-5.
FM-2s from USS White Plains, in June 1944
General Motors / Eastern Aircraft produced 5,280 FM variants of the Wildcat. Grumman’s Wildcat production ceased in early 1943 to make way for the newer F6F Hellcat, but General Motors continued producing Wildcats for both U.S. Navy and Fleet Air Arm use. Late in the war, the Wildcat was obsolescent as a front line fighter compared to the faster (380 mph/610 km/h) F6F Hellcat or much faster (446 mph/718 km/h) F4U Corsair. However, they were adequate for small escort carriers against submarine and shore threats. These relatively modest ships carried only two types of aircraft (along with the GM-built Avengers). The Wildcat’s lower landing speed and ability to take off without a catapult made it more suitable for shorter flight decks. At first, GM produced the FM-1, identical to the F4F-4, but reduced the number of guns to four, and added wing racks for two 250 lb (110 kg) bombs or six rockets. Production later switched to the improved FM-2 (based on Grumman’s XF4F-8 prototype) optimized for small-carrier operations, with a more powerful engine (the 1,350 hp (1,010 kW) Wright R-1820-56), and a taller tail to cope with the torque.
Tasked with supporting ground forces off Leyte, sorely under-armed aircraft from escort carriers such as Gambier Bay in the “Taffy” task groups found themselves up against a major surface fleet, which they helped turn back in the Battle off Samar. Four FM-2 Wildcats from Shamrock Bay‘s Composite Squadron 94 (VC-94) helped shoot down a number of kamikaze aircraft attacking Laffey off Okinawa before running out of ammunition.
The F4F-7 was a photoreconnaissance variant, with armor and armament removed. It had non-folding “wet” wings that carried an additional 555 gal (2,101 L) of fuel for a total of about 700 gal (2,650 L), increasing its range to 3,700 mi (5,955 km). A total of 21 were built.
The F2M-1 was a planned development of the FM-1 by General Motors / Eastern Aircraft to be powered by the improved XR-1820-70 engine, but the project was cancelled before any aircraft were built.
Royal Navy Martlets
Martlet Mk I
At the end of 1939, Grumman received a French order for 81 aircraft of model G-36A, to equip their new Joffre-class aircraft carrier: Joffre and Painlevé. The main difference with the basic model G-36 was due to the unavailability for export of the two-stage supercharged engine of F4F-3. The G-36A was powered by the nine-cylinder, single-row R-1820-G205A radial engine, of 1,200 hp (890 kW) and with a single-stage two-speed supercharger.
A G-36A at Grumman, 1940
The G-36A also had French instruments (with metric calibration), radio and gunsight. The throttle was modified to conform to French pre-war practice: the throttle lever was moved towards the pilot (i.e. backward) to increase engine power. The armament which was to be fitted in France was six 7.5 mm (.296 in) Darne machine guns (two in the fuselage and four in the wings). The first G-36A was flown on 11 May 1940. After the Battle of France, all contracts were taken over by Britain. The throttle was modified again, four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) guns were installed in the wings and most traces of the original ownership removed.
The Martlets were modified for British use by Blackburn, which continued to do this for all later marks. British gunsights, catapult spools and other items were installed. After attempts to fit British radio sets, it was decided to use the much superior American equipment. The first Martlets entered British service in August 1940, with 804 Naval Air Squadron, stationed at Hatson in the Orkney Islands. The Martlet Mk I did not have a wing folding mechanism and was therefore only used from land bases. In 1940, Belgium also placed an order for at least 10 Martlet Mk 1s. These were to be modified with the removal of the tailhook. After the surrender of Belgium, none were delivered and by 10 May 1940, the aircraft order was transferred to the Royal Navy.
Martlet Mk II
Before the Fleet Air Arm took on charge the Martlet Mk Is it had already ordered 100 G-36B fighters. The British chose the Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S3C4-G engine to power this aircraft; this too had a single-stage, two-speed supercharger. The FAA decided to accept a delay in delivery to get folding wings, which were vitally important if the Martlet was to be used from British carriers with their small hangar decks. Nevertheless, the first 10 received had fixed wings. The first Martlet with folding wings was not delivered before August 1941.
In contrast to USN F4F-3, the British aircraft were fitted with armor and self-sealing fuel tanks. The Mk II also had a larger tailwheel. For carrier operations, the “sting” tail hook and attachment point for the American single-point catapult launch system were considered important advantages. Nevertheless, the Martlets were modified to have British-style catapult spools. The FAA had ordered G-36Bs with fixed wings, but wing-folding allowed a carrier to handle a larger number of aircraft, so the contract was amended to specify the folding wings, but the first 10 of the order had already been built with fixed wings. Deliveries of the folding-wing G-36Bs began in August 1941, with 36 shipped to UK and 54 shipped to the Far East; they were designated “Martlet Mark II”. Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) testing of the Martlet II at a mean weight of approximately 7350 lb showed a maximum speed of 293 mph at 5400 ft and 13,800 ft, a maximum climb rate of 1940 fpm at 7600 ft at 7790 lb weight, and a time to climb to 20,000 ft of 12.5 minutes. The service ceiling at 7790 lb was 31,000 ft.
A Martlet II from HMS Formidable, 1942
The Martlet was the second single-seat, monoplane fighter to operate from Royal Navy aircraft carriers following the introduction of the Sea Hurricane IB on HMS Furious in July 1941.
The majority of the Martlet Mk IIs were sent to the Far East. The first shipboard operations of the type in British service were in September 1941, onboard HMS Audacity, a very small escort carrier with a carrier deck of 420 ft (130 m) by 59 ft (18 m), no elevators and no hangar deck. The six Wildcats were parked on the deck at all times. On its first voyage, it served as escort carrier for a convoy to Gibraltar. On 20 September, a German FW 200 was shot down. On the next voyage, four Fw 200 Condors fell to the guns of the Martlets. Operations from Audacity also demonstrated that the fighter cover was useful against U-boats. Audacity was sunk by an U-boat on 21 December 1941, but it had already proven the usefulness of escort carriers.
In May 1942, the 881 and 882 squadrons on HMS Illustrious, participated in operations against Madagascar. In August 1942, 806 NAS on HMS Indomitable provided fighter cover for a convoy to Malta. Later in that year they participated in the landings in French North Africa.
Martlet Mk III
The first 30 F4F-3As were released for sale to Greece, after the Italian invasion in November 1940. However, at the defeat of Greece in April 1941 the aircraft had only reached Gibraltar. They were taken over by the FAA as Martlet Mk III-B. As these aircraft did not have folding wings, they were only used from land bases. They served in a shore-based role in the Western Desert.
Ten fixed-wing G-36Bs were used by the FAA as Martlet III-A.
Martlet Mk IV
The Royal Navy purchased 220 F4F-4s adapted to British requirements. The main difference was the use of a Wright R-1820-40B Cyclone in a distinctly more rounded and compact cowling, with a single double-wide flap on each side of the rear and no lip intake. These machines were named Martlet Mk IV. Boscombe Down testing of the Martlet IV at 7350 lb weight showed a maximum speed of 278 mph at 3400 ft and 298 mph at 14,600 ft, a maximum climb rate of 1580 fpm at 6200 ft at 7740 lb weight, and a time to climb to 20,000 ft of 14.6 minutes. The service ceiling at 7740 lb was 30,100 ft.
Martlet Mk V
The Fleet Air Arm purchased 312 FM-1s, originally with the designation of Martlet V. In January 1944, a decision was made to retain the American names for US-supplied aircraft, redesignating the batch as the Wildcat V.
Wildcat Mk VI
The Wildcat VI was the Air Ministry name for the FM-2 Wildcat in FAA service.
- Belgian Air Force: at least 10 Martlet Mk 1s ordered, never delivered, transferred to Royal Navy after surrender.
- Aeronavale: 81 aircraft ordered, never delivered, transferred to Royal Navy after French defeat.
