Good morning. Grab a cup of coffee, this is a long one. Over an hour.
The Supermarine Spitfire is THE iconic British fighter of World War II, but arguably, the series of fighters designed by Sir Sydney Camm for Hawker were, in the end, the more important contribution. Camm designed 52 aircraft for Hawker over his career. The pre-war design of the Hurricane would form the backbone of RAF Fighter Command in the early days of World War II, and bear the brunt of the Battle of Britain.
While the Hurricane was a solid design, it was limited by the (then) relatively low powered Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Camm looked to newer, more powerful engines for his next fighter design. The Hawker Typhoon was an all new design, but clearly an evolution of the Hurricane. Powered by the new, powerful, and very temperamental Napier Sabre engine. Designed as a fighter to replace the Hurricane, the Typhoon would instead find itself spending most of its career in the ground attack role.
Like the Hurricane, the Typhoon had a rather thick wing. That thick wing meant more drag, and also introduced British pilots and designers to the problems of compressibility in high speed regimes. Looking to the laminar flow wing of the North American Mustang, Camm saw an opportunity to design an update of the Typhoon that would be even better. With its much thinner wing, the Hawker Tempest would be the fasted British piston engined fighter of the war.
Camm always understood that the performance of a fighter was very closely tied to the state of the art in engine design, and was eager to incorporate ever more powerful engines into his designs. Indeed, the Typhoon was actually the Typhoon Mk V, with Marks I-V having various other engines as testbeds. The engine Camm really wanted was the Bristol Centaur, but a shortage of that engine meant it wasn’t until the very waning days of the war that enough were available to begin fielding the Tempest II. The Tempest II, with its radial engine was a rather radical departure from the Tenpest V’s H-block engine.
The final stage of evolution would be Britain’s last piston engined fighter, the Hawker Sea Fury. Generally similar to the Tempest II, the Sea Fury featured smaller wings, and was generally lighter overall. It would serve with distinction in the Korean War for the decks of British carriers, and even labor on in the Burmese Air Force until 1968!
Probably the last combat of the Sea Fury was during the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. The Batista government had received a handful, and the Castro government struggled to keep them in operation. In spite of their advanced years, the Sea Furies in service with Castro’s regime proved highly effective in attacking the transports attempting to invade Cuba.
But back to the subject of our post, the Hawker Tempest.