Brewster Buffalo – Schizophrenic Fighter

The Brewster Buffalo

The much-maligned Buffalo is a great example of a fighter that was both terrible and successful at the same time. In British, Dutch and, for a very short time, American service the tubby Buffalo failed against the faster and more nimble Japanese fighters in 1941.

Often used as a scapegoat for Allied defeats the Buffalo is still considered the worst fighter of World War II. But was it? Eric Brown Royal Navy (Ret.) described the Buffalo as ‘a true anomaly of an aeroplane with delightful manoevrability, but poor fighter performance.’

In Dutch hands, during the air battles over Java in early 1941, the Buffalo managed a victory to loss ratio against the Japanese of almost 2 to 1! In British hands the Buffalo was a disappointment. Used in the defence of Malaya and Singapore in 1941, RAF Buffalos managed to shoot down eighty Japanese aircraft for a loss of 127 aircraft to all causes. The only American use of the Buffalo was during the Battle of Midway in June 1942 with disastrous results.

What’s more interesting is that long before the Buffalo had gained its sorry reputation with the Allies it was a great success with the Finns. During the wars between Finland and Russia from June 1941-44 the Finns had some 40 Buffalos in service. It proved extremely successful forming the backbone of the Finn’s fighter defence ending the war with 496 enemy aircraft destroyed for the loss of just nineteen Buffalos in air-to-air combat.

The Brewster Buffalo – good, bad, or indifferent? The answer, perhaps, is that an experienced pilot in a mediocre fighter is far more dangerous than a newly trained pilot in a great fighter.

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