Hurricane in Combat - Mk I - Mk II - Mk III - Mk IV - Mk V - Mk X-XII
The Hawker Hurricane was the first monoplane fighter to enter service in the R.A.F. (if not the first monoplane fighter in British service – the Royal Flying Corp had flown the Bristol M.1C in 1917). It was developed by Sydney Camm, the chief designer at the H G Hawker Engineering company since 1925. For the next eight years, while Hawker continued to produce biplanes, Camm prepared for the move to the monoplane. In 1933 he began work on a conversion of the Hawker Fury biplane, but this was soon abandoned in favour of a new aircraft based around the upcoming Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.
At first this work was based around the F.5/34 specification, for an eight gunned monoplane fighter. However, in August 1934 this was replaced by F.36/34, based on Camm’s own design, but with the number of guns reduced to four. This would have resulted in a similar configuration to that used on the Bf 109, with two guns in the wings and two in the fuselage. Camm submitted his design on 4 September 1934. Five months later, on 21 February 1935 he was given approval for the construction of a prototype. It would take most of the rest of 1935 to construct that prototype. During that period the guns were increased back to eight, four in each wing.
The first prototype flew on 6 November 1935. It made an immediate impact, reaching a top speed of 315 mph at 16,200 feet. The Bf 109 would not reach these speeds until the appearance of the E series in early 1939. The Hurricane was also much more heavily armed than the German aircraft. Its eight .303 inch Browning machine guns gave it four times the firepower of the prototype Bf 109, with its two 7.92 mm (.311 inches) MG 17 guns (a third machine gun was soon added to the Bf 109, and 20mm cannon eventually followed).
Despite its impressive speed and armament, the Hurricane was in many ways an old fashioned aircraft. While the Spitfire and the Bf 109 used the new stressed skin method of construction, the Hurricane was constructed in the same way as Hawker’s earlier biplanes – a fabric skin over a framework made of metal tubes. The tail and fuselage were barely modified from the earlier Fury. As a result, there was less scope to improve the performance of the Hurricane as a fighter than with the Spitfire or the Bf109, both of which remained in use a fighter aircraft to the end of the war.
The Hurricane Mk I was a superior aircraft to the Bf 109 B-1 that appeared at the same time. It outgunned it and outpaced it – the 109B-1 could reach 292 mph at 13,120 feet while the Hurricane Mk I was capable of 324 mph at 15,600 feet. However, by the outbreak of war the picture had changed around. The German fighter had been the subject of a series of major modifications before the war, and the major version in use in 1939-40 was the 109E. This had a top speed of 348 mph at 14,560 feet. Of the two main variants in use during the battle of Britain, the E-1 was under gunned compared to the Hurricane, with four machine guns, but the E-4 could boast two wing-mounted cannons, giving expert pilots a much bigger punch.
The Hurricane would have a short lifespan as a front line fighter aircraft on the western front. Even as it was winning the battle of Britain, it was being superseded in that role by the Supermarine Spitfire. However, in other theatres the Hurricane I and II continued to serve in that role for much longer.
Mk I (Early)
The first production Hurricane Mk I took to the skies on 12 October 1937. The first production aircraft used the Merlin II engine, to power a two bladed wooden propeller. The first squadron to receive the new aircraft was No. 111 at Northolt, which received a wing of Hurricanes in November 1937.
Mk I (Late)
The Hurricane Mk I saw continual development during its production run. Major changes were made to the wings, engine and armour. The Merlin III engine replaced the Merlin II. The two bladed propeller was replaced by either the de Havilland Hamilton three bladed two-pitch propeller, or a Rotol three bladed propeller. Camm had been working on metal covered wings for the Hurricane for some time, and they became standard during the production run of the Mk I. Finally, news of the 20mm cannon on the Bf 109 resulted in the addition of armour plating in front of the cockpit, and an armoured windscreen.
Mk I (PR)
A desperate need for better photo reconnaissance aircraft in the Middle East and Far East led to the conversion of a small number of Hurricane Mk Is to carry cameras. The earliest examples were converted in the field at Heliopolis (Egypt), and carried two or three cameras. The Hurricane did not really have the range to make a truly effective reconnaissance aircraft in these theatres, and although a number of Mk II Hurricanes were also converted to this role, they were replaced by longer range aircraft when possible.
Merlin III, providing 1,030 hp (some early models had the Merlin II)
254 mph at sea level (prototype did 290)
324 mph at 15,600 feet (prototype did 312 at 20,000 feet)
Eight wing mounted Browning .303 machine guns.
Prototype – 33,600ft
Prototype – 525 miles