Hawker Sea Fury - Development and Service Record

RAF Prototypes
Navy Prototypes
Service and Combat
Overseas Service

The Hawker Sea Fury was the most powerful piston engined fighter to serve with the Royal Navy, seeing most service during the Korean War, despite having originally been developed as a light-weight long range fighter intended for RAF service in the war against Japan. The Japanese onslaught of 1942 found the RAF without a high quality long range fighter. The Spitfire lacked range while the long range American fighters had not yet appeared. The Hawker Tempest was promising, but it was considered to be too heavy and therefore not agile enough to deal with the nimble but light Japanese fighters. The Air Ministry responded by issuing Specification F.6/42, for a light-weight fighter aircraft.

A number of companies produced designs to specification F.6/42. Boulton Paul produced four unconventional designs in the P.98, P.99, P.100 and P.101 designs, including three pusher aircraft and a staggered winged biplane! Other designs may have been produced by Folland, Westland, English Electric and Miles. Hawker responded with a lightweight version of the Hawker Tempest, with amongst other new features a modified wing that removed the original centre section and had the two outer wing panels meet at the aircraft centre line.

The original specification may have been influenced by the fortunate acquisition of an intact Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3, which landed at RAF Pembrey on 23 June 1942 after its pilot mistakenly believed he was over a German airfield in France. This aircraft was examined in great detail after its capture, and this data is sometimes stated to have had a significant influence on the design of the Fury. The only problem with this argument is that the Fury was similar to the Hawker Tempest, which was already in existence by June 1942.

The Air Ministry selected the Hawker design for further development, and in January 1943 issued specification F.2/43, written around the 'Tempest Light Fighter (Centaurus)'. In February the Royal Navy issued its own specification for a light weight long range fighter, N.7/43. Sydney Camm, Hawker's chief designer, realised that his aircraft could satisfy both specifications, and asked for F.2/43 to be revised to include the naval design. Both versions were then designed to the modified specification F.2/43, before early in 1944 a new Naval specification, N.22/43, was issued, containing the details of the naval conversion, including folding wings, the arrestor hook and catapult attachments.

In April 1944 orders were placed for 200 Furies to specification F.2/43 and 200 Sea Furies to N.22/43 (the names weren't allocated until 1945, so the earliest prototypes used the specifications as a name). Hawker was to build all of the Furies and half of the Sea Furies, while the other half would be built by Boulton Paul. The Fury and Sea Fury names came in 1945, just in time for the Fury to be cancelled and the Sea Fury order slashed in half.

RAF Prototypes

In mid-1943 six Fury prototypes were ordered under contract No.26430/43. Two were to be powered by the Rolls Royce Griffon, two by the Bristol Centaurus XXII, one by the Centaurus XII and one was to be completed without an engine to be used in structural tests. Only three of these original Fury prototypes would be completed, although Hawker would built a fourth prototype after the war.

Hawker allocated three internal project numbers to the Fury - P.1018 for those powered by the Napier Sabre IV, P.1019 for the Rolls-Royce Griffon and P.1020 for the Bristol Centaurus.

The first prototype, NX798, made its maiden flight on 1 September 1944 with Philip Lucas at the controls, still officially named the F.2/43. It was powered by a rigidly mounted Centaurus XII engine, providing 2,300hp, and had a four bladed Rotol propeller. The Centaurus engine was not very reliable, and NX798 had to make a number of forced landings, including one belly landing.

The second aircraft to fly was the third prototype, LA610, powered by a Rolls Royce Griffon engine driving a six-blade contra rotating propeller, and now officially named as the Fury. Its maiden flight came on 27 November 1944, but although this combination of engine and propeller worked well it was not followed up, and during 1946 LA610 was given a Napier Sabre VII.

The second prototype, NX802, was the third to fly, making its maiden flight on either 25 or 27 July 1945, having been purchased from the Air Ministry by Hawker. It was powered by the Centaurus XII at first and later by the Centaurus XVIII as used in production aircraft. It was the last of the original prototypes to fly. It was later used for racing, before being sold to Pakistan as part of a post-war order.

The fourth and final Fury prototype, VP207, was produced in 1947 by Hawker to test out a wide-tolerance Sabre VII engine. Hawker believed that there would be a market for a high performance piston engined aircraft in countries that could not afford jet aircraft. This aircraft reached a top speed of 485mph, making it the fastest piston engined aircraft ever built by Hawker. Despite this the Sabre powered Fury failed to find a market. 

