Short in range with the ditching propensities of a submarine, harsh stalling characteristics, a very mediocre view for deck landing and an undercarriage that was as likely as not to bounce it over the arrester wires. What less likely a candidate for deployment aboard aircraft carriers as a naval single-seat fighter than the Hurricane could have been imagined … Yet, legacy of parsimony, expediency and shortsightedness inflicted on British naval aviation (it) undoubtedly was, the Hurricane was to take to the nautical environment extraordinarily well.
— Captain Eric Brown, Wings of the Navy

ORIGINS

“The Hurricane earned undying fame for itself in theBattle of Britain, but by the time it reached the Fleet Air Arm it was becoming seriously outclassed by contemporary enemy fighters. With a wing loading of 26.3lb/sq ft and good controls it was a great dogfighter, and it had sufficient performance and firepower to deal effectively with contemporary bombers.
— Captain Eric Brown: Duels in the Sky.

Notes by Fifth Sea Lord1 of meeting held on 4 January 1940 [ADM 1/ 10752] 22 January 1940 Future policy for fighters

B. Short Term Policy:

8. (1) Fulmar. D.A.M. stated that the Fulmar was three months behind time, and quantity production would not begin before April, 1940. He was satisfied that it could not be accelerated.
9. It was agreed that this Aircraft with its large endurance, powerful armament and speed of 260– 270 m.p.h. should prove a valuable weapon. It could be used for reconnaissance and for the maintenance of patrols at sea which would give it opportunities of attacking faster aircraft.
10. (2) Spitfires or Hurricanes. The meeting took note of the fact that the Fleet Air Arm was now faced with ‘shore based’ tasks not previously envisaged, e.g. the defence of Scapa. Moreover, the Fleet Air Arm might be called upon at any time to undertake the responsibility for the Air protection of other Naval Bases, whether at home or abroad.
11. It was agreed that these new tasks made it desirable to reinforce the weapons of the Fleet Air Arm with a number of high speed single-seater Fighters of the most modern types, if practicable. The use of such Fighters would offer the following advantages.
(1) They would constitute a mobile Fleet Fighter force suitable for shore-based work which could be moved rapidly to any point required, and enable the Navy to undertake the air defence of its bases overseas, months before such defence was likely to be provided by the Royal Air Force.
(2) They could also, if necessary, be used at sea to supplement the Fulmars; the Fulmars carrying out the patrols and these singleseaters being flown off when attack was imminent. Since they would not have W/ T, they could not be directed once air-borne, and they could not navigate. They would, therefore, have to rely on themselves sighting the enemy close to the Fleet for making contacts. Within these limitations, their speed should enable them to force combat on a proportion of attackers, and they would have sufficient petrol for a short pursuit.
12. The problems of using either Spitfires or Hurricanes for this purpose were discussed. The main difficulty was that of the embarkation of these types in Carriers. Without folding wings they could be embarked in the GLORIOUS and FURIOUS, owing to the wide lifts fitted in these Carriers, but they could not be embarked in the later Carriers, which had narrower lifts, unless their wings were made to fold. The Firms concerned were already working on designs for modified wings for this purpose and they hoped to be in a position to report upon the possibilities very shortly. It was expected that it would be at least nine months before Aircraft of these types with folding wings would come into production. It had been contemplated that if the designs of folding wings were successful, some 50 Aircraft might be obtained.
13. The meeting argued that a force of this kind would be valuable to the Fleet Air Arm, and they recommend that the possibilities should be pursued with all despatch.
14. (3) Possible use of Foreign Types. This in practice meant U.S.A. Aircraft. The meeting considered that the types available and the possibilities of obtaining them offered no advantages over the Spitfires or Hurricanes, and that there was nothing to be gained by pursuing this suggestion further.

The seed of the idea to adapt the Hurricane for carrier use came out of a disaster: The controversial loss of the fleet carrier HMS Glorious. It was an event that combined the best and the worst of the Royal Navy – innovative spur-of the moment problem solving, and the often pig-headed privileged pride of ‘old school’ naval officers.

It was an act which blew away any remaining myths that single-seat fighters could not operate from carriers. The only doubts that remained related to the endurance and durability of the RAF’s single-seat types.

The hapless RAF pilots of Hurricane Mk Is of No 46 Squadron which evacuated to HMS Glorious in July, 1940, became the first to land a single-seat monoplanes on an RN carrier. They did so without any training and in aircraft without any modification – beyond slightly deflated tyres.

