CanCar Can Do!
by Richard Mallory Allnutt
In our first article, we described how Canadian Car & Foundry set up a Hawker Hurricane production line at their factory in Fort William, Ontario. However, this significant achievement may well never have happened without the positive intervention of Canadian politician C.D. Howe. British Air Ministry representatives had disregarded CanCar's capabilities on their first appraisal, relegating them to subassembly production for the Handley-Page Hampden light bomber program only (as part of the Canadian Associated Aircraft Ltd consortium). But Howe refused to accept such prejudices and pushed for a greater role, eventually yielding results. While the initial order of 40 Hurricanes for the Royal Air Force was painfully small considering Britain's needs, it did provide CanCar's workers an opportunity to demonstrate their skills. Under Elsie MacGill's extraordinary leadership, they completed this contract five months ahead of schedule - proving their detractors wrong!
As the war in Europe intensified, however, Hurricane production schedules inevitably slipped due to supply-chain delays, as CanCar noted in their September, 1940 fiscal report:
"Additional small orders had been placed with us before the [conclusion] of the first contract, but with the sudden rush of war work following the capitulation of France, severe difficulties arose in connection with the supply of raw materials and components, to the extent that it was impossible to resume shipment of [Hurricanes] until late in September. In the month of July last, further large orders for planes of this type were received, and production is being speeded up as rapidly as the material and machine tool situation will permit."
Engines & Props:
One of the biggest problems involved the supply of type-specific parts from Britain, especially the Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.III engine and three-bladed, variable pitch deHavilland propeller. While CanCar had received sufficient examples of each to satisfy their pre-war RAF order for 40 Hurricanes, their availability dwindled once WWII commenced since Britain needed as many Merlins as domestic production could supply. It made little sense, therefore, to ship great numbers of them to Canada just to test-fly Canadian-built Hurricanes which were then to come straight back across the Atlantic to Britain.
As a result, subsequent batches of CanCar Hurricanes - at least those built up through early 1942 - were shipped to Britain without powerplants or propellers. Primary source documentation proving this is hard to find, and may no longer even exist, but it is possible to infer such details from the individual aircraft history cards available. James Glassco Henderson offered further corroboration in the 2004 biography he wrote about his uncle, 'Shorty Hatton', CanCar's chief test pilot, stating:
"When the first Hurricanes were built they had been equipped with engines manufactured in Britain, but as time went on it was realized that this two-way flow of engines across the Atlantic was not necessary. Many were then shipped, un-tested, without engines for final acceptance in Britain. However a number of engines were held at Fort William and periodically Shorty would designate an aircraft on the production line for testing. After it had been fitted with an engine he would check it out in the air before it went on its way. His first test on this system took place on September 28th  when he broke off testing G23s long enough to fly a Mk.I machine, T9519."
In any event, once the Canadian-built Hurricanes arrived in Britain for flight testing, most of them also received modifications for the specific combat theaters which needed them.
Keeping Pace with Change:
The company also had to cope with a near-constant flurry of production adjustments too, as the Hurricane's design evolved to incorporate performance improvements. This fact was noted in CanCar's annual fiscal report at the end of September, 1941:
“Work on aircraft contracts has proceeded under difficulties which were not foreseen at this time last year. Construction of Hurricane fighter aircraft at your Fort William Plant had hardly reached the maximum contract requirements when delays were incurred through modifications and changes made necessary from time to time by developments in the type of combat on the front lines in various parts of the world. Thus, while under our original schedule we would have by this time completed our total orders for 1200 of this type of aircraft, only about half of the total has been shipped."
Some of the disruptions alluded to above involved CanCar having to manufacture a navalized variant of the Hurricane, or 'Sea Hurricane', on the same production line as the standard Mk.Is they were building at the time (the latter sometimes referred to as the Mk.X). The Sea Hurricane, although a potent fighter, was not ideal for use aboard aircraft carriers since it lacked a folding wing. However, the pressures of war demanded the type's adaptation due to the woeful performance of aircraft then available to the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm.
While it may now seem absurd, the Fleet Air Arm - from its inception on April 1st, 1924 - had actually been under Royal Air Force control until May 24th, 1939. Due to the lack of funds available following WWI, and the typical pettiness of inter-service rivalries, the Royal Air Force had prioritized the development of land-based aircraft while largely ignoring Britain's naval needs.
The advent of WWII obviously demanded a rapid reappraisal to address this issue. As a stop-gap measure, the Royal Navy ordered the production of modified Spitfires and Hurricanes for use aboard their carriers. Canadian Car & Foundry produced several dozen Sea Hurricanes, but scores of the company's conventional, land-based Hurricanes were later modified for naval use following their arrival in the UK.
Domestic Fighter Force:
Soon after war broke out in Europe during September 1939, Canada committed its military to the struggle, including the bulk of its combat aircraft and pilots. It also devoted its considerable resources to building war materiel, and setting up a massive array of bases all across Canada to train huge numbers of Allied airmen for combat - an endeavor labeled as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
At the time, the vast oceans separating Canada from potential foes to its east and west must have felt like impenetrable barriers - a natural defense, as it were. As a result, just a handful of antiquated combat aircraft - including a dozen or so CanCar-built G.23 Goblins - were allotted for patrolling key locations along the nation's coasts in 1940 and most of 1941. That sense of invulnerability to the homeland must have shattered, however, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
Up until that point, virtually all of Canadian Car & Foundry's Hawker Hurricane output had ended up overseas to satisfy British contracts. Indeed, Canadian-made Hurricanes would serve on every front in the war - even in the Soviet Union. But with Canada now embroiled in a true world war, it had to take its domestic aerial defense more seriously. The RCAF ordered the establishment of several new fighter squadrons for deployment to each coast during the first half of 1942, and placed an order with CanCar for 400 Hurricanes. But it would take many months for those aircraft to begin rolling off the production line, so the RAF diverted 30 Hurricanes from their own orders to satisfy the RCAF's more immediate needs. Thankfully, the airframes were already in Canada, still awaiting shipment, when the RCAF acquired them. These fighters, relabeled from their RAF serial numbers, became RCAF 1351 through 1380 in Canadian service.
