Tales of the Flying Tigers

'Nothing like it for close-quarter combat'

Sam Case, 67 Squadron [These photographs and the following article appeared in the Singapore Straits Times in the spring of 1941, soon after the first Brewster Buffaloes arrived in Malaya. They are from the scrapbook of Sam Case, a mechanic in RAF 67 Squadron in Malaya and later in Burma, and were forwarded to me by Peter Crocker, to whom many thanks. That's Sam at left, in his best go-to-hell pose. When I phoned him in November 2000, he was in great form; he was 81 and still working at odd jobs for his neighbors. (Alas, he died little more than a year later.) He told me he was English--as were most of the 67 Squadron ground crew--and had joined the RAF in 1939 before the war began, for a six-year term that turned out to be closer to seven years. -- Daniel Ford]

"SQUADRONS of Brewster Buffaloes, 300 mile-an-hour American made planes which are proving to be first class fighters are among new R.A.F. reinforcements in Malaya. Malaya is the first country in the British Empire east of Suez equipped with these American fighters. They are capable of turning more quickly than any other fighter yet designed. The Buffaloes are flown by specially selected personnel, among whom are crack fighter pilots who have fought the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and have been credited with destroying a large number of Heinkels and Messerschmitts. These pilots, who only a few months ago, handled Britain's marvel plane the Spitfire and Hurricane--are taking to the Buffaloes like ducks to water. They declare that the Buffalo is a delight to handle. "There's nothing like it for really close-quarter combat," one of them said, "It can turn on a cent." The planes, which are now in service with R.A.F squadrons in Singapore can be assembled and take the air 24 hours after the crates have been unloaded in Singapore (pictures bottom of page).

"The Buffalo started its career as a fleet fighter of the U.S. Navy's air arm and was designed to land on aircraft carriers. Its unusually thick, barrel-like fuselage--its appearance on the ground thoroughly warrants the name "Buffalo"--makes it an unmistakable type in the air. Its speed with the 800 h.p Wright Cyclone engine fitted is comparatively speaking not very great--not much more than 310 m.p.h.--but speed, although ranking high among the qualities of the modern fighter, is proving by no mean the only important factor in aerial fighting."

Buffs under assembly

Buffs under assembly

The photographs were taken at an assembly plant at Seletar, Malaya, probably in May 1941. 67 Squadron was formed from a "draft" of 5 officers and 111 airmen who arrived aboard the Aquitania on March 11. The commander, flight leaders, and a few officer-pilots were British, but most were enlisted men from New Zealand.

The work was done by local labor, and it seemed to go much faster than the assembly of the AVG Tomahawks that were being shipped to Burma at about the same time.

Buffs under assembly

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

New Zealand sergeant-pilots, 67 Squadron

And here they are--the sergeant-pilots of 67 Squadron. They were country boys mostly, who grew up tending sheep on their pretty farms in New Zealand, joined the RZNAF on a lark, and were sent to Singapore, then to Rangoon, to fly the Brewster Buffalo in combat against the Japanese Army Air Force. Note the inflatable life preservers, worn by RAF pilots but not by the AVG.

Below are photos of Flying Officer J.F. Lambert RAF, killed 25 Dec 1941; Pilot Officer P. Parsonson RNZAF, Flying Officer Peter Bingham-Wallis RAF, Pilot Officer A. A. Cooper RNZAF, and Flight Lieutenant Jack Brandt RAF (later the squadron leader).

Lambert Parsonson Bingham-Wallis Cooper Brandt

A Vision So Noble

Jibaku dive at Mingaladon

Here's the famous jibaku dive wherein a sergeant-pilot named Nagashima tried to destroy a Bristol Blenheim bomber (shown to the right) on 29 January 1942. The plane is a Nakjima Ki-27 "Nate" of the 77th Sentai. The clipping is from an unknown newspaper or magazine.

Uncrating a Buffalo 67 Sq left its aircraft behind in Singapore. When the pilots and crews got to Burma, they took over a few Buffaloes previously flown by the Blenheim pilots of RAF 60 Squadron, but the majority of their aircraft arrived in new packing boxes. There were 16 new Buffaloes assigned to the squadrons, with 14 more in reserve.

Buffalo crest Sam's scrapbook has several photos of "crests" painted on the 67 Sq Buffaloes. This one shows a devil wrapped around the world with arrows in his hand, and his pointed tail aiming at the southern tip of Burma or possibly Malaya.

Mark Haselden writes: "It now seems that at least 7 or 8 of the Buffalos in Burma were adorned with some form of nose art. The paintings were all accomplished by one of the groundcrew (Anderson was his name, if memory serves); the pictures were applied to the port nose of the aircraft just above the wing root. Thus far, I have only been able to accredit one emblem to a specific airframe, that being the "Devil and Globe" motif that you recently posted on your website. That badge was painted onto W8220 (RD-V) which was lost on Christmas Day 1941 when Fg Off Lambert was shot down."

Mingalaon hangar

Here's the hangar at Mingaladon airport that housed the 67 Squadron Buffaloes and the miscellaneous light aircraft of the Burma Volunteer Air Force. Christopher Shores says that the BVAF--British nationals was recruited from civilian flying clubs--was equipped with at least two Tiger Moths, a CW-22 (!), and two ex-Chinese Yales (AT-6 variant).

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

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