Moradabad Hurricane has been identified
An investigation by a group of Aviation Researchers identifies some clues on the identity of this Hurricane - and its history. Read on..
TL;DR – The aircraft is most likely Hawker Hurricane IIB BN225. Last operated by No.6 Squadron, IAF and damaged in a crash landing in 1943.
The Long Version:
When the IAF acquired the Hawker Hurricane IIB from the Moradabad location, it set about trying to identify the aircraft. There were no tell-tale stencil markings or data plates that pointed out the obvious. However, the aircraft’s Merlin XX still had the data plate riveted onto it. The plate has this lettering:
TYPE MERLIN XX No-42639
RIGHT HAND TRACTOR
The number on the engine is a composite. 42639 is the number given by Rolls Royce. and A219867 was the number used by Air Ministry. Both are unique numbers in their own regard, but RAF documents typically use the A number to track an engine along its life.
There were other plates around the aircraft’s undercarriage struts and control surfaces but they are not definitive to point to any source.
The Initial Findings
The first clue came from Darren Pitcher from the Air Britain Group.
“I am in the process of sorting some Spitfire engine numbers so enquired with Ian Craighead at Rolls-Royce Derby and apparently Merlin XX 42639 was manufactured at Glasgow 10/11/1941 it was despatched to an unknown destination on the 17/11/1941 and later recorded as written off. “
Jon Leake, Hurricane researcher offered this bit of help
We might therefore be looking for a Hawker-built Hurricane produced at the end of 1941 or during early 1942, if the aircraft still had the original Merlin when it made its presumed forced landing, and if the Merlin was a new engine when installed rather than a recently overhauled engine. The similarity between the numbers on the booms of the front and rear centre-sections of the Moradabad Hurricane and the ex-Soviet Hurricane thought to be Z2330 suggests that the Moradabad aircraft may have been built somewhat later than the Russian aircraft but not too much further along in the production sequence. If these assumptions are correct, then the most likely production batch ought to be BM898-BP772, delivered during Dec 1941-May 1942 by Hawker, a total of 1250 aircraft. This might be the best place to start to look for identification of the aircraft.
Starting with 1250 set, I came up with a list of 238 Hurricanes that were sent to the Far East. And after eliminating several losses, was left with about 120 Hurricanes that were a possibility.
Geoff Sinclair, from Air Britain, offered an updated list – yet the number of Hurricane IIBs to be followed up ran into a few dozen at the least. None of the available crash records pointed to any incident nearby Moradabad.
The F1180 Search
The trail went cold for a few months till about last week. At my request, Ross McNeill , founder of RAFCommands started looking up a database of Form 1180 Accident Cards related to the Hawker Hurricane. Starting with the premise that the aircraft probably crashed sometime in 1942 or 43, Ross began looking at Mark IIB accidents in India with the engine number 219867. As Ross noted:
The engine numbers from 765c usually have the full data plate reference which has both the manufacturer number and the A prefixed Air Ministry contract number. Usually, but not always, Form AM78 records the manufacturer engine number rather than the A prefix. Form 1180 lists only the A prefix but drops the A eg F1180 for Z3150 records engine as Merlin XX 188623
(I) like a challenge – set about looking at the 3 reels for 1942 and 4 reels for 1943 that list the Hurricane cards – mindful that if it was a collision with other aircraft it might be on the card for the other type. I also looked to try to bracket the serial by noting down near matches of engine A number (about 5% Hurricane F1180 do not have engine numbers recorded) ..
……. Stopped looking 19/6/42 – BN225
For that day, Ross found the accident card for a Hurricane IIB with the engine number that matched the Moradabad Hurricane, It was operated by 17 Sqn at Jessore. The aircraft suffered a bird hit on 19.6.42 and landed safely. Pilot was Sgt F McClure 402555 RNZAF. The 17 Sqn ORB makes no mention of this accident or any others and it does not have a Form 541 that offered any extra detail.
