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The Hawker Typhoon 1A & 1B: Worst RAF Fighters in WWII?

WWII

The Hawker Typhoon 1A & 1B: Worst RAF Fighters in WWII?

Despite its high production numbers, the Hawker Typhoon 1A and 1B were both plagued by a series of design and technical problems.

Despite its high production numbers, the Hawker Typhoon 1A and 1B were both plagued by a series of design and technical problems.

by Arnold Blumberg

In 1934 the British War office accepted a new aircraft design eventually designated the Hawker Hurricane Mark 1. It was England’s first monoplane single seat fighter and was armed with eight .303 caliber machineguns, and flew in excess of 300 mph. It entered service with the Royal Air Force in December 1937. However, even before the Hurricane joined the British air service, its replacement—the Hawker Typhoon—was on the drawing board.

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In March 1938 the British Air Ministry advised Hawker Aircraft Company Limited, the manufacturer of the new cantilever low wing monoplane design, that the Hawker Typhoon had to be able to achieve a speed of at least 400 mph at an altitude of 20,000 feet, mount twelve Browning Machine guns, and be able to carry a combination of weaponry. The aircraft was to use the 2,000 hp Napier Sabre or Rolls-Royce engines. At 31 feet 11 inches long, 15 feet 3 inches high, with a wing span of 41 feet 7 inches, the Typhoon’s construction was a mix of bolted and welded duralumin, or steel tubes, and flush-riveted, semi-monocoque material. The wings possessed great strength, providing plenty of room for fuel tanks and heavy armament allowing the plane to be a steady weapons platform.

Despite its high production numbers, the Hawker Typhoon 1A and 1B were both plagued by a series of design and technical problems.

Bad Starts, Exploding Cylinders, Carbon Monoxide Leaks

Intended as a high and medium altitude interceptor, the Hawker Typhoon’s development was held back in 1937 by the delay in the manufacture of the two proposed engines it was slated to employ. When one of these power plants, the 2,000 hp type 24-cylinder liquid-cooled inline Sabre I was finally available, it was soon discovered this model was difficult to start (especially in cold weather), engine sleeve jams caused the cylinder to explode, and it could emit dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide into the cockpit. The result was that the first production Typhoons—all 110 of them known as Typhoon 1A (the proto-type had been first flown on February 24, 1940)—were continuously plagued with technical problems besides the unreliable Sabre engine: mid-air structural failures of the joints between the forward and rear fuselage, and tail breakaways caused by engine jamming or violent tail vibration. Flight testing continued into mid-1941 with a new prototype, the Typhoon 1B, and despite its recurring problems, 1,000 units were ordered by the government.

Frantic to counter the growing aerial ascendency of the new German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter, British Fighter Command rushed 150 Hawker Typhoons in to service during the summer of 1941, with devastating results for the still teething aircraft. Pilots could not see behind them due to the armor plating, the planes had a nasty habit of losing their tails in flight, and it still had a poor climb rate; the aircraft was still did not make for a worthy air opponent. Although it had been designed as an all-altitude interceptor, its clashes with the Luftwaffe over the English Channel in mid-1941 proved it was inadequate for that role except at low level. Discussion within the RAF turned to making the Typhoon a night fighter, but that idea quickly went by the wayside; the planes’ exhausts were in the pilot’s line-of-sight.

Continued Problems With the 1B

Throughout 1941 and early 1943, the RAF conducted tests on the at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment. Problems persisted with the model until 1943 and were not rectified until late in that year. However, following bomb load tests, the plane was cleared to carry two 500 pound bombs. In addition, the Mark 1B was fitted with the more reliable 2,180 hp Sabre IIA engine which gave the fully loaded (13,250 pounds) bird a speed of 412 mph, with a ceiling of 35,200 feet, and a range of 980 miles. Speed-wise, it gave the ground attack Spitfire Mark XIV with its 448 mph a run for its money. Most importantly, its speed outstripped the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf 190, whose models could travel by 1943 at rates of 406 and 382 mph, respectively.

As the Hawker Typhoon continued in service, so too did its mechanical problems. Oil coolers failed, so engines cut out upon landing, and tails snapped off either when the aircraft descended from high altitudes, or when it landed at speed knocking the pilot unconscious. During the first nine months of its operational service, more pilots lost their lives due to engine and structural failure than to enemy action. It was during this time (the second half of 1942) that the decision was made to use the plane not as an interceptor, but a fighter-bomber. Its new role started in August 1942 with strikes on enemy coastal targets in Northern France.

On October 25, 1943, now armed with powerful 4 20mm cannons, plus 8 60-pound High Explosive Rockets, Hawker Typhoons made their first rocket attack when they struck targets near the French city of Caen. The mission, not a great success, resulted in three Typhoons lost. All told, during 1943 low-level attacks resulted in the loss of 380 Typhoons in exchange for the downing of 103 German aircraft including 52 Focke-Wulf 190s.

Despite its high production numbers, the Hawker Typhoon 1A and 1B were both plagued by a series of design and technical problems.

