The first RAF aircraft to fly over 300mph, the Hawker Hurricane became a legendary aircraft. Over half of every enemy aeroplane destroyed in the Battle of Britain was by a Hawker Hurricane, not a Spitfire. The Hurricane is known for being a reliable workhorse of the Battle of Britain, but also went on to serve in nearly every major theatre in the Second World War, and even as a bomber. In this video, Graham Rodgers gives us a tour of Sydney Camm's magnificent design, as well as into the cockpit of this veteran Battle of Britain aircraft at Duxford.
The unsung hero of the Battle of Britain
Graham Rodgers: "Today, I'm going to be talking about a real hero of the Battle of Britain, but not a Spitfire. This one, the Hurricane. Designed by Sydney Camm and his design team at Hawker. Sydney Camm no less a genius than Mitchell was at Supermarine for the Spitfire.
Indeed, the aeroplane that Sydney Camm had designed bore a fair bit of percentage of the Royal Air Force between the wars. Aeroplanes like the Hind, the Fury, the Audax, the Tomtit, the Demon. All Sydney Camm’s designs.
Obviously bi-planes between the wars had had their day. Aeroplanes going through the air very fast were mono-plane aeroplanes now, and the Hurricane indeed was the first production aeroplane of the Royal Air Force to go through the air at over 300 miles an hour. A lot of questions that I get asked here is what's the difference between a Spitfire and a Hurricane? An impolite answer would be, how long have you got? Very different designs from different design teams.
The Hurricane out a year before the Spitfire, answering to a design specification of a fighter that could carry the machine guns that it could. Now, a Hurricane was designed in a traditional way. If you look at the sides, they are all Irish linen, a Spitfire, all monocoque steel-stressed skin. If you take a picture of a Fury or a Heart or a Demon and you look at the tail of those aeroplanes and you look at the tail of our Hurricane here and the fuselage, you can see the lineage of Sydney Camm’s designs going through them."
Percival Leggett: "The Hurricane, of course, was a mixture of ancient and modern. It had the steel tubular construction and then on top of that was placed the wooden framework, which is very lightweight. And then the fabric people would come with the great length of stuff and simply chuck it over the top.
They were dressmakers, really. It would all be done by hand. The fabric would be pulled down into place and it was all stitched together."
Graham Rodgers: "Now I say the unsung hero of the Battle of Britain - a Hurricane most certainly was. Well over half of every enemy aeroplane destroyed in the Battle of Britain was by Hurricanes, not Spitfires. Spitfires in the Battle of Britain were down to 19 squadrons. Hurricanes, there were 32 squadrons of them. A Hurricane was a real workhorse, a reliable aeroplane. Advantages: it could take more damage than a Spitfire. The sides: Irish linen. Some explosive cannon shells from a Messerschmitt 109, sometimes if it hit the fuselage, it would go in one side and out the other without even exploding.
Coming back to base, another patch of Irish linen, as long as the bullet hasn't damaged any of the control surfaces or the wires inside, just paste and drop another piece on one side and another piece where it came out the other and away the pilot went again. Both the Hurricane and the Spitfire are powered by the same very magnificent 27 litre V12 Rolls-Royce engine. But the Spitfire and the Hurricane both had, because of that engine, an Achilles heel. It couldn't do a negative G dive. So in a situation, if a Spitfire or a Hurricane was chasing a Messerschmitt 109, the Messerschmitt 109 with its fuel-injected Daimler-Benz engine could push its nose into a negative G dive.
The arteries in the Luftwaffe pilot's eyes might pop, but the Spitfire or the Hurricane could not do that. If a Hurricane or a Spitfire followed the 109 into a negative G dive, the carburettors would flood and the engines would cough and splutter, which is not a good situation in the middle of a dogfight. So when the 109 pushes its nose over, the Hurricane or the Spitfire have to peel over the top, like spinning around a bucket of water to keep the flow in the carburettor into a positive G. The problem with the carburettor wasn't cured, but it was certainly helped by an extremely clever lady called Mrs. Beatrice Shilling, who came up with a design, a toss up between a washer and an olive to put inside the carburettor to help and squeeze the flow of fuel. So it didn't eliminate the problem, but it gave the carburettor engines a lot better chance if you were touching a negative G manoeuvre to catch the 109.
Now, eventually, a Spitfire would catch a 109 in a dive. A Hurricane probably wouldn't. But a Hurricane could out-turn the 109. Because, with the same engine, a Hurricane being 20 or 30% bigger, a Hurricane’s rate of climb was not as fast as a Spitfire’s and in general was not as manoeuvrable. So the tactic then was adopted for the Hurricanes to take on the bombers, more numerous, and the Spitfires to take on the escorting fighters.
This particular Hurricane actually fought in the Battle of Britain, unfortunately did come off second best to a couple of Messerschmitt 109s over Deal, in Kent. The pilot a flight Lieutenant Rodgers - no relation - did survive. The Hurricane evolved quite a bit slower than the Spitfire.
