The Hawker Hurricane - the RAF's forgotten fighter star of the Battle of Britain.

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The Hurricane or the Spitfire?

The Hawker business or the Supermarine business?

Sydney Camm or R.J. Mitchell?

Which will win the battle of the Battle of Britain fighters?

Which was better? I would say that they were both better than each other!

Although they were both built to meet the same specification, they were designed to differing design outlooks and were both unbeatable in their chosen areas. The Spitfire was a result of a decision that everything in the design must add to outright flying performance even at the expense of other criteria - the "high technology" route. The Hurricane approach was that the maximum achievable with the technology of the day was to be aimed for whilst meeting the full range of issues affecting a fighting machine. One of the key requirements of the Hawker design was to ensuring that large numbers of operational aircraft were delivered in the shortest possible time.

The Hurricane was the RAF's first 300mph fighter and even as the Battle of Britain raged, Hawker were well on their way to providing the first 400mph fighter in the shape of the mighty Typhoon. Before the war had ended this had been added to by the even better Tempest.

The Hurricane was larger than both the Spitfire and the Bf109. For absolute speed that may have been bad but that disadvantage gave an opposing advantage of greater wing area, with lower wing loading that resulted in a better rate of turn than either of its contemporaries. This is one of the key "performance indicators" of a fighter. A turning radius quoted as 800 feet for the Hurricane and 880 feet for the Spitfire.

The Spitfire has always been regarded as the more responsive of the two. This did, however, have the disadvantage of being unstable when firing the eight machine guns, resulting in difficulty keeping the fire on target compared with the Hurricane that was more stable under the recoil of the same guns.

The thick wing of the Hurricane limited its maximum speed but that price gave other advantages. The large strong wing allowed a much wider undercarriage than the Spitfire with corresponding advantages of stability on rough airfields in battle theatres around the world, better performance on waterlogged airstrips and was easier for the less experienced pilot. All of which reduced accidents, improving the aircrafts serviceability level and versatility. The thick wing gave advantages over the Spitfire in that unlike the Spit's widely spaced armament the Hurri had it's machine guns in compact blocks of four in each wing. As well as the advantage of concentrated firepower, this also gave the ground crew a more efficient re-arming procedure that resulted in aircraft saving precious time in the race to return to operational status after a mission. The larger wings also easily accepted the four 20mm cannons (that became standard British armament after the Battle of Britain), whilst the Spitfire had to make do with just two cannons and keep four of the old machine guns until much later. After the defensive action of the summer of 1940 the two aircraft were used in an offensive role. When called upon to perform ground attack in the thicker air of lower levels, the sophisticated wing of the Spitfire was not at ease with the stresses encountered. There were stories of Spit wings in huge piles at maintenance units as fractured wings were replaced after sharp pullouts at low levels - something that the more solid Hawker products were not affected by.

Without the Spitfire the cost of success would have been greater in fighters lost to enemy action and the battle would have been longer due to the Bf109's high altitude performance advantage over the Hurricane.

The Hurricane was manufactured and repaired with ease and able to use a wide range of non-aerospace sub-contractors. Its solid construction, concentrated firepower and steady firing platform made it the better weapon for the fighter's role of actually destroying enemy aircraft. If the Hurricane had been delayed long enough to improve it's design to match the speed of the Spitfire, vital months output would have been lost in the crucial build-up to the battles of France and Britain and even then production would have been slower. Only the Hurricane could have guaranteed sufficient aircraft for the battle (and even then numbers were desperately small).
Without the high performance Spitfire the cost of success may have been greater and the battle may have been longer but without the Hurricane the Battle of Britain would have been lost, and possibly following that the whole war.


Whilst Supermarine continued to improve the Spitfire, Hawker chief designer Camm developed a string of better and better designs. Is the Spitfire so well regarded because, with the early death of its designer, there was no longer the driving force at Supermarine to overshadow it with later improved designs?