Navy Prototypes

By the start of 1944 the final naval requirements were known, and a new specification, N.22/43 was drawn up. Three prototypes were ordered under contract 27022/44, while N.22/43 would be used as the basis for the original order for 200 Sea Furies.

The first prototype Sea Fury, SR661, made its maiden flight on 21 February 1945, again with Philip Lucas at the controls. This aircraft had fixed wings and a short tail hook, and was powered by a rigidly mounted Centaurus XII engine driving a four-bladed propeller. 

In May SR661 went to the A&AEE at Boscombe Down for handling trials and deck landing tests. A number of problems were uncovered. The short fin and rudder meant that the aircraft swung from side to side during take-off, not an acceptable feature on a carrier aircraft. The rigid engine mounting caused excessive engine vibration. As a result any sudden application of power (as when aborting a landing) caused the engine to over-speed, while the throttle response was often too slow. The stability problems were solved by installed a taller rudder, while the engine problems would only disappear with the introduction of dynafocal engine base mounts on the third Sea Fire prototype. This aircraft made the type's first deck landing, on HMS Ocean on 10 August 1945.

In 1945, with the war clearly coming to an end Britain began to scale down future aircraft production. The Fury was an easy victim. Long range fighters were now available in large numbers, most notably the P-51 Mustang, while at the same time the need for them was decreasing as the Americans captured a series of islands close to Japan. The entire RAF order for Hawker Furies was cancelled, while the Royal Navy order was cut in half when production at Boulton Paul was cancelled. Only one Sea Fury would ever be built by Boulton Paul, the third prototype.

The Royal Navy decided to continue work on the Sea Fury for a number of reasons. Although a new generation of jet aircraft were under development there was no guarantee that they would arrive on time. The Supermarine Seafire lacked range and wasn't really rugged enough for carrier operations. The Fairey Firefly was a decent long range fighter. The Corsair and other American fighters would be lost at the end of the war. The Sea Fury was thus retained to make sure that the Fleet Air Arm actually had a high quality fighter.

The second prototype Sea Fury, SR666, made its maiden flight on 12 October 1945. This was the first fully navalised aircraft, with folding wings, the longer rudder, a five bladed propeller, a longer tail hook and a lockable tail wheel. It was powered by the Centaurus XXI. This aircraft was used for gunnery trails at Boscombe Down early in 1946, then for catapult proofing tests during the summer and for deck landing trials on HMS Victorious.

Boulton Paul's only Sea Fury, VB857, was built to the same standard as SR666. It was originally powered by a Centaurus XV, but was soon given the Centaurus XXII on a dynafocal mounting that eliminated the vibration, over-speeding and slow clutch control problems that had plagued the earlier aircraft. It made its maiden flight on 31 January 1946, having been completed by Hawker after Boulton Paul's contract was cancelled. One problem that was not solved was that carbon monoxide tended to leak through the firewall into the cockpit, forcing the oxygen mask to be worn at all times when the engine was running. VB857 was used in 1948 to clear the Sea Fury for Rocket Assisted Take-off.


The Sea Fury was similar to the Hawker Tempest, but with a reduced wing span and lower overall weight. Like the Tempest it has an all-metal stressed skin fuselage, built in three sections that were bolted together, and with the tail as a fourth section. The front section contained the radial engine an the centre section the pilot's cockpit, with the join coming just above the wing centre section.

The wing was built in three parts - a single centre section and two outer panels. The wheels were located close to the folding point, giving the Sea Fury a wide wheel base that gave it much better stability and carrier landing characteristics than the Seafire. The four 20mm cannon were mounted on the inner wing section.

The Sea Fury had five internal fuel tanks, two in the main fuselage, one between the spars in each wing and one in the starboard wing's leading edge, giving it an internal capacity of 200 gallons. It could also carry up to 180 gallons in two 90 gallon under-wing drop tanks for a potential total of 380 gallons. The wings were hydraulically folded and locked.


Fury Mk I

The Hawker Fury Mk I would have been the designation for the first production version of the RAF's land based version of the aircraft.

