John William Brooks DFC DFM – Flew with various squadrons 607 – 174 and 249. He started as a flight sergeant VR and finished as a Pilot Officer in charge of a gunnery school in Fayid.
The Hawker Hurricane – “Id like to recall that a hurricane was a ‘first time’ aeroplane, in the sense that you could not have dual instruction in it. when you first landed it was right after the time you took off and flew it for the first time. Instruction was all given on the ground before one got airborne. once in the air you tried hard to remember all that you’d been told – although you usually forgot. Fortunately the undercarriage of the hurricane was wide and very strong unlike the spitfire or the BF109. It could be ‘dropped’ in without any undue harm. Nevertheless it could at the same time be made to ‘sit down’ so gently that it became a matter of personal pride not to feel the aircraft touch the ground. And believe me we used to operate from some rough old airfields – mostly grass without concrete runways.
I remember once during the summer of 1941 returning from a sweep escorting Blenheims and landing at Manston. A friend of mine, Sgt Batchelor, had been badly shot up particularly around the face and head. He flew his hurricane back and landed it at Manston with the help of some of his squadron friends, when he was almost blind. They flew alongside him and talked him down. Later I heard he became permanently blind. I saw all this whilst on the ground, resting beside my own aircraft. We were given lemonade by a party of Boy Scouts accompanied by a local vicar. I wonder if any of those people remember this?”
“How does one describe the feelings of flying a hurricane? Remain objective and understandable, yet avoid nostalgia on the one hand and pure technicalities on the other? To even attempt it for someone who has never been a pilot would be virtually impossible – rather like trying to explain colour to a person who is blind.
The hurricane was the first real war plane I flew and therefore holds a place in my memories which no other aircraft has taken, not even the spitfire. It was the aircraft in which I learned the art of staying alive because it was practically viceless, besides being very kind to hamfisted beginners like myself. It could take enormous punishment not only from its pilot but also from teh opposition, something the delicate ‘feminine’ spitfire would never do. One hurricane I saw had the tail plane and elevators almost completely destroyed in a collision with a Messerschmitt BF109 yet it flew over 100 miles across the Channel back to base at Manston. The stick movement was somewhat restricted but it got down ok. The odd bullet hole through the fabric of the rear fuselage or control surfaces was not considered to be of any consequence and was patched up with a small square of fabric and red dope. After long spells of ops, some of our hurricanes looked as thought they had caught some spotty disease, although this was quickly ‘cured’ with dabs of green and brown paint after the red dope had dried off.
To actually fly the hurricane was a delight. A pilot had to find out for himself since there was no dual controlled hurricane build (until much later). You simply got in and flew it and very few pilots ever came to grief during the first flight. It was later when one found how easy it appeared that over confidence replaced prudence and accidents occurred. No aircraft will put up with silly abuse by its pilot, not even the hurricane, yet I believe it was the most forgiving.”
“Once in the air with the wheels up the hurricane was a delight. You didn’t so fly it as wear it. The lightest touch on the controls was all that was needed, and even this was done quite unconsciously. You appeared to ‘think’ the aircraft into a turn, or out of it. At hight speeds the controls did tend to stiffen up and this was common on all aircraft. Yet the hurricane could still be maoeuvred quite adequately. It was better than the spitfire in this respect and far superior to the Bf 109. On the other hand it was slower than both of those aircraft, although more manoeuvrable. It could literally turn on a six pence.
This was probably the reason that the hurricane was considered ideal for tackling bomber formations while the faster sleeker spitfire took on escorting fighters. Unfortunately this did not always work out in practice and hurricanes had their work out out with the later marks of 109, and even more so with Focke-Wulf 190s. For this reason the hurricane was relegated to defensive or fight-bomber roles. It was sent on offensive sweeps in 1941 but was usually employed as close escort to Blenheim and Boston light bombers. Those operations (know to the RAF as ‘circus’) were primarily adopted to bring up the germans fighters for the loosely scattered spitfire squadrons to scrap with. The hurricanes job was to fend for the bombers if the 109s got through – which they invariably did. I dont think these sweeps did any damage to the germans war effort – the bomb load was far too small – but what they did do was to boost the morale of the RAF and the British people.
It was on one of these sweeps that a real ding-dong scrap took place. We hurricanes had 109s passing through our formation, between individual aircraft, going in the opposite direction. Their tactics were to scream down from high above and make head on attacks. Then after passing through to pull up, turn round and make another attack from the rear. The hurricane escort couldn’t leave the bombers so we were easy prey for this sort of tactic. On one occasion I was attacked from the rear in this fashion. The 109 pilot badly misjudged his speed and/or mine and overshot. He then did a rather foolish thing – he pulled up to see where I had gone and presented himself right in front of me, about 100 yards away. I simply fired and he blew up – I was most astonished.”