Hawker Typhoons During the D-Day Invasion

To support the D-Day invasion the Royal Air Force formed the 2nd Tactical Air Force, which among other aircraft contained 18 squadrons of Hawker Typhoons. During the first five days of June 1944, the Typhoons put out of action all but one of the coastal radar installations on the Normandy coast. On D-Day itself, June 6, 1944, the nearest German armored formation to the invasion beaches—the 21st Panzer Division—was attacked continuously by Typhoons, suffering 26 destroyed or abandoned tanks. As a result, only six panzers and a handful of infantry made it near enough the coast to menace the Allied landings. Once the beachhead was secured, the Typhoon units were tasked with providing close air support to the British 2nd Army. While performing this job, Typhoons, in conjunction with Mitchel Light Bombers, obliterated the command center of Panzergruppe West, the headquarters which controlled all the German armored forces in Normandy.

In early July, Typhoons were diverted to attack Adolf Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 facilities. That same month they pounced on Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s staff car as he was driving along an open road, seriously injuring the general. During the German Mortain Counterattack, and the Allied air attack on the Germans in the Falaise Pocket, Typhoons, while not directly destroying a large number of Wehrmacht tanks and other armored fighting conveyances, instilled so much fear in their crews that they panicked and abandoned their vehicles. During the four-month Normandy Campaign, 151 Typhoon pilots were killed, 36 were captured and 274 planes were lost to enemy action, mostly to ground fire.

During the four years the Hawker Typhoon was in service, 670 pilots of its 23 squadrons were lost. By war’s end, 3,317 Hawker Typhoons had been built. In September 1945 the Hawker Tempest, which had gone in to service in April 1944, had replaced the Typhoon 1B. Unlike many other aircraft, all the Typhoons were scraped and not sold off; implying the RAF did not want to pass the Typhoon’s many shortcomings onto others.

Despite its high production numbers, the Hawker Typhoon 1A and 1B were both plagued by a series of design and technical problems.

Originally Published December 8, 2014

Add Your Comments

15 Comments

  1. Chuck Burton
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read elsewhere that the Typhoon was the first aircraft to exceed Mach 1 in a dive.

  2. Posted December 16, 2014 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    You really make it seem so easy along with your presentation but
    I to find this topic to be actually something which I
    believe I might never understand. It sort of feels too
    complicated and very large for me. I am having a look forward to your subsequent post, I’ll try to get the hold of
    it!

  3. James W.
    Posted July 3, 2015 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    The RAF had access to the best British & US built fighters to select a fighter-bomber for air support of the D-day invasion, including the P-47 Thunderbolt..

    Fact is, the Typhoon was the RAF’s 1st choice for this most difficult duty, &
    the only US fighter they used in NW Europe was the P-51 Mustang.

    The RAF did use its P-47 Thunderbolts, but against the lesser forces of Nippon..

    The Typhoon had a combination of low level performance & ordnance delivery capability that was shown by both tests & combat results – to be the superior machine.

    • Brian T
      Posted June 13, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      I think you’ll find that the RAF used a number of US aircraft during WW2 in a fighter or ground attach role. I have listed them but not the bomber types used by the RAF. The P36 Mohawk, P38 Lightning, P39 Aircobra (1 squadron only) P40 Kittyhawk and Tomahawk versions, P47 Thunderbolt, P51 Mustang, P70 Havoc (Night fighter), F2A Buffalo, F4F Wildcat (Martlet), F6F Hellcat and the F4U Corsair.

  4. Posted November 9, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    What a poorly researched and inaccurate article that perpetuates wildly incorrect information. It does by even address the length of time allowed for design, test and mass production before introduction to front line squadrons.

  5. Mike Burton
    Posted November 17, 2015 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I am not sure that the author has reached the right conclusions based upon his research. Indeed, I am not sure that his research has been as extensive as it might have been. It is well known that the early Typhoons had problems and failed in their primary design objective, namely as a medium to high level interceptor. However, owing to its powerful engine, it was switched to ground attack, carrying two 1000 lb bombs and rockets. The Typhoon excelled in this role and is considered one of the best ground attack aircraft of WW2. It was a major player at D-day, The Falaise Gap and the Battle of the Bulge. Eisenghower praised it on more than one occasion.