While the RCAF was able to acquire 30 CanCar-built Hurricanes from RAF stocks in a Canadian storage facility, it still needed engines and propellers to power them. As a short-term solution to the Merlin Mk.III engine supply problem, the factory reportedly acquired a number of the requisite engines pillaged from obsolete Fairey Battle light bombers then based in Canada, cropping each propeller blade by roughly 6" to achieve the appropriate, overall diameter.
Ironically named, the Battle proved utterly unfit for combat in the contested skies over Europe. However, the type did prove a workhorse in the training role. Over the course of WWII, the RCAF operated roughly 750 ex-RAF Fairey Battles at flying schools across Canada.
Packard Enters the Frame:
To help increase their supply of Merlins, Britain turned to the Ford Motor Company during mid-1940, hoping to arrange the Rolls-Royce engine's licensed-production at a plant in Detroit, Michigan. Ford's CEO, Edsel Ford, initially agreed to help, but Edsel's father - and company founder - Henry Ford still held sway and squashed the deal. Ford still owned manufacturing plants operating in Nazi Germany and soon-to-be-occupied France at the time, so it is possible that these factors influenced his decision.
Thankfully, the British had better luck with the Packard Motor Car Company, also of Detroit, signing a massive contract for the production of Merlin engines during September 1940. After a year's hard work, Packard ran their first, American-made Merlin in August 1941. Designated the V-1650-1 in U.S. military service and the Merlin 28 with the Royal Air Force, the maintenance manual for this engine states that it is essentially equivalent to the British-built Merlin Mk.XX then powering the Hurricane Mk.II and other RAF aircraft. There is a wonderful, albeit desperately dated wartime film of Packard's role in Merlin production below.
Merlin 28s entered production at the end of 1941, with Canada ordering several hundred examples. While CanCar clearly intended to incorporate this engine into their Hurricane production line, there are differing opinions regarding the extent to which this actually occurred. The Merlin 28 still featured a drive shaft dedicated to British propeller designs, which remained in short supply in Canada. As a result, any CanCar Hurricanes shipped to the UK with Merlin 28s installed during 1942 would have done so without propellers. Furthermore, it seems likely that any such engines would have been replaced with Merlin XXs soon after their arrival in Britain to preserve type commonality. These engines would not have gone to waste, however, as the RAF's Avro Lancaster Mk.III heavy bomber fleet would have happily absorbed any spare Merlin 28s which resulted, since that marque relied upon this particular powerplant variant.
The Hurricane Mk.XII
Early 1942 marked the introduction of the Merlin 29. Other than a couple of V-1650-1 specific ancillary components, its main difference with the Merlin 28 lay in the reduction gear box which offered a .477 to 1 gear ratio in comparison to the .42 to 1 ratio of the earlier marque. This meant a Merlin 29 could spin its propeller a little faster for the same engine RPM. However, the Merlin 29 also featured a prop shaft suited to the 23E50 spline of the American-made, three-bladed Hamilton Standard hydromatic propeller. This meant that the CanCar Hurricane production line finally had a locally-sourced powertrain!
Indeed, the Hurricanes which Canadian Car & Foundry built specifically for the RCAF in 1942 and early 1943 all used the Merlin 29 engine coupled with a Hamilton Standard propeller. The only drawback to this combination was that none of the Hurricane's original spinner designs could accommodate the Hamilton Standard's bulbous propeller hub, so all of these aircraft left the factory - and entered RCAF service - without one. Most of these fighters also left the factory with a modified wing which allowed the installation of twelve .303" machine guns (versus the original eight).
The lack of a propeller spinner and the heavy hitting armament were defining features for this very Canadian variant - the Hurricane Mk.XII.
The Military Aviation Museum's Hurricane is one of these distinctively Canadian variants, serving in the RCAF as serial number 5667. It was one of the last handful of Hurricane Mk.XIIs fully completed at CanCar's factory in Fort William, Ontario. While the exact date of its first flight is unknown at present, it was likely towards the end of January 1943.
The RCAF formally took 5667 on strength during February 3rd, 1943, exactly 81 years before the publication of this very article! The aircraft's first military assignment was at RCAF Station Dartmouth near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here it joined the aircraft pool then serving 126(F) and 129(F) Fighter Squadrons. Flt Sgt L.B. Smith, a pilot in 126(F) Squadron, made 5667's first formal flight in active service - a simple machine gun harmonizing test - in the early afternoon of February 6th, 1943. Despite 126(F) Squadron's early forays in 5667, pilots from 129(F) Squadron became the fighter's principal operators over the succeeding 8 months. We shall cover that squadron and its association with our Hurricane in the next chapter of 5667's story... so watch this space!
The author wishes to offer his thanks to the following people for their assistance in preparing this article: Lee Walsh, Jerry Vernon, Jim Bates, Gordon Riley and Harold Skaarup.