Scale Trap-pings

RCN News - - 2016 Calendar - By Jim Bates

Cana­di­ans and the Brew­ster Buf­falo

While nei­ther the RCAF nor the Royal Cana­dian Navy op­er­ated the Buf­falo in ser­vice, there are a few Cana­dian con­nec­tions to the type. The RCAF’s in­tro­duc­tion to the Buf­falo took place in June 1940 when 10 (BR) Squadron, based at Dart­mouth, Nova Sco­tia, took pos­ses­sion of a hand­ful of Buf­fa­los that had been or­dered by Bel­gium. The first six of these air­craft were loaded onto the French air­craft car­rier Béarn along with French Cur­tiss SBC Hell­divers and Stinson 105s. When France sur­ren­dered, the car­rier was di­verted to Mar­tinique and the air­craft were left out­side to rot. The re­main­ing Buf­fa­los in the care of 10 (BR) were shipped to Eng­land on­board HMS Fu­ri­ous after Bel­gium had fallen to the Ger­mans. These air­craft were taken on strength by the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm.

While it can be as­sumed that some Cana­dian pi­lots flew the Buf­fa­los while in ser­vice with the Bri­tish, a few sto­ries stand out. Lieu­tenant Kenneth Lloyd Keith, DSC, of Cal­gary, was a Fleet Air Arm Sword­fish pi­lot who was sec­onded by Com­man­der Charles Keighly-Peach to fly Sea Glad­i­a­tors from HMS Ea­gle. This small flight pro­vided des­per­ately needed fighter de­fense for the Mediter­ranean fleet. Through­out July and Au­gust of 1940, Keith de­fended the fleet suc­cess­fully with his an­ti­quated Gla­di­a­tor bi­plane. By 1941, he was fly­ing Buf­fa­los with 805 Squadron from Dekhe­lia, Egypt, on con­voy es­cort. Sadly, on June 17, 1941, he was shot down in Buf­falo AX813 by a Bf-109E while on a fighter pa­trol over Royal Navy ships near Sidi Bar­rani. Keith sur­vived the crash and was tak- en pris­oner, but suc­cumbed to his wounds a week later. Keith is be­lieved to be the first al­lied, and only Fleet Air Arm, pi­lot to be shot down in a Buf­falo.

Most of the RAF’s Buf­fa­los were sent to the South East Asia the­atre. RCAF pi­lot Tom Wat­son had the dis­tinc­tion of fly­ing the last Buf­falo out of Sin­gapore on Feb­ru­ary 11, 1941. The air­craft (W8205 TD-H) had been aban­doned on the field and the ground crew were able to get the air­craft run­ning so that Wat­son could de­part with three Hur­ri­canes from his Squadron. Wat­son re­counted in Brian Cull’s “Buf­faloes Over Sin­gapore”:“I had never been in a Buf­falo be­fore and had some trou­ble with the throt­tle con­trols, par­tic­u­larly as the pitch was con­trolled from the dash­board. Also it took me a bit of time to fig­ure out how to raise the wheels. We were an odd look­ing lot, three Hur­ri­canes and a Buf­falo leav­ing a smok­ing Sin­gapore be­hind us. We had no maps and I had no para­chute.”

Upon land­ing at Palem­bang’s aux­il­iary air­field P2, Wat­son was rep­ri­manded by the CO for fly­ing a type in which he had not re­ceived a check­out! Wat­son then be­came the only RCAF pi­lot to join a Royal Aus­tralian Air Force Squadron in Aus­tralia. After his es­cape from Sin­gapore, he end up fly­ing P-40Es with 77 Squadron, RAAF.

Fi­nally, some Cana­dian pi­lots in the RCNVR and Fleet Air Arm flew Buf­fa­los as part of their train­ing with the U.S. Navy. The Navy op­er­ated war weary F2A-2 and F2A-3 Buf­fa­los as ad­vanced train­ers at NAS Mi­ami. While they were clearly not com­bat air­craft, the Cana­dian pi­lots en­joyed their first crack at a “fighter” type. RCNVR ace Don Shep­pard was among these pi­lots.

