Single-Seat Fighter / Ground Attack Aircraft
The true star of the Battle of Britain of World War 2 became the rugged and reliable Hawker Hurricane monoplane fighter.
Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited:
The Hawker Hurricane was the culmination of a series of capable metal biplane fighters evolved by the Hawker concern throughout the 1920s. The Hurricane's fuselage shape and design borrowed much from the preceding Hawker "Fury" biplane line that the Hurricane was known or a time as the "Fury Monoplane". It is perhaps best known as the true star of the "Battle of Britain" engulfing Europe during the summer of 1940. In the campaign, the German Luftwaffe attempted to subdue the British by a relentless air attack sent ahead of its ground invasion force (the proposed "Operation Sea Lion"). The Hurricane outnumbered the competing - and far more popular - Supermarine Spitfire by two-to-one in the inventory of Fighter Command and proved its most valuable asset against hordes of incoming enemy aircraft. The Hurricane went on to account for more enemy aircraft destroyed in the battle than any other British weapon - including the Spitfire and any ground-based cannon fire - such was its importance to the British defense. Beyond its wartime exploits, the Hurricane became the Royal Air Force's (RAF) first monoplane fighter and its first capable of exceeding the 300 mile per hour barrier.
Design of the aircraft was attributed to aeronautical engineer Sidney Camm (1893-1966) who also lent his design talents to the wartime Hawker Typhoon and Tempest fighter-bombers. In the post-war years, he helped further the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Harrier "jumpjet" and the Hawker Hunter jet fighter programs which reached their own level of fame during the Cold War.
The aircraft that would become the Hurricane was developed progressively from a 1933 initiative posed by the Directorate of Technical Development which sought to move away from biplane aircraft into the realm of the monoplane. Camm began work on such an aircraft while borrowing some of the successful elements of his existing Fury biplane fighter. The aircraft would seat a single operator and be powered by the new Rolls-Royce PV.12 inline piston engine (to become the famous "Merlin"). Unlike the Fury, the new fighter would feature a monoplane wing assembly, enclosed cockpit, and a retractable undercarriage. It continued Hawker's use of a steel tube understructure covered over in fabric and not a stressed-metal skin approach encountered with more modern designs. The approach proved not as complicated to repair and manufacture though it did make the aircraft something of a technological dead end product - unable to be evolved past a certain form. The original 4 x machine gun wing armament was increased to 8 x machine guns when a Colt-Browning license was secured to locally-produce the American gun in Britain. The guns were to be held in two groups of four to each wing and did not require synchronization gear to fire through the spinning propeller blades - further simplifying Camm's approach.
British authorities were sold on the concept and developed fighter Specification F.36/34 in 1934 around the promising Hawker design. First flight of a prototype Hurricane aircraft occurred on November 6th, 1935 and it only became known as the "Hurricane" in June of 1936. An order for 600 aircraft followed.
First flight of a production-quality Hurricane was on October 12th, 1937 and the type was formally taken into RAF stock during December of that year as the "Hurricane Mk I", replacing the aging fleet of Gloster Gauntlets at RAF Northolt. In 1938, first deliveries for foreign customers in Belgium, Iran, Portugal, and Yugoslavia began.
Hurricane Mk I
The Hurricane Mk I was fielded with the Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine of 1,030 horsepower driving a two-blade propeller arrangement. Its armament was the classic 8 x 7.7mm Colt-Browning machine gun battery with four guns fitted to a wing. This is the mark that served with Fighter Command during the pivotal Battle of Britain in 1940. Earlier in 1939, these aircraft also served from French soil during the German steamroll of Western Europe. Production of the Mk I totaled 3,164 units. British production was through Hawker, Gloster, and the Austin Motor Company.
1,715 Hurricanes were fielded with Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. It accounted for 60% of all aerial victories by the RAF, such was its importance in the battle.
The Mk I was eventually re-engined with the Rolls-Royce Merlin III series for improved performance. It also received metal wings to help modernize the combat aircraft some. This revised Mk I was on hand from 1939 onwards and saw production reach 500.