Looking up BN225 in the Air Britain RAF Serials series, turned up some bare details. Air Britain BA-BZ Serials book lists BN225 as serving with 607 Sqn, and SOC on 1st July 1942, not many days after the above incident and that it was “DBR during operations – no further details”
So while the airframe and engine number matched, and the fact the aircraft was SOC almost immediately, it still remained a mystery on how it travelled another 1400km to the west to Moradabad, Was it repaired and being ferried when the engine quit again? Or was the engine removed from BN225 and fitted to another Mark IIB?
The Second Search
John Englested provided another important clue. He noted that BN225 was recorded as flying with 607 Squadron in late 1942 at Alipore, and sure enough the ORB.Form 540 confirmed the aircraft being operated on multiple days. So it is left to said that the aircraft was repaired and flown after its bird hit soon after from Alipore (near to Jessore) by another RAF Unit. The search had been partially reset.
Ross once again dived down into the challenge of locating if another accident involving BN225 could be discovered – and sure enough! By skimming through all the Accident Cards for 1943, he found one for BN225 again! with the same engine number (less one digit missed out).
Now flying with No.6 RIAF (15 take off for transit flight – B flight gets lost and all 6 force-land) – Cat B at Biaora wheels-up forced landing. Same engine (missing digit on F1180)
So here we are – BN225 still had the same engine and this time was involved in a belly landing on a remote village about 60 miles from Bhopal. The incident is too well known in the history of No.6 Squadron IAF. This was the first day of the Squadron’s move and led to an inauspicious start, One flight led by Flt Lt Mansukhani lost their way and the whole flight of six Hurricanes ran out of fuel and force landed. One of the Hurricanes completely burnt out killing the pilot B R Sanjana. BN225 was being flown by J C De Lima who survived (As did the remaining four pilots ). The fate of the remaining five Hurricanes as tracked from various sources are as below.
It is also noted that of the five Hurricanes, two of them were sent to 1 AGS in Bhopal and remained there for the rest of the year in a damaged state before being shipped off to 320 MU in Karachi by rail for salvage. The other three Hurricanes did not arrive at Bhopal. Perhaps they were salvaged by a unit that went north? One of the three, BN209 was made airworthy again – it is recorded in service with No.1 Squadron in 1944. The other two do not make any appearance afterward.
It can be said that BN225 had flown its last sortie. Air-Britain was wrong in the SOC date. And it was soon confirmed by the Form 78 Card that Ross had located that BN225 was struck off Charge on 1.7.43, likely after it was determined that it cannot be repaired to air-worthy status after its belly landing.
Bioara is still 600 miles to the south of Moradabad and the journey of BN225 to this remote location seems unlikely but there are no further threads to follow. The chances of the engine being removed and being used on another IIB are still plausible but considered remote. The number of IIBs lost in 1944 and 1945 has reduced and a majority of them happened outside of the UP area. None could be traced to have crashed close to Moradabad.
Leading us to conclude that perhaps the SOC Hurricane from Bioara found itself at Moradabad – perhaps left behind under police custody by a traveling RAF unit, which brings us to, in the absence of additional evidence the following conclusion:
The Hurricane wreck lying with the Museum in Delhi is an ex-Indian Air Force Hurricane IIB, BN225 last flown by J C De Lima.
The aircraft was manufactured by the Hawker factory in Brooklands in late 1941. The engine was built by Rolls Royce on 10 November 1941 and the aircraft was formally taken into charge by the RAF on 27 December 1941.
The aircraft was then shipped to India by sea, arriving at Karachi on HMT Clan MacBrayne on 2 February 1942.
Allotted to No.17 Squadron in June 42, It was damaged by a bird hit at Jessore. After repair, it flew with No. 607 Squadron till its final flight with No.6 Squadron IAF the next year.
Acknowledgments: Ross McNeill for his diligence in unearthing the accident cards based just on just a six-digit engine number, and for continuing to build the story around BN225
Additional details from John Englsted, Jon Leake, Darren Pitcher, Members of Air-Britain Group and RAFCommands.