Sidney Camm was an absolute genius – no ands, ifs, or buts, the man simply was. He specialised in designing fighter aircraft, and produced some of the most elegant and amazingly beautiful aircraft, ever. Think of the original Hawker Fury of the 1930s, and you will get a flavour of his greatness. The immediate successor to the Fury was less elegant, less dainty, but extremely strong, had (initially) four times the firepower, was 100 mph faster and, above all, was the right aircraft in the right place at the right time, to keep Britain in the Second World War. Initially called the ‘Fury Monoplane’ by Hawkers, it became the world-famous Hurricane.
The Hurricane uses technology and manufacturing techniques which date from the early 1930s. Sidney Camm did not use welded joints to put the steel tube structure together but formed square ends to the round tubes, then secured them by a selection of tapered steel wedges and pins. This made for very complex joints, rather heavier than normal, but immensely strong. The shape of the fuselage behind the cockpit was formed by wooden stringers connecting wooden formers, then covered with Irish linen, tautened by nitrocellulose ‘dope’. Even the wings on the earliest Hurricanes were fabric covered. One advantage of this construction was that machine-gun bullets and even cannon shells often passed clean through the fuselage, without causing serious damage!
The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm lacked a 300 mph, modern fighter at the start of WW2, and the Sea Gladiator biplane (253 mph) and Fairey Fulmar monoplane (272 mph) were at a great disadvantage. After unmodified RAF Hurricanes, attempting to escape Norway, had landed safely on the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Glorious in June, 1940, Winston Churchill enthusiastically endorsed the idea of producing a navalized Hurricane. As well as its robust, modular structure, which allowed partially dismantled ‘spare’ Hurricanes to be hung from the ‘roof’ of aircraft carrier hangars, it was blessed with a sturdy, wide-track undercarriage, much more suitable to deck landings than its successor, the Supermarine Seafire, despite the fact that a folding-wing version of the Hurricane was never developed.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin III of 1,030 hp, and armed with 8 x .303 Browning machine guns, the first Sea Hurricane (complete with an ‘A’ frame arrestor hook and catapult spools and therefore a Mk Ib) was delivered to Farnborough in March, 1941, The next 49 machines had NO hooks, and were, therefore, Mk Ia aircraft. Around 60 Sea Hurricanes were new-built, but the vast majority were conversions from RAF Mk. I machines. A number of these were used in the truly perilous task of ‘point defence’ of convoys (mainly across the North Atlantic, or the ‘Murmansk run’ to Russia). They were loaded onto a catapult, fitted onboard normal merchantmen – known as Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen - then ‘shot off’ when the convoy was threatened, far out at sea (usually by a Focke-Wulf Fw200 Condor). After fighting the enemy aircraft, if within range of land, the pilot attempted to reach it, if not, he ditched near a ship or baled out!
The aircraft you can see here belongs to the Shuttleworth Trust, at Old Warden, and is the only flying ‘hooked’ Sea Hurricane in the world. Built in Canada, by the Canadian Car & Foundry Company, Ontario in 1940 as a Mk I, it was sent to the U.K., where it was converted to a Sea Hurricane Mk. Ib in June, 1941. It is in the colours of No. 880 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm (Motto: Repérer Et Détruire - To Seek And To Destroy), serial number Z7015, coded ’7-L’. It was assigned to this squadron, but did not join it onboard H.M.S. Indomitable, but stayed ashore on various other duties. In 1943, it was assigned to Loughborough Technical College as an instructional airframe. Eventually, the aircraft was acquired by the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden in 1961. It appeared, in a static role, as one of the aircraft in the superb 1969 film ‘Battle of Britain’ (United Artists). An ambitious restoration project was started, eventually involving, in 1981, a team from the Duxford Aviation Society at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, due to difficulties which arose. Major work began in 1986, but it wasn’t until September 16th, 1995 that Shuttleworth’s Chief Pilot, Andy Sephton, took Z7015 back into the air.
Flyable Hurricanes are rare, but their numbers are increasing, thanks to Hawker Restorations Ltd, Ipswich, Suffolk, who have rebuilt three fighters with another two in the pipeline! Hurricanes have always occupied a special place in my heart – and always will.