- Royal Canadian Navy: RCN personnel assigned to the Royal Navy HMS Puncher, were to provide the RCN with experience in aircraft carrier operations. The RCN flew 14 Martlets as part of 881 (RN) Squadron from February–July 1945.
- United Kingdom
- Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm
- United States
- United States Navy
- United States Marine Corps
Data from The American Fighter 
- Crew: 1
- Length: 28 ft 9 in (8.76 m)
- Wingspan: 38 ft (11.58 m)
- Height: 11 ft 10 in (3.60 m)
- Loaded weight: 7,000 lb (3,200 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 double-row radial engine, 1,200 hp (900 kW)
- Maximum speed: 331 mph (531 km/h)
- Range: 845 mi (1,360 km)
- Service ceiling: 39,500 ft (12,000 m)
- Rate of climb: 2,303 ft/min (11.7 m/s)
- Guns: 4 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) AN/M2 Browning machine guns with 450 rounds per gun
- Bombs: 2 × 100 lb (45 kg) bombs and/or 2 × 58 gal (220 L) drop tanks
LCDR John Thach in his Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat with six kill markings, 1942
F4F-4 receives maintenance of its six .50cal AN/M2 Browning machine guns
Data from F4F-4 Airplane Characteristics & Performance
- Crew: 1
- Length: 28 ft 9 in (8.8 m)
- Wingspan: 38 ft 0 in (11.6 m)
- Height: 9 ft 2.5 in (2.8 m)
- Wing area: 260 ft² (24.2 m²)
- Empty weight: 5,895 lb (2,674 kg)
- Loaded weight: 7,975 lb (3,617 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 8,762 lb (3,974 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86 double-row radial engine, 1,200 hp (900 kW)
- Maximum speed: 320 mph (290 kn, 515 km/h)
- Range: 830 mi (721 nmi, 1,337 km)
- Service ceiling: 34,000 ft (10,363 m)
- Rate of climb: 2,200 ft/min @ normal power (11.17 m/s)
- Wing loading: 30.7 lb/ft² (149.77 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 249 w/kg (0.15 hp/lb)
- Guns: 6 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) AN/M2 Browning machine guns,
Grumman F4F Wildcat
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The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force (RAF). Although largely overshadowed by the Supermarine Spitfire, the aircraft became renowned during the Battle of Britain, accounting for 60% of the RAF’s air victories in the battle, and served in all the major theatres of the Second World War.
The 1930s design evolved through several versions and adaptations, resulting in a series of aircraft which acted as interceptor-fighters, fighter-bombers (also called “Hurribombers”), and ground support aircraft. Further versions known as the Sea Hurricane had modifications which enabled operation from ships. Some were converted as catapult-launched convoy escorts, known as “Hurricats”. More than 14,000 Hurricanes were built by the end of 1944 (including at least 800 converted to Sea Hurricanes and some 1,400 built in Canada by Canadian Car and Foundry).
|Hurricane Mk I (R4118), which fought in the Battle of Britain|
Gloster Aircraft Company
Canadian Car and Foundry
Austin Motor Company
|First flight||6 November 1935|
|Primary user||Royal Air Force|
Royal Canadian Air Force
Design and development
At the time that the Hurricane was developed RAF Fighter Command consisted of just 13 squadrons, each equipped with either the Hawker Fury, Hawker Demon, or the Bristol Bulldog, all biplanes with fixed-pitch wooden propellers and non-retractable undercarriages. Sydney Camm’s design to meet F.7/30, the Hawker P.V.3, was essentially a scaled-up version of the Fury and was not among the proposals submitted to the Air Ministry selected for building as a government sponsored prototype. After the rejection of the P.V.3 Camm started work on a cantilever monoplane with a fixed undercarriage armed with four machine guns and powered by the Rolls-Royce Goshawk. Detail drawings were finished by January 1934 but failed to impress the Air Ministry enough for a prototype to be ordered. Camm’s response was to further develop the design, introducing a retractable undercarriage and replacing the unsatisfactory Goshawk with a new Rolls-Royce design, the PV-12, later to become famous as the Merlin. In August 1934, a one-tenth scale model was made and sent to the National Physical Laboratory at Teddington. A series of wind tunnel tests confirmed the aerodynamic qualities of the design were in order, and in September Camm approached the Air Ministry again. This time the response was favourable, and a prototype of the “Interceptor Monoplane” was ordered.
K5083, the prototype, photographed before its first flight in November 1935.
Shortly after this the Air Ministry issued Specification F.5/34 which, drawing on the work of Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley, called for fighter aircraft to be armed with eight guns. However by this time, work had progressed too far to immediately modify the planned four-gun installation. By January 1935, a wooden mock-up had been finished, and although a number of suggestions for detail changes were made construction of the prototype was approved, and a new specification (F.36/34) was written around the design. In July 1935, this specification was amended to include installation of eight guns.
Work on the airframe was completed at the end of August 1935 and the aircraft components were taken to Brooklands, where Hawkers had an assembly shed, and re-assembled on 23 October 1935. Ground testing and taxi trials took place over the following two weeks, and on 6 November 1935, the prototype took to the air for the first time at the hands of Hawker’s chief test pilot, Flight Lieutenant (later Group Captain) George Bulman. Bulman was assisted by two other pilots in subsequent flight testing; Philip Lucas flew some of the experimental test flights, while John Hindmarsh conducted the firm’s production flight trials.
RAF trials of the aircraft at Martlesham Heath began in February 1936. Sammy Wroath, later to be the founding Commandant of the Empire Test Pilot School, was the RAF test pilot for the Hurricane: his report was favorable, stating “The aircraft is simple and easy to fly and has no apparent vices” and going on to praise its control response. The type name “Hurricane” proposed by Hawkers was approved by the Air Ministry on 26 June; an informal christening ceremony was carried out the next month when King George VI paid a visit to Martlesham Heath.
Further testing showed that the Hurricane had poor spin recovery characteristics, with all rudder authority being lost. Hawker’s response was to request that spinning tests be waived, but the Air Ministry refused the request; the situation was resolved by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, who established that the problem was caused by a breakdown of the airflow over the lower fuselage, and could be cured by the addition of a small ventral fairing and extension of the bottom of the rudder. This discovery came too late to be incorporated in the first production aircraft, but was introduced in the 61st built and all subsequent aircraft.
Planform view of R4118, a preserved Hurricane from the Battle of Britain
Though faster and more advanced than the RAF’s current front line biplane fighters, the Hurricane’s constructional design was already outdated when introduced. It used the traditional Hawker construction techniques, with a Warren truss box-girder primary fuselage structure with high-tensile steel longerons and duralumin cross-bracing using mechanically fastened rather than welded joints. Over this, wooden formers and stringer carried the doped linen covering. Initially, the wing structure consisted of two steel spars, and was also fabric-covered. An all-metal, stressed-skin wing of duraluminium (a DERD specification similar to AA2024) was introduced in April 1939 and was used for all of the later marks. “The metal skinned wings allowed a diving speed that was 80 mph (130 km/h) higher than the fabric-covered ones. They were very different in construction but were interchangeable with the fabric-covered wings; one trials Hurricane, L1877, was even flown with a fabric-covered port wing and metal-covered starboard wing. The great advantage of the metal-covered wings over the fabric ones was that the metal ones could carry far greater stress loads without needing so much structure beneath.” Several fabric-wing Hurricanes were still in service during the Battle of Britain, although a good number had had their wings replaced during servicing or after repair. Changing the wings only required three hours’ work per aircraft.
The prototype and early production Hurricanes were fitted with a Watts two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. Since this was inefficient at low airspeeds, the aircraft required a long ground run to get airborne, causing concern at Fighter Command. Trials with a De Havilland variable pitch propeller reduced the take-off run from 1,230 ft (370 m) to 750 ft (230 m). Deliveries of these began in April 1939: this was later replaced by the hydraulically operated constant-speed Rotol propeller, which came into service in time for the Battle of Britain.
