How Accurate is the Movie Hurricane?
The movie Hurricane is about Polish pilots who transferred to the United Kingdom after the fall of Poland in World War II so they could continue their fight against Germany. While for the Poles it was a measure of revenge and fighting for their own country that motivated them, for Britain the movie displays their service as an important contribution in defending Britain during the Blitz in the Summer and Autumn of 1940.
The movie is also known as Mission of Honor , but the original title is Hurricane (Figure 1).
In June and July 1940, the UK stands as the largest country fighting the Axis powers and the Germans begin to make their plans on launching their aerial campaign against Britain. France has just been defeated and is now occupied, while those who fought Germany but who are trapped behind Axis lines try to make their way to safer ground in the UK. This is the case with Jan Zumbach, a Polish fighter pilot who was in France and had to evacuate after the German takeover. He makes it to Britain only to find discrimination and Royal Airforce officers who have their own prejudices against him and other Polish pilots who escaped. The Poles were relatively easily defeated by the Germans, but it was not for their lack of skills for their pilots but mostly due to their antiquated fighters not being as sophisticated as the German fighters. The Poles fought in France as well and this gave them valuable skills, which was lacking in the Royal Airforce in 1940. During the Summer of 1940, there was a fear that Britain would soon run out of pilots due to attrition. Soon, the Royal Airforce had to activate volunteers and other foreigners in Britain, including Canadians and some Americans, to fight for their side.
One of the first units created was 303 Squadron, a mostly Polish unit commanded by a Canadian John Kent. Although the British are in desperate need of experienced fighter pilots, it took time before the unit was fully activated. In fact, the first enemy fighter they shot down was during a training flight in which they observed enemy bombers and fighters and one member (Ludwik) decided to disobey his commanders and engage the enemy. Although criticized for his actions, his knowledge of the enemy and that of his comrades soon enables them to develop better fighting techniques and after their activation they begin to score major aerial victories mostly in southern England. They lose some of their best fighters along the way and they continue to face prejudice in the UK, but they also begin to gain respect among their commanding officers and the wider British public as they are commended for their actions during the Battle of Britain. The 303 squadron ended up having one of the best rates of scored kills in aerial combat among Allied units, thanks in large part in their ability to come close to enemy aircraft and hit them with high velocity rounds, even if the Hawker Hurricane aircraft they flew was often slower to some of the faster German aircraft models. After successfully fighting off the German Blitz in 1940, the 303 continues to fight on during World War II, although this was not heavily touched on in the movie. It was first based in the UK then was transferred over to Europe as the campaign shifted over to mainland Europe. By the end of the war, the unit had among the highest kills of any allied squadron and few then doubted the skills of the unit. After the war, the unit, and other Polish fighters, were honored with a memorial in West London, although the unit was disbanded. 
Jan Zumbach: Jan becomes the leader of the Polish fighter pilots because of his knowledge of English but also for his fighting and leadership qualities. His aggressive fighting style earns him the respect of his commanders but also the envey of some of the British fighter pilots stationed near or with them. The British pilots and staff even compete with Jan and other Poles for the affection of the female staff that are stationed along with them. Jan continued to fight with 303 squadron during the war. He scored 8 kills during the battle of Britain. In 1945, he was captured but survived the war. After 1945, he helped create the airforces of Katanga, a breakaway state in Congo that was dissolved in 1963.
Ludwik Paszkiewicz: He was the first person in 303 squadron to shoot down an enemy aircraft, which occurred during a flight training excercise. Although criticized, his gallantry earned him the respect of flight commanders and helped bring 303 into active service. Ludwik was killed in September 1940 after becoming a fighting ace when his aircraft was shot down, which was depicted in the film.<ref>For more on Ludwik and other Poles fighting for Britain, see: Gretzyngier, Robert, and Wojtek Matusiak. 2001. Poles in Defence of Great Britain: July 1940-June 1941. London: Grub Street.
Josef Frantisek: He was the top scoring ace during the Battle of Britain, with 17 kills, and was of Czech origin, one of the few non-Poles flying in 303 squadron. He is shown as a skillful pilot with great instinct. In reality, his plane crashed in unclear circumstances, where he perished, but in the film he was shown as having crashed after running out of fuel.