An Mk I was also fitted with the Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine of 1,185 horsepower and went on to serve as the testbed for the upcoming Mk II variant.
Hurricane Mk II
The Hurricane Mk II variant appeared from September 1940 onwards and brought along the improved Rolls-Royce Merlin XX two-stage supercharged engine beginning with the IIA fighter mark. Total production was 6,656 units and included the Mk IIA, Mk IIB, Mk IIC, and Mk IID forms. The Hurricane Mk IIA fitted the improved Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine of 1,280 horsepower and retained the 8 x machine gun arrangement of the original Mk Is. Hurricane IIA models were seen over the Far East from 1942 onwards.
The Hurricane Mk IIB then followed and were differentiated by their twelve-machine-gun armament, fitting six machine guns to a wing. Testing centered around use of fuel drop tanks for improved ferry ranges led to a more developed wing which allowed for the carrying of underwing stores - initially 2 x 250lb bombs and then 2 x 500lb bombs. The aircraft was then nicknamed "the Hurribomber" as a result and, while slower, broadened the tactical value of the aircraft as a fighter-bomber. The Mk IIB was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V12 piston engine developing 1,280 horsepower. This provided for a maximum speed of 341 miles per hour with a climb rate to 20,000 feet of 9 minutes. Service ceiling was 35,600 feet and range out to 460 miles.
IIB production models were later fitted with camera equipment for the photo-reconnaissance role as PR.IIB. The Soviet Navy took on 24 Mk IIB models in a first-batch delivery and operated these beginning in the summer of 1941.
The Hurricane Mk IIC introduced a 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon arrangement which fit two cannons to each wing, providing a hefty punch of firepower against air-, land-, and sea-based targets. The mark arrived during 1941 and was also able to carry 2 x 500lb bombs under the wings (one bomb to a wing). Power was served through 1 x Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V-12 piston engine of 1,280 horsepower. Performance included a maximum speed of 336 miles per hour at 12,500 feet, a climb-rate of 20,000 feet in 9.1 minutes, and a service ceiling reaching 35,600 feet. With performance outmatched by the latest German fighters, the Hurricane was officially seen as a primary ground attack plane and no longer the fighter/interceptor it once was intended to be.
As with the IIB models, IIC production forms were outfitted with camera equipment to become photo-reconnaissance PR.IIC variants.
The Hurricane Mk IID appeared during 1942 as a tank-killing / "tank buster" mount that installed 2 x 40mm Vickers "S" anti-tank gun pods, one under each wing, to provide the necessary firepower in defeating enemy armor. These additionally fielded 2 x 7.7mm machine guns in their wings. The mark proved particularly useful in the tank battles of North Africa and was a favored version for Soviet pilots over the East Front - especially over Kuban and Kursk in 1943. Indeed, the Mk IID tank buster form was used by No.6 Squadron to help support Free French forces during the Battle of Bir Hakeim (Libya) during May to June of 1942. While it proved an Axis victory, the French were successful in delaying the victors and allowed fresh British divisions to arrive at Al-Alamein. Some sixty Mk IID aircraft were delivered for service in the Middle East. With the arrival of Mk II variants in quantity, growing numbers of Hurricane Mk Is were also shipped for service in the Middle East.
Hurricane Mk IV
The Hurricane Mk IV was the first Hurricane mark to introduce use of the "universal wing" to the line and the last major Hurricane variant to be seen. The universal wing approach allowed a single Hurricane airframe to be modified to fit whatever combat role was needed by way of specially-designed wings that could carry any and all cleared Hurricane weaponry. In this fashion, the fighter form could be quickly converted to a fighter-bomber or tank-killer and sent airborne without the need to have dedicated aircraft for such roles on hand. Support was added for 8 x 60lb unguided rockets (4 under each wing) or any munitions options made introduced since the Mk II variant. This sort of development clearly extended the battlefield usefulness of the Hurricane line when it proved clear that its days as a frontline fighter were clearly behind it. While the line had given up ground to more competitive designs over Europe, this mark allowed the Hurricane to play an important role in actions over the Pacific and Far East. Hurricanes of No.20 Squadron were responsible for the destruction of thirteen Japanese Army tanks in their march on Rangoon. The Mk IV variant featured Rolls-Royce Merlin XXIV or Merlin XXVII engines of 1,620 horsepower and some 2,575 total aircraft were produced. Thirty Mk IV aircraft were shipped for service to the Middle East.
