Tuesday, September 7, 2010

RAF Brewster Buffalo Mk. I (B-339E)

The Brewster Buffalo was originally intended to be used as a carrier-borne fighter by the U.S. Navy, and it did have some rather advanced features for the latter half of the 1930s. It was an all-metal construction - except for the control surfaces - and it had hydraulically operated split flaps as well as retractable landing gear. By 1941, the unfavourable weight-to-horsepower ratio combined with instability and low maneuverability made if fare poorly in US Navy hands against Japanese fighters. However, the Dutch did score rather well with the Buffalo against the very same Japanese, and the Finns used the Buffalo quite successfully against the Soviets.

The British B-339E was a land-based version of the Buffalo that lacked arrester gear and other equipment for shipboard use. Deliveries of this version began in July 1940. After trials with No. 71 Squadron, the Buffalo was found to be entirely unfit for service above Northwester Europe, but to Fleet Air Arm Squadrons (Nos. 805 and 885) used the Buffalo for support duties in the defence of Crete. The majority of the Buffaloes were sent to the Far East, where they equipped RAF Squadrons Nos. 67, 146, 243, 453 and 488 as well as RAAF Squadron No. 21 and tasked to defend Singapore and the Straits Settlements. After being mauled by the invading Japanse, the remnants of these units fought in Burma alongside the American Allied Volounteer Force (the "Flying Tigers"). Reflections of pilots on the Buffalo vary, with the RAF pilots apparently having slightly different opinions from their colleagues of the USN: Plt Off Marra RNZAF claimed that the Buffalo was "beautiful" to fly, but that added armor impaired the handling characteristics. Also, the ceiling was reduced to 22,000 feet in hot climate while the guns malfuntioned frequently. LAC Home of 242 Squadron described the Buffalo as "...an over-affectionate bulldog loath to leave its kennel". On the other hand, Kaptein Tideman of the Dutch Air Forces in Java stated that the Buffalo was a good, sturdy and fast fighter that could withstand quite a bit of punishment. There were also serious differences between the training standards of Commonwealth and Dutch pilots and Japaneses pilots in the Far East, although the tactics seem to have been comparable, especially since RAF units in the Far east seem to have used three-ship formations instead of pairs (Cull, Buffaloes over Singapore).

The model is a Matchbox specimen from the 1970s, and it is painted to represent aircraft W8168. This aircraft was initially with No. 67 Squadron, and it was flown by a Flying Officer J. F. Lambert when it crashed on landing on August 16, 1941. Lambert was unhurt, the aircraft repaired and transferred to No. 488 Squadron as NF-T. The aircraft was piloted by Pilot Officer F. W. J. Oakden RNZAF when it was slightly damaged in combat on January 20, 1941. Oakden was unhurt, but I have added battle damage to the Buffalo, mainly on the tail, wings and the cowling. The cockpit is scratch-built, and the canopy opened, although I could not make the center part of the canopy rest snugly against the back without cracking the transparency.

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