Then, with tail trimmer set, throttle and mixture lever fully forward… and puffs of grey exhaust smoke soon clearing at maximum r.p.m. came the surprise! There was no sudden surge of acceleration, but with a thunderous roar from the exhausts just ahead on either side of the windscreen, only a steady increase in speed… In retrospect that first Hurricane sortie was a moment of elation, but also of relief. Apart from the new scale of speeds that the pilot had to adapt to, the Hurricane had all the qualities of its stable, secure biplane predecessor the Hart, but enhanced by livelier controls, greater precision and all this performance.
One of Camm’s priorities was to provide the pilot with good all-round visibility. To this end, the cockpit was mounted reasonably high in the fuselage, creating a distinctive “hump-backed” silhouette. Pilot access to the cockpit was aided by a retractable “stirrup” mounted below the trailing edge of the port wing. This was linked to a spring-loaded hinged flap which covered a handhold on the fuselage, just behind the cockpit. When the flap was shut, the footstep retracted into the fuselage. In addition, both wing roots were coated with strips of non-slip material.
An advantage of the steel-tube structure was that cannon shells could pass right through the wood and fabric covering without exploding. Even if one of the steel tubes were damaged, the repair work required was relatively simple and could be done by groundcrew at the airfield. A damaged stressed skin structure, as used by the Spitfire, required more specialised equipment to repair. The old-fashioned structure also permitted the assembly of Hurricanes with relatively basic equipment under field conditions. Crated Hurricanes were assembled in West Africa and flown across the Sahara to the Middle East theatre and, to save space, some Royal Navy aircraft carriers carried their reserve Sea Hurricanes dismantled into their major assemblies, which were slung up on the hangar bulkheads and deckhead for reassembly when needed.
In contrast, the contemporary Spitfire used all-metal monocoque construction and was thus both lighter and stronger, though less tolerant to bullet damage. With its ease of maintenance, widely-set landing gear and benign flying characteristics, the Hurricane remained in use in theatres of operations where reliability, easy handling and a stable gun platform were more important than performance, typically in roles like ground attack. One of the design requirements of the original specification was that both the Hurricane and the Spitfire were also to be used as a night fighter. The Hurricane proved to be a relatively simple aircraft to fly at night and was to be instrumental in shooting down several German aircraft during the nocturnal hours. From early 1941, the Hurricane would also be used as an “intruder” aircraft, patrolling German airfields in France at night in an attempt to catch night bombers during takeoffs or landings.
Hurricane production line, 1942
The Hurricane was ordered into production in June 1936, mainly due to its relatively simple construction and ease of manufacture. As war was looking increasingly likely, and time was of the essence in providing the RAF with an effective fighter aircraft, it was unclear if the more advanced Spitfire would enter production smoothly, while the Hurricane used well-understood manufacturing techniques. This was true for service squadrons as well, who were experienced in working on and repairing aircraft whose construction employed the same principles as the Hurricane, and the simplicity of its design enabled the improvisation of some remarkable repairs in squadron workshops. The Hurricane was also significantly cheaper than the Spitfire, requiring 10,300 man hours to produce rather than 15,200 for the Spitfire.
The maiden flight of the first production aircraft, powered by a Merlin II engine, took place on 12 October 1937. The first four aircraft to enter service with the RAF joined No. 111 Squadron RAF at RAF Northolt the following December. By the outbreak of the Second World War, nearly 500 Hurricanes had been produced, and had equipped 18 squadrons.
During 1940, Lord Beaverbrook, who was the Minister of Aircraft Production, established an organisation in which a number of manufacturers were seconded to repair and overhaul battle-damaged Hurricanes. The Civilian Repair Organisation also overhauled battle-weary aircraft, which were later sent to training units or to other air forces; one of the factories involved was the Austin Aero Company’s Cofton Hackett plant. Another was David Rosenfield Ltd, based at Barton aerodrome near Manchester.
Some 14,000 Hurricanes and Sea Hurricanes were produced.[clarification needed] Most Hurricanes were built by Hawker (which produced them until 1944), with Hawker’s sister company, the Gloster Aircraft Company, making 2,750. The Austin Aero Company built 300. Canada Car and Foundry in Fort William, Ontario, Canada, (where the Chief Engineer, Elsie MacGill, became known as the “Queen of the Hurricanes”) was responsible for production of 1,400 Hurricanes, known as the Mk X.
In 1939, production of 100 Hurricanes was initiated in Yugoslavia by Zmaj and Rogožarski. Of these, 20 were built by Zmaj by April 1941. One of these was fitted with a DB 601 and test flown in 1941.
A contract for 80 Hurricanes was placed with Fairey’s Belgian subsidiary Avions Fairey SA for the Belgian Air Force in 1938, with the intention of arming these aircraft with four 13.2 mm machine guns. Three were built and two flown with this armament by the time of the Blitzkrieg in May 1940, with at least 12 more built by Avions Fairey with the conventional eight rifle calibre machine gun armament.
The first 50 Hurricanes had reached squadrons by the middle of 1938. At that time, production was slightly greater than the RAF’s capacity to introduce the new aircraft and the government gave Hawkers the clearance to sell the excess to nations likely to oppose German expansion. As a result, there were some modest sales to other countries. Production was then increased with a plan to create a reserve of aircraft as well as re-equip existing squadrons and newly formed ones such as those of the Auxiliary Air Force. Expansion scheme E included a target of 500 fighters of all types by the start of 1938. By the time of the Munich Crisis there were only two fully operational squadrons of the planned 12 with Hurricanes. By the time of the German invasion of Poland there were 18 operational Hurricane squadrons and three more converting.
The Phoney War
The Hurricane had its baptism of fire on 21 October 1939. That day, “A” Flight of 46 Squadron took off from North Coates satellite airfield, on the Lincolnshire coast, and was directed to intercept a formation of nine Heinkel He 115B floatplanes from 1/KüFlGr 906, searching for ships to attack in the North Sea. The Heinkels had already been attacked and damaged by two Spitfires from 72 Squadron when six Hurricanes intercepted the Heinkels, which were flying at sea level in an attempt to avoid fighter attacks. Nevertheless the Hurricanes, in rapid succession, shot down four of the enemy (46 Squadron claiming five and the Spitfire pilots two).
In response to a request from the French government for 10 fighter squadrons to provide air support, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of RAF Fighter Command, insisted that this number would deplete British defences severely, and so initially only four squadrons of Hurricanes, 1, 73, 85 and 87, were relocated to France, keeping Spitfires back for “Home” defence. The first to arrive was No.73 Squadron on 10 September 1939, followed shortly by the other three. A little later, 607 and 615 Squadrons joined them.
After his first flight in October 1939, Hurricane pilot Roland Beamont subsequently flew operationally with 87 Squadron, claiming three enemy aircraft during the French campaign, and delivered great praise of his aircraft’s performance:
|“||Throughout the bad days of 1940, 87 Sqn had maintained a proficient formation aerobatic team, the precise flying controls and responsive engines permitting precision formation through loops, barrel rolls, 1g semi-stall turns and rolls off half-loops … My Hurricane was never hit in the Battles of France and Britain, and in over 700 hr on type I never experienced an engine failure.||”|
|—Roland Beamont, summarising his wartime experience as a pilot.|
On 30 October, Hurricanes saw action over France. That day, Pilot Officer P.W.O. “Boy” Mould of 1st Squadron, flying Hurricane L1842, shot down a Dornier Do 17P from 2(F)/123. The German aircraft, sent to photograph Allied airfields close to the border, fell in flames about 10 miles (16 km) west of Toul. “Boy” Mould was the first RAF pilot to down an enemy aircraft on the continent in the Second World War.[N 1]
On 6 November 1939, Pilot Officer P.V. Ayerst from 73° Squadron, was the first to clash with a Messerschmitt Bf 109. After the dogfight, he came back with five holes in his fuselage. Flying Officer E. J. “Cobber” Kain, a New Zealander, was responsible for 73 Squadron’s first victory on 8 November 1939 while stationed at Rouvres. He went on to become one of the RAF’s first fighter aces of the war, being credited with 16 kills.
