World War II: Hawker Hurricane

Hawker Hurricane. US Air Force

One of the most iconic fighters of World War II, the Hawker Hurricane was a stalwart of the Royal Air Force during the early years of the conflict. Entering service in late 1937, the Hurricane was the brainchild of designer Sydney Camm and represented an evolution of the earlier Hawker Fury. While less heralded than the famed Supermarine Spitfire, the Hurricane scored the majority of the RAF's kills during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, the type also saw use as a night fighter and intruder aircraft as well as was widely employed by British and Commonwealth forces in other theaters of the war. By the middle of the conflict, the Hurricane was eclipsed as as frontline fighter but found a new life in a ground-attack role. It was used in this fashion until the Hawker Typhoon arrived in 1944.

Design & Development

In the early 1930s, it became increasingly clear to the Royal Air Force that it required new modern fighters. Spurred on by Air Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, the Air Ministry began investigating its options. At Hawker Aircraft, Chief Designer Sydney Camm began work on a new fighter design. When his initial efforts were rebuffed by the Air Ministry, Hawker began working on a new fighter as a private venture. Responding to Air Ministry Specification F.36/34 (modified by F.5/34), which called for an eight-gun, monoplane fighter powered by the Roll-Royce PV-12 (Merlin) engine, Camm began a new design in 1934.

Due to the economic factors of the day, he sought to utilize as many existing parts and manufacturing techniques as possible. The result was an aircraft that was essentially an improved, monoplane version of the earlier Hawker Fury biplane. By May 1934, the design reached an advanced stage and model testing moved forward. Concerned about advanced fighter development in Germany, the Air Ministry ordered a prototype of the aircraft the following year. Completed in October 1935, the prototype flew for the first time on November 6 with Flight Lieutenant P.W.S. Bulman at the controls.

Hawker Hurricane being repaired.
Trainee airframe fitters are taught repair procedures on Hawker Hurricane instructional airframe, 1359M, in a hangar at No. 2 School of Technical Training, Cosford, Shropshire. The Hurricane (formerly L1995) flew with No. 111 Squadron RAF before crashing during a forced landing in January 1939. Public Domain

Though more advanced than the RAF's existing types, the new Hawker Hurricane incorporated many tried and true construction techniques. Chief among these was the use of a fuselage built from high-tensile steel tubes. This supported a wooden framework covered by doped linen. Though dated technology, this approach made the aircraft easier to build and repair than all-metal types such as the Supermarine Spitfire. While the aircraft's wings were initially fabric covered, they were soon replaced by all-metal wings which greatly increased its performance

Fast Facts: Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIC


  • Length: 32 ft. 3 in.
  • Wingspan: 40 ft.
  • Height: 13 ft. 1.5 in.
  • Wing Area: 257.5 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 5,745 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 7,670 lbs.
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 8,710 lbs.
  • Crew: 1


  • Maximum Speed: 340 mph
  • Range: 600 miles
  • Rate of Climb: 2,780 ft./min.
  • Service Ceiling: 36,000 ft.
  • Power Plant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V-12, 1,185 hp


  • 4 × 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannons
  • 2 × 250 or 1 × 500 lb. bombs

Simple to Build, Easy to Change

Ordered into production in June 1936, the Hurricane quickly gave the RAF a modern fighter as work continued on the Spitfire. Entering service in December 1937, over 500 Hurricanes were built prior to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Through the course of the war, around 14,000 Hurricanes of various types would be built in Britain and Canada. The first major alteration to the aircraft occurred early in production as improvements were made to the propeller, additional armor was installed, and metal wings made standard.

The next significant change to the Hurricane came in mid-1940 with the creation of the Mk.IIA which was slightly longer and possessed a more powerful Merlin XX engine. The aircraft continued to be modified and improved with variants moving into the ground-attack role with the addition of bomb racks and cannon. Largely eclipsed in the air superiority role by late 1941, the Hurricane became an effective ground-attack aircraft with models progressing to the Mk.IV. The aircraft was also used by the Fleet Air Arm as the Sea Hurricane which operated from carriers and catapult-equipped merchant ships.

In Europe

The Hurricane first saw action on a large scale when, against Dowding's (now leading Fighter Command) wishes, four squadrons were sent to France in late 1939. Later reinforced, these squadrons took part in the Battle of France during May-June 1940. Though sustaining heavy losses, they were able to down a significant number of German aircraft. After assisting in covering the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Hurricane saw extensive use during the Battle of Britain. The workhorse of Dowding's Fighter Command, RAF tactics called for the nimble Spitfire to engage German fighters while the Hurricane attacked inbound bombers.

Though slower than the Spitfire and the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Hurricane could out-turn both and was a more stable gun platform. Due to its construction, damaged Hurricanes could be quickly repaired and returned to service. Also, it was found that German cannon shells would pass through the doped linen without detonating. Conversely, this same wood and fabric structure was prone to burning quickly if a fire occurred. Another issue discovered during the Battle of Britain involved a fuel tank which was located in front of the pilot. When hit, it was prone fires which would cause severe burns to the pilot.

Hawker Hurricane
Royal Air Force Hawker Hurricane Mark IIC. Public Domain

Horrified by this, Dowding ordered the tanks retrofitted with a fire-resistant material known as Linatex. Though hard-pressed during the battle, the RAF's Hurricanes, and Spitfires succeeded in maintaining air superiority and forced the indefinite postponement of Hitler's proposed invasion. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane was responsible for the majority of British kills. In the wake of the British victory, the aircraft remained in frontline service and saw increasing use as a night fighter and intruder aircraft. While Spitfires were initially retained in Britain, the Hurricane saw use overseas.

Use in Other Theaters

The Hurricane played a vital role in the defense of Malta in 1940-1942, as well as fought against the Japanese in Southeast Asia and the Dutch East Indies. Unable to halt the Japanese advance, the aircraft was out-classed by the Nakajima Ki-43 (Oscar), though it proved an adept bomber-killer. Taking heavy losses, Hurricane-equipped units effectively ceased to exist after the invasion of Java in early 1942. The Hurricane was also exported to the Soviet Union as part of Allied Lend-Lease. Ultimately, nearly 3,000 Hurricanes flew in Soviet service.

Hawker Hurricane in North Africa
Groundcrew of No. 274 Squadron RAF overhaul Hawker Hurricane Mark I (V7780 "Alma Baker Malaya") at LG 10/Gerawala, Libya, during the defence of Tobruk. Public Domain

As the Battle of Britain was beginning, the first Hurricanes arrived in North Africa. Though successful in mid- to late-1940, losses mounted following the arrival of German Messerschmitt Bf 109Es and Fs. Beginning in mid-1941, the Hurricane was shifted to a ground-attack role with the Desert Air Force. Flying with four 20 mm cannon and 500 lbs. of bombs, these "Hurribombers" proved highly effective against Axis ground forces and aided in the Allied victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942.

Though no longer effective as a frontline fighter, Hurricane development progressed improving its ground-support capability. This culminated with the Mk.IV which possessed a "rationalized" or "universal" wing which was capable of carrying 500 lbs. of bombs, eight RP-3 rockets, or two 40 mm cannon. The Hurricane continued as a key ground-attack aircraft with the RAF until the arrival of the Hawker Typhoon in 1944. As the Typhoon reached squadrons in larger numbers, the Hurricane was phased out.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Hawker Hurricane." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). World War II: Hawker Hurricane. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: Hawker Hurricane." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).