Camouflage and Markings – Hawker Hurricane in the Battle of Britain
The following profile artwork is displayed by kind permission of Mr Rick Kent – Ed.
At the end of June 1940, following the fall of France, the majority of the RAF's 36 fighter squadrons were equipped with Hurricanes. Both the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hurricane are renowned for their part in defending Britain against the Luftwaffe; generally, the Spitfire would intercept the German fighters, leaving Hurricanes to concentrate on the bombers, but despite the undoubted abilities of the "thoroughbred" Spitfire, it was the "workhorse" Hurricane that scored the higher number of RAF victories during this period, accounting for 55 percent of the 2,739 German losses, according to Fighter Command, compared with 42 per cent by Spitfires.
As a fighter, the Hurricane had some drawbacks. Markedly slower than the Messerschmitt Bf 109E, its thick wings compromised the acceleration but it could out-turn the german fighter. In the hands of an able pilot the Hurricane proved capable of destroying the German fighter, especially at lower altitudes. The standard tactic of the 109s was to attempt to climb higher than the RAF fighters and "bounce" them in a dive; the Hurricanes could evade such tactics by turning into the attack or going into a "corkscrew dive", which the 109s, with their lower rate of roll, found hard to counter. If a 109 was caught in a dogfight, the Hurricane was capable of out-turning the 109. On the other hand, a stern chase on a 109 was usually futile as the latter could easily evade the Hurricane.
The Hurricane was a steady gun platform and had demonstrated its ruggedness, but its construction made it dangerous in the event of the aircraft catching fire; the unportected fuel tank in front of the pilot meant that any fuel fire could spread easily though the cockpit and the rear fuselage structure. Many Hurricane pilots were seriously burned as a consequence of a jet of flame which could burn through the instrument panel. This became of such concern to Hugh Dowding that he urged retrofitting the Hurricanes with a self-sealing rubber coating in their fuel tanks.
Other significant upgrades such as replacement constant-speed propellers and metal-covered wings which were applied to the original Hurricane Mk Is throughout 1940 were just as important in keeping the aircraft competitive as a fighter. Finally, in September 1940, the more powerful Mk IIa series 1 Hurricanes started entering service, although only in small numbers.
The only Battle of Britain Victoria Cross was awarded to Flight Lieutenant Eric Nicolson of 249 Squadron as a result of an action on 16 August 1940 when his section of three Hurricanes was "bounced" from above by Bf 110 fighters. All three were hit simultaneously. Nicolson was badly wounded, and his Hurricane was damaged and engulfed in flames. While attempting to leave the cockpit, Nicolson noticed that one of the Bf 110s had overshot his aircraft. He returned to the cockpit, which by now was an inferno, engaged the enemy, and may have shot down the Bf 110.