Geek Heaven in Dorset

My wife Susan is a highly engaged Twitter user and finds all kinds of interesting articles being tweeted, some of which she forwards to me in email.  I am not a highly engaged Twitter user, so email is always a good way to find me.  We spent a couple of very pleasant vacations in Dorset before I moved to the USA. We did the Hardy sites and tours, visited the Dorchester Museum and Maiden Castle, all those things.  When Susan found a picture of a Hurricane being exhibited at the Borough Gardens in Dorchester in 1943 I took a quick glance and more or less filed it away, thinking “Second line Hurricane, 1943, armament removed, I wonder what the serial number is, I’ll have a look sometime.”

Yes, It’s a Hurricane. But which one? From Dorset Museum’s Twitter Feed: @DorsetMuseum Dorchester’s Borough Gardens is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year! From our archive is this image of a Hawker Hurricane Fighter in the gardens taken by a Mr. Collins during the “Wings For Victory Week” which was a national fund raising event in 1943

That time came fairly quickly.  I discovered the photo is a little more puzzling than at first sight.  I can’t make out the rest of the serial number from the scanned photo the museum tweeted, so looked for features to give some clue as to what production mark it was.  And that’s where the fun started.  

Keen eyed readers and viewers may assume like me, that given the C and C1 style roundels that this is a Hurricane IIc with the wing cannons removed and faired over.  That’s what I thought.  But there is precious little evidence of that removal.  It’s a bit too neat.  Then I looked at the nose.  What struck me was that there is no oil-deflector ring on the cowling behind the propeller spinner.  I have just read a huge article on the Web about the various propellers and spinners fitted to Hurricanes. Thus bewildered I can say I have no idea which kind of propeller and spinner is fitted (although my personal guess is Rotol), but there is no oil deflector ring.

This detail alone suggests that this may be an older Hurricane which has been out to grass for a longer time than previously imagined.  The real kicker for me is the wireless antenna post behind the cockpit canopy.  It’s not one of the angular blade type antennae you see on most of the later Hurricanes and Spitfires. It’s stocky and squared off. That rang a bell somewhere in the subconscious, so I went and looked at Francis K. Mason’s authoritative book on the Hurricane and lo, he said in a comment on another picture, that the stubby squared-off wireless antenna post was a common feature of the first production “L” serialled Mark I Hurricanes.  Really?  Could it be this is a very early Hurricane taking part in a Wings for Victory exhibition in 1943?   This was exciting, so I set to work on trying to match the visible digits of the serial number with the list in his book and one of my highly arcane and beloved reference works, Bruce Robertson’s British Military Aircraft Serials 1911-1971.  And that’s where my research came unstuck.

The only visible portion of the serial number are two digits, and their position within the serial number is open to question.  If this is an early Hurricane, its 5-character Air Ministry serial number will be formatted “A0000” rather than the later format “AA000”  

As in all the best puzzles, someone is standing in front of the tail of the aircraft concealing another digit, perhaps two.  All we therefore see are the digits “25” and what may be the front edge of a 7 or a 3.   The first production batch of 600 Hurricanes were in the serial range L1547-2146,  so even allowing that the missing digit is a 7 there is no possibility that the combination “257” appears anywhere in that production batch. The Dorchester example can’t be one of those.  

Not to lose heart, the next production batch of 300 Hurricanes were in the serial range N2318-2729 so it’s possible that the serial is N257x.

The next production batch of 500 Mark 1 Hurricanes were built by Gloster Aircraft used serials in the range P2535-3264.  Robertson notes that aircraft up to P2681 had a wooden, fixed pitch, two-bladed Watts propeller – after 2681 they were fitted with Rotol propellers.    If the Dorchester Hurricane was P257x it may have been originally endowed with a Watts propeller and converted later in life.

There are no contenders in the rest of the P, R,  T (Canadian), V and W serial combinations so the remaining possibility for the single letter / four digit combination is Z2308-4018 – a massive order for 1000 Hurricanes Mark IIA . IIB and IIC from Hawker.  Z257x is therefore a feasible identity, occurring as it does in the range Z2560-2594. I need to cross check what marks these 30 aircraft were, simply because the oil deflector ring was seen as early as the summer of 1940 on operational Hurricanes and clearly this aircraft doesn’t have one.  It’s quite possible that this could be a later Hurricane with a serial in the BN, BP or later ranges, but by this time I’m certain none of them would have omitted the oil deflector ring and certainly none would have had that short stumpy wireless antenna post.

Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc PZ865 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight seen in July 2005 in the markings of the Czechoslovak night fighter ace Karel Kuttelwascher. Note that where the (red) propeller spinner meets the nose there is a flared ring of metal to defect any leaking oil from the propeller hub away from the windscreen of the aircraft. Notice the size and shape of the radio antenna mast behind the cockpiy, which is slightly longer and pointed in comparison to the Dorchester Hurricane. Photo by Kogo GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

This little exercise in delving around reference books and pictures on the Web always amuses me.  I am quite aware I could be barking up the wrong tree completely.   I think what I must do is email someone at the Dorset Museum and ask them nicely if they can have a look at the original print and see if any more of the serial number is visible. Especially whatever lies aft of the Sky band on the tail.  

2 thoughts on “Geek Heaven in Dorset

  1. WOW! when you research, you research!! I have to admit, you seem to really know your way around Hurricanes. I do well enough trying to figure the various “marks” of American planes. 🙂

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