National Museum of the U.S. Air Force lacks iconic bomber and fighter

Halifax Mk. VIII heavy bomber. Photo: RAF.

16 September 2017 | Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. With memories of the film Dunkirk, 2017 Battle of Britain and United States Air Force 70th anniversary remembrances still fresh in their minds, visitors to the National Museum of the United States Air Force (NMUSAF) are drawn to the displays of a Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire. A few Americans wearing Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) or Royal Air Force (RCAF) uniforms flew early models or marks of the iconic fighters cited in the first paragraph during the pivotal 1940 clashes referenced above. Freedom was eventually preserved and restored in Europe through the sacrifices of the young men from Britain, Canada, America, and other countries that flew to the defense of “mother” England.

An early mark of Halifax. Photo: RAF.

As preparations enter the final stages for the Colorado Aviation Historical Society‘s 2017 Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame inductions, which will include the induction of ten Coloradans (Luke Elbert Allen, Frank Raymond Boyles, James Campbell Davie, Billy Orin Gates, LeRoy Gover, Robert Henry Hendrix, Clyde Homer Jay, Jr., Frederick Holbrook Mahn, James Christian Nelson, and Richard Earl Todd) who voluntarily joined the RCAF or RAF during the Second World War, those very familiar with military aviation history are quick to note that an example of one British aircraft of great significance is missing. The absent flying machine is a Handley Page Halifax. Although the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) did not operate Halifaxes, many U.S. citizens served aboard the behemoths as RCAF aircrew and numbers of them died.

DAYTON, Ohio — Boeing B-17G Superfortress “Shoo Shoo Baby” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo.)

Karl Karsgaard, a Director of Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta, Canada pointed out that “the Halifax was the fourth [behind the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, and Boeing B-29 Superfortress] most significant heavy bomber in terms of American casualties.”

DAYTON, Ohio — Consolidated B-24D Liberator at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo.)

He added, “Approximately 9,000 American citizens joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, having made their own personal decision to enter the war and of that number about 800 were killed in RCAF service and 379 of their names are currently inscribed on Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial at Bomber Command Museum of Canada.”

DAYTON, Ohio — “High Flight” exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo.)

DAYTON, Ohio — Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Bockscar” at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo.)

Yet, despite the figures cited by Mr. Karsgaard, only RCAF Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., the author of the immortal sonnet High Flight, is prominently referenced within the magnificent NMUSAF facility.

Recognition of the thousands of other Americans who served in the RCAF and RAF is long overdue. Bomber Command Museum of Canada is striving to rectify the oversight and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada) is scouring the planet for Halifax parts to enable the rebuilding of one of the bombers. (Could enough pieces be located to enable the reconstruction of  two Halifaxes?)

The other bird missing from NMUSAF’s inventory is an American-built fighter commonly referred to as the Brewster Buffalo. This winged beast is very nearly extinct, although one former Finnish Air Force B-239 belonging to the National Naval Aviation Museum is on loan to Finland and another Buffalo has been discovered in shallow water off Midway Atoll.

Brewster Buffaloes of the ML-KNIL. Photo: SDASM Archives via Wikipedia.

Often overlooked is the fact that in the aftermath of the surrender of the Netherlands East Indies in March 1942, seventeen of the then obsolescent B-339s allocated to the Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force (ML-KNIL) were transferred to the USAAF’s Fifth Air Force in Australia.

Sources indicate that these orphaned aircraft were eventually, with the exception of at least one which was retained by the Fifth Air Force and utilized as a “hack,” loaned to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). In 1944 the survivors of RAAF service were repatriated to the USAAF. Notably, Jim Maas’ 1987 book F2A Buffalo in action includes a photograph (page 44) of a Fifth Air Force Buffalo sporting U.S. national markings.

One USAAF mishap involving a Brewster is documented: On 1 July 1942 Second Lieutenant Henry Orous Null, Jr., of the 4th Air Depot Group, took a Brewster aloft and crashed at Mount Stanley in Victoria, Australia.

ML-KNIL 339-23 Buffalo at the Brewster plant in early 1942. Photo: Brewster.

Buffalo detractors point out that the Brewster product could not dogfight with the light and nimble fighter planes employed by Imperial Japan and the inexperienced Allied pilots too often lost the contests.

DAYTON, Ohio — Curtiss P-40E Warhawk at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo.)

However, neither the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk or Bell P-39 Airacobra, examples of which sit prominently inside NMUSAF, could likewise not tangle on anywhere even terms with the lightweight Mitsubishi A6M Zero and older fixed-undercarriage  Nakajima Ki-27.

DAYTON, Ohio — Bell P-39Q Airacobra at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo.)

Yet, in service with the Finnish Air Force, the rotund Buffaloes excelled and ruled regional skies by defeating Hurricanes, Spitfires, and Soviet-designed fighters flown by Soviet Air Force aviators in aerial combat. As Wikipedia states: “Only 509 Buffaloes were produced, yet the type produced forty aces. This may well be the highest ratio of aces per number of aircraft produced, of any production fighter plane.”

By adding a Halifax and Buffalo, or at least dedicating displays to them, NMUSF would be honoring the American personnel who flew, serviced, and maintained these historic aeroplanes. Furthermore, the entity would be justifiably and appropriately perpetuating the sagas of RCAF-Americans, Handley Page Halifax, and Brewster Buffalo.

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The author (John Stemple) thanks Karl Karsgaard, Bomber Command Museum of Canada, and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada).

Suggested Viewings

 

 

Sources and Suggested Readings

Americans in the RCAF

http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/americansrcaf.html

Battle of Britain

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Britain

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196270/boeing-b-17g-flying-fortress/

Bomber Command Museum of Canada

http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/

Brewster Buffalo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brewster_F2A_Buffalo

Brewster Buffalo

https://www.pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/buffalo/mount_stanley.html

Brewster Buffaloes for the Militaire Luchtvaart KNIL

https://www.warbirdforum.com/casius.htm

Crash of a Brewster Buffalo on Mount Stanley in Victoria on 1 July 1942

http://www.ozatwar.com/ozcrashes/vic83.htm

Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)

http://57rescuecanada.com/

Handley Page Halifax

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handley_Page_Halifa

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/s,johnmagee.html

Mass, Jim , F2A Buffalo in action. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron Signal Publications, Inc., 1987.

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – Bell P-39Q Airacobra

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196306/bell-p-39q-airacobra/

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – Curtiss P-40E Warhawk

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196309/curtiss-p-40e-warhawk/

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196270/boeing-b-17g-flying-fortress/

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – Boeing B-29 Superfortress

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196252/boeing-b-29-superfortress/

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – Consolidated B-24 Liberator

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196286/consolidated-b-24d-liberator/

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIa

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196916/hawker-hurricane-mkiia/

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – High Flight

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196844/pilot-officer-john-gillespie-magee-high-flight/

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force – Supermarine Spitfire Mk. Vc

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196284/supermarine-spitfire-mk-vc/

Rare Brewster Buffalo Found Near Midway Atoll

http://www.flyingmag.com/news/rare-brewster-buffalo-found-near-midway-atoll

Royal Air Force

https://www.raf.mod.uk/

Royal Canadian Air Force

http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/en/index.page

Royal Netherlands East Indies Army Air Force

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Netherlands_East_Indies_Army_Air_Force

Wikipedia – Brewster F2A Buffalo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brewster_F2A_Buffalo

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright-Patterson_Air_Force_Base