The Buffalo is one of those airplanes with a split personality. Its performance and combat record against the Japanese is almost universally bad. Yet a small number of planes, against the massive VVS (Soviet Air Force) had as completely opposite an experience as we can imagine.
After the jump, and with the help of one of this site’s readers, an interesting look at a whole different performance.
I mentioned the other day in the Gloster Gladiator post that during the Winter War (11/1939-3/1940), Finland received aid from a number of nations. One of those was the United States. Finland needed state of the art weaponry immediately. So a deal was reached with the US Navy and Brewster. The Navy had just started taking delivery of F2A-1 Buffaloes, even though a new an improved F2A-2 was on the drawing board. So the Navy agreed to release the remaining 44 F2A-1s for sale to Finland, and they would wait for the -2.
As it turned out, those aircraft didn’t arrive until after the end of the Winter War. In Finnish service they would go by the Brewster company designation, Model B-239, although apparently they were just commonly known as “Brewsters”. At this point, the Finnish Air Force was a pretty amazing polyglot force. With a front line strength of about 160 aircraft, it was stronger by 1941 than it had been before the Winter War. It was made up of Italian Fiat G.50s, Dutch Fokker D.XXIs and British Gloster Gladiators. Then add in recently purchased French MS.406s, British Hawker Hurricanes and Bristol Blenheims and the new American Brewsters. In late 1940 Nazi Germany started selling off war booty of captured French equipment; Finland added more MS-406s and some Curtiss Hawk 75s from that source. There were also a number of reconditioned captured Soviet aircraft on strength. I can’t imagine a more interesting air force.
Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Finland joined with Germany in an attempt to reclaim territory recently lost in the Winter War. This, what Finland called “The Continuation War”, would cut the Finns off from British and American suppliers. But in time, the Germans made equipment available, and eventually the Finnish Air Force would be mostly remade with German hardware.
But when the Continuation War started, the Brewster B-239 was Finland’s most important fighter. The B-239 model included no pilot armor or self sealing tanks. It is hard to imagine, but apparently none were ever added either. The aircraft were also de-navalized, tail hooks and life rafts being removed. This made the type very light and maneuverable (less that 10% more wing loading than a Zero, and more powerful). Really the best performing of any Buffalo. It was very well regarded by Finn pilots, earning the nickname “Pearl of the North”.
Finn engineers and mechanics had a fairly long history of tinkering with foreign aircraft, and they managed to work around several of the type’s reliability issues (most significantly to the engine). They were well aware of how scarce their resources were, and made a point of maintaining the Brewsters to the highest standard. At a time when most countries considered 6 months to be the life span of an aircraft in combat, the Finn Buffaloes were in front line combat units from June of 1941, until they were replaced by the Bf 109G in mid 1944. They finished out the war still flying combat patrols over rear areas. Finland considered building their own Brewster B-239s, and even built a prototype of a new production model, but manufacturing a whole type is a much bigger job than the sort of parts/modification work the domestic industry was geared towards, and the project came to nothing.
The success of the type is staggering. Finn pilots claimed 477 kills for 19 losses. That’s over a 25/1 kill ratio (compare to 11/1 for the Corsair). All the top Finn aces flew the Brewster at some point; the most successful being Hans Wind with 39 kills (out of 75 total). And Ilmari Juutilainen, the top non-German ace of all time, scored 34 of his 96 kills in the Brewster. By the way, if you Google “worst airplane of WWII”, you will get a lot of hits with the Brewster Buffalo.
Which brings us to the story of Bw 372. This Finnish Brewster crashed in a lake in June of 1942. A joint Finnish/Russian salvage team found the aircraft in 1998. It was sold to the US Navy for restoration and display at the Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fl. But following hurricane damage to that facility, the plane was gifted (loaned? the ownership story is an epic in its own right!) to the Central Finland Aviation Museum for restoration and display. These pictures were taken by new reader of this site Sartenada, who has his own photography blog at Word Press, and was kind enough to make them available to me. The plane’s current condition is amazing, but I must admit to being uncertain as to how much restoration work has actually been done. So for all of you in Northern Europe, go see it!
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