Date Hawker Aircraft Supermarine Aircraft
1888 Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith born in Kensington, London on 18 January 1888.  
1889 Harry George Hawker born in South Brighton, Moorabin, Victoria, Australia on 22 January 1889.  
1895   Reginald Joseph Mitchell born in Stoke-on-Trent on 20th May 1895.
1912 Sopwith School of Flying opened by T.O.M. Sopwith.  
1912 The first Sopwith aircraft sold.  
1913   Supermarine founded in Southampton specialising in seaplane production.
1917   R.J.Mitchell joined Supermarine.
1920   R.J. Mitchell became Supermarine Chief Designer.
1920 Sopwith Aviation Co. Ltd. closed due to reduced orders after the end of World War One. 18,106 aircraft had been produced including the legendary Sopwith Camel.  
1920 Harry Hawker Engineering Co. Ltd. set up by T.O.M. Sopwith with H.G.Hawker and others.  
1923 Sydney J. Camm joined the Hawker design office.  
1925 Sydney Camm became Hawker Chief Designer.  
June 1928 First flight of the Hawker Hart light bomber which was 30 mph faster than the contpemporary RAF fighters.  
September 1927   The Schneider Trophy seaplane race was won by a Supermarine S5 at an average speed of 281 mph.
26 September 1927
September 1929   The Schneider Trophy seaplane race was won by a Supermarine S6 at an average speed of 328 mph.
7 September 1929
January 1930 The Hawker Hart two seat light bomber entered service being 30 mph faster than the contpemporary RAF fighters.
Engine 525 hp. Rolls-Royce Kestrel V12
Max. speed 184 mph. at 5,000 ft.
Range 2 hours 45 min. endurance
Maximum Take Off Weight 4,554 lb.
Armement One .303 in. forward firing Vickers machine gun, one .303in Lewis machine gun in rear cockpit & 520 lb. of bombs.
Total production (all models) - 989
 
March 1930 RAF Specification F.7/30 issued for a new Rolls-Royce Goshawk engined fighter armed with four .303in. guns, four 20 lb. bombs and minimum performance of 195 mph. at 15000 ft.
Easy mass production & maintenance was also specified.
May 1931 The Hawker Fury Mk.1 biplane entered operation as the RAF's first 200mph fighter.
Engine 525hp. Rolls-Royce Kestrel V12
Max. speed 207mph. at 14,000ft.
Range 270 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 3,490lb.
Armement Two .303in. forward firing synchronised machine guns & 200lb. of bombs
Total production (all models) - 267
 
September 1931   The Schneider Trophy seaplane race was won in perpetuity by a Supermarine S6B at an average speed of 339mph. 13 September 1931.
A Supermarine S6B set a new world speed record at 406mph. - 29 September 1931
February 1932 Nimrod naval fighter entered service
Engine 477hp. Rolls-Royce Kestrel V12
Max. speed 196mph. at 12,000ft.
Range
Maximum Take Off Weight 3,490lb.
Armement Two.303in. forward firing Vickers machine guns & four 20lb. bombs
Total production (all models) - 68
 
August 1933   R.J.Mitchell had a major operation to combat cancer but was able to continue his work.
October 1933 First test run of the Rolls-Royce PV12 engine (later to become the Merlin) .
February 1934   First flight of the Supermarine Type 224. The Rolls-Royce Goshawk engined monoplane had a fixed undercarriage and an open cockpit. Maximum speed was a disappointing 227mph.
September 1934 First flight of the Hind 2-seat fighter-bomber
Engine 640hp. Rolls-Royce Kestrel V V12
Max. speed 185mph. at 16,000ft.
Armement One forward firing .303in. machine gun and one Lewis gun on flexible aft cockpit mount & 500lb. bombload
 