Spitfires, of course, in many marks basically doubled in size and performance between the beginning and the end of the war. The Hurricane not quite so much. The basic design was all the same. There were different marks, different Merlin engines fitted, from 990 horsepower to one of the PR versions in Photo Reconnaissance had a two-speed two-stage supercharger, same as a Mk IV Spitfire and went into photo reconnaissance duties. That Hurricane, for a Hurricane, was particularly fast, about 350 miles an hour. But the performance of a Hurricane, regardless of Mach or what it was carrying, always was a fair bit shorter than a Spitfire or a 109 in out and out speed.
So we’re round the front of the Hurricane now, and I can show you the huge slab-sided, very strong wings. Better than the Spitfire, as far as that's concerned. Grouped together, eight 303 machine guns, four in each wing, one either side. So a very, very stable gun platform.
One other advantage that the Hurricane had over a Spitfire: the hardest thing about flying the Spitfire is putting it down at the end of a very tiresome day, fighting for your life. The wheels start of the outside come down in the middle. You've got a very narrow landing track. As you can see from the Hurricane, the wheels start on the inside and come down, so you have a very wide landing track to land on. As one pilot said, you could be quite ham-fisted when you were putting a Hurricane back down again. Hurricanes were used in every front in the Second World War and in just about every arena, from the heat of Malta to the freezing wastelands of Russia. There were about 14,500 Hurricanes built, and the last one rolled off the production line in about 1944. Without Hurricanes in the Second World War, who'd of known? Serving not only in the Battle of Britain, but as ground attack, as a fighter bomber, fired off merchant ships, off catapults, regularly to do a one way mission. A Hurricane with the pilot in would be blasted off on a catapult to try and defend the merchant convoys, hopefully within reach of land. If he wasn't, he would basically have to try and ditch close to the ship as he could and they would try and pick the pilot out of the freezing water.
And here is what has become of the famous Hurricane, the even more famous Hurri-bomber. The bombs are carried underneath the wings and they are meant to be dropped with pinpoint accuracy.
Another problem with a Hurricane was quite a fundamental one. The cockpit up here, as you can see, is just behind a saddle tank, a big tank of 100 octane fuel. If a Hurricane was hit by an incendiary round in the fuel tank, the fuel tank, of course, would blow up. Now, the pilot has two options. He can either stay in the fighter and burn to death, or he can peel back the cockpit and climb out. But of course, then he's got a 300 mile an hour blast furnace straight into his face. A lot of Hurricane pilots were extremely badly burned. One pilot who was badly burned was a young officer, a 23-year-old officer in the Battle of Britain called Nicholson.
Nicholson had been hit by four cannon shells in his fuel tank. He peeled back the cockpit, climbed out very angrily, but as he climbed out, another Messerschmitt passed straight in front of his Hurricane. He jumped back into the cockpit full of flames, hit the gun button and opened the throttle and shot the enemy aeroplane down. Nicholson did survive, but was very, very badly burned. But he woke up the following day and was informed he'd been awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, the only one in the Battle of Britain and in RAF fighter command in the war time as far as I know.
Pilots used to say you climb in a Hurricane, in a Spitfire, you put it on. Climbing up and over and down into the cockpit is quite a task to climb up over and down. So let's go and have a closer look in the cockpit of a Hurricane."
Percival Leggett: "The big innovation, it was a blind flying panel. In the old bi-planes, you would have an alternator and speed indicator and a rev counter, they would just be randomly dotted around the cockpit. With the Hurricane and everything else that followed, including most of the bombers I think, we all had much the same blind flying panel, which was six instruments, six of them. And that was standard for all aircraft from that from that point onwards, which is a jolly good thing because at least one could hop from one type to another without too much difficulty."
Graham Rodgers: "So we're now in the cockpit. I have the privilege to be in the cockpit of this magnificent Battle of Britain veteran Hurricane. A little bit more room than a Spitfire. Again, like I say, I'm sat in the scaffolding as it comes around me. I certainly wouldn't like to imagine trying to get out of it with a 300 mile an hour flames in my face as I'm trying to escape if I had been shot down like Nicholson was. The majority or a lot of pilots would have taken off with the cockpit open like this, but of course wouldn't be around flying and fighting with it open. But with the cockpit shut, it would be quite an enclosed environment with lots of fuel and fumes around. The hand control, the spade grip and the basic six, same as the Spitfire, but a fair bit more room. We've got the airspeed indicator, horizon, climbing, bank, altitude, compass down here. It's quite an enclosed, quite nerve-racking environment when you're fighting for your life. Sydney Camm carried on after the war at Hawkers and went on to design some fantastic aeroplanes for the RAF, including the very famous and beautiful Hawker Hunter.
Camm was knighted in 1953 for his fantastic design work and some of the revolutionary aeroplanes he was involved with went on to be the Harrier Jump Jet. Camm passed away in 1963, but a lot of people remember him for the work that he did in saving us in the dark days of the Battle of Britain with this magnificent Hawker Hurricane. Out of the 14,500 Hurricanes produced, the last one rolling off the production line in 1944, there are very few left.
Even rarer are airworthy ones, with currently as I speak about 12 or 13 airworthy Hurricanes worldwide. This one, of course, and about three others that live here at Duxford."