Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, P3576 (GN-A), Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson (VC), RAF No.249 Squadron, Boscombe Down, 16th August 1940
Although the prototype Hawker Hurricane completed its first flight only four months before the much-celebrated Spitfire, it is seen by many as being from a much earlier era of British aviation and is generally not held in the same regard as its more famous stablemate. It did, however, prove to be a vital component in Britain’s defenses during the early months of WWII, equipping more RAF Squadrons than any other fighter. Much easier to construct and repair than the Spitfire, the Hurricane shouldered much of the combat burden during the Battle of Britain and was responsible for destroying more Luftwaffe aircraft than the combined total of Britain’s other defenses, including the Spitfire. Rugged and reliable, the Hurricane was a supremely stable gun platform that could absorb a tremendous amount of battle damage and still bring its pilot home. Once back at base, a damaged Hurricane could be patched up and returned to the fray much quicker than the all-metal and more labor-intensive Spitfire.
The heroic actions of Fighter Command’s few during the Battle of Britain are the stuff of legend and it is rather surprising that only one pilot was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, during this significant period in British history. Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson was attacking a large number of Bf 110 fighters above Southampton when his Hurricane Mk.I (P3576) began taking hits from behind – Messerschmitt Bf 109s flying top cover had surprised the British fighters, which were now in mortal danger. Suffering injury and with his aircraft starting to burn, Nicolson was in the process of bailing out when he noticed one of the Bf 110 destroyers passing right in front of his stricken aircraft. Climbing back into the burning cockpit of his Hurricane, he fired his guns into the Luftwaffe fighter, until the intense heat forced him to jump out of his aircraft. Suffering severe burns to his hands and a number of other wounds, Nicolson managed to parachute to safety and was immediately rushed to Southampton Hospital, by members of the Home Guard. James Nicolson returned to flight operations in September 1941, after recovering from his injuries.
To mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2015, the RAF painted one of their Eurofighter Typhoons in the colors of Nicolson’s Hurricane, which became one of the stars of the Airshow circuit and a popular release in the Aviation Archive series.