World War II: Hawker Typhoon

Hawker Typhoon
Hawker Typhoon Mk IB. Public Domain  

A troubled aircraft in its early days, the Hawker Typhoon became a critical part of the Allied air forces as World War II (1939-1945) progressed. Initially envisioned as mid- to high-altitude interceptor, early Typhoons suffered from a variety of performance issues that could not be rectified to allow it to achieve success in this role. Initially introduced as a high-speed, low-altitude interceptor in 1941, the following year the type began transitioning to ground-attack missions. Highly successful in this role, the Typhoon played a critical part in the Allied advance across Western Europe.

Background

In early 1937, as his previous design, the Hawker Hurricane was entering production, Sydney Camm commenced work on its successor. The chief designer at Hawker Aircraft, Camm based his new fighter around the Napier Sabre engine which was capable of around 2,200 hp. A year later, his efforts found a demand when the Air Ministry issued Specification F.18/37 which called for a fighter designed around either the Sabre or the Rolls-Royce Vulture.

Concerned about the reliability of the new Sabre engine, Camm created two designs, the "N" and "R" which centered on the Napier and Rolls-Royce power plants respectively. The Napier-powered design later received the name Typhoon while the Rolls-Royce-powered aircraft was dubbed Tornado. Though the Tornado design flew first, its performance proved disappointing and the project was later cancelled.

Design

To accommodate Napier Sabre, the Typhoon design featured a distinctive chin-mounted radiator. Camm's initial design utilized unusually thick wings which created a stable gun platform and allowed for ample fuel capacity. In constructing the fuselage, Hawker employed a mix of techniques including duralumin and steel tubes forward and a flush-riveted, semi-monocoque structure aft.

The aircraft's initial armament consisted of twelve .30 cal. machine guns (Typhoon IA) but was later switched to four, belt-fed 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannon (Typhoon IB). Work on the new fighter continued after the beginning of World War II in September 1939. On February 24, 1940, the first Typhoon prototype took to skies with test pilot Philip Lucas at the controls.

Development Problems

Testing continued until May 9 when the prototype suffered an in-flight structural failure where the forward and rear fuselage met. Despite this, Lucas successfully landed the aircraft in a feat that later earned him the George Medal. Six days later, the Typhoon program suffered a setback when Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, proclaimed that wartime production should focus on the Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley, Bristol Blenheim, and Vickers Wellington.

Due to the delays imposed by this decision, a second Typhoon prototype did not fly until May 3, 1941. In flight testing, the Typhoon failed to live up to Hawker's expectations. Imagined as a mid- to high-altitude interceptor, its performance fell off quickly above 20,000 feet and Napier Sabre continued to prove unreliable.

Hawker Typhoon - Specifications

General

  • Length: 31 ft., 11.5 in.
  • Wingspan: 41 ft., 7 in.
  • Height: 15 ft., 4 in.
  • Wing Area: 279 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 8,840 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 11,400 lbs.
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 13,250 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance

  • Maximum Speed: 412 mph
  • Range: 510 miles
  • Rate of Climb: 2,740 ft./min.
  • Service Ceiling: 35,200 ft.
  • Power Plant: Napier Sabre IIA, IIB or IIC liquid-cooled H-24 piston engine each​

Armament

  • 4 × 20 mm Hispano M2 cannon
  • 8 × RP-3 unguided air-to-ground rockets
  • 2 × 500 lb. or 2 × 1,000 lb. bombs

Problems Continue

Despite these problems, the Typhoon was rushed into production that summer following the appearance of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 which quickly proved superior to the Spitfire Mk.V. As Hawker's plants were operating at near capacity, construction of the Typhoon was delegated to Gloster. Entering service with Nos. 56 and 609 Squadrons that fall, the Typhoon soon mounted a poor track record with several aircraft lost to structural failures and unknown causes. These issues were made worse by the seepage of carbon monoxide fumes into the cockpit.

With the aircraft's future again under threat, Hawker spent much of 1942 working to improve the aircraft. Testing found that a problematic joint could lead to the Typhoon's tail tearing away during flight. This was fixed by reinforcing the area with steel plates. In addition, as the Typhoon's profile was similar to the Fw 190, it was the victim of several friendly fire incidents. To rectify this, the type was painted with high visibility black and white stripes under the wings.

Early Combat

In combat, the Typhoon proved effective in countering the Fw 190 particularly at lower altitudes. As a result, the Royal Air Force began mounting standing patrols of Typhoons along the southern coast of Britain. While many remained skeptical of the Typhoon, some, such as Squadron Leader Roland Beamont, recognized its merits and championed the type due to its speed and toughness.

After testing at Boscombe Down in mid-1942, the Typhoon was cleared to carry two 500 lb. bombs. Subsequent experiments saw this doubled to two 1,000 lb. bombs a year later. As result, bomb-equipped Typhoons began reaching frontline squadrons in September 1942. Nicknamed "Bombphoons," these aircraft began striking targets across the English Channel.

An Unexpected Role

Excelling in this role, the Typhoon soon saw the mounting of additional armor around the engine and cockpit as well as the installation of drop tanks to allow it to penetrate further into enemy territory. As operational squadrons honed their ground attack skills during 1943, efforts were made to incorporate RP3 rockets into the aircraft's arsenal. These proved successful and in September the first rocket-equipped Typhoons appeared.

Capable of carrying eight RP3 rockets, this type of Typhoon soon became the backbone of the RAF's Second Tactical Air Force. Though the aircraft could switch between rockets and bombs, squadrons were typically specialized in one or the other to simplify supply lines. In early 1944, Typhoon squadrons commenced attacks against German communications and transportation targets in northwest Europe as a precursor to the Allied invasion.

Ground Attack

As the new Hawker Tempest fighter arrived on scene, the Typhoon was largely transitioned to the ground attack role. With the landing of Allied troops in Normandy on June 6, Typhoon squadrons began providing close support. RAF forward air controllers traveled with the ground forces and were able to call in Typhoon air support from squadrons loitering in the area.

Striking with bombs, rockets, and cannon fire, Typhoon attacks had a debilitating effect on enemy morale. Playing a key role in the Normandy Campaign, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, later singled out the contributions the Typhoon made to the Allied victory. Shifting to bases in France, the Typhoon continued to provide support as Allied forces raced east.

Later Service

In December 1944, Typhoons helped turn the tide during the Battle of Bulge and mounted countless raids against German armored forces. As spring 1945 began, the aircraft provided support during Operation Varsity as Allied airborne forces landing east of the Rhine. In the war's final days, Typhoons sank the merchant vessels Cap Arcona, Thielbeck, and Deutschland in the Baltic Sea. Unknown to the RAF, Cap Arcona carried around 5,000 prisoners taken from German concentration camps. With the end of the war, the Typhoon was quickly retired from service with the RAF. During the course of its career, 3,317 Typhoons were built.