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The Smithsonian’s Hawker Hurricane

The Smithsonian's Hurricane's History

The National Air and Space Museum’s Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC, serial number LF686, is on display at its Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia. It was among the last batch of Hurricanes produced. The Langley factory built this Hurricane and it was flown to RAF Kemble airfield to be fitted with operational equipment on March 14, 1944. [i] Hurricane production ended in September, 1944.[ii] The RAF accepted LF686 at RAF Hawarden airfield on April 15, 1944. It served with No. 41 Operational Training Unit. On June 27, 1945 the RAF reclassified LF686 as a maintenance training airframe and assigned it number 52270M. It was sent to Chilbolton, Hampshire. The RAF sent it to RAF Bridgenorth. There it was assigned to No. 7 School for Recruit Training in July 1948. They displayed it outdoors opposite the guardroom. RAF Bridgenorth closed in 1963 and the RAF moved LF686 to RAF Colherne for overhaul and storage.[iii] It was at an RAF Museum at Colerne from 1965 to 1969.[iv] The Smithsonian traded it for a Hawker Typhoon Mk. 1B, serial number MN235. The National Air & Space Museum stored this Hurricane at the Paul E. Garber facility in 1974. The National Air & Space Museum began restoration in 1989 and completed restoration in 2000. This is a long restoration period for a single engine fighter.

[i] Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, ( ). last accessed November 5, 2016.

[ii] Jane’s Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © 2005, Harpers Collins Publishers.

[iii] Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, ( ). last accessed November 5, 2016.

[iv] Warbirds Directory, by John Chapman and Geoff Goodall, and edited by Paul Coggan, © Chapman, Geoff Goodall, & Coggan 1992.

Fighters in the Battle of Britain

Source: Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick (c) 1996

Hawker Hurricane ISupermarine Spitfire IBf 109E-3

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Hurricane History

The Hawker Hurricane made its first flight on August 11, 1937. In December the RAF put Hurricanes in frontline service. The Hurricane was the RAF’s first monoplane fighter. Pilot Officer P.W.O. Mould of No. 1 Squadron shot down a Dornier Do 17 on October 30, 1939. It was the first RAF Hurricane victory.[i] The first Hurricane encounter with Bf 109s occurred on December 22. Bf 109s shot down 2 Hurricanes, one fell to Germany’s top Spanish Civil War ace Werner Mölders.[ii] During the Norwegian campaign RAF No. 46 Squadron proved Hurricanes could take off and land on aircraft carriers. A year later the British produced the Sea Hurricanes.

On May 10, 1940 the Germans began their Blitzkrieg on the west. On May 12 Bf 109 pilot Adolf Galland shot down 3 Hurricanes. Hurricanes and other British aircraft had heavy losses during the fighting in the Low Countries and France. Total RAF losses were 931 aircraft of which 477 were fighters.[iii] During the evacuation at Dunkirk Hurricanes flew 906 of the 1,764 sorties the RAF flew. The RAF lost 49 Hurricanes, 48 Spitfires, and 9 other fighters. Luftwaffe losses were 92 airplanes.[iv]

Many people think of the Spitfire when they think of the Battle of Britain. Hurricane fans point out Hurricanes shot down more Luftwaffe aircraft during the battle. There were also more Hurricanes than Spitfires in the battle. RAF Fighter command had 31 Hurricane squadrons and 20 Spitfire squadrons.[v] The preferred British tactic was to have the Spitfires deal with the German fighters while the Hurricanes attacked the bombers. The Spitfire’s performance advantage made them best suited for the fighter vs. fighter combat. The Hurricane was a stable gun platform and could take more battle damage than the Spitfire. These advantages were good qualities for attacking bombers. The Hurricane’s wide track landing gear made it safer on takeoffs and landings. The Smithsonian’s Hurricane Mk. IIC has 4 20mm cannons. This was a result of Britain’s Battle of Britain experience. While the Luftwaffe lost 1,389 aircraft in the Battle of Britain others returned with heavy battle damage.[vi] Germany, and other countries, was eager to highlight when one of their aircraft returned with severe battle damage. The RAF realized these aircraft would not have returned had these hits been with 20mm shells instead of .303 bullets.

