The Hurricane II C (NF) is a truly rare and little-known aircraft. It evolved out of an idea mooted during the period in 1940-41 when London and other cities in England were enduring the Night Blitz. To tide over the desperate shortage of night-fighters, one suggestion made was to put Air Interception radar sets into single-seater fighter aircraft like the Spitfire, the Hurricane and the Typhoon. In the event only the Hurricane part of the plan was realized.
Those who want to read the detailed history of the Hurricane II C (NF) and the Beaufighter ace A. M. O. 'Maurice' Pring can go to my essay SERGEANT PRING AND THE CALCUTTA HURRICANE http://www.rquirk.com/176Sqdn/Sircar/Sergeant%20Pring%20and%20the%20Calcutta%20Hurricane.pdf.
In the above-mentioned essay I had claimed that the Hawker Hurricane II C (NF) was the first radar-equipped single-seater night-fighter in the world to have been put into production. I think I did the aircraft an injustice. I should have said the Hawker Hurricane II C (NF) was the first radar-equipped single-seater night-fighter in the world. The object of this essay is to justify my assertion.
There are radars and radars. An IFF(Identification Friend or Foe) device is a radar device. A tail warning device that senses hostile radar emissions is a radar device. Therefore it is necessary to define what I mean by radar-equipped to prevent confusion and controversy.
The primary purpose of a night-fighter is to hunt and destroy enemy aircraft at night. Therefore any radar device, whether active or passive-offensive, that directly helps a night-fighter to perform it's primary function will be considered as radar. Both active radars ( i.e. radars that send out signal pulses in order to locate enemy aircraft by the reflected signal) and passive-offensive radars (radar signal receivers that help a night-fighter to home in on an enemy aircraft's radar emissions) are thus acceptable as radars. Neither an IFF nor a passive-defensive device like a tail-warning device that is meant to assist escaping from hostile aircraft can, by this limited definition, be called a radar.
The major problem in fitting radar to single-seaters arose from the fact that the early radar sets required an operator to adjust it and make it work and interpret the information displayed on two separate cathode-ray tubes. There being no place for an operator in a single-seater, the pilot-operated radar set fitted to such an aircraft had to be relatively 'automatic' and the information it provided on a single screen had to be easy to interpret. The British solved the problem in incremental steps. The Air Interception (AI) Mark 6 set, developed by the EMI engineering team under the leadership of Dr. A.D. Blumlein in 1941, was capable of being operated by a single-seater pilot. After this set was operationally tested in the Boulton-Paul Defiant Mark IIs of 264 Squadron from September 1941 onwards, the order for a dozen Hurricane II C (NF) aircraft fitted with the AI Mark 6 was placed in early 1942. The Telecommunications Research Unit (TRU) had experimentally fitted one aircraft with an AI Mark 6 radar set at about the same time, probably at RAF Hurn.
Experimental Hurricane II C fitted with AI Mark 6
radar, probably at RAF Hurn, early 1942
[courtesy Mike Dean via Horace Macaulay]
BN288, the prototype Hurricane II C (NF) built by TRU Malvern, completed it's flying tests with the Telecommunications Flying Unit (RAF Defford) and Fighter Interception Unit by June 1942. The TRU/FIU report on the aircraft dated 7th June 1942 was cautiously positive.
The production of the 12 aircraft ordered was completed by December 1942, and in the same month 6 aircraft each were operationally deployed with 245 'Northern Rhodesia' and 247 'China-British' squadrons at RAF Charmy Down and RAF High Ercall respectively. Finding them too slow to catch the fast Luftwaffe raiders, the Air Ministry had them shipped out to India in early 1943. They served from June 1943 onwards in 176 (NF) Squadron based at Baigachi, about 25 miles/40 km NE of Calcutta. 176, the only night-fighter squadron in India, was tasked primarily with the defence of Calcutta from Japanese night raiders.
176 Squadron, Baigachi, mid-1943
[courtesy J. A. O'Neill via Andy Thomas]
During WW2, apart from Britain, radar-equipped single-seater night-fighter aircraft were built only by Germany and the USA. Let us take a brief look at these developments without getting unduly embroiled in the complexities of a vast subject.
Germany developed pilot-operated active search radar sets of the FuG 216 Ausf.V, FuG 217 Ausf. J2, and FuG 218 Ausf.J3 'Neptun' types (the name was derived from the multi-pronged rod antennas that resembled Neptune's trident) for fitting into single-seaters. The FuG 216 and 217 active search radars were apparently developed in 1943. There was also the FuG 350 'Naxos Z' radar receiver that enabled them to home in on the H2S radar emissions of RAF bombers: the Naxos Z first flew on 11th September 1943. The first single-seaters to receive these sets were Messerschmitt Bf 109 (Me.109) and Focke-Wulf 190 (FW 190) day fighters.