On 22 December, the Hurricanes in France suffered their first losses. Three Hawker fighters, while trying to intercept an unidentified aircraft, between Metz and Thionville, were jumped by four Bf 109Es from III./JG 53, with the Gruppenkommander, Spanish Civil War ace Captain Werner Mölders in the lead. Mölders and Leutnant Hans von Hahn shot down the Hurricanes of Sergeant R.M. Perry and J. Winn for no losses.
Battle of France
Hurricane I of 1 Sqn being refuelled at Vassincourt.
In May 1940, Nos. 3, 79 and 504 Squadrons reinforced the earlier units as Germany’s Blitzkrieg gathered momentum. On 10 May, the first day of the Battle of France, Flight Lieutenant R. E. Lovett and Flying Officer “Fanny” Orton, of 73 Squadron, were the two first RAF pilots to engage German aircraft. They attacked one of the three Dornier Do 17s from 4. Staffel/KG 2 that were flying over their airfield at Rouvres-en-Woevre. The Dornier went away unscathed, while Orton was hit by defensive fire and had to force land. On the same day, the Hurricane squadrons claimed 42 German aircraft shot down during 208 sorties, although none of these were fighters, while seven Hurricanes were lost but no pilots were killed.
On 12 May, several Hurricanes units were committed to escort bombers. That morning, five Fairey Battle volunteer crews, from 12 Squadron, took off from Amifontaine base to bomb Vroenhoven and Veldwezelt bridges on the Meuse, at Maastricht. The escort consisted of eight Hurricanes of 1 Squadron, with Squadron Leader P. J. H. “Bull” Halahan in the lead. When the formation approached Maastricht, it was bounced by 16 Bf 109Es from 2./JG 27. Two Battles and two Hurricanes (including Halahan’s) were shot down, two more Battles were brought down by flak and the fifth bomber was forced to crash land. The 1 Squadron pilots claimed four Messerschmitts and two Heinkel He 112s,[N 2] while the Luftwaffe actually lost only one Bf 109.
On 13 May 1940, a further 32 Hurricanes arrived. All ten requested Hurricane squadrons were then operating from French soil and felt the full force of the Nazi offensive. The following day, Hurricanes suffered heavy losses: 27 being shot down, 22 by Messerschmitts with 15 pilots killed (another died some days later) including Squadron Leader J. B. Parnall (504 Sqn),[N 3] and the Australian ace Flying Officer Les Clisby (1 Sqn).[N 4] On the same day, 3 Squadron claimed 17 German aircraft shot down, 85 and 87 Squadrons claimed four victories[vague], while 607 Squadron claimed nine. During the following three days (15–17 May), no fewer than 51 Hurricanes were lost, in combat or in accidents.
By 17 May, the end of the first week of fighting, only three of the squadrons were near operational strength, but despite their heavy losses, the Hurricanes had managed to destroy nearly double the number of German aircraft. On 18 May 1940, air combat continued from dawn to dusk where Hurricanes pilots claimed 57 German aircraft and 20 probables (Luftwaffe records show 39 aircraft lost). The following day, 1 and 73 Squadrons claimed 11 German aircraft (three by “Cobber” Kain and three by Paul Richey). But in these two days, Hurricanes suffered heavier losses, with 68 Hurricanes shot down or forced to crash land due to combat damage. Fifteen pilots were killed, eight were taken prisoner and 11 injured. Two thirds of the Hurricanes had been shot down by Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Bf 110s.
In the afternoon of 20 May 1940, the Hurricane units based in northern France were ordered to abandon their bases on the continent and return to Great Britain. On the same day, “Bull” Halahan requested the repatriation of the pilots serving in 1 Squadron. During the previous 10 days, the unit had been the most successful of the campaign; it had claimed 63 victories for the loss of five pilots: two killed, one taken prisoner and two hospitalized. 1 Squadron was the only one awarded ten DFCs and three DFMs during the Blitzkrieg. On the evening of 21 May, the only Hurricanes still operative were those of the AASF that had been moved to the bases around Troyes.
During the 11 days of fighting in France and over Dunkirk on 10—21 May 1940, Hurricane pilots claimed 499 kills and 123 probables. Contemporary German records, examined postwar, attribute 299 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed and 65 seriously damaged by RAF fighters. When the last Hurricanes left France, on 21 June, of the 452 Hawker fighters engaged during the Blitzkrieg, only 66 came back to Great Britain with 178 abandoned at the airfields of Merville, Abbeville, Lille/Seclin and other bases.
During Operation Dynamo (the evacuation from Dunkirk of British, French and Belgian troops cut off by the German army during the Battle of Dunkirk), the Hawker Hurricanes operated from British bases. Between 26 May and 3 June 1940, the 14 Hurricane units involved were credited with 108 air victories. A total of 27 Hurricane pilots became aces during Operation Dynamo, led by Canadians, Pilot Officer W. L. Willie McKnight (10 victories) and Pilot Officer Percival Stanley Turner (seven victories), who served in No. 242 Squadron, consisting mostly of Canadian personnel. Losses were 22 pilots killed and three captured.
On 27 May 1940, in one of the final mass encounters of the Blitzkrieg, 13 Hurricanes from 501 Squadron intercepted 24 Heinkel He 111s escorted by 20 Bf 110s and during the ensuing battle, 11 Heinkels were claimed as “kills” and others damaged, with little damage to the Hurricanes.
“Over Dunkirk, the Luftwaffe suffered its first serious rebuff of the war. As Galland has noted, the nature and style of the air battles over the beaches should have provided a warning as to the inherent weaknesses of the Luftwaffe’s force structure. Admittedly, the Germans fought at a disadvantage. Although positioned forward at captured airfields, the Bf 109 was at the outer limits of its range and possessed less flying time over Dunkirk than did the “Hurricanes” and “Spitfires” operating from southern England. German bombers were still located in western Germany and had even farther to fly. Thus, the Luftwaffe could not bring its full weight to bear so that when its bombers hammered those on the beaches or embarking, the RAF intervened in a significant fashion. German aircraft losses were high, and British fighter attacks often prevented German bombers from performing with full effectiveness. Both sides suffered heavy losses. During the nine days from May 26 through June 3, the RAF lost 177 aircraft destroyed or damaged; the Germans lost 240. For much of the Luftwaffe, Dunkirk came as a nasty shock. Fliegerkorps II reported in its war diary that it lost more aircraft on the 27th attacking the evacuation than it had lost in the previous ten days of the campaign.”
On 7 June 1940, Edgar James “Cobber” Kain, the first RAF ace of the war, got word that he was to return to England for “rest leave” at an Operational Training Unit. On leaving his airfield, he put on an impromptu aerobatic display and was killed when his Hurricane crashed after completing a loop and attempting some low altitude “flick” rolls.
Initial engagements with the Luftwaffe had showed the Hurricane to be a tight-turning and steady platform but the Watts two-bladed propeller was clearly unsuitable. At least one pilot complained of how a Heinkel 111 was able to pull away from him in a chase, yet by this time the Heinkel was obsolete. At the start of the war, the engine ran on standard 87 octane aviation spirit. From early 1940, increasing quantities of 100 octane fuel imported from the U.S. became available. In February 1940, Hurricanes with the Merlin II and III engines began to receive modifications to allow for an additional 6 psi (41 kPa) of supercharger boost for five minutes (although there are accounts of its use for 30 minutes continuously). The extra supercharger boost, which increased engine output by nearly 250 hp (190 kW), gave the Hurricane an approximate increase in speed of 25 mph (40 km/h) to 35 mph (56 km/h), under 15,000 ft (4,600 m) altitude and greatly increased the aircraft’s climb rate. “Overboost” or “pulling the plug”, a form of war emergency power as it was called in later Second World War aircraft, was an important wartime modification that allowed the Hurricane to be more competitive against the Bf 109E and to increase its margin of superiority over the Bf 110C, especially at low altitude. With the +12 lbf/in2 (83 kPa) “emergency boost”, the Merlin III was able to generate 1,310 hp (977 kW) at 9,000 ft (2,700 m).