The Buf­falo in Scale

The Brew­ster Buf­falo is one of those air­craft that is pop­u­lar with mod­el­ers and kit man­u­fac­tur­ers in spite of its poor rep­u­ta­tion as a com­bat type. Over the years many kits have been is­sued in all of the ma­jor scales.

In 1/32 scale, Spe­cial Hobby and Czech Model have is­sued var­i­ous ver­sions of the Buf­falo based upon the same kit with short run plas­tic and var­i­ous resin and photo etch ac­ces­sories de­pend­ing on the box­ing.

Tamiya has the F2A-2 and RAF Buf­falo mar­ket cornered in 1/48 scale with a kit first is­sued in the 1970s, which still holds up well to­day. Spe­cial Hobby and Clas­sic Air­frames have also is­sued Buf­falo kits, fo­cus­ing on the longer F2A-3, F2A-1, and the Fin­nish Model 239. Again, these kits are short run plas­tic sup­ple­mented with resin de­tail parts. Clas­sic Air­frames went in to sta­sis a few years ago, so there kits may be dif­fi­cult to find. Legacy kits in 1/72 scale in­clude an F2A-2 by Air­fix and a RAF Buf­falo by Match­box. Both are kits of the early 1970s, and out of the two I have a pref­er­ence for the Match­box kit. This may be solely due to nos­tal­gia; I built the kit as a young boy and en­joyed the red and white plas­tic used to mold the two trees.

More re­cently Hasegawa has is­sued var­i­ous box­ings of the Fin­nish Model 239, F2A-1 and F2A-2. These are very nice kits with fine en­graved panel lines and ex­cel­lent fit, but the kits hard to find and quite ex­pen­sive. In­ex­pli­ca­bly, a RAF Buf­falo has never been is­sued, even though it ap­pears that parts were cre­ated to make this ver­sion. A resin af­ter­mar­ket set has been is­sued by Quick­boost to cor­rect this over­sight. Re­cently a dual box­ing of an F2A-2 and F2A-3 has been is­sued which in­cludes resin parts to to con­vert the sec­ond kit to the longer F2A-3 ver­sion.

In 2013, Hobby Boss has is­sued an Easy Assem­bly kit marked as an F2A Buf­falo. It ap­pears that Hobby Boss in­tended it to be a F2A-1 Buf­falo and the kit in­cludes de­cals for two early U.S. Navy Buf­fa­los, in­clud­ing one in a spec­tac­u­lar “Bar­clay” cam­ou­flage. How­ever, it re­ally is a mix of F2A-1 fea­tures, the cowl­ing, and F2A-2 parts, the large spin­ner. The kit has its fuse­lage and wings molded in one piece each with a few ad­di­tional de­tail parts. Panel lines are finely en­graved, but a few are miss­ing, in­clud­ing the one un­der the fuse­lage win­dow. (Which is pro­vided as a de­cal.) Cock­pit de­tail con­sists of a rather large seat, floor, and con­trol col­umn. (No de­tail is pro­vided for the “shelf” be­hind the pi­lot.) The engine is molded as part of the cowl­ing, and there is no wheel well de­tail. The parts fit well and assem­bly is quite sim­ple, but the lack of de­tail, con­fu­sion as to what vari­ant it is de­pict­ing, and the miss­ing fuse­lage win­dow may put off some mod­el­ers.

Aban­doned Buf­fa­los and Hell­divers at Fort-deFrance, Mar­tinique. (Carl Vin­cent Col­lec­tion)

Two Bel­gian Buf­fa­los (still car­ry­ing their U.S. reg­is­tra­tions NX93B and NX90B) at Dart­mouth are be­ing pre­pared for their sea voy­age by 10 (BR) Squadron, RCAF. (Carl Vin­cent Col­lec­tion)

Tony O’Toole’s 1/48 scale Tamiya Buf­falo done up as AX820 of 805 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm.

One of 805 Squadron’s Buf­fa­los (AS413) in Egypt. (Tony O’Toole Col­lec­tion)

Hobby Boss 1/72 F2A Buf­falo box art.

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