But from the outset the Hurricane option was seen as second best. The Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet in 1940 wanted his Skuas replaced by Spitfires. While deeply impressed by the 46 Squadron Hurricanes landing aboard Glorious, he argued the Hawker (320mph at 17,500ft) was too slow to contend with the Ju88 (310mph at 16,000ft).

In the end, circumstances helped the Hurricane – in much the same way they had the Fulmar.

Operation at great heights did not apply to the defence of a fleet at sea (where effective attacks required low levels). But the ability to counter high-flying reconnaissance aircraft was nevertheless significant.

At sea, attacking bombers would be flying towards the fighters – reducing the need for high overhaul speeds. They would also be flying lower and slower than normal due to the need for accuracy against manoeuvring targets. The FAA was quick to find that if a the carrier air patrol was within about 10 miles of the fleet, it could respond at 300mph to come in behind bombers flying at 300mph – so long as they had been detected at least some 25nm out.

This was being regularly achieved by even early versions of the Fighter Direction Office.

There is little doubt the RN preferred stocks of the USN’s new Wildcat fighter. But these were yet to get the folding wings which would give them the edge over a Sea Hurricane. Sufficient supplies of the Martlet variant also were not guaranteed. The USN was itself undergoing an urgent program to replace its F3F biplane fighters, and the outbreak of war in the Pacific quickly restricted the number of Martlets being delivered to the FAA to attrition replacement levels – not enough to expand the number of operational squadrons.

An interim aircraft was therefore urgently required.

Spitfires were out of the question: The RAF was concentrating on that type to rebuild after the Battle of Britain.

Fortunately there was little to separate the Martlet and Hurricane in terms of combat performance, except in the key area of endurance.

 
The Sea Hurricane was, thus, like the Seafire that was to follow it aboard British carrier decks, very much a product of desperation, albeit a product that, despite its inevitable shortcomings, was very welcome indeed as was, for a year, to reign as the fastest fighter in the FAA’s inventory.
— Captain Eric Brown: Wings of the Navy

Hurricanes of No 46 Squadron RAF park on HMS Glorious' aft flight deck after successfully landing on without any arrester hooks or pilot deck experience.

Hurricanes of No 46 Squadron RAF park on HMS Glorious' aft flight deck after successfully landing on without any arrester hooks or pilot deck experience.

In fact we didn’t use the full length of the flight deck. We all stopped two-thirds of the way up. So it was no problem.
— Squadron Leader Kenneth Cross, Secret History - HMS Glorious

GLORIOUS REVELATION

It was mid1940. The Royal Navy was rushing to reinforce Norway ahead of a German invasion. But things went wrong fast. No sooner had had the British expeditionary forces arrived than they were forced to retreat.

No 46 Squadron commander (Sqn Ldr K.B Cross) became convinced, after examining HMS Glorious’ flight deck when his unit had been shipped to Norway only weeks earlier, that his RAF Hurricanes could land aboard. After all, they had flown off from that same deck without incident…

He argued a bold evacuation plan with RAF and RN commanders, who eventually relented. It was obvious to all that the homeland would itself come under intense attack.

While the larger Ark Royal was present, only Glorious had lifts large enough to stow the Hurricane. This was an important factor for the operation to succeed.

HMS Glorious would have to steam at full speed into the wind. Each aircraft would have to land on a clean deck, and then be immediately struck below via the forward lift. This way, any RAF pilot who felt the need to abort the landing could open up the throttles and come around again.

Letter from Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet to Secretary of Admiralty
ADM 199/ 479] 15 June 1940

Operation ‘D.X.’, operations off Norway, 23 April-3 May 1940

Forwarded for information in continuation of my Submission No. 810/ H.F. 1325 of 14th May, 1940.
2. It is a difficult problem balancing the necessity for operating the carriers as close to the shore as possible to ease the task of the aircraft crews, against the need for keeping them as far to seaward as possible to reduce the scale of enemy shore based air attack. If the carriers are too far out an excessive number of forced landings are bound to occur and the effective time on patrol is reduced. The problem is again a different one if the object is attack by torpedo or bomb as then the further the carrier is from its objective the better are the chances of surprise.
3. I am very much in agreement with the last two sentences on page 2 of Appendix 31. Our F.A.A. aircraft are hopelessly outclassed by everything that flies in the air and the sooner we get some efficient aircraft the better. We have made a ‘false God’ of the business of flying on and off a carrier but now that it has been done by 4 R.A.F. pilots in Gladiators at their first attempt and 10 Hurricanes have been flown on to a carrier, the matter should be reconsidered. Skuas are good dive bombers and they can be used operating from Hatston against targets in the Bergen area. The T.S.R’s, if armed with a cannon could be used for anti E boat operations.
4. The Vice-Admiral, Aircraft Carriers is being asked to report his general conclusions and recommendations as to the operations of fighters for the protection of the carrier as a result of experience in this series of operations.