Sea Fury Mk X

The first fifty aircraft were completed as the Sea Fury Mk X, and were seen as an air superiority fighter, although they could carry two bombs under the wings.

Sea Fury FB 11

The Sea Fury FB 11 was the main production version of the aircraft, with 565 completed. The FB 11 could carry a wider range of stores under its wings, and served as a ground attack aircraft during the Korean War.

Sea Fury T 20

The Sea Fury T 20 was a two-seat trainer, originally produced as a private venture by Hawker, but then adopted by the Fleet Air Arm

Sea Fury TT 20

The TT.20 was a target tow developed from the T.20 in the late 1950s in response to an order from West Germany.

Sea Fury F/FB 50

This was the designation given to aircraft exported to the Netherlands

Sea Fury FB 60

The Sea Fury F.60 was the designation given to single-seat aircraft exported to Pakistan and possibly to those exported to Iraq.

Sea Fury T 61

The T.61 was the designation given to two-seater trainers exported to Pakistan.

Service and Combat

The Sea Fury was cleared for service use in the summer of 1947, and soon afterwards entered service with No.807 Squadron at Eglinton, Northern Island. By February 1948 the Sea Fury Mk.X had been received by Nos.802, 803, 806 and 807 Squadrons, but later in the same year it was phased out in favour of the Sea Fury FB.11. This entered service with No.802 Squadron in May 1948, followed by Nos.801, 803, 804, 805, 807 and 808 Squadrons. The FB.11 was the Fleet Air Arm's main single-seat fighter during the Korean War. 

Korean War

During the Korean War the Royal Navy, with help from the Australians, kept one aircraft carrier on the front line from the start of the war to the end, and the Sea Fury was present on most of those carriers.

A standard patrol in Korea consisted of eleven days on station, four days on, three days off for replenishment, another four days on before returning to Japan for rest and relief. During this period each aircraft would fly an average of two or three sorties per day, although that could rise to much higher levels on occasion. Each carrier would carry out a series of patrols before being replaced by a new ship, although some experienced crews would be transferred to the newcomer to pass on their advice. The Sea Fury was used for a mix of combat air patrols and ground-attack missions, both armed reconnaissance behind the North Korean lines and close air support near the front line. Armed reconnaissance missions were controlled by a central Joint Operations Centre, while close air support was controlled by twelve Tactical Air Command Posts.

When North Korean troops invaded the South on 25 June 1950 HMS Triumph had just finished a tour of Japan. She was equipped with Seafires and Fireflies, so the Sea Fury didn't make its Korean combat debut until October 1950, when the Triumph was replaced by HMS Theseus, carrying the Sea Furies of No.807 Squadron.

The Theseus was available for operations from 9-22 October, and flew her first combat sortie on 10 October. One Sea Fury was shot down by ground fire, but the pilot was rescued by an American helicopter. This rescue organisation would be a theme of the Korean War, and was a great boost to morale. The Theseus returned to the operational area in late November, and during December flew 630 sorties in seventeen days. By the time she withdrew in April 1951 her Sea Furies and Fireflies had flown 3,489 sorties, an average of 120 for each aircraft!

HMS Glory took over in May 1951, with the Sea Furies of No.804 Squadron. She remained off Korea until September 1951, flying 2,892 operational sorties and taking part in Operation Strangle, an attack on enemy communications, then in an offensive that began in July 1951 that pushed the enemy back across the 38th Parallel, and in the fighting against the enemy counterattack that forced the fighting back to the June 1950 line. This was the first of HMS Glory's three combat tours off Korea.

Next to arrive was HMAS Sydney, with the Sea Furies of Nos.805 and 808 Squadrons, RAN. She remained until January 1952, and flew an average of 55 sorties on each of the 43 days with suitably flying weather.

HMS Glory's second spell was a short one, and ran from March-April 1952, although 689 sorties were still flown.

She was then replaced by HMS Ocean, with the Sea Furies of No.802 Squadron. No.802 Squadron saw two 'firsts'. The squadron was the first to operate with 1,000lb bombs and rocket assisted take-off gear, a move that almost begin with a disaster when the commander of No.802 Squadron, making the first flight, forgot to fire his rockets! Fortunately he had gained enough speed to stagger into the air, although only after disappearing below the end of the flight deck.

