The also ran fighters department – Airfix Brewster Buffalo B239 (F2A-1)
Author: Steve Pulbrook
Image 1: Brewster Buffalo W8157 TD-T 453Sqn RAAF Kluang 1941 via Gordon Birkett [+ More info here]
The Brewster F2A was designed in 1936 as a replacement for the numerous US Navy biplane fighters then in service. The Brewster F2 had to compete against the Grumman G-33 for it’s position in service and was found to be more manoeuvrable than it’s Grumman rival despite under performance of both planes. Modifications were made to increase engine power, armament and to improve the airframe. The first aircraft entered service with the US Navy in December 1939. By this stage, Finland was at war with Russia and 43 aircraft destined for the US Navy were diverted to the Finnish.
Image 2: Finnish Air Force’s Brewster B-239 formation during the Continuation War
The improved F2A-2 replaced the F2A-1 on the production line and 43 were delivered to the US Navy to replace those planes lost to Finland.
Various foreign countries placed orders for the fighter including:
- Belgium (40),
- UK (170) and
- Dutch East Indies (72) albeit in modified form without the arrestor hooks and catapult spools.
This model was given the Brewster number B339. The UK also gained some aircraft from the Belgian order after that country was overrun. The fighter was given the name Buffalo by the British.
Image 3: Chaps in pith helmets looking terrible pukka!
That the British purchasing commission in the USA procured 170 aircraft indicated just how desperate they were for fighters at the time. These were considered to be unsuitable for conditions in the European theatre, so these were sent to Malaya, Singapore and Burma where they were supplied to Commonwealth squadrons including 2 RAAF squadrons. These aircraft had a less powerful engine and were loaded up with additional equipment which had the effect of decreasing what was already poor performance. The aircraft had a poor climb rate and could not even perform a loop. There were some differences in supplied equipment during the production. Some aircraft had 30 cal machine guns in lieu of the 50 cals and these suffered from jamming, the superchargers suffered from fuel starvation at high altitudes.
Image 4: W8202 In preparation for delivery to 453 Sqn RAAF, just out of the crate [+ More info here] search for the serial it’s about 1/3rd down the page
In service, the performance of these fighters was described as “just pathetic”. Spare parts were few and build quality was poor. Engines tended to overheat spraying oil over the windscreen and this resulted in more than a few accidents. Some aircraft were even fitted with second hand engines sourced from DC3 airliners. Altogether more than 20 were lost in accidents.
Once combat against the Japanese began, the Buffalo was found to be able to match the Ki-27 Nate but was hopelessly outclassed by the Ki-43 Oscars and Zeros. Some squadrons attempted to improve the performance of their aircraft by removing as much equipment as possible, and by only filling the fuel tanks to half, and by using high octane petrol. In this configuration, it was able to turn with an Oscar but still had no hope against a Zero. Despite this, buffs somehow managed to claim 80 enemy aircraft downed, at a loss ratio of 1.3:1, admittedly most were bombers. 60 Buffalos were lost in air to air combat and 40 were lost on the ground. Many more were cannibalised for parts after being damaged and many were abandoned. Only 20 escaped to India or the Dutch East indies.
Image 5: The Airfix kit box art
The Airfix kit is nearly as old as I am and Airfix still had the hide to claim it as a new release. The kit has 36 parts and features raised panel lines and several thousand rivets. The kit features options for a US Navy aircraft as well as the British version, and has several optional parts.
Image 6: Steve’s Brewster (AN 185) which served with 453 Sqn RAAF[+ great photo here]
The kit has a pilot figure which must be used as cockpit detail is rubbish and the pilot fills the hole.
Image 7: the underside of Steve’s Brewster
Other than that, the kit was straight forward but requires a large amount of putty and careful sanding to avoid loss of detail.
Image 8: A final shot of Steve’s model
The tricky part comes in masking the canopy and the under fuselage glazing. Otherwise, it is a fair representation of the aircraft. Today there are better kits available with MPM and Hasegawa covering most versions.
There is a great volume of information on Wikipedia, which you can find here [+External Link] and it covers all variants of the Brewster, as well as the Air Forces with whom it flew it. Among many photos available on Wikipedia is this one of Brewster B-339E wrecks cannibalized for parts, probably in Singapore circa late January 1942. Two of the Buffalos, serials W8156 (behind W8207) and W8207 (foreground), were operated by 453 Squadron RAAF.
Image 9: Wrecked and cannibalised RAAF airframes on the ground in Singapore 1942
This article was edited and updated, and images have been, where possible, ascribed to their sources by the webmaster.