1:72 Brewster B-339E ‘Buffalo’ Mk. I; aircraft “ZT-H (W6147)” of Royal Air Force No. 258 Squadron; Ratmalana/Colombo Race-Course airfield (Ceylon/Sri Lanka), early 1942 (What-if/Matchbox kit)

1:72 Brewster B-339E ‘Buffalo’ Mk. I; aircraft “ZT-H (W6147)” of Royal Air Force No. 258 Squadron; Ratmalana/Colombo Race-Course airfield (Ceylon/Sri Lanka), early 1942 (What-if/Matchbox kit)

Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!

Some background:
The Brewster F2A Buffalo was an American fighter aircraft which saw service early in World War II. Designed and built by the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, it was one of the first U.S. monoplanes with an arrester hook and other modifications for aircraft carriers. The Buffalo won a competition against the Grumman F4F Wildcat in 1939 to become the U.S. Navy’s first monoplane fighter aircraft. Although superior to the Grumman F3F biplane it replaced, and the early F4Fs, the Buffalo was largely obsolete when the United States entered the war, being unstable and overweight, especially when compared to the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero.

The Buffalo was built in three variants for the U.S. Navy: the F2A-1, F2A-2 and F2A-3, and several nations, including Finland, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands, ordered the Buffalo, too. In foreign service, with lower horsepower engines, these types were designated B-239, B-339, and B-339-23 respectively.

Facing a shortage of combat aircraft in January 1940, the British government established the British Purchasing Commission to acquire U.S. aircraft that would help supplement domestic production. Among the U.S. fighter aircraft that caught the Commission’s attention was the Brewster. The remaining 32 B-339 aircraft ordered by the Belgians, suspended at the fall of France, were passed on to the United Kingdom. Appraisal by Royal Air Force acceptance personnel criticized it on numerous points including inadequate armament and lack of pilot armor, poor high-altitude performance, engine overheating, maintenance issues, and cockpit controls, while it was praised for its handling, roomy cockpit, and visibility. With a top speed of about 323 mph (520 km/h) at 21,000 ft (6,400 m), but with fuel starvation issues over 15,000 ft (4,600 m), it was considered unfit for duty in western Europe. Still desperately in need of fighter aircraft in the Pacific and Asia for British and Commonwealth air forces, the UK ordered an additional 170 aircraft under the type specification B-339E. The aircraft were sent to Royal Australian Air Force, RAF and Royal New Zealand Air Force fighter squadrons in Singapore, Malaya and Burma, shortly before the outbreak of war with Japan.

The B-339E, or Brewster Buffalo Mk I, as it was designated in British service, was initially intended to be fitted with an export-approved Wright R-1820-G-105 Cyclone engine with a 1,000 hp (745.7 kW) engine. The Brewster aircraft delivered to British and Commonwealth air forces were significantly altered from the B-339 type sold to the Belgium and French forces in accordance with their purchase order. The Navy life raft container and arrestor hook were removed, while many new items of equipment were added, including a British Mk III reflector gun sight, a gun camera, a larger fixed pneumatic tire tail wheel, fire extinguisher, engine shutters, a larger battery, and reinforced armor plating and armored glass behind the canopy windshield. The semi-retractable tail wheel had been exchanged for a larger fixed model, which was less aerodynamic. As a result, the British B-339E was substantially heavier than the F2A-2, by some 900 lb (410 kg), and together with its less powerful engine (the F2A-2 from the original order was powered by a 1,200 hp (890 kW) Cyclone), the performance deteriorated markedly. Top speed was reduced from 323 to 313 mph (520 to 504 km/h) at combat altitudes, and the machine lost much of its good handling quality.

In service, some effort was made to improve the type’s sluggish performance; a few aircraft were lightened by some 1,000 lb (450 kg) by removing armor plate, armored windshields, radios, gun camera, and all other unnecessary equipment, and by replacing the .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns with .303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns. The fuselage tanks were filled with a minimum of fuel and ran on high-octane aviation petrol where available. But all this made little difference and the Buffalo-equipped units in the SEA theatre of operations suffered severe losses in combat against the Japanese Navy’s A6M Zero and the Japanese Army’s Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar".