Flt Lt Ian Gleed of 87 Squadron wrote about the effect of using the extra boost on the Hurricane while chasing a Bf 109 at low altitude on 19 May 1940:
|“||Damn! We’re flat out as it is. Here goes with the tit.[N 5] A jerk – boost’s shot up to 12 pounds; speed’s increased by 30 mph. I’m gaining ground – 700, 600, 500 yards. Give him a burst. No, hold your fire you fool! He hasn’t seen you yet…||”|
Gleed ran out of ammunition before he could shoot the 109 down although he left it heavily damaged and flying at about 50 ft (15.2 m).[N 6]
Hurricanes equipped with Rotol constant-speed propellers were delivered to RAF squadrons in May 1940, with deliveries continuing throughout the Battle of Britain; the Rotol propeller transformed the Hurricane’s performance from “disappointing” to one of “acceptable mediocrity” and modified aircraft were certainly much sought after among squadrons equipped with aircraft having the older de Havilland two-position propeller.
Battle of Britain
Hurricane I of 1 Sqn. flown by Plt Off A.V. Clowes.
At the end of June 1940, following the fall of France, the majority of the RAF’s 36 fighter squadrons were equipped with Hurricanes. The Battle of Britain officially lasted from 10 July until 31 October 1940, but the heaviest fighting took place between 8 August and 21 September. Both the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hurricane are renowned for their part in defending Britain against the Luftwaffe; generally, the Spitfire would intercept the German fighters, leaving Hurricanes to concentrate on the bombers, but despite the undoubted abilities of the “thoroughbred” Spitfire, it was the “workhorse” Hurricane that scored the higher number of RAF victories during this period, accounting for 55 percent of the 2,739 German losses, according to Fighter Command, compared with 42 per cent by Spitfires.
As a fighter, the Hurricane had some drawbacks. It was slower than both the Spitfire I and II and the Messerschmitt Bf 109E, and the thick wings compromised acceleration, but it could out-turn both of them. In spite of its performance deficiencies against the Bf 109, the Hurricane was still capable of destroying the German fighter, especially at lower altitudes. The standard tactic of the 109s was to attempt to climb higher than the RAF fighters and “bounce” them in a dive; the Hurricanes could evade such tactics by turning into the attack or going into a “corkscrew dive”, which the 109s, with their lower rate of roll, found hard to counter. If a 109 was caught in a dogfight, the Hurricane was just as capable of out-turning the 109 as the Spitfire. In a stern chase, the 109 could easily evade the Hurricane.
In September 1940, the more powerful Mk IIa series 1 Hurricanes started entering service, although only in small numbers. This version was capable of a maximum speed of 342 mph (550 km/h).
The Hurricane was a steady gun platform, and had demonstrated its ruggedness, as several were badly damaged, yet returned to base. But, whilst it was sturdy and stable, the Hurricane’s construction made it dangerous in the event of the aircraft catching fire; the wood frames and fabric covering of the rear fuselage meant that fire could spread through the rear fuselage structure quite easily. In addition, the gravity fuel tank in the forward fuselage sat right in front of the instrument panel, without any form of protection for the pilot. Many Hurricane pilots were seriously burned as a consequence of a jet of flame which could burn through the instrument panel. This became of such concern to Hugh Dowding that he had Hawker retrofit the fuselage tanks of the Hurricanes with a self-expanding rubber coating called Linatex. If the tank happened to be punctured by a bullet, the linatex coating would expand when soaked with petrol and seal it Some Hurricane pilots also felt that the fuel tanks in the wings, although they were protected with a layer of Linatex, were vulnerable from behind, and it was thought that these, not the fuselage tank, were the main fire risk.
From 10 July to 11 August 1940, RAF fighters fired at 114 German bombers and shot down 80, a destruction ratio of 70%. Against the Bf 109, the RAF fighters attacked 70 and shot down 54 of these, a ratio of 77%. Part of the success of the British fighters was possibly due to the use of the de Wilde incendiary round.
As in the Spitfire, the Merlin engine suffered from negative-G cut-out, a problem not cured until the introduction of the Miss Shilling’s orifice in early 1941.
The only Battle of Britain Victoria Cross, and the only one awarded to a member of Fighter Command during the war, was awarded to Flight Lieutenant Eric Nicolson of 249 Squadron as a result of an action on 16 August 1940 when his section of three Hurricanes was “bounced” from above by Bf 110 fighters. All three were hit simultaneously. Nicolson was badly wounded, and his Hurricane was damaged and engulfed in flames. While attempting to leave the cockpit, Nicolson noticed that one of the Bf 110s had overshot his aircraft. He returned to the cockpit, which by now was an inferno, engaged the enemy, and may have shot down the Bf 110 .[N 7]
Night fighters and Intruders
Wartime colour photo of Hurricane IIC BE500 flown by Sqn Ldr Denis Smallwood of 87 Sqn in overall RDM2 (“Special Night”) scheme and used on intruder operations 1941-1942.
Following the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane continued to give service, and through the Blitz of 1941, was the principal single-seat night fighter in Fighter Command. F/Lt. Richard Stevens claimed 14 Luftwaffe bombers flying Hurricanes in 1941.
1942 saw the cannon-armed Mk IIc perform further afield in the night intruder role over occupied Europe. F/Lt. Karel Kuttelwascher of 1 Squadron proved the top scorer, with 15 Luftwaffe bombers claimed shot down.
1942 also saw the manufacture of twelve Hurricane II C(NF) night fighters equipped with pilot-operated Air Interception Mark VI radar. After a brief operational deployment with No.245 and No. 247 Squadron RAF during which these aircraft proved too slow to serve effectively in Europe, these aircraft were sent to India to serve with No. 176 Squadron RAF in the defence of Calcutta. They were withdrawn from service at the end of December 1943.
Maintenance work being carried out on a Hurricane of 274 Sqdn during the siege of Tobruk
The Hurricane Mk II was hastily tropicalised following Italy’s entry into the war in June 1940. These aircraft were initially ferried through France by air to 80 Squadron in Egypt to replace Gladiators. The Hurricane claimed its first kill in the Mediterranean on 19 June 1940, when F/O P.G. Wykeham-Barnes reported shooting down two Fiat CR.42s. Hurricanes served with several British Commonwealth squadrons in the Desert Air Force. They suffered heavy losses over North Africa after the arrival of Bf 109E and F-variants and were progressively replaced in the air superiority role from June 1941 by Curtiss Tomahawks/Kittyhawks. However, fighter-bomber variants (“Hurribombers”) retained an edge in the ground attack role, due to their impressive armament of four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon and a 500 lb (230 kg) bombload. From November 1941, beginning in the Libyan desert, it had to face a new formidable opponent: the new Regia Aeronautica Macchi C.202 Folgore. The Italian aircraft proved superior to the Hawker fighter. The C.202, thanks to its excellent agility and a new, more powerful inline engine license-built by Alfa Romeo, could outperform it in a dogfight.
During and following the five-day El Alamein artillery barrage that commenced on the night of 23 October 1942, six squadrons of Hurricanes, including the 40 mm cannon-armed Hurricane Mk.IID version, claimed to have destroyed 39 tanks, 212 lorries and armoured troop-carriers, 26 bowsers, 42 guns, 200 various other vehicles and four small fuel and ammunition dumps, flying 842 sorties with the loss of 11 pilots. Whilst performing in a ground support role, Hurricanes based at RAF Castel Benito, Tripoli, knocked out six tanks, 13 armoured vehicles, 10 lorries, five half-tracks, a gun and trailer, and a wireless van on 10 March 1943, with no losses to themselves.
