Saturday 6 April 2024

Guest Review: Hurricane: The Plane that Won the War By Jacky Hyams

Britain’s first-ever wartime fighter plane, the Hawker Hurricane, shot down more enemy planes than any other fighter. It was the true aviation hero of the Battle of Britain.

Often eclipsed by the legend and aerial heroics of the Spitfire, the Hurricane was the authentic warhorse of aviation history. Stable, rugged, less expensive to build – and far more easily repaired and maintained than the Spitfire – the ‘Hurri’ as it was affectionately known, proved to be the most fearsome fighter plane in aerial combat – at a time when Britain’s survival was at stake like never before.

In 1940 the Hurricane made its mark: more than half of the 1,200 German aircraft that were shot down in the war were taken down by HurricanesAt the time, the RAF could call on 32 squadrons of Hurricanes and 19 Spitfires: the Hurricane was, in fact, the dominant British fighter plane, developing a reputation as a plane that could take more than a few hits from the enemy – and continue to fly. The Spit was the aviation thoroughbred, superb until damaged. The Hurri was much stronger. The skilled airmen came from all over the world; one of them from RAF 80 Squadron would later become a very famous author – Roald Dahl.

Using documents, letters and first-hand accounts, this is the historic untold story of the Hawker Hurricane and the lives of the men and women who flew, helped design and construct, fit and worked behind the scenes of the ‘Hurri’, all contributing in ways big and small, to its outstanding success as a legend of the Second World War.

Review: This is a book about the Hawker Hurricane, a British fighter aeroplane that saw service during the Second World War. The first prototype flew in 1935 and the aeroplane first entered service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the end of 1937. It served with distinction throughout the Second World War (1939-1945) in all the major theatres of this conflict, although it was becoming obsolete and replaced with more modern designs towards the end of the war. Its finest hour was in the Battle of Britain during the summer and early autumn of 1940. Although often overshadowed by the more glamorous Supermarine Spitfire, the Hurricane’s design was simpler (parts of it were fabric-covered), meaning that it could be built more quickly and was easier to repair following damage. During the Battle of Britain, 32 squadrons of Hurricanes were available to the RAF, compared to 19 squadrons of Spitfires, and Hurricanes shot down more enemy aircraft than did Spitfires. In fact, the highest scoring squadron during the battle was 303 Squadron, a Polish squadron that flew Hurricanes.

The author has set out to redress this imbalance in the reputation of the Hurricane. By using first-hand accounts, she has provided personal histories of the men, and women, who designed, built, flew and maintained the aeroplane. In a comprehensive history of this aeroplane, its wartime roles in Europe, North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Far East are described. However, the text contained many factual errors. She describes SS troops in Germany prior to the outbreak of war as wearing khaki uniforms, whereas it was the SA (Sturmabteilung), the main paramilitary “enforcers” during Hitler’s rise and early years in power, that wore khaki uniforms, hence their nickname of “brownshirts”. She has converted a pilot’s pre-decimal daily pay of 11 shillings and 9 old pence to 40 pence in decimal currency, whereas the correct conversion is 59 pence. In addition, throughout the book, the designation of the German fighter aeroplane Messerschmitt 109 alternates between Bf 109 and Me 109. I also thought that some of the accounts could have been enhanced by the inclusion of more detail. She describes how the Polish 303 Squadron became operational on 31 August 1940. However, the circumstances as to how this came about are omitted. On the previous day during a training flight, one of the pilots Ludwik Paszkiewicz broke formation and shot down an enemy aircraft. His squadron commander officially reprimanded him but privately congratulated him and recommended the squadron become operational. Similarly, in the account of the battle for Malta, the arrival of naval supply convoys in November and December 1942 are described, but the earlier and most famous convoy, Operation Pedestal in August of that year is not mentioned.

I found the book to be a fairly comprehensive history of this famous, if unglamorous, fighter aircraft. However, I feel that greater attention to detail and more rigorous proofreading, together with inclusion of more detail could have elevated a reasonably good book into a very good book.

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