Photo Above: A close examination of the fuselage photo will reveal two examples of unique artwork. Forward of the canopy is a lynx, and barely visible on the vertical stabilizer is the “Prancing Elk” or “Farting Elk” image. The authors of Lentolaivue 24 point out (page 92) that the lynx LLv 24 unit badge was “worn by Brewster Model 239s only.” Similarly, the elk symbol was exclusive to 2/LLv 24 B-239s. Evidently, the elk design was “inspired by Walt Disney’s Hiawatha.”
20th April 2012 (updated 8th June 2016) | Aviation aficionados may wish to visit Pensacola sometime next year to view a unique and historically relevant remnant. The only extant Brewster Model B-239 (BW-372) belongs to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. This surviving example is currently on display at the Finnish Air Force Museum and is currently scheduled to return to Pensacola in summer 2018.
In Finland the aeroplane sits silently, its ungainly appearance belying a legacy of superior service. Visitors’ eyes transfix at the sight of the silent mass of aluminum, steel and fabric. By staring at the plane and its diminished condition, a result of air combat and decades of submersion, one can almost transport back to June 25, 1942.
That day, in the city known as the “Birthplace of Aviation” (and Orville Wright) a young woman named Violet Hogan was celebrating her graduation from secondary school and contemplating joining the Civil Air Patrol. She would also begin working at Frigidaire. This corporation was, according to Wright State University library archives and the General Motors Heritage Center, producing “.50 caliber Browning machine guns” for Brewster and other manufacturers in addition to “aircraft propellers and parts, hydraulic controls for airplanes and other military items.” Concurrently, the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation was busy producing later models of the plane referred to as “Buffaloes.”
The Continuation War was beginning, and more than four thousand (in excess of 7,300 kilometers) flying miles distant young Finnish aviators were at the controls of several Model B-239s. They were on patrol above the communist Soviet Union. A Finnish pilot by the name of Lauri (Ohukainen) Pekuri was one of the fliers. Pekuri soon found himself in an aerial melee over near the Sekehe aerodrome. Lauri managed to down two Soviet Air Force Hawker Hurricanes. However, his Brewster (BW-372) took hits from pursuers, and Pekuri had to make an emergency landing onto a lake. He ditched successfully and swam to shore. However, the stricken aircraft sank to the bottom. There it remained for decades.
However, admirers of the type and aviation historians had not forgotten the submerged airplane. After all, according to Kari Stenman and Kalevi Keskinen (Lentolaivue 24, page 54) 1st Lt. Pekuri scored “seven victories in this machine between March 30 and June 25 . . . .” Thus, groups of Finns and Russians searched for the Brewster at the behest of the National Naval Aviation Museum.
In June 1998, after much searching and the elapse of some four years, the submerged “bison’s” resting place in became known. Crews raised the B-239 to the surface that August. A documentary titled Hunt for the Lost Brewster records the search and recovery.
The National Naval Aviation Museum took physical possession of BW-372 during 2004. Sometime afterward, the Finnish Air Force Museum received it on loan. Recently, a National Naval Aviation Museum representative informed the author of the following: The Brewster will likely remain in Finland “until at least mid 2014 after which point we plan to return it the Naval Aviation Museum. The Buffalo, at our direction, is displayed in a preserved status as it was found at the bottom of the lake in Russia where it crash landed during the Continuing War in the 1940s. Except for removal of dirt and debris, the arrestment of minor surface corrosion, and the repair of handling damage in the recovery, it remains as it was found including the combat and crash damage.”
The operational history of the type began on December 8, 1939, when the U.S. Navy deployed the rotund naval fighter that was in many ways revolutionary for the time. The aircraft was of aluminum construction and monoplane design. It possessed a retractable undercarriage, could attain more than 300 mph in level flight, enjoyed a decent turning radius and roll ability and was fairly maneuverable. Armament was impressive, consisting of powerful .50-caliber machine guns. With slower and less formidably armed biplanes still the standard in many navies and land-based air forces, the new Brewster represented a marked improvement in aeronautical design and aircraft performance.
Soon after its U.S. Navy operational acceptance, Finland expressed interest in the aeroplanes. After U.S. government approval on December 16, 1939, Finland purchased a number of the early production Brewsters. Not long afterward, beginning in the summer of 1941, Finns piloting their Model B-239s found success in combat against Soviet aircraft.
Several authors chronicle the struggles of airmen who flew Brewsters. Kari Stenman authored Lentolaivue 24 (Osprey Aviation Elite 4). Brian Cull, Paul Sortehaug and Mark Haselden address the topic in their book titled Buffaloes Over Singapore: RAF, RAAF, and Dutch Brewster Fighters in Action over Malaya and the East Indies 1941-42. Additional information appears within the pages of these publications: Martin Caiden’s The Ragged, Rugged Warriors; F2A Buffalo in Action – Aircraft No. 81 by Jim Maas, Don Greer and Perry Manley; and Brewster F2A Buffalo Aces of World War 2 (Aircraft of the Aces) by Kari Stenman, Andrew Thomas and Chris Davey.
The Brewster fighter models have disparate records. In Finnish service the Model B-239 excelled. Contrarily, in American, British, British Commonwealth and Dutch use “Buffaloes” were unappreciated and even disdained by military aviators in the Far East and South Pacific. The following truism succinctly sums up the above controversy: “One man’s trash is another’s treasure.” Regardless of one’s opinion of the Brewsters, the National Naval Aviation Museum owns a very rare winged jewel.
Note: The location of a watery grave belonging to another Brewster came became known last summer. This Buffalo lies in shallow coastal waters just off the Midway Atoll airstrip. The fighter sank in February 1942 after U.S. Marine pilot Lt. Charles W. Somers Jr., of VMF 221, landed short of the runway while returning to base in the midst of a Pacific squall.
The author (John Stemple) wishes to thank the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Finnish Air Force Museum for providing photos and comments. He also thanks Marja Lampi for providing a prerelease copy of Hunt for the Lost Brewster (E-Mail: email@example.com).
External Links & Readings
Kari Stenman and Kalevia Keskinen, Lentolaivue 24, Osprey Aviation Elite 4, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001.
Civil Air Patrol
The Frigidaire Center
Hunt for the Lost Brewster
http://cargocollective.com/tellustops (E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )
National Naval Aviation Museum
Brewster Aeronautical Corporation
Brewster found off Midway
VMF 221 at Midway