The Hawker Typhoon was one of World War Two’s most potent ground attack planes. The Typhoon was one of the first planes to provide ‘close air support’.
The design of the Typhoon started in 1938 when Hawker believed that they had developed an engine that was twice as powerful as a Merlin engine that powered the legendary Hawker Hurricane. Such an engine required a new aircraft. The main specifications for this new aircraft was for a top speed of over 400 mph. It was also to be armed with twelve .303 Browning machine guns.
The prototype Typhoon first flew in February 1940. It was initially dogged by an unreliable engine – the Sabre – but this problem was overcome and the first flight of the Typhoon Mk II took place on May 3rd, 1941. This plane was armed with four 20-mm cannon and a larger fin and rudder gave the aircraft greater stability. However, the first production Typhoons were armed with machine guns as a result of a shortage of cannon feed mechanisms. But 3,205 Typhoons would be built with cannon.
Initial tests showed that the Typhoon was 40 mph faster than a Mk VB Spitfire at 15,000 feet and faster still at lower altitudes – though it was less agile. No. 56 Squadron at Duxford was the first to receive the Typhoon for operational purposes in September 1941. However some serious problems with the aircraft meant that it did not fly ‘in anger’ until May 1942 and its introduction was not greeted with universal acclaim by pilots. The first Typhoon kill was on August 9th, 1942, when a Typhoon from 266 Squadron shot down a Ju-88 off the Norfolk coast. The Typhoon was also used at the ill-fated Dieppe landings.
The two most serious problems with the first operational Typhoons were that the Sabre engine, though capable of producing 400 mph, was unreliable and that carbon monoxide that was produced seeped into the cockpit. This second problem was solved by pilots wearing oxygen masks. However, the future of the Typhoon at an operational level was in jeopardy as it failed to perform well above 15,000 feet. The saving grace of the Typhoon was the recognition that at a low level the plane was very agile and fast. Whereas the Spitfire and Hurricane found it difficult to engage the legendary Fw 190’s at low level, the Typhoon did not. Out of the first 60 Typhoon kills, 40 were Fw 190’s. In recognition of this, frantic efforts were made to overcome the Typhoon’s engine problems, especially as low-level Luftwaffe attacks were common in 1942. However, a solution for the Sabre’s problems was not fully introduced until mid-1943 when reliability greatly improved thus increasing the operational value of the Typhoon.
In late 1942, the Typhoon was given a bomb-carrying capability. However, it is most famous for carrying rocker projectiles (RP’s). Initially a Typhoon was fitted with either bomb racks for its 250 or 500 lb bombs and these racks could be interchanged with RP racks. However, the procedure for changing was long and time wasting. As a result of this, the Typhoon became a platform for either bombs or RP’s – but not both. The Typhoon first carried RP’s in October 1943. Most commonly, eight high explosive or semi-armour piercing RP’s were used, four on each wing. Used for a low level attack, such weaponry against trains, tanks etc. could be devastating.
Before D-Day, the Typhoon had been used to great effect in attacks on German radar installations along the French coastline, such as the one at Caudecote/Dieppe that was attacked on June 2nd. On D-Day, the Typhoon was the main close support aircraft for the RAF’s 2nd Tactical Support Force (TAF) that assisted British and Canadian troops as they landed in Normandy. Eighteen Typhoon squadrons flew on June 6th 1944. Eleven were RP carrying and the rest carried bombs and their first target on that day was the German HQ for 84th Corps at Chateau La Meauffe near St. Lô. Two squadrons, 137 and 263, patrolled the Channel and were instructed to engage any German ship if it entered that stretch of water.
The Typhoon was frequently in action as the Allies drove east across Europe to Nazi Germany. Typhoon pilots were instructed to maintain a ‘cab rank’ over a battle field at a height of 10,000 feet so that they could strike with due immediacy as and when they were required. The Typhoon gave very effective cover during the ‘Battle of the Hedgerows’ as the Allies moved out of Normandy and further into occupied France.
To all intents, the aircraft barely changed in its design. A few variants were used: a few NF.Mk IB night fighters were built and equipped with radar and a few were used in the Middle East.