Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hurricane by Leo McKinstry

The Battle of Britain had its own mystique – the legend of the 'Few’ – but it was won by the superbly engineered aircraft that flew in it, as much as by the pilots who flew them. In Hurricane: Victor of the Battle of Britain (John Murray, £20), Leo McKinstry restores the ugly sister of the two fighter aircraft involved to her rightful place in the pantheon alongside the more celebrated Spitfire (whose story McKinstry has already told).

In fact, as McKinstry convincingly argues, by rights the Hurricane should be the more celebrated aircraft: 1,715 Hurricanes fought it out in the blue summer skies over southern England 70 years ago – more than double the number of Spitfires engaged and, tellingly, four fifths of the enemy aircraft destroyed in the Battle of Britain were shot down by the Hurricane’s formidable array of eight Browning machine guns.

The Spitfire’s place in the spotlight was won by its sheer sex appeal: clean lines, all metal frame, speed, manoeuvrability and adaptability. Compared to it, the half-wooden and fabric-covered Hurricane seemed a clunky throwback to a bygone age. One of McKinstry’s greatest strengths as a writer is that he makes everything he writes about seem as important, interesting and exciting as the dogfights in the air. Yes, even the battles on the ground as the Hurricane’s forceful designer, Sydney Camm, strove desperately to persuade tight-fisted bureaucrats that the country needed defending.

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