John Kent: He was a fighter ace in World War II and the first leader of 303 squadron of Canadian origin. His task was to train and prepare the squadron for activation, a task his superiors thought he was best able due to his leadership qualities. He is shown as a tough leader who earned the respect of his pilots after a rough start with cultural barriers and the squadron's pilots nack for wanting to fight right away before they became operational.
Phyllis Lambert: Phyllis plays an operations staff member who is harassed by her male superior. Eventually, she and Jan become lovers for a while. Her character is fictional.
Witold Urbanowicz 'Kobra': He is a Polish fighter pilot who becomes among the leading aces among the fighter pilots. He eventually becomes the squadron leader after Kent leaves. He later transferred to fight for a US squadron that engaged Japanese fighters in China, although that is not shown in the movie.
Zdzislaw Krasnodebski: One of the Polish leaders of 303 squadron who was shot down during the Battle for Britain and sustained substantial burns. After his plane was shot, he miraculously was able to control his damaged plane so he can parachute and he was able to safely land in southern England. He did not speak good English so he feared being considered a German pilot, but soon it was realized he was not German and was then taken to hospital where he was visted by the pilots. He survived the war.
Accuracy of Events
The film has a general accuracy on the wider events of 303 squadron, but many minor plots lack accuracy. For instance, Jan was shown as having stolen a German plane to fly himself and arrive in England in 1940. In reality, he escaped France by boat, like many other Poles as they evacuated from the advancing Germans. Gabriel Horodyszcz, one of the characters, is fictional, who is shown as a pilot who is reluctant to shoot the enemy. He, instead, wants to pray for his enemies and is shown as devout Catholic where he sets up a shrine for the pilots. The reality is such a pilot probably would not have served in a unit such as the 303, which was very active in engaging German fighters and bombers. Also, 303 squadron is shown as coming up with the idea of putting cameras in the cockpits of aircraft, but that was not their innovation. František is shown as having crashed in Dover, on the famous white cliffs, but in reality, his plane crashed in Surrey, well away from Dover. Zumbach also never watched the victory parade in England after the war, as he went to Switzerland after his release as a prisoner. The love interests in the movie were also probably all fictional.
However, many other small plots and difficulties faced by the characters were accurate. The Polish fighters did not only have to deal with discrimination but also language barriers. Even dealing with the English measuring system rather than the metric system caused some initial difficulties and getting use to for the Polish pilots. For instance, it was important for the fighters to convert liters to gallons to gauge fuel. They also had to adapt to using landing gears that were retractable, where the Polish aircraft did not have this feature. They all had to train in English so they could communicate with their commanders. The movie does not mention what the 303 squadron did after the Battle of Britain, where the squadron actively participated in the Western European theater for the remainder of the war. There were many changes to the squadron throughout its history, although its service in the Battle of Britain might have been its most famous and perhaps most crucial.
A British air commander, after the war, noted that if the Poles and other foreigners did not actively participate during the Battle of Britain then the outcome may have been very different, given the massive shortage of well-trained pilots Britain had in the Summer of 1940. While many films and documentaries have shown British fighters as heroic and having to fight the odds to beat Germany, the reality is foreign pilots played a much larger role than often depicted. Although the Spitfire often is shown as the more glamorous fighter aircraft during this time, the Hurricane was the more numerous aircraft and was often slower than its German counterparts, requiring skillful pilots to have a shot at downing German fighters. Nevertheless, the aircraft did pack a powerful punch and the Polish pilots used it effectively by getting in close to the German aircraft to make a quick hit. Overall, the movie does show many accurate and true circumstances and struggles Polish pilots and others had to encounter as they fought for Britain in 1940.
- For more on the Battle of Britain, see: Bergstrom, Christer. 2015. Battle of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revisited. Casemate Publishers & Book Distributors, LLC.
- For more on 303 squadron, see: Fiedler, Arkady, and Jarek Garlinski. 2010. 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron. Aquila Polonica ed. Los Angeles, Calif: Aquila Polonica.
- For more on Jan, see: Zumbach, Jean. 1975. On Wings of War: My Life as a Pilot Adventurer. London: Deutsch.