Brewster Buffalo Mk I "Horrible Heffalumps"

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Brewster Buffalo Mk I

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Vehicle History:

Facing a shortage of combat fighter aircraft in January 1940, resulting in the British government established the “British Purchasing Commission” to acquire U.S. aircraft to help supplement domestic production, which was unable to meet demand. One of the aircraft that caught the commissions attention was the aircraft offered by Brewster, as an order of 32 B-339 aircraft intended for the Belgians were currently languishing in storage, after the order was suspended following the fall of France. These aircraft were passed to the United kingdom and were aprised for service in the RAF, though the planes were critisized on numerous points for inadequate armament and lack of pilot armor, poor high-altitude performance, engine overheating, maintenance issues, and cockpit controls. It was not all bad news though, as the BV-339 was praised for its handling, roomy cockpit, and visibility. The vehicles top speed of 323 mph (520 km/h) at 21,000 ft (6,400 m), was hampered by fuel starvation issues over 15,000 ft (4,600 m), rendering the RAF to consider the plane unfit for duty in western europe. Regardless of this the Airforce was desperatly in need for fighter aircraft in the Pacific and Asia, so despite the flaws the uk ordered an additional 170 aircraft under the specification B-339E. These aircraft were sent to the RAAF, RAF and RNZAF shortly before the outbreak of the war with Japan in the Pacific.

The B-338E, would then be redesignated the Brewster Buffalo Mk I for British service, with the delivered Aircraft ultimately significantly altered from the B-339 type sold to Belgium and French forces to comply with the demands of the pruchase order. The first change was the removal of the Navy life raft container and arrestor hook, with the addition of many new items of equiptment including a British Mk.III reflector sight, a gun camera, larger fixed pneumatic tire wheel, Fire extinguisher, engine shutters, larger battery and reinforced armoured plating and armored glass behind the canopy windshield. All this additional weight created an aircraft with distinctly inferiour performance to the F2A-2, as the additional modifications added about 900 lb (410 kg), which in combination with the less powerful (1,000 hp (745.7 kW)) engine created a much more sluggish aircraft. This was made worse by the fact the semi-retractable tail wheel had been exchanged for a larger fixed model, rendering the plane even less areodynamic than its precursor, reducing its top speed down from 323 to 313 mph (520 to 504 km/h) at combat altitudes. This impairment rendered the plane unable to safely perform loops, and its initial rate of climb was reduced to 2,300 ft/min (700 m/min). To make matters worse the Wright Cyclone 1890-G-105 engine designated for use in the Brewster Mk I was in short supply, resulting in many aircraft being fitted with second hand engines sourced from DC-3 airliners, that were rebuilt to the desired specifcations.

Regardless of these drawbacks and initial issues with training that resulted in the loss of 20 of the original 169 buffalos, by December of 1941 the type made up the bulk of the British figher forces in Burma, Malaya and Singapore. The planes were distributed amoung 2 RAAF, 2, RAF and one RNZAF squadrons. In this role the aircraft performed adequetly against the ki-27 kate, as it was found that the Buffalo was capable of holding its own if given the oppertunity to get to altitude, and at first they acheived a respectable number of kills. This did not last though, as the apperance of more powerful Japanese fighters like the Ki-43 oscar soon overwelmed the Buffalo pilots, both in air and on the ground. Another issue was the Buffalo’s engines tendancy to overheat in the tropical climate, which could cause oil to spray over the windscreen adding another annoying complication to what were already taxing interception missions. Of the force 60 were shot down in combat, 40 destroyed on the ground, with another 20 more destroyed in accidents, leaving about 20 to reach India or the Dutch East indies during the fall of british Malaya. During this campaign the Buffalo managed to gain a kill to death ratio of about 1.3 to 1, with the majority of the aircraft claimed being Japanese bombers, giving it a comparable performance to the Hawker Hurricanes in service in the same theater.

The Buffalo faired better in Burma, where it equipt No.67 squadron RAF, who were assigned thirty of the type when the Japanese invaded Burma. These craft were assisted by Curtiss P-40 fighters of the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers). AVG crews were initially impressed with the Buffalo, and it was used to carry out air defense missions over Rangoon and Mingaladon, inbetween strafing missions against Japanese airfields. The issue with a lack of effective early warning systems, continued to greatly hamper the British and AVG efforts though, just as it had in Malaya and Sinagapore, resulting in the Buffalo pilots in Burma to employ different tactics, that would no be described as boom and zooming. Even so the situation in Burma was not going well for the British, and by feb of 1942 the japanese had air superiority over Rangoon, with the situation on the ground also rapidly deteriorating. Because of this NO. 67 squadron withdrew north to Toungoo, then again to Magwe, where at that point the squadron only had eight Buffalos remaining. The planes continued to serve though, and carried out reconnaissance flights, as well as escorting Westland Lysanders on ground attack missions. The last combat sortie with the RAF would be flown on the 5th of march, where the type escorted Hawker Hurricanes and Bristol Blenheims for an attack on a Japanese airbase in Chiang Mai, Thailand, after which they were relegated to training duties. During this campaign no.67 claimed 27 japanese aircraft destroyed to the loss of 8 buffalos and pilots.

In addition to this The Fleet Air Arm used the Buffalo in the Mediterranean in the Battle of Crete in early 1941, though the extent of their use was limited.

Vehicle Specification:

General Characteristics:

Crew: one

Length: 26 ft 4 in (8.03 m)

Wingspan: 35 ft 0 in (10.67 m)

Height: 12 ft 0 in (3.66 m)

Wing area: 209 sq ft (19.4 m2)

Airfoil: Root: NACA 23018
Tip: NACA 23009

Empty weight: 5,632 lb (2,546 kg)

Max takeoff weight: 7,159 lb (3,247 kg)

Powerplant: 1 × 1820-G105A Wright radial engine, 1,000 hp (745.7 kW)

Propellers: 3-bladed Hamilton standard propeller

Performance:

Maximum speed: 313 mph (504 km/h)

Cruise speed: 161 mph (259 km/h, 140 kn)

Range: 965 mi (1,553 km, 839 nmi)

Service ceiling: 33,200 ft (10,100 m)

Rate of climb: 2,300 ft/min (700 m/min) (11.6 m/s)

Armament
Guns:

2 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) nose-mounted M2 Browning machine guns (500 RPG)

2 × 0.50 in (12.7 mm) wing-mounted M2 Browning machine guns (500 RPG)

List of the main differences between the British Buffalo Mk.1s equiptment and the F2A-2:

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Historical Images:

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Sources:

+1, we need more Lend Lease aircraft in the UK TT

Are you sure about the armament? I read one reference claiming that the UK spec was to reduce armament to 4x .303s.

Can’t believe I spent half an hour researching this to realise you already had a suggestion on it, +1!