The Brewster F2A Buffalo

The Brewster F2A Buffalo

The Buffalo “Flying Coffin”

The Brewster F2A Buffalo was an American fighter aircraft which saw limited service early in World War II. It was one of the first U.S. World War II monoplanes with an arrestor 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, the Buffalo turned out to be a big disappointment. The F2A-3 variant saw action with United States Marine Corps (USMC) squadrons at the Battle of Midway. Shown by the experience of Midway to be no match for the Zero, the F2A-3 was derided by USMC pilots as a “flying coffin.” The F2A-3, however, was significantly inferior to the F2A-2 variant used by the Navy before the outbreak of the war.

Mike Kopack commented:

Mike wrote: “I wrote this some time ago…

“Best” isn’t always the best fighter there is, but the best fighter you have

I was reading a thread on the internet about the “Best Fighters of World War II”. It always makes for an interesting discussion, and of course there’s no “right” answer. There were SO many different aircraft, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, flying so many different mission profiles that not only is it impossible to come up with a single, or even a handful that were “the best”, it’s difficult to even compare them.

How do you even compare a late 30’s Fiat CR.32 biplane with a 600 horsepower engine, an open cockpit and a 220 mph top speed to a 1945 Grumman F7F Tigercat, radar equipped with a two-man crew, over 4200 horsepower and a top speed of 460 mph? Well, if you go strictly by victories over the enemy, crazy as it may sound, the little Fiat wins by a long shot, as the Tigercat was just too late.

Even if the discussion changes to the most ‘significant’ fighter of the period, it’s not even clear cut and going to come down to the old standard of Mustang, Thunderbolt, Spitfire, Zero or Messerschmitt (plus or minus a few). “Significance” doesn’t necessarely mean the best fighter there is, but likely the best fighter you have.

Who could say that any aircraft were more significant than the handful of obsolete Gloster Sea Gladiator biplanes that formed the entire air defense for the Mediterranean island of Malta during dark days of the seige of 1940?

Faith, Hope and Charity, as the aircraft were later named, held out against the massed Axis attacks until the island and its small group of defenders could be resupplied.

There is probably even a better example of significance that comes to my mind. In 1939, at the conclusion of a competition against the Grumman F4F Wildcat, the US Navy made the Brewster F2A Buffalo its first monoplane fighter aircraft.

While the Wildcat became a legend, fighting its way across the Pacific during the early part of the war, the Buffalo was a dissapointment. At best. Slow, underpowered and lightly armed, the Navy quickly passed the Buffalo out of front line service, in other words, to the Marines. Many of the aircraft were passed to overseas Air Forces as well, where in British Commonwelth and Dutch service they were mauled when fighting against the Japanese Zero fighters. After the Marines who flew the Buffalo at the Battle of Midway named the aircraft “Flying Coffins” it seemed that the history of the Brewster Buffalo had been written, and in many ways, it had. Popular opinion still considers the Buffalo to have been a complete failure as a combat aircraft – but that popular opinion isn’t universal.

On the other side of the world from where the Buffalo had been struggling so badly in the Pacific, World War II raged on. In Northern Europe, the small nation of Finland was facing the onslaught of the Soviet Union. They were undermanned and underequipped, and desperate for any supplies that they could get. Finland was able to purchase from the US a number of early, de-Navalized, export modified Model B-239 Buffaloes that were considered “excess to our needs” – and I would assume that we were happy to be rid of them.

Once the aircraft were delivered, the Brewsters were pressed into frontline service. They were further modified by their Finnish technicians, they grew popular with their pilots and maintainers and at the start of the Continuation War against the Soviets something amazing happened – the Lentävä kaljapullo, or ‘Flying Beer Bottles’ weren’t decimated as they had been in the Pacific. In fact it was the opposite that happened, the Brewster in Finnish service may have racked up the highest victory ratio of any aircraft in service during the war. Let me say that again – the highest victory ratio of ANY aircraft in WWII.

“During the Continuation War, Lentolaivue 24 (Fighter Squadron 24) was equipped with the B-239s until May 1944, when the Brewsters were transferred to Lentolaivue 26 (Fighter Squadron 26). Attacking Soviet Air Force pilots using formulaic defensive tactics, many Finnish pilots racked up enormous scores on the Finnish front. The default tactic was the four-plane “parvi” (swarm) with a pair flying low (but visible, not overly close to the terrain) as the bait and a pair flying high to dive on the eventual interceptors. Essentially, the Soviet Air Force on the Finland front never developed an efficient approach to counter the tactic. Most of the pilots of Lentolaivue 24 were Winter War combat veterans; the squadron achieved total of 459 Soviet aircraft kills with B-239s, while losing 15 Brewsters in combat.”

“Jorma Karhunen was one of the top-scoring Buffalo pilots. By 4 May 1943 he had achieved 25 1/2 aerial victories on the Brewster B-239 out of his 31 1/2 total. On 18 August 1942 he was involved in one of the most successful sorties involving the Brewster. Lt Hans Wind with six other Brewsters of LeLv 24 intercepted some 60 Soviet aircraft near Kronstad. Two Russian Pe-2 bombers, one Soviet Hurricane and 12 I-16s were shot down with the loss of just one Brewster B-239. The top-scoring Buffalo pilot was Hans Wind, with 39 kills in B-239s. Wind scored 26 of his kills while flying aircraft BW-393, while Eino Luukkanen scored seven more in the same aircraft. The top scoring Finnish ace, Ilmari Juutilainen, scored 34 of his 94 kills in B-239s, including 28 in BW-364. After evaluation of claims against Soviet actual losses, aircraft No. BW-364 was credited with 42 1/2 kills in total by all pilots operating it, possibly making it the highest-scoring fighter airframe in the history of air warfare.”

