The Hawker Tempest was developed in an attempt to solve problems that occurred when the Typhoon reached very high speeds, especially in the dive. Sidney Camm, the chief designer at Hawker, produced a new thinner wing, with a semi-elliptical shape somewhat reminiscent of those used on the Spitfire. Work on the new design, initially designated as the Typhoon II, began in March 1940.
In November 1941 Hawker received an order for two prototypes. Early in 1942 this was increased to six, using five different engines, in case further problems developed with the Napier Sabre engine. Each of these engines was allocated a mark number. The Mk I was powered by the Sabre IV, the Mk II by the Centaurus IV radial engine, the Mk III by the Rolls Royce Griffon IIB, the Mk IV by the Griffon 61 and the Mk V by a slightly improved version of the Sabre II used in the Typhoon. This designation of multiple mark numbers to the prototypes is the reason that the Mk V was the first version of the Tempest to enter service.
The prototype Tempest Mk V, with its familiar engine, was the first to take to the air, on 2 September 1942. The new aircraft was very similar to the Typhoon, using the same cockpit canopy as early production Typhoons, and the same distinctive chin radiator. The thinner wing lacked the space for fuel tanks, and so a 22cm long extension was placed between the cockpit and the engine to contain a new fuel tank. A series of minor modifications followed between then and the end of the year, and the prototype recorded a speed of 466 mph at 24,500ft.
Although the Mk V was the least ambitious of all of the Tempest prototypes, its performance was sufficiently impressive for it to be ordered into production. Of the other four original variants, only the Mk II would enter production.
The first production Tempest V made its first flight on 21 June 1943. When armed with four 20mm cannon the Tempest achieved a top speed of 432mph at 18,400 feet. In comparison the Griffon powered Spitfire Mk XII had a top speed of 397 mph at 18,000 ft.
Two more variants of the Tempest would enter production, but too late to see active service. The Tempest II was powered by the Centaurus V radial engine, using experience gained by examining the engine cowling of captured Fw 190s. The Tempest II would have seen service against Japan if an invasion had been needed. The Tempest II was used by the occupying forces in Germany. The Tempest VI used the Sabre V engine, and was used by five RAF squadrons based in the Middle East.
The first squadron to receive the Tempest Mk V was No. 486, which began to receive the aircraft in January 1944, replacing its Typhoons. Along with No. 3 Squadron it became operational in April 1944. The two squadrons, together with No. 56, formed the first Tempest Wing at Newchurch, Kent (although to start with No. 56 retained its Spitfire IXs), under the command of Wing Commander Roland Beamont.
After a brief period operating over France in the week after D-Day, the Tempest Wing was withdrawn to deal with the V-1 Flying Bomb. The flying bomb came in low and fast, at around 2000 feet and 400 mph. The Tempest was judged to have the best chance of catching this new weapon, capable of matching its speed at low level. Between June and August 1944, Tempest pilots claimed 800 of the 1,771 V-1s shot down by the RAF, 638 of them by the Newchurch Wing alone.
Once the allied advance stopped the V-1 campaign, the Tempest squadrons were free to return to attacks on the continent. Unlike the Typhoon, which specialised in the ground attack role, the Tempest could hold its own in air-to-air combat. The seven Tempest squadrons of the 2nd Tactical Air Force claimed 240 confirmed and thirteen probable kills. Amongst them were at least 20 Me 262s, a number of Arado Ar 234s and one He 162. The Tempest squadrons did fly their fair share of ground attack missions, particularly what was known as armed reconnaissance, or search and destroy missions.
1,401 produced, some post-war
Engine: Napier Sabre IIB 24 cylinder H-form sleeve valve
Span: 41ft 0in
Length: 33ft 8in
Max Speed: 392mph at sea level, 426mph at 18,500ft
Range: 1,580 miles with drop tanks, 740 miles on internal fuel
Armament: Four 20mm cannon
Payload: two 1,000lb bombs or eight 60lb rockets