The story of Hawker Hurricane Z2768
Hurricane Z2768 was part of the fifth production batch of (1,000) Hurricanes produced by Hawkers during 1940-41 under contract 62305/39. Following completion in February 1941, it was initially delivered to No.5 Maintenance Unit (MU) at Kemble in Gloucestershire, to be temporarily stored. Just short of a month later on the 18th of March it was passed on the 20 MU at Aston Down, further north in Gloucestershire, to be prepared for operational use. A few days later it was collected from Aston Down (quite probably by the ATA) and delivered to 310 (Czech) Squadron at Duxford in Cambridgeshire.
Having been duly coded ‘NN-H’ the aircraft made its first operational sortie during the early evening of March the 23rd 1941, with Sgt Karel Seda at the controls. Although the sortie was uneventful, Z2768 was introduced to operations in good company; five other Hurricanes; Z2312, Z2400, Z2493, Z2661 and Z2671, completed the formation.
Four days later, on the 27th of March, Z2768 came close to contacting the enemy for the first time. Some twelve aircraft were despatched to Coltishall shortly after 0600 hours, to carry out a series of convoy patrols throughout the day. The first pair (red Section) on Patrol encountered a Ju.88 and engaged it. The combat was short and decisive, the enemy aircraft jettisoned its bomb-load and sought refuge in the clouds. Unfortunately, Z2768 with Flying Officer Josef Hybler in the cockpit, was in the second pairing, which was on patrol between 0805 and 0910 hours and didn’t come into contact with the enemy aircraft. Hybler also took the Hurricane up again for a second uneventful patrol later in the afternoon.
On the 30th of March it was Flight Lieutenant Crelin Bodie’s turn to take Z2768 into the air.(Bodie, known to his colleagues as ‘Bodo or Bogle’) was an experienced RAF combat pilot, having fought in the Battle of Britain with 66 Squadron. He was to be killed in action, whilst flying a Spitfire with 152 Squadron, on the 24th of February 1942). He flew two patrols during the afternoon again from Coltishall, but unfortunately it was matter of ‘Duty Carried Out’ and no contact with the enemy was reported. The next day the aircraft was once again involved in a convoy protection (Kipper) patrol between 0925 and 1055 hours.
During the period from April to the middle of June Z2768 was involved in a series of patrols over eastern England and the North Sea. The pilots involved were Sgt’s Karel Seda and Frantisek Mlejnecky, and Pilot Officer Bohuslav Kimlicka. On the 18th of June, operating from West Malling, the aircraft took part in a ‘Big Wing’ Operation between North Foreland and Dover at heights of between 8 and 12,000 feet. On this occasion Squadron Leader Frantisek Weber was the pilot.
On June the 26th the aircraft was involved in carrying out a coastal patrol. The unit was in the throes of moving from Duxford to Martlesham Heath and it was to the latter airfield that Z2768 returned. During the course of the day an unfortunate set of circumstances came about that led to the Hurricane suffering some damage. Pilot Officer Karel Kasal from 313 Squadron flew into the airfield from Catterick. His intention being to visit some of his Czech brothers- in- arms and to apparently drop off a new Czech Flag for the unit. So legend has it, his visit gave rise to some general celebrations and a good time was had by one and all. Upon his departure Karel decided to put on an impromptu display of Spitfire aerobatics. Unfortunately things went somewhat awry and he ended up crashing on the airfield. Spitfire R6709 was write-off and he was injured, suffering cuts and bruising to his head, as a result of which he was taken to Ipswich hospital. It appears, that as he came down with the proverbial ’ bump’ his aircraft made contact with Hurricane Z2768, causing it category ‘B’ damage. The aircraft was repaired by the Station Engineering Flight on site, but didn’t operate again with 310 Squadron. Kasal was able to put the incident behind him and later rose to the rank of Squadron Leader, becoming the commanding officer of 313 Squadron in the closing months of the war.
The aircraft then spent a short time with Air Training Ltd at Kidlington, in Oxfordshire, moving there on the 1st of July 1941. It later moved on to 22 MU at Silloth in Cumbria, for storage, before being transferred to 82 MU at Lichfield for packaging prior to being shipped to the Soviet Union. The aircraft is officially listed as departing for Russia on the 27th of October 1941. The actual date of its departure has not been confirmed however. Having been crated the aircraft would have made the journey as part of the cargo of one the early arctic covoys, possibly as part of convoy PQ3, which departed Iceland on 9 November 1941. It might however, have travelled later as part of either PQ4 or PQ5. All of which sailed from an assembly point off Iceland to Archangelsk (Archangel) via a route taking them north of Jan Mayen Island, during the latter part of 1941. Around 3,000 Hurricanes were supplied in this way to the Soviet Union under the ‘Lend-Lease’ arrangements.
A considerable number of Hurricanes were supplied to the units on the Karelian Front during the spring and summer of 1942 and it is fairly certain that Z2768 would have been amongst them. In mid 1942 more than fifty percent of the fighters deployed in the area were Hurricanes. The 760th Fighter Regiment of the Red Air Force had its main base at Boyarskaya from December 1941 to the middle of 1943 and would have received its quota of Hurricanes during that time, including Z2768. During the mid morning of February the 21st 1943, the Regiment despatched a mixed bunch of two P.40s and five Hurricanes, of which Z2768 was one, to intercept an enemy formation of Ju.87 dive-bombers, with an escort of Me.109s, which was operating in the area.
During the ensuing dog-fight which took place close to the railway station at Polyarny Krug, Hurricane Z2768 was apparently shot down to the north of the town of Loukhi and with its pilot J/Lt. Boris Alexandrovich Lazarev was listed as missing in action. The Luftwaffe pilot credited with the shooting down is thought to be Feldwebel Rudolf ‘Rudi’ Muller of JG.5 ‘Eismeer’, a holder of the Knights Cross. Muller was one of the ‘experten’ or aces of JG.5 and had a final score of over 90 victories, a total that included a considerable number of Soviet Hurricanes. He was later to die in Soviet captivity, during the immediate post war period.
Following extensive research an aviation archaeology group, with the name ‘Vysota’ located the wreckage of the aircraft in a peat bog, some 40 kilometres to the north of Loukhi in the late nineteen nineties. The body of twenty two year old Sgt Lazarev, was found in the cockpit in an amazing state of preservation due to the peat in which it had been immersed. His body was removed and he was given a military funeral and interred in a cemetery in nearby Chupa, on the White Sea coast. The wreckage was initially recovered to the Central War Museum at Poklonnoj near Moscow. The aircraft had apparently been extensively used. It had been fitted with tyres of Russian manufacture and its armament had been changed, the aircraft having been fitted with two 20mm ShVAK cannon and two 12.77 mm machine guns of soviet manufacture. The majority of this modification work on Hurricanes was carried out at Factory 81 at Monino near Moscow, although some modifications were also carried out in the field, at operational airfields such as Kubinka
The wreckage of the aircraft was eventually purchased and transported to the USA and is currently under restoration at the hands of Gerald Yagen and the Fighter Factory in Virginia.
Currently replacement wings are being fabricated which should be completed in early 2013.
Hurricane Z2768 is one of a number of ‘Z’ serial Hurricanes recovered from Russia in recent years (including its ‘sister ship’ Z2769, Z5207, Z5227 and Z5252) all of which have been or are being restored). They have been found in bogs and lakes and in one case major components were found simply lying in long grass!).
© John Rennison. Flt.Lt. Ret’d