Brewster 339/439 in the East Indies

[Paul Andriessen prepared this synopsis from Hugo Hooftman: Van Glenn Martins en Mustangs, Alle vliegtuigen die hebben gevlogen bij het KNIL, de Indische militaire luchtvaart, published about 1966, which he found at the Dutch Maritime Archives. I'm told that the information about serial numbers is outdated and no longer applies. - Dan Ford]
One of the most important fighter planes used by the Royal Dutch Indonesian Army (KNIL) against the Japanese was the Brewster Buffalo, which was the base of the air force. In 1940 no less than 92 of these airplanes were ordered! First 72 B-339D's of which the deliveries started in March 1941, just before the war began. Later also 20 B-439 was ordered with more powerful engines what has been delivered? This B-439 has a Wright GR-1820-G205A engine which delivered 1200 HP at the start and 1000HP at 14.200 ft while the B-339 had a G 105A which delivered 1100HP at the start.

Probably not all of 72 ordered B-339's were delivered, there were a total of 72 Buffaloes in the service, B-339's as well as B-439's! When the war started at the 8th December 1941 there were only 30 ready for battle. During December one squadron was sent from Buitenzorg (west Java) to Malakka to defend Singapore. On 12 January '42 three of these Dutch Buffaloes came into action near Singapore for the first time. Soon they found a serious problem; the front canopy was not hardened glass. The British Buffaloes from the RAF, who flew with the B-339E with their 900HP engines had armored canopies. Soon after these canopies were mounted on the Dutch Buffaloes, mostly taken from damaged RAF Buffaloes who could not fly anymore.

Only five of the Buffaloes survived the fighting around Singapore, the rest were lost. These five were retreated on Sumatra.

There were only 20 left in reserve, which flew above Ambon, Borneo and Java. The 3VI squadron with 12 Buffaloes was flown by young, newly certificated pilots who left the flying school of Kalidjati at 7 December 1941 to go to Maospati to get their brand new Buffaloes.

When Java surrendered there were only four damaged Buffaloes left. Possibly the Japanese captured these, because they were flying Buffaloes with Japanese signs. [See the mention in Feedback of Japanese Buffaloes in Singapore. - D]

The planes and their pilots in action


The Dutch Buffaloes had bomb racks on which two bombs of 50 kilo's or six bombs of 25 kilo's could be hanged. In this way they have been used and a Japanese destroyer was sunk and several cargo ships were damaged.

The Buffaloes belonged at the 5th aircraft group at Buitenzorg, what existed of two departments of each 12 Buffaloes. Four were based on Palembang I. They arrived there on 25 December 1941 after the evacuation of Singkawang II on Western- Borneo. Two patrols were standing on Pakanbaroe.

The Dutch Buffaloes were send to Singapore to help the RAF who also flew with Buffaloes. The British were armed with 4 machine guns of 12,7 mm while the Dutch were armed with two 12,7 mm and two 7,7 mm guns. There were 12 British Buffaloes of no 21 sq. stationed on Sungei Patani, 32 of 243 sq and 48 sq. at Kallang and 16 of 453 sq. at Sembawang. In total the RAF 60 Buffaloes around Singapore. On 9th December 1941 12 (or 9?) Dutch Buffaloes under the command of Capt. van Helsdingen were added to this number and stationed on Kallang, Singapore.

On the 12th of January 1942 they first came into action. When at 10 am A Japanese air raid happened with 5 Army '97's (Nakajima) KI-27) vaandrigs (reserve officer candidate) Swarts, Scheefer and Sgt. Bruggink took off with their Buffaloes and succeeded in chasing away the Japanese. Vaandrig Swarts did hit one Japanese bomber's engine so it started smoking. In the afternoon the bombers came back. Now Capt. van Helsdingen, Lt. Deibel and Sgt. Bruggink took of. At 4000 m. they came into a fight with 9 Japanese Army 97's. Four were shot down, two by Deibel and one each by van Helsdingen and Bruggink. Deibel himself was shot down, but lightly wounded on his head he managed to save himself with his parachute. After four days hospital he was cured and send away.

On the 15th again the Dutch Buffaloes came into action, when above Singapore van Helsdingen, Swarts and Bruggink again fought with a over powerful number of Navy Zeros. Vaandrig Swarts was shot down and killed.

On the 16th Bruggink went into a battle with a formation bombers without visible results.

Java, Ambon, Borneo

On the 18th January the Buffaloes went back to Java. Capt. van Helsdingen went with 8 Buffaloes to Semplak, Lt. van Rest and Lt. Tideman with twelve Buffaloes to Andir and Lt. de Vries with eleven Buffaloes to Tjilitian, all beginning February '42. On the 9th February the Japanese air force raided the air base Tjililian with 8 Navy- Zeros. The alarm was so late, only 5 of 11 ready to start Buffaloes could take off. Out of six left on the ground only one survived the attack. The rest was destroyed, together with some British Hurricanes and KNILM-planes. From the 5 planes who took off, three were shot down immediately (together with two Glenn-Martins and two FK- 51's), so only two Buffaloes could make a fight. They shot down one Navy Zero. The strength of the 5th fighter sq. was down to 3 planes, all Buffaloes.

On Ambon a patrol of 4 planes was placed at Laha air base. There were even plans to send 36 fighters to Ambon, but this never happened. In fact the patrol at Ambon existed only out of 2 Buffaloes, because during the flight from Java to Ambon one plane was lost with Sgt. van Bers, while the second crashed in a false landing. On the 13th of January '42 both Buffaloes came into action when they attacked a flight of 10 Japanese Navy Zeros. The pilots Lt. Broers and Sgt. Blans fought a hopeless battle. They dived shooting trough the Japanese formation. Almost immediately the Buffalo from Broers was shot into flames, but Broers continued fighting with his burning plane. When the Buffalo went uncontrollable he managed to get out of his plane and saved himself by his parachute, heavily covered with burned wounds. He came into sea, was picked up en brought to a hospital. Sgt. Blans had to continue the fight on his own. With a loud bang his left wing broke away. The sergeant jumped with his parachute and faded away. He had 17 hits in his body. He came into the trees and was found after 7 hours by a rescue team. He survived. In the first week of February the three Buffaloes at Tjililitan were send to Tjisaoek, where also the Buffaloes out of Semplak were standing. Eight Buffaloes took off to attack the enemy above Semplak when on 19th February about 35 Japanese airplanes appeared with at least 20 Navy Zeros. Vaandrig Scheffer and Sgt. 't Hart shot a Navy-O each. Both were shot down themselves, but managed to leave the plane by parachute. Vaandrig Kuipers and Sgt. Groot were less fortunate, they were shot down and killed. The commander, Lt. Deibel, fired twice on a Navy-O, was after 10 minutes fighting wounded by a 20 mm shell, but managed to land safely on Semplak. The real commander, Capt. van Helsdingen had to stay on the ground due to engine failure. Even though the Buffalo pilots reported only two Navy-Zeros ground troops found eleven airplanes crashed in the terrain on their way back to Palembang.. The Dutch lost 4 Buffaloes, while the Japanese on the air base Semplak shot three British Hudson's and two KNILM Sikorsky's into fire.

continued in part 2