January 1935   The F.37/34 specification for the Supermarine Type 300 four gun fighter issued. The Rolls-Royce PV12 engined plane was to have an elliptical wing shape.
April 1935 The Government issued revised fighter specification requiring eight guns and a top speed of over 300mph.
May 1935 The House of Commons approved an expansion of the RAF on 22nd. May 1935.
September 1935 First flight of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 prototype. (powered by a Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI engine!)
November 1935 First flight of the prototype Hawker Hurricane fitted with an early 990hp. Rolls-Royce Merlin C on 6 November 1935 .  
February 1936 The RAF order 600 fighters from Hawker. The RAF order only 300 fighters from Supermarine, due to concern of the company's ability to complete a larger order and Ministry doubts over the solidness of the advanced design.
March 1936   First flight of the prototype Spitfire powered by a 990hp. Merlin C engine on 5 March 1936.
November 1936 Delivery of the first production Bf 109B fighters powered by the Junkers Jumo 210 engine of 639 hp.
July 1937   R.J.Mitchell died of cancer on the 11th July 1937 at the age of 42.
December 1937 Delivery of first production Hawker Hurricane Mk. I as the RAF's first 300 mph. fighter.
Engine 1,030hp. Rolls-Royce Merlin V12
Max. speed 324mph.
Range 425 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 6,600lb.
Armement Eight .303in. Browning machine guns
Total production (all models) - 15,195
 
August 1938   Delivery of the first production Spitfire to the RAF.
Engine 1,030hp. Rolls-Royce Merlin V12
Max. speed 355mph. at 19000ft.
Range 395 miles
Maximum Take Off Weight 5,784lb.
Armement Eight .303in Browning machine guns
Total production (all models) - 20,400
December 1938   First fully equipped Spitfire squadron.
(No. 19 squadron).
1 June 1939 First flight of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
September 1939   Spitfires strength - 306 aircraft.
(10 fully converted squadrons).
September 1939 The Luftwaffe fighter strength :-
850 Daimler-Benz DB601 powered Bf 109Es
235 older Junkers Jumo 210 powered Bf 109Ds.
September 1939 The German attack on Poland started the Second World War.
October 1939 First German aircraft destroyed by a Hawker Hurricane. A Dornier Do 17. over France on 30 October 1939 First German aircraft destroyed by a Spitfire.
A Junkers Ju 88a on 16 October 1939
February 1940 First German aircraft of the war brought down in England. A Heinkel 111 at Whitby on 3 February 1940 by a Hawker Hurricane of 43 Squadron.  
February 1940 First flight of the prototype of the Napier Sabre engined Hawker Typhoon on 24 February 1940.
Engine 2,180hp. Napier Sabre IIA horizontal H24
Max. speed 404mph. at 18,000mph.
Maximum Take Off Weight 11,375lb.
Armement (Mark IB) Four 20mm. cannon in wings & Eight 60lb. rocket projectiles or two 1000lb. bombs.
 
May 1940 During the Battle of France Spitfires were held back to British bases while Hurricanes were sent to French airfields. At the end of the battle 75 had been lost in combat and 120 lost to the advancing enemy. The loss was about a quarter of the Britain's Home Defence Force.
July 1940 The RAF operational fighter strength at 1 July 1940
347 Hawker Hurricanes (29 sqadrons.) 54%,
199 Spitfires (19 sqadrons.) 31%,
69 Bristol Blenheims (developed from the bomber) 11%,
25 Defiants (power operated turret two seat fighter) 4%,
a total of 640 aircraft.
Hurricane losses from the Battle of France had been replaced and total numbers increased.
Even though not sent to France, Spitfire losses had still not been fully replaced.
July 1940 The RAF fighter total strength at 17 July 1940
675 Hawker Hurricanes (58%),
348 Spitfires (30%),
95 Bristol Blenheims (developed from the bomber) (8%),
39 Defiants (power operated turret two seat fighter) (3%),
9 Gladiators (single seat biplane fighter) (0.5%)
5 Westland Whirlwinds (twin engined single seat fighter) (0.5%)
a total of 1,171 aircraft.
December 1940   Spitfire Mk.V entered service.
Engine 1,440hp. Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 V12
Max. speed 374mph. at 13,000ft.
Range
Maximum Take Off Weight 6,785 lb
Armement 500lb. of bombs and
Mk.Va Eight .303in. Browning machine guns -
Mk.Vb with two 20mm. cannon and four .303in. guns.
Mk.Vc had strengthened "universal wing" which accepted either armament.
March 1941 First tests of a carrier-fighter Hurricane fitted with deck-landing hook and catapult spools.  
September 1941 Delivery of first production Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIc.
Engine Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V12
Max. speed 336mph.
Range 470 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 8,100lb.
Armement Four 20mm. cannon & two 250lb. or 500lb. bombs or Eight 60lb. rocket projectiles.
Total production (all models) -
 
