There is an old saying to the effect that quantity has a quality all of its own, and this was never proved better than by the performance of the Hawker Hurricane during the Battle of Britain. While the Hurricane was slower than the Spitfire - and the German Bf109 - it was rugged, stable, and best of all, available in numbers. While the Spitfire was without a doubt the better plane, it was difficult to build and repair, while the Hurricane was comparatively easy to construct - while it looked a modern monoplane fighter, it was built in the fashion of the older planes of the early 1930's.
McKinstry follows up on his earlier studies of the Spitfire and Lancaster, subtitiling the volume "the plane that won the Battle of Britain". That assertion is at least arguably correct: without the Hurricane available in numbers, with Spitfire production lagging behind orders, the outcome in 1940 might have been different indeed. But it is also clear that 1940 was the high-water mark for the Hurri as a fighter plane": after that it was used as a ground attack plane with tank-busting cannon, bombs and rockets, and in theatres outside Europe, such as North Africa, Malta and Burma, and as a catapult plane fired off merchantmen in the mid-Atlantic with no landing strip to return to!
Most of this book is about the Battle, and the role the Hurricane played. Prior to that, its development is run through and post-1940 the story is one of decline and obsolescence, at least in the role it was designed for. There are testimonials from pilots about the reliability and sturdiness of the Hurrincane, to which many owe their life. Some pilots preferred Hurricane to Spitfire, and explain why. There is also a bit of the Spitfire snobbery of German pilots exposed - if a single engine plane got you, then it must have been a Spit! Of course, this is true of every soldier since primitive man picked up clubs: in WWII allied troops reported every tank as a Tiger, and each artillery piece an 88.
This is a useful book on the Hurricane, and is just long enough. Hopefully the role of the Hurricane in 1940 will never be forgotten or ignored in favour of the more glamourous Spitfire.
on 5 December 2012
Great history of the Hawker Hurricane
Years ago I read Paul Gallico's early book on the Hawker Hurricane. (Yes, the same man who wrote "The Snow Goose", "The Poseidon Adventure", "The Love of Seven Dolls", "Jennie" and many other fine books!)
Many other books have been written about the Hurricane and Hurricane pilots since.
McKinstry's book is an excellent addition.
Many other reviewers have praised it, deservedly so.
I want to add some small points.
It is surprising that McKinstry says virtually nothing about the way Hurricanes were used, during 1941 to the end of 1942, as moon-light intruders over France.
On page 284 he says, "Some of the new planes were sent to the Middle East ... though many were retained by Fighter Command [in Britain] for use as intruders against occupied France and as attackers against Channel shipping".
McKinstry does cite Roland Beamont [not "Beaumont"], who was a RAF fighter pilot, and test-pilot for Hawker, specifically an interview with Beamont, and Beamont's own books (which I have not read).
However, Edward Lanchbery's biography of Beamont ("Against the Sun: The Adventures of Roland Beamont DSO OBE DFC", Cassell, London, 1955: Pan, London, 1957), in Chapter 4, explains how 87 Squadron, led at the time by David Ward, began flying moonlight intruder raids against Luftwaffe airfields, and opportunistic targets such as locomotives. Beamont flew with Ward on the first raid, with striking success!
McKinstry is quite right in saying that Hurricanes, without air-born radar to help find night-time targets, were almost wholly ineffective as night-fighters.
But moonlight raids against ground targets are quite another matter.
Another tiny quibbly point is that McKinstry does mention, when discussing night-fighters, the way Bristol Beaufighters were used with air-born radar. Unfortunately he fails to say that this effective night-fighter work began earlier with Bristol Blenheims, the ancestors of the much faster and more powerful Beaufighter.
Similarly, McKinstry repeatedly talks about the Hurricane's thick wing.
What is surprising, to me, is that he says so little about the successors to the Hurricane, the Typhoon, and the Tempest.
I am not an aeronautical engineer, but I believe that the thick-wing idea, as used in the Hurricane, was based on flawed or misleading aerodynamic theory.
When similarly thick wings were used in the Typhoon, it, too, was, to Camm's surprise, a poor performer at high altitudes.
But at lower altitudes, like the Hurricane, the Typhoon was an outstanding tactical ground-attack plane, rather than a fighter.
When Hawker (the company, and its engineers) investigated the laminar-flow thin-section wings of the North American P51 Mustang, designed according to laminar flow aerodynamic theory, they realised why both the Hurricane and the Typhoon lost speed at high altitudes: thick wings can't fly fast, high up. (Was Camm's non-use of wind-tunnels unhelpful in terms of wing-thickness?)
By changing the wings from thick to thin, the Typhoon became the Tempest (and, later, with a radial engine, Hawker, that is, Sydney Camm created the new monoplane Fury and then the Sea Fury -- the fastest piston-engined production plane, ever), and was an outstanding fighter at all altitudes. (The Supermarine Spitfire also had thin wings!)
These points are small, and in no way detract from a fascinating book.
John Gough - Melbourne, Australia - firstname.lastname@example.org