In service from 1941-1945, Brewsters of Lentolaivue 24 were credited with 477 Soviet aircraft destroyed, against the loss of 19 Brewsters: a victory ratio of 26:1.

While many of these victories came against less than premier foes after Stalin’s purges of military personnel, and while the victories became more difficult to achieve as the Soviets modernized their Air Forces, the Brewster Buffalo – the Marine’s “Flying Coffin” had found its home, and in a land far away, became a legend in its own right.

Sometimes the best, the most significant fighter, isn’t the most famous, the biggest name, it’s the one you have. The one you go to war with, the one that leads you to victory, and the one that brings you home.

Mike Kopack

Thank you Mike, JR Hafer, Publisher 

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Breguet Alizè

The Breguet Br.1050 Alizé (French: “Tradewind”) was a French carrier-based anti-submarine warfare aircraft. It was developed in the 1950s, based loosely on the second prototype Breguet Vultur attack aircraft which had been modified into the Breguet Br.965 Épaulard anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

The Alizé was a low-wing monoplane of conventional configuration. It had a CSF radar system with a retractable antenna dome in its belly. The cockpit accommodated a crew of three, including pilot, radar operator, and sensor operator. The pilot was seated in front on the left, the navigator in front on the right, and the sensor operator sat sideways behind them. The landing gear was of tricycle configuration, with the main gear retracting backwards into nacelles in the wings. The main gear had dual wheels, and the front part of the nacelles accommodated sonobuoys. The Alizé had a yoke-style arresting hook.

The internal weapons bay could accommodate a homing torpedo or depth charges, and underwing stores pylons could carry bombs, depth charges, rockets, or missiles. Typical underwing stores included 68 mm (2.68 in) rocket pods or AS.12 wire-guided antiship missiles.

The prototype Alizé first flew on 6 October 1956. It was exhibited at the Paris Air Show at Paris Le Bourget Airport in May 1957.

A total of 89 examples of the Alizé were built between 1957 and 1962, including two preproduction prototypes. 75 production aircraft were acquired by the Aéronavale, with initial service delivery in March 1959. The Alizé went into operation on the carriers Arromanches, Clémenceau and Foch, and were also used in shore-based training. 12 were acquired by the Indian Navy. Some sources say that there were five preproduction prototypes, which may mean some of the prototypes were brought up to production standard and passed on to the Aéronavale; and that India acquired 17 examples, which hints that they bought five used aircraft from the Aéronavale.

The Indian Navy operated the Alizé from shore bases and from the light carrier Vikrant. The Alizé was used for reconnaissance and patrol during India’s 1961 invasion of Portuguese controlled Goa, and was also used for ASW patrol during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, during which one Alizé was shot down by a Pakistan Air Force F-104 Starfighter. It was also instrumental in taking out many gunboats unopposed during the war. The Alizé dwindled in numbers in the Indian Navy during the 1980s, was relegated to shore-based patrol in 1987, and was finally phased out in 1991, replaced in its duties by ASW helicopters.

The Aéronavale provided the Alizé with a series of upgrades. A modernization program performed in the early 1980s refitted 28 of the aircraft to the Br.1050M standard, featuring improved Thomson-CSF Iguane radar as used on the Atlantique NG ocean-patrol aircraft, new OMEGA radio navigation gear, and a new ARAR 12 radar and radio location (“electronic support measures / ESM”) system.

Another upgrade program in the early 1990s fitted 24 of these aircraft with a new decoy system; a microcomputer-based data processing system that could have hardly been imagined when the aircraft was new; a datalink system; and other new avionics. Later in the decade, they were also fitted with the Thomson-CSF TTD Optronique Chlio forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imaging sensor. Despite the upgrades, by this time the Alizé was clearly not up to the task of hunting modern nuclear submarines, and so it was tasked with ocean surface patrol.

As late as 1997, the Aéronavale was still operating 24 examples for surface patrol, though they were clearly on their way out by then. The Alizé was used operationally during the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia over Kosovo in the spring of 1999, with the aircraft flying off the carrier Foch. The last Alizé was finally withdrawn from service in 2000 with the retirement of the Foch.

General characteristics: Crew: Three: pilot, radar operator, navigator, Length: 13.86 m (45 ft 5¾ in), Wingspan: 15.60 m (51 ft 2 in), Height: 5.00 m (16 ft 5 in), Wing area: 36.0 m² (387.5 ft²), Empty weight: 5,700 kg (12,566 lb), Max. takeoff weight: 8,200 kg (18,078 lb), Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Dart RDa.7 Mk 21 turboprop, 1,565 kW (2,100 ehp).

Performance: Maximum speed: 518 km/h (280 kn, 322 mph) at 3,050 m (10,000 ft), 460 km/h (248 knots, 286 mph) at sea level, Cruise speed: 240-370 km/h (130-200 knots, 149-230 mph) (patrol speed), Range: 2,500 km (1,349 nmi, 1,553 mi), Endurance: 5 hr 10 min, Service ceiling: 8,000 m (26,250 ft), Rate of climb: 7.0 m/s (1,380 ft/min), Wing loading: 229 kg/m² (46.9 lb/ft²), Power/mass: 190 kW/kg (0.12 hp/lb).

Armament: Torpedo or depth charges carried in internal bay Bombs, depth charges, rockets, or missiles carried on underwing pylons.

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