HMS GLORIOUS flies off RAF Hurricanes of 46 Squadron.

HMS GLORIOUS flies off RAF Hurricanes of 46 Squadron.

It was a success. All 10 of the squadron’s surviving Hurricanes safely made it aboard on June 7 – in no small part due to a windspeed of 40kts over the deck.

Photographs show these Hurricanes were then quickly returned to the flight deck, where they were lashed-down aft.

Only the dubious decisions made by HMS Glorious’ commander caused the loss of the carrier, its two escorting destroyers, and the precious Hurricane fighters later that same day.

Only two Hurricane pilots survived - including Squadron Leader Cross. The 57 remaining RAF personnel aboard were killed.


DEVELOPMENT

In spite of being press-ganged into naval service, taking on tough duties with escort carriers protecting Russian convoys, the Hurricane adapted to its environment remarkably well and gave a good account of itself. Unfortunately, when it was ditched in the sea the consequences were lethal.”
— Captain Eric Brown: Duels in the Sky.

The Hurricane already had a well established reputation, and a streamline production process.

It therefore posed the fastest possible opportunity to give the RN’s few remaining carriers – Courageous and Glorious having already been sunk – aircraft capable of meeting land-based fighters on something approaching equal terms.

Most important, however, was the need for a strong and steady flow of airframes capable of taking on the Fw200 Condors and Ju88’s roaming over the vulnerable convoy routes.

With this in mind, the Directorate of Research and Development approached Hawker in October 1940 to examine the possibility to modify the Hurricane for naval service.

Hawker’s response was immediate: They could provide a prototype fitted with catapult spools and hardware within five weeks.

These were not for carrier use, however: They would be strapped to rocket-catapults on merchant ships – an emergency stop-gap measure taken to fill the gap until the first escort carriers could be converted.

But work on a fully navalised version proceeded in parallel. This, however, would take considerable time. The imperative supply of fresh aircraft to sustain the Battle of Britain put all other considerations to one side.

It was not until late 1941 that sufficient airframes became available to make a noticeable presence at sea.

No Sea Hurricane was ever built as such. All were converted from surplus – often hard-worn - RAF stocks. This was often greeted with dismay by FAA pilots and carrier commanders alike. David Brown notes in his book, "Carrier Fighters":

Ark Royal was offered three Sea Hurricanes in July 1941. Old ex-RAF aircraft, the single-seaters were barely capable of 300kmph at 18,000ft, and although they had the same armament as the Fulmars, they had only half the ammunition capacity and less than half the patrol endurance. Comparative trials showed that the Fulmar II’s performance below 10,000ft was rather better than the Hurricane’s and so although the latter would have been useful for patrols above the Fulmar’s ceiling, the carrier declined the offer.

Nevertheless, the Sea Hurricane went on to prove unexpectedly suited to operations at sea. It’s large wing also helped it cope with the short-takeoffs from escort carriers. By the time the type was withdrawn from service with the FAA, more than 800 had been delivered.

But the reality was the Hurricane had already had its day as an air superiority fighter. It simply was no longer fast enough to reliably deal with shore-based bombers.


Report from Commanding Officer, HMS Ark Royal to Flag Officer Commanding Force ‘H’
ADM 199/ 847 31 July 1941

