31 December 2006

A plane's history

I have to admit something right here and right now. I am an addict, I love playing war games. I have spent whole nights up doing nothing but drinking large amounts of soda (or beer) and eating pretzels or chips while sitting around with friends on a large card table and play games such as Harpoon, Rising Sun, Command at sea, Flat Top, or some of the old Fleet series of games by Victory Games. I also play computer war games. The two that I am most into right now are War in the Pacific and Uncommon Valour.
In playing some of the board games and even the computer games I became interested in the units involved and platforms, along with the history they were trying to represent.

One of the more interesting aircraft that I saw in these games and learned more information about was a little known plane called the Brewster Buffalo.

This is a controversial little plane. It was built by the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation to fill out a new US Navy fighter requirement of a monoplane that had an enclosed canopy, retractable gear, and wing flaps. This requirement came along in 1936. Now the US Navy has at times been behind the times when upgrading itself. Consider the fact that by 1936 the USAAC has just ordered to be built aircraft such as the P-35 and P-36 Hawk were being introduced and had superior performance to what was then the top of the line USN/USMC fighters the F3F

. Mainly because they were monoplane aircraft and along with superior engines were able to fly faster and maneuver better then the bi-planes that the Navy and Marines were using. So the Navy had to update itself. In turn when they put out the request they got three entries, the F2A from Brewster, the XF4F-1 by Grumman, and an entry by Seversky. The Navy picked the F2A since it had superior performance to the other two entries. Wait you say, what about the XF4F-2, didn't that become the famous F4F Wildcat? Yes and no. At the time Grumman was still pitching the XF4F-1 as a bi-plane and a further improvement of the FF-1 line and after the rejection Leroy Grumman took the drawings back to the plant in Bethpage and as they say the rest is history.
Back to the Buffalo's history. The Navy ordered production in 1937 and deliveries started to occur in June of 1939. The first squadron to receive it was VF-3 which flew off the USS Saratoga. They only received 11 of the initial production F2A-1's, it was found out during actual operations that the landing gear design was not up to snuff for the hard carrier landings that actual Naval Aviators were going to punish the plan with. After a few accidents and realizing that the anemic engine that was installed was also not powerful enough the Navy stopped production and ordered an improved model which was also supposed to have improved handling characteristics. The rest of the initial buy was instead sold to Finland to help the Finns during the Winter war. However the plane didn't arrive in time and was used to fill out holes in the Finnish Air Force.
The improved F2A-2 started to hit the fleet just after the War in Europe started. It filled out the ranks of the VF-2 on board the USS Lexington, VF-3 part of the USS Saratoga Air Group. However it was learned that as the Navy added more and more equipment to turn the plane into a war time fighter the more its performance was affected. The final version that was being used at the start of the World War 2 was the F2A-3. By this time the plane was realized to have major problems with its structure, mainly the landing gear which always seemed to collapse under a hard landing, again with additional armor and survival gear the plane was just too slow and maneuver to compete against planes such as the ME-109 or even the Japanese Nate and Claude which were being flown in the skies over China.

One of the more interesting trips that a bunch of Brewster Buffaloes took was an order of F2A-2's that were sold to Belgium just a few months before the war started, they were designated B-339 by the company. However, Belgium fell days after the majority that was on loaded on board cargo ship made a stop in England for fuel. So the British took the order instead tried a couple of them out against the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire before realizing that it just couldn't compete. So instead they sent them order to fill out the upgrade the RAAF and RNZAF in places such as Singapore, Rangoon, and other places in the British Commonwealth's Asian territories. So that they could free up Hurricanes and Spitfires for defense of India, Egypt, and the Home Islands. They preformed well in the hands of the RAF, RAAF, RNZAF pilots and where able to achieve a 2:1 kill ratio against the Japanese planes. The best pilot for them was a New Zea lander named, Geoff Fisken who became the highest scoring commonwealth pilot in the Pacific.

The other nation to use the Buffalo was the Dutch. They bough 144 copies of the F2A-2 and F2A-3 , also called the B-339C and B-339D. However they only got 71, which were mainly employed in defense of the Dutch East Indies. Which is now called Indonesia. Just after the war started with Japan. Some of these aircraft were pushed forward to help defend Singapore. After that fell they were used to some success by the Dutch pilots to defend Java, they were able to shot down 55 aircraft to a lost of only 30 of their own in aerial combat. Again almost a 2 to 1 ratio. But like rest of those early and dark days against the Japanese, they were basically a speed bump. Use to help buy time as the Allies could get caught up.

The USN had completely phased the F2A out of service by the time that the war had started. It was still being used by VF-2 and was actually on board the USS Lexington on December 7th after she had help deliver VMF-211 to Wake Island. VF-2 is famous for being composed almost completely of Naval Aviation Pilots. Enlisted members who were cleared to fly Navy aircraft. This was a way by the US Navy to get over congressional restrictions on Officers and aviators. VF-2 was known as the Flying Chiefs and they use to paint up their aircraft with a Chief NAP rating badge on the side of their aircraft. After the Lexington returned to Pearl following the attack on Pearl Harbor and VF-2 had all of their aircraft replaced with F4F-3's. The F2A's that were landed ashore were instead used to help fill out upgrading of Marine Units that were then flying in defense of the Hawaiian Islands.

Some of these aircraft were then pushed forward to help defend Midway Island. They were with VMF-221. However due to the inexperience of the Marine aviators and out dated tactics they had, lead to them being massacred by the more experience Japanese pilots. It was this incident that lead to the mythology about the plane being absolute dog in aerial combat.

The Finns were the other as I said to use the F2A and they use it well during defense of their lands from both the Soviets and the Germans at the height of World War 2. The Finns used the plane from 1941 till 1948. Even though by the late 40's they were shown to be completely outclassed by more modern fighters. It was Finish ingenuity and mechanical skill were able to correct some major reliability issues with the engine and portions of the airframe. They were also able to use this well enough to achieve almost a 20 to 1 or 26 to 1 kill ratio against German and Soviet aircraft. One of the top pilots in the Finnish Air Force was Hans Wind who achieved 39 of his 75 aerial kills in the Brewster B-339. He also pay attention to the results of the Battle of Midway use of the Buffalo and wrote the combat manual that the Finnish aviators were able to use on how to combat while flying the Buffalo.

Overall this was an airplane that was outclassed by the time the war started but was able to hold its own in combat with a well compent pilot.

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