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A not very distinguished assignment

[What follows are notes from Christopher Shores et al: Air War for Yugoslavia Greece and Crete 1940-41 (London: Grub Street 1987) -- Dan Ford]

805 Squadron formed Feb 1941 with 12 Fairey Fulmar two-seat fighters, carrier capable, to support a planned invasion of Rhodes, off the coast of Turkey, held by Italians. Squadron leader Lt Cmdr Alan Black, Fleet Air Arm. Based at Maleme in northeastern Crete. Three Buffaloes (AS419, AS420, AX814) along with 6 more Fulmars flew in from Dekheila (?) March 6. The Buffalo flight commanded by Lt. Rupert Brabner, formerly Member of Parliament for Hyth. The Brewsters were equipped with an antique post-and-ring sight, proof that they were Belgian 339Bs rather than the British 339E model.

Black: "The Buffalo was a delight to fly--very maneuverable (compared to the Fulmar). It would have been an excellent fighter but the guns could not be fired because the ends of the wires which were part of the interrupter gear, failed and 805 did not have the necessary spares." He does not explain what happened to the two .50-cal wing guns. Evidently there was a story abroad that Black thought so little of the Brewstger that he tried to swap them for Gloster biplane fighters, for he added: "At no time did I request that the Buffalos [sic] be exchanged for Sea Gladiators, but I do remember that in the light of the inadequacy of Fulmars against CR43s I requested that the Sea Gladiators, if not required for other operations, should be send to Maleme, to reinforce 805." (p141)

March 18, Lt. Brabner had his first skirmish, chasing a Ju88 without catching it--while flying a Fulmar, perhaps indicative of his opinion of the Buffalo. He was up again next day, mounted on AS419, only to turn back because of engine trouble. He crash- landed short of the airfield, and the Brewster flipped over on its back, fortunately without injury to the MP. A photograph shows it resting very sturdily on its plexiglass canopy--an evident tribute to Dayton Brown's roll-bar.

That seems to have been the Brewster's only sortie from Crete. In the British Order of Battle on April 5, 805 Squadron is shown only as having Fulmars and Sea Gladiators on strength, and by the end of April: "The two remaining Buffalos were also totally unservicable now." When German paratroopers over-ran Crete at the end of May, the Brewsters were apparently left in the boneyard. German photographers delighted in photographing their planes landing over the hulk of a derelict Brewster.