Maintenance and Operation of Sea Hurricanes

Report on Maintenance and Operation of Sea Hurricanes required by Admiralty signals 1311B/ 20 June, 1941, and 2015B/ 26 July, 1941, is submitted herewith for onward transmission to Admiralty …
REPORT ON MAINTENANCE AND OPERATION OF SEA HURRICANES
Three Sea Hurricanes were erected in ‘Furious’ and were flown to the Naval Air Station, North Front, Gibraltar, by pilots from ‘Ark Royal’ on 1st July, 1941.
2. While at North Front, pilots flew the Sea Hurricanes to gain experience on type and practiced A.D.D.Ls.
3. On 11th July, 1941, two Sea Hurricanes, the third being unserviceable, flew to ‘Ark Royal’ for deck landing practice, and to operate from the ship during a period of training at sea.
4. One Sea Hurricane hit the barrier while landing on deck and was rendered unserviceable. The mainplanes were removed, using an extractor tool made on board, and the aircraft was struck below to the hangar.
5. Four deck landings were carried out in the other Sea Hurricane and the aircraft was kept on deck, being ranged forward and aft as required, while other aircraft were operated.
6. As it was required to carry out night flying training after dark, the serviceable Sea Hurricane was flown to North Front in the evening when it became unserviceable and was unable to return to the ship the following morning.
7. The unserviceable Sea Hurricane airframe on board was placed on deck for blast trials in a low angle shoot and sustained no damage while in the centre of the deck. In this connection, Swordfish aircraft have been damaged and rendered unserviceable by H.A. firing at various times, on all parts of the deck, including the central position abreast the island.
8. On return to harbour, the unserviceable Sea Hurricane was transferred to the Maintenance Unit and parts taken from it were used to make the other two serviceable.
9. Whenever possible the Sea Hurricanes were flown at North Front, but no further opportunity of embarking them occurred.
10. The Sea Hurricanes have been maintained by personnel taken from the Aircraft Technical Section of Headquarters Squadron who, however, have had no previous experience of Hurricane aircraft.
11. No spares or tools for the maintenance or repair of Hurricanes have been received, but a certain number of items and starting battery trolleys have been obtained from the R.A.F. erecting and maintenance unit which has been at Gibraltar. No technical publications for Hurricanes have been available. Great difficulty has been experienced in maintaining the aircraft serviceable.
12. The Sea Hurricanes were not fitted with Vokes filters which increased the difficulty of their maintenance in the dusty conditions prevailing at North Front.
13. It was found necessary to attach an Air Gunner to the Sea Hurricane Flight, in addition to two Air Mechanics (L), for the maintenance of the R/ T equipment.
14. While disembarked, in addition to flying training Sea Hurricanes have been used for R/. D/. F and Fighter interception exercises. On three nights they were maintained at Readiness to intercept enemy bombers which were expected during [the] period of the full moon. For these functions, efficient R/ T was essential.
15. When operating fighters under action conditions it should be the aim to maintain fighters on deck ready to fly off at short notice. This cannot be done while other aircraft are landing on because there is insufficient space forward of the barrier. With folding types of aircraft, aircraft ready for flight can be ranged as soon as landing on is completed, and the aircraft just landed can be cleared from the deck almost at the same time, to be re-armed and refuelled in the hangar. If, however, these aircraft could not be folded they would remain on the flight deck for refuelling and re-arming, or, alternatively, refuelling and re-arming would be interrupted while the aircraft were pushed up and down to clear the deck for others to take off or land on.
16. The short operational endurance of the Hurricane and small amount of ammunition carried must result in frequent turns into wind to land on aircraft which have been in combat, greatly aggravating the position in regard to flying off others or maintaining sections standing by to fly off.
17. Finally, in ‘Ark Royal’, without R.D/ F in the ship the operation in action of single seater fighter aircraft without beacon receivers would be impracticable, and the advantage of the margin of improvement in performance of the Sea Hurricane over the Fulmar II, at sea level and up to 12,000 feet, is outweighed by this sum of the operational and maintenance disadvantages of the type in this ship.
18. For these reasons, the Sea Hurricanes have not been embarked in ‘Ark Royal’ for operations.
19. In a carrier, with large lifts, properly equipped with R.D/ F, with suitable R/ T equipment and with proper provision for maintenance, the operation of the Sea Hurricane or similar type should be successful.

OPERATIONAL NOTES

The cockpit of the Hurricane looked to me at first sight as if someone had chucked a handful of the controls haphazardly into the bare metal interior of the cockpit and, by a bit of luck the throttle controls, for example, had landed on the left hand side where they were needed. But the weird gate arrangement for the undercarriage selector had landed low down on the right where the pilot would have to change hands on the control column, immediately he was airborne, to raise the undercarriage. There seemed to be no actual floor to the cockpit and the pilot’s seat appeared from above to be floating without apparent support in the middle of it. Inside the cockpit there was a never to be forgotten strong smell of glycol and oil from the Rolls Royce engine.
— Henry 'Hank' Adlam: On and Off the Flight Deck - Reflections of a Naval Fighter Pilot in World War II

Letter from Flag Officer Commanding, Force ‘H’ to Secretary of Admiralty
[ADM 199/ 847]   9 August 1941

Maintenance and operation of Sea Hurricanes

 In view of the absence of spares for the Sea Hurricanes I did not feel justified in ordering their embarkation for operations SUBSTANCE and STYLE.