Defence of Malta
The Hurricane played a significant role in the defence of Malta. When Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940, Malta’s air defence rested on Gloster Gladiators which managed to hold out against vastly superior numbers of the Italian air force during the following 17 days. (According to myth, after the first one was lost, the remaining three were named “Faith, Hope and Charity”; in reality, there were at least six Gladiators.) Four Hurricanes joined them at the end of June, and together they faced attacks throughout July from the 200 enemy aircraft based in Sicily, with the loss of one Gladiator and one Hurricane. Further reinforcements arrived on 2 August in the form of 12 more Hurricanes and two Blackburn Skuas.[N 8]
For weeks a handful of Hurricane IIs, aided by Group Captain A.B. Woodhall’s masterly controlling, had been meeting, against all the odds, the rising crescendo of Field Marshal Kesselring’s relentless attacks on Grand Harbour and the airfields. Outnumbered, usually, by 12 or 14 to one and, later – with the arrival of the Bf 109Fs in Sicily – outperformed, the pilots of the few old aircraft which the ground crews struggled valiantly to keep serviceable, went on pressing their attacks, ploughing their way through the German fighter screens, and our flak, to close in with the Ju 87s and 88s as they dived for their targets.
The increasing number of British aircraft on the island, at last, prompted the Italians to employ German Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers to try to destroy the airfields. Finally, in an attempt to overcome the stiff resistance put up by these few aircraft, the Luftwaffe took up base on the Sicilian airfields, only to find that Malta was not an easy target. After numerous attacks on the island over the following months, and the arrival of an extra 23 Hurricanes at the end of April 1941, and a further delivery a month later, the Luftwaffe left Sicily for the Russian Front in June that year.
As Malta was situated on the increasingly important sea supply route for the North African campaign, the Luftwaffe returned with a vengeance for a second assault on the island at the beginning of 1942. It wasn’t until March, when the onslaught was at its height, that 15 Spitfires flew in off the carrier HMS Eagle to join with the Hurricanes already stationed there and bolster the defence, but many of the new aircraft were lost on the ground and it was again the Hurricane that bore the brunt of the early fighting until further reinforcements arrived.
Air defence in Russia
The Hawker Hurricane was the first Allied Lend-Lease aircraft to be delivered to the USSR with a total of 2,952 Hurricanes eventually delivered, becoming the most numerous British aircraft in Soviet service. Soviet pilots were disappointed by the Hawker fighter, regarding it as inferior to both German and Russian aircraft.
Mk II Hurricanes played an important air defence role in 1941, when the Soviet Union found itself under threat from the German Army approaching on a broad front stretching from Leningrad, Moscow, and to the oil fields in the south. Britain’s decision to aid the Soviets meant sending supplies by sea to the far northern ports, and as the convoys would need to sail within range of enemy air attack from the Luftwaffe based in neighbouring Finland, it was decided to deliver a number of Hurricane Mk IIBs, flying with Nos. 81 and 134 Squadrons of No. 151 Wing RAF, to provide protection. Twenty-four were transported on the carrier Argus, arriving just off Murmansk on 28 August 1941, and another 15 crated aircraft on board merchant vessels. In addition to their convoy protection duties, the aircraft also acted as escorts to Russian bombers.
Enemy attention to the area declined in October, at which point the RAF pilots trained their Soviet counterparts to operate the Hurricanes themselves. By the end of the year, the RAF’s role had ended, but the aircraft remained behind and became the first of thousands of Allied aircraft that were accepted by the Soviet Union. Although Soviet pilots were not universally enthusiastic about the Hurricane, Hero of the Soviet Union (twice), Lt. Col Boris Safonov “… loved the Hurricane …” and RAF Hurricane Mk IIB fighters operating from Soviet soil in defence of Murmansk, destroyed 15 Luftwaffe aircraft for only one loss in combat. In some Soviet war memoirs the Hurricane is described very unflatteringly.
The “Soviet” Hurricane had quite a few drawbacks. First of all, it was 40–50 km/h (25/31 mph) slower than its main opponent, the Bf 109E, at low and medium height, and had a slower rate of climb. The Messerschmitt could outdive the Hurricane because of the thicker wing profile of the British fighter. But the main source of complaints was the Hurricane’s armament. Often the eight or 12 small-calibre machine guns did not damage the sturdy and heavily armoured German aircraft; consequently, Soviet ground crews started to remove the Brownings. Retaining only four or six of the 12 machine guns, two 12.7 mm Berezin UBs or two or even four 20 mm ShVAK cannons were substituted, but overall performance deteriorated.[N 10]
Burma, Ceylon, Singapore, and the Netherlands East Indies
Hawker Hurricane Mk.II of 232 Squadron shot down on 8 February 1942 during the Battle of Singapore
Following the outbreak of the war with Japan, 51 Hurricane Mk IIBs were disassembled and sent in crates to Singapore; these and the 24 pilots (many of whom were veterans of the Battle of Britain) who had been transferred to the theatre formed the nucleus of five squadrons. They arrived on 3 January 1942, by which time the Allied fighter squadrons in Singapore, flying Brewster Buffalos, had been overwhelmed during the Malayan campaign. The Imperial Japanese Army Air Force’s fighter force, especially the Nakajima Ki-43, had been underestimated in its capability, numbers and the strategy of its commanders.
Thanks to the efforts of the 151st Maintenance unit the 51 Hurricanes were assembled and ready for testing within 48 hours, and of these twenty-one were ready for operational service within three days. The Hurricanes were fitted with bulky ‘Vokes’ dust filters under the nose and were armed with 12, rather than eight, machine guns. The additional weight and drag made them slow to climb and unwieldy to manœuvre at altitude, although they were more effective bomber killers.
The recently arrived pilots were formed into 232 Squadron. In addition, 488(NZ) Squadron, a Buffalo squadron, converted to Hurricanes. On 18 January, the two squadrons formed the basis of 226 Group. 232 Squadron became operational on 22 January and suffered the first losses and victories for the Hurricane in Southeast Asia. Between 27 and 30 January, another 48 Hurricanes (Mk IIA) arrived with the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable, from which they flew to airfields code-named P1 and P2, near Palembang, Sumatra in the Netherlands East Indies.
Because of inadequate early warning systems (the first British radar stations became operational only towards the end of February), Japanese air raids were able to destroy 30 Hurricanes on the ground in Sumatra, most of them in one raid on 7 February. After Japanese landings in Singapore, on 10 February, the remnants of 232 and 488 Squadrons were withdrawn to Palembang. However, Japanese paratroopers began the invasion of Sumatra on 13 February. Hurricanes destroyed six Japanese transport ships on 14 February, but lost seven aircraft in the process. On 18 February, the remaining Allied aircraft and aircrews moved to Java. By this time, only 18 serviceable Hurricanes remained out of the original 99.
That same month 12 Hurricane Mk IIB Trops were supplied to the Dutch forces on Java. With dust filters removed and fuel and ammo load in wings halved, these were able to stay in a turn with the Oscars they fought. After Java was invaded, some of the New Zealand pilots were evacuated by sea to Australia. One aircraft which had not been assembled, was transferred to the RAAF, becoming the only Hurricane to see service in Australia, on training and other non-combat units.
Hurricane V7476, which was evacuated from Singapore and was the only Hurricane based in Australia during the Second World War. Note the tropicalised Vokes air filter which was fitted to many types operating in the Pacific
When a Japanese carrier task force under the command of Admiral Chūichi Nagumo made a sortie into the Indian Ocean in April 1942, RAF Hurricanes based on Ceylon saw action against Nagumo’s forces during attacks on Colombo on 5 April 1942 and on Trincomalee harbour on 9 April 1942.
On 5 April 1942, Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor, led a strike against Columbo with 53 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and 38 Aichi D3A dive bombers, escorted by 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters. They were opposed by 35 Hurricane I and IIBs of 30 and 258 Squadrons, together with six Fairey Fulmars of 803 and 806 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm. The Hurricanes mainly tried to shoot down the attacking bombers, but were engaged heavily by the escorting Zeros. A total of 21 Hurricanes were shot down (although two of these were repairable), together with four Fulmars and six Swordfish of 788 Naval Air Squadron that had been surprised in flight by the raid. While the RAF claimed 18 Japanese aircraft destroyed, seven probably destroyed and nine damaged, with one aircraft claimed by a Fulmar and five by anti-aircraft fire. This compared with actual Japanese losses of one Zero and six D3As, with a further seven D3As, five B5Ns and three Zeros damaged.
