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HOME > BUFFALO > RAAF IN MALAYA

'The performance ... was pathetic'

[From a 1996 letter written by P. Wright of Australia to Jarmo Mikkonen of Finland about the performance of the Buffalo in Malaya. Wing Commander Wright was assigned to 21 Sq RAAF in Malaya but was posted back to Australia shortly after the squadron got its Buffalos, and therefore had no combat experience in the type. I've shortened the letter and improved the punctuation and corrected minor typos. A tip of the virtual hat to "BuffaloBil2", who faxed a copy to me, and to Mark for identifying Wing Commander Wright. -- Dan Ford]

Firstly, they are an excellent design but were very wrongly built in America. This resulted in problems in two areas: Engines & Airframes.

Our aircraft were supposed to be fitted with the 1,250 hp engines, and the engine plates so stated. However, the variation in power [between one aircraft and another] was very evident. When making an operational formation climb, particularly over 8,000 ft., the relative performance of some aircraft was pathetic. This stemmed from the fact that a number of the engines were time-expired airline engines reworked and reissued as new and up to rated power. We also had a sabotage problem in the American factories: valve springs over-hardened, flattened cam rings, cam rings not hardened at all, oil pumps outside tolerance and thus low pressure, and pressure relief springs being too soft--again low pressure. A fuel pump from the "Hornet" series engines of 600-800 hp output would not supply those bigger engines. Airscrew seals were second-hand and blew if the oil pressure surged due to quick change to fine pitch.

[I think it's fairly well established that the problems in Buffalo manufacture were due to Brewster's incompetence, not sabotage. Evidently some Buffs had been refitted with fuel pumps from the Pratt & Whitney Hornet engine, inadequate to the task. -- DF]

Whilst the airframes themselves were basically very sound, the "bits" were a real headache. The single hydraulic ram for the undercarriage was a good design, but the inboard ball joint was prone to bend or fail. Also the piston on the undercarriage rod was a single bolt--quite good if the bolt is there and tight [but] several of our aircraft had no bolt on delivery. Makes landings very interesting!

We had two variants, the W series and the AN series. [The reference is to the RAF serial numbers.] I believe the W's were originally for the RAF and the AN's were directed Belgian orders. A number of the W series had a 1,000-lb bomb fork under the fuselage and some windows in the fuselage bottom to allow verification of release of the bomb. These were removed from the aircraft before issue to us since we had no bombs to fit them. This yoke was to cast the bomb clear of the propeller. The AN series did not have this setup but I believe both series had the wing-hardened mounts for eight bombs--four on each side. Because the RAAF-RAF bomb-racks did not fit, we were not allowed to modify the racks.

[The bit about the bomb fork is evidently a slip of the 45-year-old memory. No Buffaloes were so equipped. -- DF]

All our aircraft were fitted with two inboard and two wing-mounted 0.5 [50 caliber] guns. The two inboard were propeller synchronized with the American wire system which was not bad if kept adjusted up, but far more troublesome than the British Constantinesque hydraulic system. However, all guns were on the 0.3 [30 caliber] Browning mounts. Our ground staff had much difficulty and a lot of time building these for reliability. The firing solenoids were also found to be 0.3 types and therefore were not dependable. The breech-blocks were found to be impossible and had to be reworked by the armourers, fitters, and aircrew who could be mustered. Good fun!

Since no 0.5 ammunition reached us until 1st December [1941], the gun fixing was done by inspection and proven correct.

Tactics

We were directed to learn, practice, and obey the RAF Spitfire tactics for use against the Bf-109 and FW-190. What a joke.

1. Spitfire could out-climb the Buffalo, particularly above 10,000 ft, and could out-dive one by a great margin.

2. Buffalo fuel consumption at climbing or operational power was much greater than the Spitfire.

3. The step-down tail and Charlie Wriggler was okay in the Spitfire due to designed clean lines and low-drag controls. Buffalo having a very (relatively) low landing speed and stalling at about 50 mph, the controls and wing design made great brakes for this type of manouvering.

Hence, whilst when we wanted to we could take off and execute five turns of a vertical roll before having to flatten out, this was possible only in some of our aircraft. We were never allowed to make the fuel test of the reconnaissance setup. This was specified as 3,000 ft, 1,250 rpm (full coarse), 25 inch boost, and full lean mixture. This did not cause overheating and gave 125 mph corrected. The endurance was stated as 8-10 hours and allowed 15 minutes of full power on return for local combat. This indicates a radius of 500-600 miles--what a bore on the seat!

This makes some "recce" types look odd.

I found them generally a very forgiving aircraft, and if the build qualify of the bits and pieces had been better, [the Buffalo] would have been very good.