2. The presence of an unserviceable aircraft on the flying deck which cannot be struck below, which requires some considerable time to dismantle and which cannot be moved during the process of dismantling is obviously inacceptable [sic] during normal active operations.

3. Admittedly the performance of Sea Hurricanes above 12,000 feet is markedly superior to the Fulmar II and a squadron might be employed to advantage in a special operation in which the primary object is the destruction of enemy aircraft.

4. When however the tactical situation is such that the primary object is the defence of the Fleet and/ or convoy against air attack coupled with adequate air reconnaissance and the maintenance of an air striking force to deal with surface forces, the presence of Sea Hurricanes is an embarrassment.

5. Subject to the requisite spares being available there appears to be no reason why Sea Hurricanes should not be operated from Aircraft Carriers for the limited purpose set forth in paragraph 3.

One of the most comprehensive accounts of operating a Sea Hurricane from a flight deck comes from Commander 'Mike' Crosley in his book, "They Gave Me A Seafire":

My first take-off in a Hurricane was like a first ride on a high -powered speed boat, noisy, shaky and out of control and, with the same colossal acceleration which almost dragged my hand off the throttle and jerked my head back against the headrest, it was so unexpected. The aircraft took charge. It shook with power as the 900 horses, only a few feet in front, wrenched round the propeller and dug it into the air. It was frightening too, for the whole thing leapt into the sky well before I was ready for it and having used only a quarter of the runway.

The first landing was just as exciting, for none of us were used to an aircraft having such a high power/ weight ratio and which would respond so crisply to the smallest throttle adjustments or stick movements and forces on the approach. The view over the nose was excellent and allowed the runway to be seen straight ahead, even in the tail-down attitude. Sydney Camm had designed the Hurricane for use on grass airfields. It had fat, low-pressure tyres and a wide-track undercarriage, easy enough to cope with bumpy grass surfaces. The only problem with having to land on concrete runways was the rolling resistance which was far less than on soft grass surfaces. The aircraft had therefore to be pulled up entirely by the harsh use of the brakes, something for which they were not designed and in which they consistently overheated when the touchdown speeds were high.

If the direction of crosswind were from the port, or left side, this was very awkward in the Hurricane. It would often start to ‘weathercock’ uncontrollably. The pilot might then say, “Gawd, I’ve made a cock-up here!” and suddenly decide to go round again for another try. This could easily increase the swing tendency, for the propeller torque (rotation, being clockwise, from aft), would tend to stall the port wing and swing the tail further to port (due to the twist in the upper half of the propeller wash striking the fin) and the whole thing could end up like “a can of worms”.


Deck Landing

There was no question of adopting the crabbed approach with the Sea Hurricane as was later to be developed for the Seafire to improve forward vision. The use of rudder on the approach in the Sea Hurricane produced a considerable increase in nose-heaviness which was quite unacceptable in this delicate situation, so it was a straight approach or nothing and the inadequate view forward simply had to be accepted.
— Captain Eric Brown: Wings of the Navy

 

The Hurricane had a reasonable view from the cockpit, except for dead ahead. It was just one of several characteristics which gave the Sea Hurricane less than optimal deck landing characteristics.

But the Hurricane had never been designed to operate from carriers. Given that consideration, it performed unusually well.

Stall speed was about 68 knots with some warning felt through fore-and-aft instability before a sharp wing drop. The all-down stall speed (with flaps and wheels deployed) was 57 knots.

Then there was the Hurricane’s awkward landing gear bounce. At least, as Captain Eric Brown notes, the Hurricane was a far more robust airframe than the Spitfire - allowing it to absorb considerably more deck-landing punishment.

Take-off was not too difficult. The torque swing could be contained by using the rudder until the aircraft lifted off at 70 knots.

Performance

The early Sea Hurricanes had the famous Merlin 2 or 3 engines, rated at 1030hp. These drove a three-bladed constant-speed propeller.

It would climb at 150kts at a rate of 2000ft per minute.

Nevertheless, the added weight of the hook, airframe strengthening, catapult spools and naval radios resulted in the Sea Hurricane having inferior performance to the stock RAF version.

