A Brief History
On November 6, 1935, the Hawker Hurricane, the first modern British fighter plane, made its first flight. Although destined to live hidden in the glow of the Supermarine Spitfire, almost 15,000 Hurricanes were built from 1937 to 1944, and this rugged warrior was the primary British fighter during the Battle of Britain, accounting for 60% of the air-to-air kills.
The Spitfire, utilizing the same famous Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engine and armed with the same 8 x .303 caliber machine guns as the Hurricane, made its first flight only a few months after the Hurricane’s maiden flight. Whereas the Hurricane was built with fabric-covered wings until 1939, the Spitfire was made with aluminum skinned wings right from the start.
The Hurricane used improved versions of the Merlin engine as its career progressed; the Spitfire likewise was made with increasingly more powerful engines such as the Rolls-Royce Griffon. The Spitfire, however, stayed on cutting edge of performance while the Hurricane eventually became outdated by improvements in German fighters. From the onset of the World War II, at 340 mph, the Hurricane was not quite as fast as either the Spitfire or the German Bf-109, though a switch to 100 octane gasoline (from 87 octane) boosted its performance, as did improved propellers and engines. Surprisingly, considering all the favoritism accorded the highly maneuverable Spitfires and Bf-109s, the Hurricane could actually outturn both of them.
Little credit is given to the Hurricane for saving Britain during the Battle of Britain, with the Spitfire getting most of the attention. The Hurricane did continue to make major contributions to the war effort as a fighter bomber and in its support of Allied troops in the ground attack role, proving quite adept at these tasks. It was also adapted to be able to fly off convoy escort aircraft carriers and merchant ships with catapults.
The Hurricane was also a formidable bomber interceptor and was eventually equipped for use as a night fighter. Later armed with 12 x .303 caliber machine guns or 4 x 20mm cannons, it was a fearsome foe to enemy bombers and vehicles on the ground. (By contrast, the American P-51 Mustang was armed with only 6 x .50 caliber machine guns, better armament than the Hurricane‘s original 8 machine guns, but less than the firepower of 12 machine guns or 4 cannons.) For the ground attack role, Hurricanes were adapted to carry 2 x 500-pound bombs or air-to-ground rockets or even 40mm cannons.
One of the key factors that made the Hurricane so valuable was that it required only about 10,000 man hours to build, while 15,000 man hours were required to build one Spitfire, a massive difference that helped the British as the Germans pulled attrition warfare on them by attempting to wear them down to the point of collapse during the Air Battle for Britain. History and Headlines Fact: The top Hurricane Ace was Squadran Leader Marmaduke Battle (his actual name) who shot down 35 enemy planes while flying a Hurricane (and 15 others flying other aircraft.)
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you agree with this assessment of the Hurricane being one of the most underrated planes of World War II, or do you have a different favorite underdog? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Airfix Hawker Hurricane MkI Model Kit (1:72 Scale). Hornby, 2014.
Caruana, Richard J. Hawker Hurricane – Famous Aircraft of the World No. 2 (6002). Squadron/Signal Publications, 2007.
Hiscock, Melvyn. Hawker Hurricane: Inside and Out. The Crowood Press, 2003.
Mason, Francis. The Hawker Hurricane. Crecy Publishing, 2010.