75 years ago on April 1st 1945, a Hawker Typhoon MkIb was brought down by low level flak( German anti-aircraft fire) on the German Dutch border. The pilot managed to ‘belly flop’ onto a muddy field and evaded capture to be repatriated with his squadron 4 days later.
Fast forward to the present day and this very same aircraft (RB396) forms the basis for a rebuild project to return this much admired, but sadly forgotten warbird back into the air. This is not a replica, it is a rebuild to flying condition of the only surviving Hawker Typhoon that saw active service.
The story so far
The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HTPG) exists to raise the funds required to oversee the rebuild and return to flight of the sole surviving combat veteran Hawker Typhoon MkIb, RB396.
The Typhoon; a powerful, potent ground attack aircraft that redressed the balance in mainland Europe during World War Two (WWII), has been lost from the collective memory of our national, industrial and engineering heritage. RB396 will symbolise this heritage, educate the public and become a permanent memorial to all the crews, of all nationalities, that made the ultimate sacrifice operating the Typhoon. It’s time to remind the world.
Innovative technology requires time for its niche to be identified, and so this was proven with the Typhoon. Pushed into service too early, development and testing taking place during front line service, circumstances and the foresight of a number of young Squadron commanders combined to identify the Typhoon as a superb ground-attack platform and in the process, save the type. In spite of issues relating to the new Napier Sabre engine, the tail structure and carbon monoxide in early aircraft, the Typhoon gained a reputation as one of the greatest and most feared ground attack aircraft of WWII. The pilots knew that this rugged platform would get you to the target fast, take a lot of damage and get you home where many other types would have failed.
With the Typhoon’s future now secured, it was the Normandy Landings that cemented the Typhoon and its crews’ place in history. Without them the Allied Forces would not have broken out of Normandy as quickly as they did, saving many thousands of lives in the process. The ultimate accolade was given by Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander) himself: “The chief credit in smashing the enemy’s spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-firing Typhoon aircraft of the Second Tactical Air Force… The result of the strafing was that the enemy attack was effectively brought to a halt, and a threat was turned into a great victory.”
RB396 flew over 35 combat sorties against ground targets in ‘Fortress Europe’ and was repaired 18 times in her short four-month life. In total, 666 Typhoon pilots, 56% of all Typhoon pilots, were lost on operations, a higher percentage than losses suffered by Bomber Command. On 1st April 1945, whilst attacking mechanised transports (METs) five miles north-east of Hengelo in the Netherlands, RB396 herself was hit by intense light flak and started to lose height. Her pilot Flight Lieutenant (F/L) House, skilfully made a forced landing north-west of Denekamp on the Dutch/German border. F/L House evaded capture, managing to return to his Squadron just four days later. RB396 became one of many battlefield relics littering the European theatre.
After changing the course of the Normandy Landings and the race through Europe to Germany the Typhoon was no longer required. The Tempest, the next-generation fighter, was available in larger numbers and there was no place for this unique and powerful fighter. With the airframes no longer needed they were simply scrapped, disappearing into the history books, or so it was thought. In North America, a single complete airframe was identified by an ‘eagle-eyed’ enthusiast. Marked as a Hurricane, MN235 had been sent to the United States Air Force for evaluation before being placed in store for a national museum. The authorities did not know what they had and a swap was made for a Hurricane with MN235 returning to the UK and being put on display in the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum (Hendon).
After the war had passed her by, RB396 was recovered from the battlefield, transitioning through a scrap dealer and then a chemical factory, that proposed making a chemical wash from her rear fuselage. She was eventually saved by Dutch enthusiasts for display in a small museum. In 2012, she was brought back to the UK by one of the founding Trustees of the HTPG. With the securing of a factory inhibited Napier Sabre engine the very real prospect of getting a true WWII veteran flying again became a reality and the HTPG was established in 2016.
The HTPG team has stepped up to the monumental task of putting this rare, unique and important aircraft back into the skies where she belongs for the crews that flew and operated the Typhoon. RB396 will be a memorial to those who came and served before us, influencing the course of WWII, and our future. The HTPG are not observing history, they are honouring and making it.