 The FAA data card showing the performance of the Hawker Sea Hurricane 1B (Note the performance with 16lb boost at the bottom right of the card). 

With a top speed of about 300mph, it was 30mph slower than the land-based version.

But this was not all that different to the best available carrier-based alternative: The Wildcat/Martlet. Both were rated as 280 knots in top speed as opposed to the 230kts of the Fulmar.

There is one successful field modification of the Sea Hurricane which has since passed into legend. 

When a small force of four Sea Hurricanes were delivered to HMS Eagle in March 1942, an impromptu 'fix' boosted their engine performance significantly. The adjustments to the manifold pressure control allowed maximum ‘boost’ to increase from +6/6lbs to +16lbs. This resulted in a maximum speed of 315mph at 7500 – a full 25mph faster than an original specification Hurricane at that height. (The RAF Hurricane Ib data card can be found HERE).

Naturally there was a tradeoff: A considerable loss in engine life.

 

Endurance

The Sea Hurricane’s range was recorded as about 450 miles. But it was loiter time that meant the most for carrier operations.

Sea Hurricanes carried only enough fuel to sustain themselves for 1 hour at combat power, and 4.5 hours at full-economical settings. The Fulmar and Martlet could stay aloft for 2 hours and 2 hours 45 minutes under combat power, and 6 hours economical.

The consequence of this was carriers being forced to turn into the wind far more often to take-off and land Sea Hurricanes. So they were often held as 'alert' aircraft on the deck while their longer-legged stablemates maintained the CAP.


COMBAT NOTES

Hurricanes! Scramble the Hurricanes!” The fitters in the cockpits pressed the starter-buttons, and the four Merlins opened up with a blast of sound and a gust of blue smoke. As we scrambled up the wings, the crews hopped out the other side, fixing our straps with urgent fingers. Connect R.T.; switch on. Ten degrees of flap. Trim. Quick cockpit check. The ship was under full helm, racing up into wind— and we were off and climbing at full boost on a northerly vector to 20,000 feet, heads swivelling. Down to 12,000; alter course; climb to 20,000 again. And there they were, a big formation of 88’ s below us. One after another we peeled off and went down after them. They broke formation as they saw us coming, and Brian and I picked one and went after him. He turned and dived away, and we stuffed the nose down, full bore, willing our aircraft to make up on him. At extreme range we gave him a long burst; bits came off and smoke poured out of one engine, and then he vanished into the thickening twilight. We hadn’t a hope of catching him and making sure; already he had led us away from the convoy; and so, cursing our lack of speed, we re-formed, joined up with Steve and Paddy, the other members of the flight, and started to climb back to base.
— Hugh Popham, RNVR: Sea Flight - The Wartime Memoirs of a Fleet Air Arm Pilot

The Hurricane was an easy aircraft for aerobatics as its inherent manoeuvrability was supplemented by good control harmony. While the ailerons were light, the rudder could be heavy. All controls grew steadily heavier until tops peed was achieved – but remained effective.

The aircraft itself was highly stable about all three axes both in the climb and at cruise. When diving, though, the Hurricane's tail-heavyness could not be trimmed out as it would affect the aircraft’s ability to level out. The Hurricane’s split trailing-edge flaps were useful for added manoeuvrability at any speed as their angle would adjust to the airflow.

Mock dogfights between FAA pilots in different machines appear to have been commonplace. In the case of test pilot Capt Eric 'Winkle' Brown, it was one of his jobs: 

I was to engage in many mock combats with RAF Hurricane and Spitfires and was soon convinced that the Martlet was a formidable fighting aircraft, capable of holding its own in every phase except that it was slower than its RAF opponents in the dive. However, this shortcoming was more than compensated for by its steep climb, excellent turning circule and completely innocuous stalling characteristics. The pilot had a better all-round view from the Martlet and, of course, there were those ‘fifty calibre machine guns which were to prove to be possibly the best fighter weapons of the war, although, admittedly, somewhat less reliable than the British 0.303in (7.7mm) gun in that they were more prone to seizing in low temperatures.