This tour saw the Sea Furies and Fireflies come up against the MiG-15, and saw the first Sea Fury victory over the Soviet jet fighter, when in August Lt P. Carmichael shot down a MiG while flying a Sea Fury FB.11.

HMS Glory returned in September 1952 with No.801 Squadron. By the end of this third tour of duty the Glory had completed twenty-five combat patrols, the most carried out by any British carrier. This third tour continued until May 1953, when she was replaced by HMS Ocean, with No.807 Squadron. The Ocean remained in place until the Armistice ending the fighting was signed on 27 July 1953.

Between them the aircraft from the one Australian and four British carriers had flow 23,000 operational sorties, losing only 22 men in combat, a remarkable record. The Sea Fury had proved to be a very successful ground attack aircraft, capable of carrying a useful weapon load and of surviving in the skies over Korea.

In the aftermath of the Korean War the Sea Fury was quickly replaced in front line units. First to lose it was No.803 Squadron, which converted to the Supermarine Attacker in November 1951. Nos.801, 804 and 808 Squadrons kept the Sea Fury intil 1943, before converting to the Hawker Sea Hawk jet fighter.

The Sea Fury was also used by the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, starting with Nos.1831 and 1836 Squadrons. By early 1955 six RNVR squadrons were equipped with the Sea Fury, but by the end of the year most had replaced it with either the Attacker or the Sea Hawk, and the remaining RNVR squadrons were disbanded in July 1957.

Overseas Service

Pakistan (93 aircraft)

The first Fury to reach Pakistan was the F.2/43 prototype NX802, which was ordered in March 1949. This was followed by an order for fifty aircraft with the designation FB.60 (F.60 in some sources), placed in 1950, then by orders for 24 aircraft in 1951 and 13 in 1951-52. Five more ex-Fleet Air Arm FB.11s were ordered in 1953-54. Five trainers, with the designation T.61, were also purchased, four new from Hawker and one taken from the Iraqi contract.

The Fury was used to replace the Hawker Tempest in the Pakistan Air Force, serving with Nos.5 and 9 Squadrons from 1950 and No.14 Squadron from 1951. Nos.5 and 9 Squadons were also the first to replace their aircraft, receiving North American F-86 Sabres in 1955. No.14 Squadron, which was based on the northwest frontier, retained its Furies until 1960, when it converted to the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.

Iraq (57 aircraft)

Iraq placed its first order, for 30 single-seat fighters and four two-seat trainers on 4 December 1946. This order played a part in the original development of the T.20 two-seater, and the first of the four aircraft was taken over by the Fleet Air Arm. Two were delivered to Iraq while the fourth eventually reached Pakistan. The thirty FB.11s were delivered in 1947-48, with their tail hooks and catapult attachments removed. These aircraft appear to have been known by a number of different designations, including the FB.60, the ISS (Iraqi Single Seater) and the Hawker Baghdad.

A further fifteen newly built aircraft were ordered on 21 July 1951, and were followed by 10 refurbished FB.11s and three T.20s, ordered on 7 March 1953. The Sea Furies were used to equip Nos.1, 4 and 7 Squadrons in the Iraqi Air Force, and may have been used against the Kurds in Northern Iraq. They were withdrawn in the early 1960s and replaced by the Hawker Hunter.

Netherlands (48 aircraft)

The first overseas order for the Sea Fury came from the Netherlands, as part of that country's attempt to rebuilt its navy and retain control of its Far East Empire. Ten Sea Fury F.50s (the export version of the Mk.X) were ordered on 21 October 1946. This was followed by an order for fourteen FB.50s, based on the FB.11, placed on 12 January 1950. A third batch of 14 aircraft was constructed under licence by Fokker in the Netherlands, bringing the total up to 48.

The F.50s were used to equip No.860 Squadron, which had been transferred to the Dutch from the Fleet Air Arm in 1945. After working up onshore in Britain the squadron moved to the HMS Nairina, a light carrier which was then transferred to the Dutch Navy, where it served as the HrMs Karel Doorman. The carrier and its aircraft were used against insurgents in the Dutch East Indies, before the carrier was returned to the Royal Navy in 1948. The squadron retained its F.50s until 18 March 1950.