September 1941 Delivery of first production Hawker Typhoon Mk. Ib as the RAF's first 400mph fighter.
Engine 2,180hp. Napier Sabre IIA horizontal H24
Max. speed 412mph. at 19,000ft.
Range 510miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 13,250lb.
Armement Four 20mm. cannon in wings & Eight 60lb. rocket projectiles or two 1000lb. bombs
Total production (all models) - 3,271
 
September 1941 The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 appeared in combat. Being the Fw 190A-1 model, which outperformed the Spitfire Mk.V, but was only lightly armed.
(details for the later Fw 190A-8 model)
Engine 2,100hp. BMW 801d radial .
Max. speed 408mph. at 20,600ft.
Range 500 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 9,750lb.
Armement Four 20mm. cannon in wings & two 13mm. machine guns
Total production (all models) -
October 1941 Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIb & IIc started operations as "Hurribombers" with 2 x 250lb. bombs  
December 41   First aircraft carrier trials of a Spitfire. A Spitfire Vb fitted with an arrester hook.
December 1941 The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour resulted in the USA entering the Second World War.
April 1942   The first Mk.VI was delivered to a RAF unit on 22nd. April 1942. (No 616 squadron).
June 42 Hawker Hurricane Mk. IId started operations.

Engine 1,280hp. Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V12
Max. speed 322mph.
Range 430 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 7,850lb.
Armement Two 40mm. cannon (tank busters) & two .303in. machine guns.
Total production (all models) -

The first production Spitfire Mk.IXs delivered.
Engine 1,565hp. Rolls-Royce Merlin 61, with two-stage supercharger.
Max. speed 415mph. at 27,800ft.

To counter the Fw 190A the Mk.V was re-engined and improved. The Mk.IX was the most numerous Spitfire type but later examples were much changed from the earlier ones.

15 June 1942   First Seafires delivered.
the Mk. Ib was a conversion of the Mk.V
The Mk.IIc was a new production aircraft.
Neither has wing folding.
August 1942   First use of the Spitfire in the fighter-bomber role. Some Mk.Vc Spitfires on Malta were modified to carry two 250lb. bombs.
September 1942 First flight of the Hawker Tempest Mk.V on 2th. September 1942.  
November 1942   Testing under way for the Seafire Mk.III.
(The Seafire Mk.IIC now with a folding wings.
Using the "C" type wing, with two 20mm. cannon and four .303in. machine guns.)
November 1942   Delivery of the first Spitfire Mk.VIII
Reputed to have the best handling characteristics of any Spitfire.
Was used as the basis for further development.
Total production - 1,658
March 1943 Hawker Hurricane Mk. IV entered service.
Engine 1,280hp. Rolls-Royce Merlin 24 V12
Max. speed 330mph.
Range 430 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 8,450lb.
Armement Two .303in. machine guns & two 40mm. cannon (tank busters) or two 250lb./500lb. bombs or Eight 60lb. rocket projectiles or two 44gal./90gal. drop tanks.
Total production (all models) -
The first operational squadron equiped with Rolls-Royce Griffon powered Spitfires.