Letter from Vice Admiral, Naval Air Stations1 to Secretary of Admiralty
ADM 1/ 13522]  21 September 1941

Selection of Hurricanes for conversion to Sea Hurricanes

Be pleased to represent to Their Lordships that the Vice Admiral Naval Air Stations does not consider that the selection of Hurricanes for conversion to Sea Hurricanes has up to the present been altogether satisfactory.
2. Many of those selected have been of the L.P. and N. series, and most of these have had previous service in Royal Air Force Operational Squadrons. One particular case may be quoted; N. 2455 has since October 1939 been in two different Royal Air Force Squadrons, took part in the Battle of Britain, and was twice extensively damaged, once by forced landing and once by enemy action, before being converted to Sea Hurricane.
3. All these old aircraft suffer from a multitude of minor defects and the Stations have had to expend many weeks’ work in rendering them fit for allotment to a Squadron, and although after this work had been completed the aircraft can be considered as serviceable, it is thought from consideration of their age and previous history that it is most likely that they will continue to suffer from minor defects during their remaining life.
4. It is further considered that even if they can be maintained serviceable, the effect on morale of allotting aircraft of this type to a new Squadron forming is deplorable. Many of the Pilots joining will be young and enthusiastic officers, joining an Operational Squadron for the first time, and to be given an aircraft which can only be described as a ‘cast off from the Royal Air Force’ causes a considerable damping of their ardour.
5. It is submitted that in future only new Hurricanes or those with a minimum of flying hours should be selected for conversion to Sea Hurricanes.

ASSESSMENT

Fleet Air Arm test pilot Captain Eric Brown flew more World War II combat aircraft than any other. After the war he assembled his notes and experience to provide performance comparisons between many types in his book "Duels in the Sky". Here are the summaries relating to the Sea Hurricane: 

Sea Hurricane I Versus Messerschmitt 109F
The Me109F had the edge over the Hurricane in every department except maneuverability, and therefore the initiative always lay with the German aircraft. However, if the latter decided to indulge in a dogfight, the Hurricane would meet in on mere equal terms. Any attempt by the Me109F to follow the Hurricane in steep turns and the 109F’s slats would snatch open, causing lateral twitching and ruining the pilot’s chances of accurately sighting his guns.
Verdict: A good Hurricane pilot could hold his own against the Me109F in a dogfight, but the initiative to mix it or break it off lay with the German. Therefore the odds favoured the 109F.

Sea Hurricane I Versus Messerschmitt 110C
For speed these two fighters were on a par at low level, but the Hurricane was much more manoeuvrable. Its best chance of success was a beam attack on the German aircraft, turning to quarter with the point of aim behind the pilot’s cockpit. An astern attack could be quite effective if made somewhat flat to limit the rear gunner’s field of fire. A head-on attack would be inadvisable because of the Me110C’s heavy nose armament. The twin’s best evasive tactic would be to use its superior acceleration in the dive.
Verdict: The Me 110C should not deliberately mix it with the Hurricane; the latter was a splendid dogfighter, which the twin fighter certainly was not.

Sea Hurricane I versus Junkers 88A-4
Here the situation was similar to the previous one (versus Me110C), except that the Ju88A-4 was better armed for rear defence. Consequently a head-on or beam attack would be the best tactic for the Hurricane. With almost the manoeuvrability of a fighter, the Ju88A-4 could make things difficult for the Hurricane, but the outcome was weighted in the latter’s favour, provided it kept out of the astern cone of the bomber’s fire.
Verdict: The Hurricane had a good edge over the Ju88A-4, but not as much as it had over the Me110C

Sea Hurricane I versus Heinkel 111H-6
The Hurricane performed significantly better than the bomber. Moreover, the fighter’s excellent manoeuvrability would allow it to pick its spot much as it chose. The He111H-6 was very vulnerable during its torpedo-drop run in, when its speed was restricted and its lower guns could not be brought to bear on the Hurricane.
Verdict: The he111H-6 had little chance of winning a contest with the Hurricane, and virtually none at all if caught in a torpedo attack.

Sea Hurricane I versus Kurier (Condor)
The Kurier was a formidable opponent on account of its heavy armament, but it had an Achilles heel – a weak spine. The eight guns of the Hurricane could hammer that soft spot in a beam attack. On the other hand, there were no blind spots in the defensive armament of the Kurier, so an attack was high risk.
Verdict: The odds in such a combat favoured the manoeuvrable Hurricane, but not so heavily that it was not at severe risk against the Kurier’s flying arsenal.

Sea Hurricane Versus Macchi C202
The Italian fighter possessed a speed advantage, but it was not critical, especially as the British fighter was more manoeuvrable and had the heavier firepower. A dogfight would slightly favour the Hurricane.
Verdict: This would be a finely balanced affair, the outcome depending primarily on pilot skill.