To make matters worse, many of the pilots assigned to the Buffalo lacked adequate training and experience in the type, so that it is no wonder that a total of 20 of the original 169 Buffalos were lost in training accidents during 1941. By December 1941, approximately 150 Buffalo B-339E aircraft made up the bulk of the British fighter defenses of Burma, Malaya and Singapore. The two RAAF, two RAF, and one RNZAF squadrons, during December 1941 – January 1942, were beset with numerous problems, including poorly built and ill-equipped aircraft.

When the Japanese invaded northern Malaya on 8 December 1941, the B-339E initially performed adequately. Against the Nakajima Ki-27 "Nate", the overloaded Brewsters could at least hold their own if given time to get to altitude, and at first achieved a respectable number of kills. However, the appearance of ever greater numbers of Japanese fighters, including markedly superior types such as the Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" soon overwhelmed the Buffalo pilots, both in the air and on the ground. Another significant factor was the Brewster engine’s tendency to overheat in the tropical climate, which caused oil to spray over the windscreen, usually forcing an aborted mission and greatly complicating attempts to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft. In the end, more than 60 Brewster Mk I (B-339E) aircraft were shot down in combat, 40 destroyed on the ground, and approximately 20 more destroyed in accidents. The last airworthy Buffalo in Singapore flew out on 10 February, five days before the island fell, and only about 20 Buffalos survived to reach India or the Dutch East Indies, where they were integrated into second line units where their poor performance did not seriously matter, freeing more capable aircraft for frontline use.

One of these units was RAF 258 Squadron. The squadron was formed on 20 November 1940 at RAF Leconfield, Yorkshire as a fighter squadron equipped with Hawker Hurricanes for homeland defense. After changing bases several times, 258 Squadron prepared for a move to the Far East. After a few days in Singapore, they were withdrawn to Sumatra and then Java, where they suffered many losses. The survivors transferred their aircraft to No. 605 Squadron and most attempted to escape by ship to Australia, but all the ships were sunk en route with no survivors.
The squadron was reformed 1 March 1942 at Ratmalana Airfield (actually, an abandoned horse racing course!), near Colombo, Ceylon, with surviving Hurricane and Buffalo fighters from Singapore and largely manned by Royal New Zealand Air Force pilots. But the new 258 Squadron did not last long: the unit suffered severe losses during the Japanese carrier strike on 5 April 1942, which finally ended the Buffalos’ brief and rather lackluster RAF career. After a spell in Burma the squadron was eventually withdrawn to be re-equipped with American Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, with which it operated until the end of the war.

It is not entirely clear how many Japanese aircraft the Buffalo squadrons shot down, although RAAF pilots alone managed to shoot down at least 20. Eighty were claimed in total, a ratio of kills to losses of just 1.3 to 1. Additionally, most of the Japanese aircraft shot down by the Buffalos were bombers. The Hawker Hurricane, which fought in Singapore alongside the Buffalo from 20 January, also suffered severe losses from ground attack; most were destroyed.

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)
Empty weight: 4,732 lb (2,146 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 7,159 lb (3,247 kg)

1 × Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone 9 9-cyl air-cooled radial piston engine, 1,000 hp (745.7 kW)

Maximum speed: 321 mph (517 km/h; 279 kn)
Cruise speed: 161 mph (140 kn; 259 km/h)
Range: 965 mi (839 nmi; 1,553 km)
Service ceiling: 33,200 ft (10,119 m)
Rate of climb: 2,440 ft/min (12.4 m/s)

1× .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine gun with 200 rounds and
1× .30 in (7.62 mm) AN Browning machine gun with 600 rounds,
both synchronized above the engine, firing through the propeller disc
2× 0.50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns with up to 450 RPG, one per wing

The kit and its assembly:
A simple and rather subtle what-if build – or that was what I thought it to be. When I read the Hawker Hurricane book from the “Planes and Pilots” series, I came across several aircraft in early SEAC markings and wondered about a Buffalo with blue 18” roundels – the RAF machines could have carried these markings in early 1942, and that became the model’s simple concept.