The Me.109 G series, which pilots referred to as the 'Gustav', was developed in 1941, and the 109G-1 went into service in March 1942. The G series evolved rapidly and the G-4 was introduced into service in October 1942. This was followed by the most important subtype, the G-6, which seems to have entered service in December 1942 or thereabouts. The G-5 was a G-6 with a pressurized cockpit for high-altitude operations.
The FW190 A series entered service in 1941. The A-5 entered production around November 1942, the A-6 from June 1943 onwards and the A-8 began to be built in February or March 1944. This was followed by the A-9 and A-10. Rustsatze 'field modification' kits to adapt the standard aircraft for various purposes were especially common for the 190, and the R-11 kit was fitted to FW 190 aircraft intended for night-fighting/bad weather flying.
By 1943 the growing weight and accuracy of the RAF's night attacks on Germany was causing serious material and moraIe damage. In April 1943 the bomber pilot Obstlt. 'Hajo' Hermann suggested that day fighters could hunt RAF bombers at night, finding their prey by the light of target indicators, searchlights and the burning target itself, particularly if there was a layer of thin cloud that acted like a backlighted sheet of frosted glass, silhouetting the bombers. The plan was called 'Wilde Sau' ('wild boar'), contrasting the 'free hunting' single-seaters to the ground-controlled multi-seater night-fighters which were called 'Zahme Sau' ('tame boar'). An experimental unit called Stab/Versuchkommando Hermann was formed on 26th or 27th June 1943 and it showed Hermann's plan had potential. 'Wilde Sau' received a big impetus after 'Operation Gomorrah', the RAF raids on Hamburg in early July that blinded the German radar network with strips of foil called 'window' (now called chaff) and inflicted colossal damage and casualties. Within days Versuchkommando Hermann became Jagdgeschwader 300 (JG 300), and was soon joined by JG 301 and JG 302. These units used a mixture of G-series Me.109s and FW 190As.
Although initially successful, the 'Wilde Sau' became less effective as winter arrived, and losses soared, mainly because of the difficulty of single-seater pilots to find their prey at night in bad weather, and then make their way back to base safely. It was at this time that radar-equipped Me.109 and FW190 were introduced into service.
Some 'Wilde Sau' Me.109 G-6s were equipped with the FuG 350 'Naxos Z' homing device, housed in a transparent bubble behind the cockpit canopy: They were also fitted with direction-finding equipment to help them get back to base. These aircraft were known as Me.109 G-6/N or G-6/U4N (the latter had the U4 factory conversion equipping them with two 30mm MK 108 cannon in underwing gondolas). Since the 'Naxos Z' was airborne only in September 1943 the installations probably happened in late 1943 or early 1944.
Me.109 G-6/R-6 with FuG 350 Naxos Z housed in the 'bubble'
behind the cockpit
[from A J Press Monografie Me.109 Cz.2]
The night-fighter trials unit Nachtjagdgruppe 10 (NJGr 10) was set up on 1st January 1944 and began operating with Me.109 G-6 aircraft fitted with FuG 217 J2 'Neptun' radars. Ultimately FuG 217 J2 radar sets were mounted on the Me.109 G-6 , G-10, G-14 and K-4 types, and one or more G-5 high-altitude models carried the FuG 218 J3.
Me.109 G-6 fitted with FuG 217 J2 radar
[from A J Press Monografie Me.109 Cz.2]
The earliest radar fitment to FW190s took place in autumn 1943 when five JG-2 aircraft in France were installed with FuG 217 J2 Neptun sets. In 1944 NJGr 10 began operating FW190 A-5 and A-6 aircraft fitted with FuG 216 V, FuG 217 J2 and FuG 218 J3 radar sets. The radar display was mounted on the top left corner of the instrument panel. Ultimately radar was installed on FW190 models A-5, A-6, A-8 and 'long-nose' D-9.
FW 190 A-6/R-11 Nr.550143 of 1/NJGr 10 fitted with FuG 217 J2 radar
at Werneuchen in 1944. This aircraft was flown by Oblt. Fritz Krause.
at Werneuchen in 1944. This aircraft was flown by Oblt. Fritz Krause.