On 9 April 1942, the Japanese task force sent 91 B5Ns escorted by 41 Zeros against Trincomalee port and the nearby China Bay airfield. A total of 16 Hurricanes opposed the raid, of which eight were lost with a further three damaged. They claimed eight Japanese aircraft destroyed with a further four probably destroyed and at least five damaged. Actual Japanese losses were three A6Ms and two B5Ns, with a further 10 B5Ns damaged.
The battles over the Arakan in 1943 represented the last large-scale use of the Hurricane as a pure day fighter. But they were still used in the fighter-bomber role in Burma until the end of the war and they were occasionally caught up in air combat as well. For example, on 15 February 1944, Flg Off Jagadish Chandra Verma of No 6 Sqdn of Indian Air Force shot down a Japanese Ki-43 Oscar: it was the only IAF victory of the war. The Hurricane remained in service as a fighter-bomber over the Balkans and at home as well where it was used mainly for second-line tasks and occasionally flown by ace pilots. For example, in mid-1944, ace Sqdn Leader ‘Jas’ Storrar flew No 1687 Hurricane to deliver priority mail to Allied armies in France during the Normandy invasion.
Sea Hurricane Mk IB in formation, December 1941
Aircraft carrier operations
The Sea Hurricane became operational in mid-1941 and scored its first kill while operating from HMS Furious on 31 July 1941. During the next three years, Fleet Air Arm Sea Hurricanes were to feature prominently while operating from Royal Navy aircraft carriers. The Sea Hurricane scored an impressive kill-to-loss ratio,[N 11] primarily while defending Malta convoys, and operating from escort carriers in the Atlantic Ocean. As an example, on 26 May 1944, Royal Navy Sea Hurricanes operating from the escort carrier HMS Nairana claimed the destruction of three Ju 290 reconnaissance aircraft during the defence of a convoy.
The top scoring Hurricane pilot was Squadron Leader Marmaduke “Pat” Pattle, DFC & Bar, with 35 Hawker fighter victories (out of career 50 total, with two shared) serving with No. 80 and 33 Squadrons. All of his Hurricane kills were achieved over Greece in 1941. He was shot down and killed in the Battle of Athens. Wing Commander Frank Reginald Carey claimed 28 air victories while flying Hurricanes during 1939–43, and Squadron Leader William “Cherry” Vale DFC and Bar, AFC totalled 20 kills (of 30) in Greece and Syria with No. 80 Sqdn. Czech pilot F/Lt Karel M. Kuttelwascher achieved all of his 18 air victories with the Hurricane, most as an intruder night fighter with No. 1 Sqdn. Pilot Officer V.C. Woodward (33 and 213 Squadrons) was another top-scoring ace with 14 (out of 18 total, three of which are shared), while F/Lt Richard P. Stevens claimed all of his 14.5 enemy aircraft flying the Hurricane. Richard “Dickie” Cork was the leading Fleet Air Arm Sea Hurricane ace with nine destroyed, two shared, one probable, four damaged and seven destroyed on the ground. Czech pilot Josef František, flying with 303 Polish Squadron, shot down at least 17 enemy aircraft over southeast England during September–October 1940. Polish pilot Witold Urbanowicz, flying with 303 Polish Squadron, shot down at least 17 enemy aircraft over B.o.B. 1940.( 17 + min.2 Japanese in Flying Tiger USAF in China = 19 shot down II W.W. )
- Hurricane Mk I
- First production version, with fabric-covered wings, a wooden two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller, powered by the 1,030 hp (768 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk II or III engines and armed with eight .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns. Produced between 1937 and 1939.
- Hurricane Mk I (revised)
- A revised Hurricane Mk I series built with a de Havilland or Rotol constant speed metal propeller, metal-covered wings, armour and other improvements. In 1939, the RAF had taken on about 500 of this later design to form the backbone of the fighter squadrons.
- Hurricane Mk IIA Series 1
- Hurricane Mk I powered by the improved Merlin XX engine. This new engine used a mix of 30 per cent glycol and 70 per cent water. Pure glycol is flammable, so not only was the new mix safer, but the engine also ran approximately 70 °C cooler, which gave longer engine life and greater reliability. The new engine was longer than the earlier Merlin and so the Hurricane gained a 4.5 in “plug” in front of the cockpit, which made the aircraft slightly more stable due to the slight forward shift in centre of gravity. First flew on 11 June 1940 and went into squadron service in September 1940.
- Hurricane Mk IIB (Hurricane IIA Series 2)
- The Hurricane II B were fitted with racks allowing them to carry two 250 lb or two 500 lb bombs. This lowered the top speed of the Hurricane to 301 mph (484 km/h), but by this point mixed sweeps of Hurricanes protected by a fighter screen of Hurricanes were not uncommon. The same racks would allow the Hurricane to carry two 45-gallon (205 l) drop tanks instead of the bombs, more than doubling the Hurricane’s fuel load.
- Hurricane Mk IIA Series 2 was equipped with new and slightly longer propeller spinner and new wing mounting 12 x .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns. The first aircraft were built in October 1940 and were renamed Mark IIB in April 1941.
- Hurricane Mk IIB Trop.
- For use in North Africa the Hawker Hurricane Mk IIB (and other variants) were tropicalised. They were fitted with Vokes and Rolls Royce engine dust filters and the pilots were issued with a desert survival kit, including a bottle of water behind the cockpit.
- Hurricane Mk IIC (Hurricane Mk IIA Series 2)
- Hurricane Mk IIA Series 1 equipped with new and slightly longer propeller spinner and fully replaced the machine-gun armament with four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk II cannons, two per side. Hurricane IIA Series 2 became the Mk IIC in June 1941, using a slightly modified wing. The new wings also included a hardpoint for a 500 lb (230 kg) or 250 lb (110 kg) bomb, and later in 1941, fuel tanks. By then performance was inferior to the latest German fighters, and the Hurricane changed to the ground-attack role, sometimes referred to as the Hurribomber. The mark also served as a night fighter and intruder.
- Hurricane Mk IID
- Hurricane Mk IIB conversion armed with two 40 mm (1.57 in) anti-tank autocannons in a gondola-style pod, one under each wing and a single Browning machine gun in each wing loaded with tracers for aiming purposes. The first aircraft flew on 18 September 1941 and deliveries started in 1942. Serial built aircraft had additional armour for the pilot, radiator and engine, and were armed with a Rolls-Royce gun with 12 rounds, later changed to the 40 mm (1.57 in) Vickers S gun with 15 rounds. The outer wing attachments were strengthened so that 4G could be pulled at a weight of 8,540 lb (3,874 kg). The weight of guns and armour protection marginally impacted the aircraft’s performance. These Hurricanes were nicknamed “Flying Can Openers”, perhaps a play on the No. 6 Squadron’s logo which flew the Hurricane starting in 1941.
- Hurricane Mk IIE
- Another wing modification was introduced in the Mk IIE, but the changes became extensive enough that it was renamed the Mk IV after the first 250 had been delivered.
- Hurricane Mk T.IIC
- Two-seat training version of the Mk. IIC. Only two aircraft were built for the Persian Air Force.
- Hurricane Mk III
- Version of the Hurricane Mk II powered by a Packard-built Merlin engine, intending to provide supplies of the British-built engines for other designs. By the time production was to have started, Merlin production had increased to the point where the idea was abandoned.
- Hurricane Mk IV
- The last major change to the Hurricane was the introduction of the “universal Wing”, a single design able to mount two 250 lb or 500 lb (110 or 230 kg) bombs, two 40 mm (1.57 in) Vickers S guns, drop tanks or eight “60 pounder” RP-3 rockets. Two .303 in Brownings were fitted to aid aiming of the heavier armament. The new design also incorporated the improved Merlin 24 or 27 engines of 1,620 hp (1,208 kW), equipped with dust filters for desert operations. The Merlin 27 had a redesigned oil system that was better suited to operations in the tropics, and which was rated at a slightly lower altitude in keeping with the Hurricane’s new role as a close-support fighter. The radiator was deeper and armoured. Additional armour was also fitted around the engine.