The kit is the Matchbox Buffalo. It is rather simple but has the benefit of being a de-navalized export version with a different cowling and tail. On the other side it also features some (IMHO wrong) details from the USN version like the cuffed Curtiss Electric propeller, which should rather be slightly smaller uncuffed Hamilton Standard propeller, the life raft behind the pilot and the open sight. However, I did not want to invest a fortune into a Hasegawa kit (which has the different tail as an optional part). The Hobby Boss F2A is another cheap alternative, but it is an American carrier aircraft, just like the Airfix kit that even comes with rivets galore as an unwelcome bonus. The vintage Aoshima kit is also there, but no option anymore. Special Hobby also does an F2A – but it’s again the American Navy aircraft, and quite expensive.

The Matchbox Buffalo was basically built OOB, I just drilled up the gun ports and tried to make the engine louvres edges a little crisper, so that they rather look like outlets and not like un-PSRed seams. The flaps were lowered for a lively look. A British reflector sight was added to the cockpit as well as a retrofitted rear-view mirror to the canopy, and struts for the roll bar were mounted behind the pilot seat instead of the OOB life raft from the US Navy F2A. The propeller was replaced, too, because the Matchbox kit’s cuffed version also belongs onto an USN aircraft and not an export B-239/339. A scratched pitot was added to the port wing.

Real trouble struck the project when the plastic turned out to be brittle of age – and this showed in inconvenient places. A major issue became the landing gear: the delicate struts broke off just as I tried to carefully release the parts from the sprues. And the rather massive canopy suddenly “silvered” from many vertical micro-cracks after I had glued it into place – before that it just had a slightly milky tint, so that I still used it but left the cockpit closed. However, once in place the front section almost went blind (at first, I thought this was humidity from ink washings!), and I considered a vacu canopy replacement – but this turned out to be prohibitively expensive, and I retained the flaw. The landing gear had to be modified to work. The struts were glued back together with plastic and super glue, while the covers were replaced with thinner styrene sheet and the supporting struts were replaced with thinner material, too.

Painting and markings:
Straightforward choice, even though with detail twists. The Buffalo received the contemporary RAF Temperate Land Scheme, with upper camouflage in Dark Green and Dark Earth. Since the aircraft was supposed to be relatively freshly re-painted, I used stronger shades for the green and the brown, namely IJA Green from Modelmaster and Humbrol 26 (khaki matt, which is less reddish than Dark Earth but slightly darker). The underside was painted in a non-regular Sky Blue, a color that was used instead of Sky or Medium Sea Grey on some SEAC fighter aircraft. I used Humbrol 47 (Sea Blue).

The model received a light black ink washing and some dry-brushed post-panel shading – even though it was not supposed to look too weathered or worn, since it would be a freshly revamped Singapore survivor in a new unit.

The small all-blue SEAC roundels and the fin flash came from an Academy P-47D, and they look odd on the Buffalo, making it look bigger as it actually is – but they could have been used on them, had the type “survived” some more months into 1942. White ID markings, e. g. bands on wings and tail surfaces, were not common at the model’s intended time frame yet, so I just gave it a propeller tip in Sky (Tamiya XF-21) and a fuselage band in the same color – the latter taken from the Matchbox OOB decal sheet and the color on the spinner adapted to the decal (with Humbrol 23).
The tactical code was created from single white 6 mm letters (from TL Modellbau). AFAIK, some SEAC units rather used such smaller letters in a non-regular font for their machines, you frequently find Spitfires and Hurricanes with similar codes, and it works well on the short Buffalo. The aircraft’s serial number is fictional (but close to the RAF Buffalos’ range) and was created with single black 2mm “W”s and numbers from a re-boxed Matchbox Gloster Gladiator (Revell).

After some soot stains around the guns and the exhausts with graphite, the model was sealed with matt acrylic varnish and a wire antenna made from heated black sprue material was added between the mast and the fin.

A relatively simple what-if interim build, building- and painting-wise, but the kit’s age caused some serious trouble that could only be partly mended. The landing gear could be saved, even though it shows its damage, but the blind clear windscreen really bugs me. Nevertheless, a “late” SEAC Buffalo is an interesting sight. A rather subtle whif, and the all-blue roundels suit it well.

Posted by Dizzyfugu on 2021-12-06 15:38:24

Tagged: , 1:72 , brewster , f2a , 339 , buffalo , seac , royal , air , force , whif , what-if , matchbox , kit , modellbau , dizzyfugu , dark , green , earth , light , blue , zt , raf , 258 , squadron , ceylon , sri , lanka , japan , invasion , Ratmalana , Colombo , Race , Course , airfield , 1942

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