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Brewster Buffaloes for the
Militaire Luchtvaart KNIL (part 2)

continued from part 1

NEI order

The NPC persistently tried to have orders for fighters for the ML-KNIL approved. Other types were also considered such as the North American Mustang (in its earlier versions) and the Bell P-39 Airacobra, but also Canadian built Hurricanes. The problem with all these initiatives remained the availability of engines. On 28 October 1940 another request was submitted for 72 Buffaloes (N-196), but this time without the engines. Also approval was requested for the purchase of 140 Wright R-1820 engines (amongst others for these Brewsters) that had been placed on the second hand market by American Airlines, which company was replacing the engines of its Douglas DC-3 transport with a later version. This was again refused although the order for the Buffaloes was approved this time. It is beyond the bounds of this story to discuss the further developments the above merely served to illustrate the problems Major Te Roller had to deal with.

The eventual result was that the NPC received 31 Cyclone G-105A engines of 1100 hp from the already mentioned stock for the MLD, including spares, intended for the first 24 Buffaloes. In addition 54 G-205A Cyclones (1200 hp) for the remaining 48 Buffaloes were obtained through Brewster which had procured them, after revision at the Wright plant, from Trans World Airlines. The letter of intent provided to Brewster on 6 June 1940 could finally be converted into an order. Thus the ML-KNIL acquired two versions of the Buffalo, whereby the 100 hp less was a significant handicap for the first 24 aircraft.

Five Brewsters of the Second Afdeling, Vliegtuiggroep V (2-VlG-V) [Afdeling = Squadron, Vliegtuig group = Aircraft Group] ready for a demonstration on a propaganda day of the Vrijwillig Vlieger Corps [Volunteer Flyer Corps] at Cililitan (Batavia), July 1941. (Photo Sectie Luchtmacht Historie, Royal Neth. A.F.)

Finally an additional 20 Buffaloes were ordered in February 1941. These were a different version similar to the last F2A-3 version of the US Navy, ie a somewhat longer fuselage and a higher weight. Also there were problems with the delivery of engines, which in this instance was solved through the purchase of 22 Cyclone R-1820-G2 engines that had been traded in by KLM with the manufacturer for stronger engines. These engines were modified by the factory to a G5B configuration which delivered only 1000 hp, ie 200 hp less than the earlier Buffaloes, in a heavier aircraft. A rather unfavorable combination that reduced the already unimpressive maximum speed of the Buffalo from 307 to 264 mph and the climb rate from 4700 to 3100 feet/min. But nothing else was available and it seems that the ML-KNIL had adopted the approach that the lesser aircraft be used for the training of fighter pilots in the hope that more powerful engines would become available at a later date.

As it was, these last 20 Buffaloes never reached the NEI, which was perhaps fortunate. The delivery was delayed through shortages of spare parts and eventually the aircraft were shipped without the exhausts (which were sent later). Eventually they were unloaded in Australia and used by the USAAF and RAAF. It is interesting to note that the Aviodrome recently acquired various remnants of three of these aircraft.

The delivery begins. Buffaloes to Suriname?

Delivery of the Brewsters began at Roosevelt Field, Long Island in March 1941. Most of the test flights were undertaken by Captain-pilot-observer Hans Maurenbrecher, with the assistance of Major Te Roller. The bulk of this series was delivered by end June, except seven aircraft which were completed in July and one in August. The first of the series with the 1200 hp engine (the B3-119) was retained in the US for tests and as a prototype for modifications (which is the reason why this aircraft has been so often photographed). During tests it was damaged and, as such, was not shipped until April 1942 and was also diverted to Australia.

Sergeant-pilot Theo de Waardt of 1-VlG-V at Singkawang, East Borneo, shortly after war with Japan broke out. His Buffalo was not yet fitted with an armor plate behind the seat and no reflector gun sight. He wears a loose set of headphones and does not have a microphone in the oxygen mask. (Photo J.Schellekens via Casius)

In the meantime the Netherlands West Indies made a claim on the Buffaloes. The USA exerted pressure on the Netherlands to do something about the neglected defense of Suriname [then part of the Netherlands West Indies] where there were extremely important bauxite mines. When the USA threatened with a military invasion of Suriname, the Dutch government in London quickly moved and made plans to improve the defense of Suriname. One of the plans was to send five Buffaloes to Suriname. On 24 October 1941 five Dutch pilots in Britain were ordered to train with the RAF on the Buffalo, but there were some delays. Moreover, the USA indicated that this was not sufficient and a month later sent a military force to Suriname. Although this is not certain, it is likely that the last five Buffaloes of the ML-KNIL were kept back in the USA for the Suriname project. After this was cancelled, they were shipped to the NEI but arrived too late to take part in the struggle. The B3-162 to -166, the last six [sic] of the 72, arrived in Australia in March 1942 and were transferred to the USAAF.

Deployment in the NEI

On 1 June 1941 the 5th Vliegtuiggroep (Air Group) was established on Semplak [near Bogor] and Andir [near Bandung], to be equipped with the Brewster fighters. The 1st Afdeling (Squadron) of this (1-Vl.G.V) was initially equipped with Curtiss Interceptors and a so called Trial Afdeling of Brewsters was established which on 1 July was reorganized as the 2nd Afdeling (2-Vl.G.V). The strength of an Afdeling of fighters was, from an battle order point of view, set at 12 plus 100% spares, but in practice this meant 12 plus six spares and even that was difficult to attain, as will be shown. The 2nd Afdeling (2-Vl.G.V) was the first completely equipped fighter squadron and was equipped with the 1100 hp aircraft. After more Brewsters had been received the Interceptors of 1-Vl.G.V were transferred to Vl.G.IV and were replaced by Buffaloes. Each fighter group was to comprise three Afdelingen and both Group IV and Group V had still to be supplemented with a third Afdeling but it was not until the end of 1941 that pilots and sufficient ground crew came out of training.

The last twenty ML-KNIL 339-23 Buffaloes with the longer fuselage, in the snow at the Brewster plant, early 1942. the Solar exhausts were delayed and the aircraft were shipped to Australia uncompleted. The Aviodrome in Lelystad has recently purchased some remnants of three of these Buffaloes. (Brewster photo, Sectie Luchtmacht Historie)

After the ML-KNIL was mobilized on 1 December 1941 the deployment of the Buffaloes was as follows:

1st Afdeling Vl.G.V (Semplak) 15 aircraft

2nd Afdeling Vl.G.V (Semplak) 14 aircraft

1st Afdeling Vl.G.IV (Madiu) 6 aircraft (plus 13 Curtiss Hawks)

Technical Service (Maospati [near Madiun] and Andir) 25-27 aircraft (in assembly and repair)

About three of the 65 aircraft that had been received had already been written off in accidents and more were being repaired. The 3rd Afdeling of Vl.G. IV was established at Madioen on 9 December 1941 and initially undertook fighter pilot training. Four of the Buffaloes of Vl.G.IV were sent to Ambon on 3 December to provide a symbolic air defense. It was hoped that the last six plus twenty Buffaloes, which were expected by ship shortly, would be used to equip and activate the 3rd Afdeling of Vl.G.V. In anticipation this Afdeling was established on 10 January 1942 and equipped with aircraft from the other Afdelingen. Through this the spares of the other Brewster Afdelingen were exhausted and, due to combat losses Afdelingen were soon merged again.

continued in part 3