Sea Hurricane Versus Reggiane 2001
The Re2001 resembled the Hurricane but it had a significant speed advantage and was equally maneuverable. It lacked the firepower of the British fighter. Overall, the Italian aircraft was better endowed.
Verdict: With its performance superiority, the Re2001 should be able to assert its will in this encounter.

Sea Hurricane IIC Versus Zeke 22
The Japanese fighter was superior in performance, particularly climbing and a turning circle but the Hurricane, with its better rate of roll and dive acceleration, would still be difficult to bring down. If the British fighter drew a bead on the Zeke – a large if – that would guarantee its powerful four-cannon armament an instant kill.
Verdict: This would be a contest of well-matched opponents, but the Zeke’s remarkable agility should ultimately prove lethal.


Minute from First Lord of Admiralty to Prime Minister [AVIA 46/ 136]  6 December 1941

Supply of Grumman Martlet fighters

FIGHTER AIRCRAFT FOR THE FLEET AIR ARM.

 I am increasingly anxious as regards the prospective situation of shipborne fighter aircraft. I attach a chart on which graphs show how the aircraft available fail to meet the requirements. It will be seen from the graphs that up to the end of 1942 the situation is apparently satisfactory, but I would point out that this apparently satisfactory position is due to the use of the obsolescent Fulmar in the first line squadrons aided by the supply of 260 Hurricane ‘Ones’ from the Royal Air Force, which have been converted for use in Carriers, and by the prospective supply of 200 Spitfires, which you yourself were instrumental in obtaining for us from the Royal Air Force subsequent to your visit to H.M.S. INDOMITABLE.
It was hoped that with the supply of Martlets from the United States of America commencing at the rate of 20 per month, as it should have done from October, 1940, we could have kept our heads above water until the new fleet fighters, Firebrand and Firefly, came into effective production. Owing to the failure of the U.S.A. to keep their promise, the situation deteriorates to a marked degree after the end of 1942. We wish to increase the number of Auxiliary Carriers by a total of 15 in 1942, and are considering a further 15 in 1943 and 1944. This will accentuate our difficulty, because although at present the idea of using these Carriers for anti-submarine purposes is predominant, it may well be that Germany will push out her air-raiders to an extent which will require Auxiliary Carriers to be equipped with fighters in addition to anti-submarine craft.
It is clear, therefore, that unless drastic steps are taken to increase the production of fleet fighters, we are likely to be in a nasty hole from the beginning of 1943 onwards. Although we have use of a number of Hurricanes, and in prospect of a number of Spitfires, it must emphasised that these are not really suitable aircraft for operating from Carriers for the following reasons:–
(a) They cannot be used in the small lifts of VICTORIOUS, ILLUSTRIOUS and FORMIDABLE.
(b) Although they can be used in the Carriers fitted with large lifts, they occupy so much more space than a folding aircraft that a drastic reduction in the small number of aircraft which can be carried by any one Carrier is dictated.
(c) Their small endurance requires a Carrier to be turned into the wind so often in order to relieve fighter patrols that the consequent reduction of speed of advance of the ships from which it may be operating is quite unacceptable under certain circumstances.
(d) The R.A.F. aircraft cannot carry the equipment in the way of radio sets and homing beacons, which we have found necessary, for successful operations from Carriers…
The American folding fleet fighter is the ideal aircraft for the job, but here again the productive capacity of the United States is barely sufficient to meet the requirements of their own Navy, which is much behind in modern aircraft owing to the fact that Congress has not allowed them to change their aircraft more than once every five years.

I found that the Hurricane, with its tight little cockpit smelling of glycol and fuel, was more tiring comparatively to fly on two-hour patrols than the Wildcat. But the patrols were without incident. However, flying the Hurricane over the sea, I could not get out of my mind the fear of engine failure if it should ever occur at a level so low, such as in the landing circuit, where it would be impracticable to bale out. It was well known that to ditch a Hurricane safely was impossible because of the huge cooling radiator located like a scoop under the fuselage. The radiator, as soon as it touched the sea, would inevitably cause the aircraft to bunt upside down and hard into the sea without possibility of survival for the pilot. Engine failures did occur from time to time among all aircraft in those days, but the certainty of being killed if it did occur in the Hurricane, made me look forward to the return to my Wildcat with its radial engine which gave the pilot a good chance of surviving a ditching.
— Henry 'Hank' Adlam: On and Off the Flight Deck - Reflections of a Naval Fighter Pilot in World War II

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