A solitary single-seater Me.262A-1a jet (Werk Nr. 130 056) was fitted with a FuG 218 J3 set and flown by Erprobungskommando 262 (Kommando Welter), set up in November 1944 under command of K. Welter. Flown by Welter, this aircraft destroyed 2 heavy bombers and 3 Mosquitos in a little over a month.
Comparing these dates to the Hurricane II C (NF), which was flown in prototype in early 1942 and entered operational service by December 1942, there can be no doubt that the Hurricane came long before the German types.
The United States converted the F4U Chance-Vought Corsair and the F6F Grumman Hellcat single-seater day fighters to radar-equipped night-fighters for service in the Pacific against the Japanese, followed by other aircraft like the F7F Tigercat. A few F4F Grumman Wildcat were adapted to night operations but not mounted with radar.
The prototype F4U2 Corsair night-fighter was built in January 1943. It was equipped with the XAIA radar in a radome about midway on the left wing projecting from the leading edge. The first night-fighter squadron to be equipped with the type, VF(N)-75, was formed the same month but deployed only in October 1943. Two other squadrons were also equipped with the Corsair. The aircraft achieved a measure of success.
A Marine Corps F4U2 Corsair night-fighter
The prototype of the initial mark of the Hellcat that was put into production, the XF6F-3, flew in July 1942. The F6F-3 entered service with VF-9 in February 1943. The first of the Hellcat night-fighters were the 18 F6F-3E aircraft equipped with AI radar converted at Marine Corps Air Station at Quonset Point sometime after February 1943 – the Hellcat was thought to be a better night-fighter than the Corsair because it was easier to land and a better gun platform. The AN/APS-4 radar was carried in a bulbous pod projecting forward near the tip of it's starboard wing.
The F6F-3E was followed by the factory-built F6F-3N (July '43) and F6F-5N night-fighters with the AN/APS-6 radar. 205 F6F-3N and over 1500 F6F-5N were built, which makes the Hellcat night-fighter the most numerous radar-equipped single-seater night-fighter of the war.
Hellcat night-fighter in British service
It is obvious from the above facts that neither the Hellcat nor the Corsair night-fighters, both of which appeared in 1943, came before the Hurricane II C (NF).
CONCLUSION AND EPILOGUE
If this was an exercise in geometry, one could have just written Q.E.D. and finished. But this is not an exercise in geometry, so I must sadly admit that the Hurricane II C (NF) was not merely the first among single-seater night-fighters, but also perhaps the least effective.
Unlike the German and American aircraft discussed above, it failed to score any victories. It was too slow for the Luftwaffe bombers, and did not get a chance to try it's mettle against the Japanese night-raiders, who kept their distance from Calcutta after the savage mauling they received at the hands of 176 Squadron Beaufighter pilots Maurice Pring and Charles Crombie in January 1943. In particular 'Sergeant Pring', as Flight Sergeant A. M. O. 'Maurice' Pring was popularly called, achieved instant world-wide fame when he destroyed all three Japanese Army Type 97 Ki-21 'Sally' bombers raiding Calcutta in just four minutes on the night of 15th/16th January. He was awarded an immediate DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal).
On December 4, 1943, the Japanese sent over a fast, high-flying recce aircraft, and 176 was asked if they would try to shoot it down if it reappeared on the 5th. To lighten the aircraft, the Hurricane II C (NF)s were stripped of radar and converted to makeshift day fighters.
The Japanese mounted a brilliantly planned and skilfully executed daylight raid on Calcutta on 5th December with over 120 aircraft coming in two waves from two different directions with a time gap of 45 minutes between the formations. The entire day fighter strength of the RAF defending Calcutta was committed against the first wave, and when the second wave appeared around mid-day, only the Hurricane II C(NF)s of 176 were left to challenge it. Five Hurricanes went up, and as they dived at the G4M 'Betty' bombers they were 'bounced' out of the sun by 27 A6M3 Zeros of the 331st Kokutai, a crack Japanese Navy fighter unit. Three Hurricanes were shot down, and one so badly damaged as to be written off. Two pilots died, Flt. Lt. G.R. Halbeard and the seven-victory Beaufighter ace Flying Officer 'Maurice' Pring, who had volunteered to fly a Hurricane though as a Beau pilot he was not required to do so.
The surviving Hurricanes were withdrawn from service by Christmas 1943, and struck off charge in 1944 - an ignominious end to the aircraft's brief and disappointing career.
The Hurricane II C (NF) was an unlucky pioneer, and fate reserved for it the cruellest blow a pioneer can suffer : oblivion.
1st September 2011.
Copyright J. Sircar 2011