- Hurricane Mk V
- The final variant to be produced. Only three were built and it never reached production. This was powered by a Merlin 32 boosted engine to give 1,700 hp at low level and was intended as a dedicated ground-attack aircraft to use in Burma. All three prototypes had four-bladed propellers. Speed was 326 mph (525 km/h) at 500 ft, which is comparable with the Hurricane I despite being one and a half times as heavy.
- Hurricane Mk X
- Canadian-built variant. Single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber. Powered by a 1,300 hp (969 kW) Packard Merlin 28. Eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns mounted in the wings. In total, 490 were built.
- Hurricane Mk XI
- Canadian-built variant. 150 were built.
- Hurricane Mk XII
- Canadian-built variant. Single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber. Powered by a 1,300 hp (969 kW) Packard Merlin 29. Initially armed with 12 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, but this was later changed to four 20 mm (.79 in) cannon.
- Hurricane Mk XIIA
- Canadian-built variant. Single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber. Powered by a 1,300 hp (969 kW) Packard Merlin 29, armed with eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns.
- Sea Hurricane Mk IA
- The Sea Hurricane Mk IA was a Hurricane Mk I modified by General Aircraft Limited. These conversions numbered approximately 250 aircraft. They were modified to be carried by CAM ships (catapult armed merchantman), whose ships’ crews were Merchant Marine and whose Hurricanes were crewed and serviced by RAF personnel, or Fighter Catapult Ships, which were Naval Auxiliary Vessels crewed by naval personnel and aircraft operated by the Fleet Air Arm. These ships were equipped with a catapult for launching an aircraft, but without facilities to recover them. Consequently, if the aircraft were not in range of a land base, pilots were forced to bail out or to ditch.
- Both of these options had their problems — there was always a chance of striking part of the fuselage when bailing out and a number of pilots had been killed in this way. Ditching the Hurricane in the sea called for skill as the radiator housing acted as a water brake, pitching the nose of the fighter downwards when it hit the water, while also acting as very efficient scoop, helping to flood the Hurricane so that a quick exit was advisable before the aircraft sank. Then the pilot had to be picked up by the ship. More than 80 modifications were needed to convert a Hurricane into a Sea Hurricane, including new radios to conform with those used by the Fleet Air Arm and new instrumentation to read in knots rather than miles per hour. They were informally known as “Hurricats”.
- The majority of the aircraft modified had suffered wear-and-tear serving with front line squadrons, so much so that at least one example used during trials broke up under the stress of a catapult launching. CAM Sea Hurricanes were launched operationally on eight occasions and the Hurricanes shot down six enemy aircraft for the loss of one Hurricane pilot killed. The first Sea Hurricane IA kill was an FW 200C Condor, shot down on 2 August 1941.
- Sea Hurricane Mk IB
- Hurricane Mk I version equipped with catapult spools plus an arrester hook. From July 1941 they operated from HMS Furious and from October 1941, they were used on Merchant aircraft carrier (MAC ships), which were large cargo vessels with a flight deck fitted, enabling aircraft to be launched and recovered. A total of 340 aircraft were converted. The first Sea Hurricane IB kill occurred on 31 July 1941 when Sea Hurricanes of 880 squadron FAA operating from HMS Furious shot down a Do 18 flying-boat.
- Sea Hurricane Mk IC
- Hurricane Mk I version equipped with catapult spools, an arrester hook and the four-cannon wing. From February 1942, 400 aircraft were converted. The Sea Hurricane IC used during Operation Pedestal had their Merlin III engines modified to accept 16 lb boost, and could generate more than 1400 hp at low altitude. Lt. R. J. Cork was credited with five kills while flying a Sea Hurricane IC during Operation Pedestal.
- Sea Hurricane Mk IIC
- Hurricane Mk IIC version equipped with naval radio gear; 400 aircraft were converted and used on fleet carriers. The Merlin XX engine on the Sea Hurricane generated 1460 hp at 6,250 ft and 1435 hp at 11,000 ft. Top speed was 322 mph at 13,500ft and 342 mph at 22,000 ft.
- Sea Hurricane Mk XIIA
- Canadian-built Hurricane Mk XIIA converted into Sea Hurricanes.
- Hillson F.40 (a.k.a. F.H.40)
- A full-scale version of the Hills & Son Bi-mono slip-wing Biplane/monoplane, using a Hawker Hurricane Mk I returned from Canada as RCAF ser no 321 (RAF serial L1884). Taxi and flight trials carried out at RAF Sealand during May 1943, and at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down from September 1943. The upper wing was not released in flight before the programme was terminated due to poor performance.
- Hurricane Photo Reconnaissance
- In Egypt, the Service Depot at Heliopolis converted several Hurricanes Is for the role. The first three were converted in January 1941. Two carried a pair of F24 cameras with 8-inch focal length lenses. The third carried one vertical and two oblique F24s with 14-inch focal length lenses mounted in the rear fuselage, close to the trailing edge of the wing, and a fairing was built up over the lenses aft of the radiator housing. A further five Hurricanes were modified in March 1941 while two were converted in a similar manner in Malta during April 1941. During October 1941 a batch of six Hurricane IIs was converted to PR Mark II status and a final batch, thought to be of 12 aircraft, was converted in late 1941. The PR Mark II was said to be capable of slightly over 350 mph (563 km/h) and was able to reach 38,000 ft (11,600 m).
- Hurricane Tac R
- For duties closer to the front lines some Hurricanes were converted to Tactical Reconnaissance (Tac R) aircraft. An additional radio was fitted for liaison with ground forces who were better placed to direct the Hurricane. Some Hurricane Tac R aircraft also had a vertical camera fitted in the rear fuselage, so to compensate for the extra weight either one or two Brownings or two cannons would be omitted. Externally these aircraft were only distinguishable by the missing armament.
Hawker Hurricane Mk IVRP with Yugoslav Air Force markings, Museum of Aviation in Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia
Due to its lightweight, yet robust, construction and ease of maintenance, the Hurricane had a long operational life in many theatres of war. It was also built by, or exported to, several other countries. The Hurricane was unusual in that it was flown operationally by both the Allies and the Axis during the war. In some cases (e.g. Portugal) the Hurricane was pressed into service after being forced to land in a neutral country.
In 1939 Latvia ordered 30 Hurricane fighters and paid for them. However, due to the start of the Second World War in September 1939, the aircraft were never delivered.
The last of the 14,533 Hurricanes built, s/n PZ865, . A Mk IIc version, originally known as “The Last of the Many” and owned by Hawker, this aircraft is now flown by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
Of more than 14,500 Hurricanes that were built, only 12 survive in airworthy condition worldwide, although other non-flying examples survive in various air museums.
Specifications (Hurricane Mk.IIC)
A Hawker Hurricane on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution
Data from Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II
- Crew: 1
- Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.84 m)
- Wingspan: 40 ft 0 in (12.19 m)
- Height: 13 ft 1½ in (4.0 m)
- Wing area: 257.5 ft² (23.92 m²)
- Empty weight: 5,745 lb (2,605 kg)
- Loaded weight: 7,670 lb (3,480 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 8,710 lb (3,950 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V-12, 1,185 hp (883 kW) at 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
- Maximum speed: 340 mph (547 km/h) at 21,000 ft (6,400 m) [N 12]
- Range: 600 mi (965 km)
- Service ceiling: 36,000 ft (10,970 m)
- Rate of climb: 2,780 ft/min (14.1 m/s)
- Wing loading: 29.8 lb/ft² (121.9 kg/m²)
- Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (0.25 kW/kg)
- Guns: 4 × 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk II cannon
- Bombs: 2 × 250 or 500 lb (110 or 230 kg) bombs
Hawker Hurricane Mk. I