The FB.50s went to the Fighter Pilot Combat School, which was then redesignated as No.860 Squadron. After training on HMS Indomitable and HMS Illustrious,the squadron moved to a new HrMs Karel Doorman, the former HMS Venerable. No.860 Squadron operated the Sea Fury until it was disbanded on 15 June 1956. The Sea Furies then went to No.3 Squadron of the Netherlands Navy, and were replaced at sea by the Hawker Sea Hawk.

Canada (37 aircraft)

Canada received two Sea Fury Mk.Xs in 1947 for service trials. These were followed by around 35 FB.11s, which were delivered in 1948-51. These aircraft equipped Nos.803 and 883 Squadrons. The two squadrons split their time between service on the carrier HMCS Magnificent, where they provided a combat air patrol to protect the carrier's anti-submarine Fireflies, and service on-shore at Naval Shore Base HMCS Shearwater. The two squadrons were renumbered as Nos.870 and 871, and then as VF-870 and VF-871, reflecting US practise. VF-870 converted to the McDonnell F2H Banshee in 1955, and VF-871 in 1956.

Australia (33 aircraft)

The Royal Australian Navy used the Sea Fury to equip three front line squadrons, two of which saw action over Korea. The first thirteen FB.11s were received by No.805 Squadron at Eglinton, Northern Ireland, in August 1948. The squadron left for Australian in February 1949. No.808 Squadron was formed at Saint Merryn on 24 April 1950, again with 13 aircraft. The two squadrons operated from HMAS Sydney, serving together off Korea in late 1951, and again on HMS Vengeance.

No.808 Squadron was disbanded first, in October 1954. No.805 Squadron continued to exist for another four years, before disbanding in March 1958.

The third front line squadron to use the Sea Fury was No.850, which received twelve aircraft in January 1953. The squadron was to operate on HMAS Sydneyoff Korea, but didn't arrive until after the end of the war. THe squadron was disbanded in August 1954. 

Burma (21 aircraft)

Burma ordered eighteen FB.11s and three T.20s in 1957-58. These aircraft were ex Fleet Air Arm aircraft that had been purchased by Hawker with an eye to the export market, and they were delivered to Burma during 1958. Three of the FB.11s were given target tow hooks but no winches, and were known as the TT.11 or FB.11(TT). The aircraft were used for counter-insurgency and internal security duties, before being replaced in 1968 by the Lockheed AR-33 Shooting Star armed jet trainer.

Cuba (17 aircraft)

Fifteen FB.11s and two T.20s were ordered by the Batista government in 1957. The aircraft arrived in 1958 by sea, and some at least had been assembled before Castro overthrew Batista and seized control of the country. Twelve aircraft were declared operations in November 1959, serving with the new Cuban air force, although a series of purges meant that by 1960 there were only six pilots left.

The Cuban Sea Furies took part in the fighting around the Bay of Pigs, clashing with B-26s and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks of the Liberation Air Force. Two Sea Furies were destroyed on the ground on 15 April 1961, leaving only three operational aircraft. They carried out a series of attacks on the invasion forces, sinking the supply ship Houston. Soon after the failure of the Bay of Pigs attack the remaining Sea Furies were replaced by MiG-15s.

West Germany (17 aircraft)

The last country to order the Sea Fury was West Germany. In the late 1950s the new Luftwaffe needed target tugs, and turned to a private company, Deutsche Luftfahrt Beratungsdeinst, to provide them. Ten aircraft were ordered from Hawker in 1958, and were delivered in 1960. They were followed by six more machines ordered in 1962 and a single machine acquired from Holland. These aircraft served as the Sea Fury TT.20 throughout the 1960s, and were only retired in 1970.

Egypt (15 aircraft)

The first Fury to reach Egypt was the prototype F.2/43 NX798, which had been refurbished by Hawker and given a new Centaurus XVIII engine. It was taken out to Egypt in April-May 1948 and shown to the Egyptian Air Force which placed an order for twelve aircraft. Delivery was delayed by the British arms embargo during the early Arab-Israeli war, and so the first two Sea Furies came from Iraq. They were joined by the twelve aircraft ordered from Hawker in 1950-51. One was reported to have been destroyed on the ground during the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Morocco (4 aircraft)

Morocco received all four of its aircraft as gifts from Iraq, the first two arriving on 4 February 1960 and the second pair in late 1961. They saw little service.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 February 2010), Hawker Sea Fury - Development and Service Record , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_hawker_sea_fury.html

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