The short-lived Hurricane Mk V variant were three developmental airframes designed for up-rated versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin XXXII engines with four-bladed propeller units. These were not adopted.
Canada produced a total of 1,451Hurricanes across the Mk X, Mk XI, and Mk XII variations. The Mk X fitted a Packard Merlin 28 engine of 1,300 horsepower and 8 x gun wings. 490 were produced. The Mk XI saw production reach 150 units. The Mk XII were fitted with 12 x machine guns and then later 4 x 20mm cannons in the wings. The MK XIIA reverted back to 8 x wing machine guns. Canadian production was through the Canadian Car and Foundry Company of Montreal.
The Soviet Union received about 2,952 Hurricane aircraft via Lend-Lease.
The Sea Hurricane
The "Sea Hurricane" became a navalized version of the land-based Hurricane complete with catapult equipment and arrestor hook and appeared from 1941 onwards. Modifications were handled through General Aircraft Limited. These served from merchant ships and Royal Navy escort carriers where needed. In the former form, the aircraft were launched from catapults ("Hurricats") and typically ditched by pilots post-mission. In the latter form, the Sea Hurricane was used to pound offshore enemy positions, defend maritime routes, or engage enemy shipping directly. Approximately 825 Sea Hurricanes were delivered, these in an Mk I and Mk II production form. The Canadian mark was Mk XIIA.
Hawker Hurricane Walk-Around
Design of the Hawker Hurricane showcased its interwar roots, taking much of the design lines from the previous Hawker line of metal biplane fighters. Internally, the Hurricane continued use of a metal tubular structure covered over in fabric skin. While far from the all-modern mounts appearing with stressed metal skins, the Hurricane's structure allowed it to absorb all manner of punishment before falling. As a monoplane design, rounded monoplane wings were set low under the aircraft and ahead of midships. The engine resided in a forward compartment and capped by an aerodynamic spinner. Early versions of the aircraft drove a two-bladed propeller but this quickly gave way to a standard three-bladed design. The cockpit was set just aft of the engine installation and housed under a greenhouse-style sliding canopy. The downward-sloping nose of the aircraft was a chief quality for it allowed for better vision over the engine that that of the long-nose Spitfire. The raised fuselage spine restricted rearward views but allowed for the necessary internal volume required for avionics controls, fuel, and structural supports. The tail was elegantly shaped and capped by a rounded vertical tail fin. Mid-mounted horizontal planes were affixed to either side of the fin. The undercarriage was of a tail-dragger arrangement featuring two single-wheeled main legs and a small tail wheel. Only the main legs retracted under the aircraft, the tail wheel remaining exposed in flight.
All in all, the Hurricane brought along rather modern qualities in her design - the enclosed cockpit, monoplane wings, and retractable undercarriage. The original offering with its 8 x machine gun armament made her one of the best armed military fighter aircraft of the period. Pilots certainly enjoyed her speed and maneuverability in action with some preferring her over the more famous Spitfire. Over time, the Hurricane's speed was not so much of a quality, outdone by ever-improving types. The design, as a whole, was essentially a technological dead end - her fabric over steel tube construction not up to par with more advanced, modern types appearing by war's end - leading to her removal from frontline service with the British in short order during 1947.
Total production of Hurricanes reached 14,583 aircraft. Operators beyond the UK eventually included Australia, Egypt, France, Finland, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Turkey and others.