  6. graham harris
    Posted November 21, 2015 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    At some point I assume around 19 41, my late father an Air Ministry Aeronautical Engineer, was tasked to assemble and prepare for flight the first 80 Hawker typhoons. He told me that apparently the hawker factory air field had been bombed by the Luftwaffe and that the aircraft if assembled there, could not be flown out. He was invited to an interview which took place in a motor car on an airfield possibly in the SW England area (bristol/Gloucester); two men fired a series of questions at him then one of them said ; ‘he’ll do’ so that was that. So the aircraft sections were shipped to an airfield where my father and his team began to put them together. He was instructed that if there were any concerns he was to call the Hawker people up and they would advise. In the course of this process this was to occur twice; the first time the aileron surfaces, did not line up. The Hawker engineer on arrival asked my father to demonstrate his concerns i.e. when one wing surface was all in alignment the other side had its aileron above the trailing edge, the Hawker man said ‘oh that’s all right Mr Harris’ and gestured to his accomplice, who produced from beneath his overcoat a heavy hammer and a large piece of timber which he placed on the un aligned surface and proceeded to beat it until all was in alignment, much to my Dad’s amusement and a testament to the strength of Hawker construction. The second occasion was to approve his temporary modification of a continuous metal band right around the rear fuselage just before the tail plane; as after initial test flights they discovered cracks/metal fatigue, this was later resolved with fish plates over the longerons at this point and much later with internal mass balances fitted internally.Sadly I never got him to tell me the full story men and women of his generation would rarely say much, about their experiences other than I did my job. I do know that this wonderful aircraft was not as popular with all airmen as it could have been. I did however notice that its adversary at that time the FW 190 had ‘fish plates around its longerons also unlike ours I bet they were spot welded for aerodynamic efficiency!

  7. dave h
    Posted January 23, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    All fighters have their problems to start with- The Spitfire was difficult to produce quickly because of its highly complex design- the P38 Lightning as supplied to the RAF was under-powered and not fit for combat…based on reports from the RAF Lockheed put Turbochargers onto the aircraft- look how that turned out… The Mustang is another example- the Mk1 was hated by its pilots- the canopy restricted the view to either side and the engine struggled at higher altitudes- both of these meant it was almost rated as unfit for use. Once it was fitted with a licence-built Merlin and what was known as the ‘Malcolm’ Canopy (like the spitfire’s bulged canopy) it turned into a very effective low-level fighter…

  8. Posted May 23, 2016 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Like to see gun footage thumbs uo

  9. Colin Stuart
    Posted July 31, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Actually, despite it’s initial shortcomings the Typhoon could out accelerate, outclimb outdive and out turn all Fw 190 and Bf 109 variants at low level. Read the books by the pilots such as Charles Demoulin and various New zealand pilots who flew them with absolute confidence in their performance superiority but less in their engine’s reliability. Also if you read Norman franks’ book on Luftwaffe fighter bombers over England you will see how quickly a typhoon could catch up with an Fw 190 without bombs and heading across the channel at full power. The reason the Typhoon disappeared so quickly at the war’s end was that the Tempest did the same job only better at higher altitude and the Typhoon had been around for 4 years. How such a big, thick winged aircraft could out manouevre such smaller nimbler aircraft beats me, though the thick wing which caused so much drag compared with the Tempest helped in this. Only the Allison engined Mustang and the Spitfire Xll came near it in low level speed and both those types had nothing like the acceleration which was needed to gain on fleeing tip and run raiders. Oddly the Luftwaffe confused Typhoons for P.40’s for some months which must have been disconcerting for Fw 190 pilots who thought their mount superior to the Spitfire but may be less so than the Kittyhawk.

  10. Raymond Plunkett
    Posted November 12, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    You sure about the Alllison Mustangs? I thought the airframe was all-round poor til the Merlin was inserted….

    • Colin Stuart
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      No, the Allison engine Mustang, especially the later F2OR engined ones was faster than the Merlin version below 10,000 feet. about on a par with the Tiffy at 409 mph and faster than the Fw 190 even without bomb racks. But it is the sheet power and acceleration which made the Tiffy the most effective point defence interceptor. There is a big difference between a fighter that can wind up to a certain speed and one which can sprint like a bullet. A Spit or Mustang is no good if it takes the length of the Channel to catch up to the same speed as its quarry. the Tiffy cruised at close to maximum speed and high revs , the Merlin and Allison could not do that nor the BMW. The exact same happened to Fw 190’s chasing Mustangs from the Dieppe operation. they couldn’t close to firing range and had to break off when the coast was reached, a Tiffy would have caught up in a few minutes.

  11. Aj
    Posted January 1, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Worst RAF fighter in WWII ?
    I would say not. Although they had their problems, what about the Gloster Gladiator or Bolton Paul Defiant. These planes also had successes but were not fit for purpose.

  12. Brian Ford-Coates
    Posted January 14, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    My father flew P-40’s, P-51’s Allison and Packard Merlin models, Hurricanes various, Spitfires Vs, IXs, XIVs, and the Typhoon 1b “Rocket-Phoon” on combat missions. Of all the fine allied aircraft he flew in combat he liked flying the Typhoon above all. It was an unequalled agile low level fighter more than a match the Focke Wulf. The ugly Typhoon although a brute at times to fly gave the pilot absolute confidence that he would deliver accurately a powerful package of mayhem upon the enemy. The Typhoon was the antidote to enemy armour, infantry, transport, rail, bridges, barges, ships, buildings, anything the enemy possessed including his life. When interviewed German veterans from Generals to privates in Northwest Europe volunteered they feared the Typhoon above all other aircraft or any other allied weapon. The Typhoon was not a failure it evolved into the allies most effective terror weapon.

  13. Roy mayer
    Posted April 7, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Rommel was attacked by spits not tiffy

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