The Hawker Typhoon (or “Tiffy”, to use RAF slang), was a single seat fighter-bomber largely assembled by women factory workers at the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company during the Second World War.
The aircraft took its first test flight in February 1940. It was originally intended as a medium-range, high altitude interceptor to replace the Hawker Hurricane. Despite a number of highly original innovations to its interior and air frame design, however, it suffered from a number of design problems – mainly because it had been commissioned too hastily in an effort to counter the threat of the superior Focker-Wulf Ff 190 German fighter. In its early days, many were lost both in combat and for reasons unknown.
The first of these technical problems was the seepage of carbon monoxide into the cockpit. Oxygen tanks had to be used by pilots during the flight. Extra ventilation vents had to be fitted to control the high temperatures in the cockpit. During high speed dives, the tail was likely to become detached from the aircraft; excess vibration was also a dangerous feature at high speed. The undercarriage also had a tendency to jam, forcing the pilot to land on one wheel. Eventually a new canopy had to be fitted to improve all-round vision. But despite extensive modification , its performance over 20,000 feet remained disappointing. The Typhoon’s time would come, though.
In preparation for D-day, the Typhoon’s role was switched from a high altitude interceptor to a low level ground-attack fighter-bomber, equipped with 12 wing guns, bombs and rockets. And now at last the aircraft would prove its worth – spectacularly. During the landings, it was so effective that it could claim to have been one of, if not the best RAF tactical aircraft of the whole war: It was used as an interdiction raider on transport and communications deep inside Western Europe prior to the invasion, and particularly in close liaison with allied ground troops both during and afterwards.
The aircraft’s speed, range and destructive capability came into its own now, making the Typhoon the most formidable strike aircraft, able to fly both day and night. Just one plane’s firepower was equivalent to that of a Royal Naval destroyer.
German counter attacks against the American beach-heads in the days after D-day were repulsed by low-flying Typhoons, decimating enemy artillery, tanks and infantry in the borage country around the city of Caen.
Between 1943-45, modifications to both the air frame and engine were made, enabling the Typhoon to be used as a long distance fighter over both desert and jungle terrain as well as against pinpoint targets identified by resistance groups operating ahead of the advancing allies in Western Europe.
In all, the Gloucester Aircraft Factory produced just over 3,300 planes by the end of the war. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the last produced Hawker-Typhoon, and is being marked by an exhibition at the Jet Museum at Gloucester Airport.
Terry Jones taught History to adult students taking Foundation courses at a College of Higher Education prior to their entry into full-time degree courses at Warwick and Coventry Universities. Since taking early retirement, he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe, pursuing a life-long interest in 19th and early 20th century European history. He has been a GCSE and "A" level tutor with OOL since 1996.