Hurricanes served both from land bases and from ships. From August 1, 1940 to February 9, 1941 FW 200s, long range German bombers, sank 85 merchant ships. The British used Hurricanes as one method to combat this menace. The British equipped about 50 merchant ships with catapults and Hurricanes. A catapult would launch a Hurricane. The Hurricane would attempt to shoot down the bomber. The Hurricane pilot would ditch his aircraft at sea and hope a nearby ship would rescue him. The first success was on August 3, 1941. HMS Maplin launched a Hurricane piloted by Lt. R. W. H. Everett of No. 804 Squadron. Lt. Everett shot down a FW 200.[vii] A month later the British introduced the escort carrier ending the need for this stop gap measure. Sea Hurricanes was a major step forward for the Royal Navy. It meant the first time the Royal Navy had carrier based fighters that were equal to land based fighters.

Hurricanes served throughout the war. Squadron Leader Marmaduke E. St. John Pattle, who is generally considered the highest RAF scorer,[viii] scored most of his victories after his unit upgraded to Hurricanes. His last mission was on April 20, 1941 when 15 Hurricanes challenged 90 German aircraft over Athens. Pattle shot down 2 Bf 110s and a Bf 109 before two Bf 110s shot him down and killed him. Flight Leader George V. W. Kettlewell shot down the 2 Bf 110s.[ix]

[i] Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, ( ). last accessed November 5, 2016.

[ii] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces, by Mike Spick, © 1996.

[iii] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski, Total RAF and French losses were 1,266 aircraft in the air this is comparable to Luftwaffe losses of 1,284 aircraft.

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[iv] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces, by Mike Spick, © 1996. German losses were 37 fighters, 45 level bombers, and 10 dive bombers.

[v] The Battle of Britain: The Greatest Air Battle of World War II, by Richard Hough and Denis Richards © 1989.

[vi] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski. RAF losses were 792.

[vii] Focke-Wulf: An Aircraft Album No. 7, by J. Richard Smith.(c) 1973 by Ian Allen.

[viii] The RAF destroyed many of their records, including records of Pattle’s kills, when they evacuated Greece.

[ix] The Allied Aces of World War II by W. N. Hess © 1966 by A. G. Leonard Morgan.

Hawker Hurricane vs P-40s

Source: Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick (c) 1996

 Hawker Hurricane IP-40 Tomahawk II




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425 miles

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Robert Sacchi (author) on August 06, 2018:

Yes, it is huge, 760,000 square feet.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 06, 2018:

The Udvar-Hazy Center must be quite a large place housing many vintage aircraft. Many of your photos originate from there. It would be informative to be able to visit there someday to see airplanes such as the Hawker Hurricane featured in this article as well as others.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 07, 2016:

Yes, pilots tend to claim they have shot down, or were shot down by, the plane they considered the best. Such mis-identifications makes it difficult for historians.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on December 07, 2016:

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The Hurricanes were under-rated by Luftwaffe fighter pilots and claimed to have been shot down by a Spitfire if they survived to tell the tale. Hurricanes were more manoeuvrable (OED) than their celebrity-status counterparts, and could drop right down onto the 'deck' if needed. The Messerschmidt ME-109 couldn't manage that, certainly not the Fokker Wulf - nor the Spitfire. Their shape was a lot less streamlined than the Spitfire and even amongst Brits never got the look-in they deserved in the glory stakes.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 06, 2016:

Yes, also many of these Hurricane equiped ships fell to U-boats. It was difficult in those early days.

Lawrence Hebb on December 06, 2016:


One thing to mention, the 'catapult' launch was pretty much a death sentence for the pilots as these ships were mostly used on the Arctic convoys (to Russia) outside the range of the Sunderland flying boats and most of Germany's Kong range Bombers were based in Norway.

Survival time once they ditched was about two minutes (the water is about minus five Celsius!)

They were brave pilots.

Lawrence Hebb on December 06, 2016:


Great hub with lots of information, the Hurricane was regarded as the 'workhorse' of RAF fighter command in the early part of the war.

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 08, 2016:

Actually it is even worse, according to one source U-boats sank many of these ships.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 08, 2016:

Being launched by a catapult off of a ship in a Hurricane airplane must have been something in its time. Hopefully not too many of those airplanes had to be ditched at sea with the pilot hoping for a rescue from a nearby ship. That was some stop gap method to help protect the ships! Very interesting reading!

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