In praise of the Hurricane

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By Norm Blondel

The Battle of Britain, which took place during the summer and autumn of 1940, is commemorated in Canada on the third Sunday of September.

In the epic battle of summer 1940 over British skies, much praise was heaped on the “Few”—deservedly so—and the sleek, all-metal Spitfire fighter which was credited with defeating the mighty Luftwaffe.

But, wait a minute! What was that other aircraft doing shooting all those bombers down during the Battle of Britain?

It was the slower, more maneuverable and steadier gun platform: the Hawker Hurricane. For every two Luftwaffe aircraft downed by Spitfires in the Battle, Hurricane pilots scored three. For every two Spitfire squadrons, there were three of Hurricanes.

Two notable aces, Peter Townsend and Douglas Bader, flew Hurricanes, praising them to the skies (slight pun there). In its lifetime, in all theatres of the Second World War, Hurricane pilots destroyed more than 1,000 German aircraft. This included its use by the Soviet air force, which had 2,000 of the rugged fighters.

The Hurricane could take fearsome punishment—after repair it was sometimes back in the air the same day. Wing Commander (retired) James “Stocky” Edwards offered a quote from the late Flight Sergeant Bert Linder, a member of 888 (Komox) Wing of the RCAF Association in Comox, British Columbia, who worked as a corporal aircraft fitter at RAF Hendon, a repair depot for Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain.

His comment which pretty well stated the case: “I’d give ‘em an ‘urricane, and they’d either prang it or bring it back full of bloody ‘oles,” he’d complain in his rich Bournemouth accent. But then he’d send them back into battle post-haste.

The not-so-secret secret was in the wood and fabric construction of the aircraft, similar to its predecessors—the Hawker biplanes. Bullets passed right through. Spitfires took much longer to build or repair and could not have been produced in numbers sufficient to win the Battle on their own.

Luftwaffe pilots were decidedly huffy when they learned they were shot down by a Hurricane. Perversely, they preferred to be downed by a Spitfire! They fell to the two groups of four guns mounted in the Hurricane’s thick wings. Their concentrated fire was devastating. The Spitfire’s more widely-spread guns caused some instability during an attack.

In all, 14,533 Hurricanes were constructed, and 244 were lost in the Battle of Britain in the hot months of August and September. Many of its pilots survived to fight on, and fully 60 per cent of crashed Hurricanes were quickly repaired and sent back into battle.

Unlike the Spitfire, the Hurricane—except for a larger Merlin engine—did not undergo significant changes to its airframe, except for a few special purpose modifications. It was succeeded in the Second World War by the two Hawker T’s: Typhoon and Tempest. Sydney Camm, who designed the Hurricane, designed 52 other aircraft in his lifetime, including the Harrier jump-jet.

Norm Blondel served as the editor of the Totem Times from 1990 to 1995. This article originally appeared in the September 12, 2017, edition of the Totem Times, 19 Wing Comox’s base newspaper.

RELATED LINKS

Royal Canadian Air Force

Hawker Hurricane

The Battle of Britain

Image gallery

  • A small single-propeller fighter aircraft rests on grass.
  • The underside of a single-propeller aircraft in flight.
  • A group of people run towards a line of aircraft.
  • A man holds a flag as a single propeller aircraft approaches to land
  • Two men stand in front of a single propeller aircraft.
  • A single propeller aircraft rests on the tarmac.
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