(Mk.XIIs of No.41 squadron)

December 1943 Delivery of first production Hawker Tempest Mk.V
Engine 2,180hp. Napier Sabre IIA H24
Max. speed 426mph. at 18,500ft.
Range 800 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 13,250lb.
Armement Four 20mm. cannon in wings & Eight 60lb. rocket projectiles or two 1000lb. bombs
Total production (all models) - 1,404
 
October 1943   First production Spitfire Mk.XIV.
Engine 2,035 hp. Rolls Royce Griffon 65
Max. speed 448mph. at 26,000ft.
Range 850 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 10,280lb.
Armement Two 20mm. cannon & four .303in. machine guns with provision for 1000lb. of bombs.
Total production (all models) -
February 1944 Delivery of the last Hurricane.
A Mk.IIc for No.309 (Polish) squadron.
 
April 1944 The last Sea Hurricanes left British carriers.  
6 June 1944 The Allied invasion of Europe in Normandy.
June 1944   First flight of the Spiteful. (Did not enter service)
Engine 2,375hp. Rolls-Royce Griffon 65
Max. speed 494mph. at 26,000ft.
Maximum Take Off Weight 9,900lb.
Armement Four 20mm. cannon
Total production - 17
September 1944 First flight of the prototype Hawker (Sea) Fury
Engine 2,480hp. Bristol Centaurus 18 cylinder air-cooled radial
Max. speed 460mph. at 18,000ft.
Range 700 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 12,500lb.
Armement Four 20mm. cannon & twelve 60lb. rocket projectiles or two 1000lb. bombs
Total production (all models) - 900
 
October 1944   The first Spitfire victory over a jet fighter on 5th. October 1944, when a Mk.XIV shot down a Me 262.
January 1945   The Spitfire Mk.21, using a stronger wing and undercarriage, entered service
(with No.19 squadron).
Engine Rolls-Royce Griffon
Max. speed .
Range .
Maximum Take Off Weight
Armement Four 20mm. cannon
Total production (all models) - 121
May 1945 Surrender of Germany & end of the war in Europe.
June 1945   First flight of the Spitfire Mk.XVIII using a redesigned, stronger, wing incorporating a solid spar.
Total production (all models) - 300 approx.
August 1945 Surrender of Japan & end of the war in the Far East.
February 1948   Delivery of the last Spitfire fighter on 20th. February 1948, a Mk 24 fighter with the cut-down rear fuselage and bubble cockpit. Total Spitfire production 20,400 approx.
September 1948 First flight Hawker Sea Hawk carrier-based fighter on 3rd September 1948
Engine Two Nene 103 5,200lb. static thrust turbojets
Max. speed .Mach 0.84 at 36,000
Range
Maximum Take Off Weight 13,220lb.
Armement Four 20mm. cannon & two 500lb. bombs
Total production (all models) - 534
 
March 1949   Delivery of the last batch of Seafires.
(being six-bladed contra-rotating prop Griffon engined Mk 47s.)
July 1951 First flight of the Hawker Hunter fighter
Engine Rolls-Royce Avon 113 5,500lb. static thrust turbojet
Max. speed . Mach 0.93 at 36,000ft.
Range 425 miles.
Maximum Take Off Weight 16,200lb.
Armement Four 30mm. Aden cannon & two 1000lb. bombs
Total production (all models) - 2,050
 
August 1951   First flight of the Supermarine Swift fighter
Engine Rolls-Royce Avon 113 5,500lb. static thrust turbojet
Max. speed 684mph. at sea level
Maximum Take Off Weight 21,350lb.
Armement Two 30mm. cannon & light bomb load
Total production (all models) -
1966 Sydney Camm died on 12 March 1966 at the age of 72 shortly before the first flight of his last design, the "Jump Jet" Harrier ground attack/fighter.  
1989 T.O.M. Sopwith died on 27 January 1989 at the age of 101.  

 

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