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Fancy a Brew...ster? Banquet CEILING (Part 2)

A Brewster Buffalo that is....

Moving through our spreadsheet of role assignments for No 17 Group brings us to a section titled Fighter Escort.

Here we see assigned 'GLADIATOR' or 'BREWSTER'. I'm guessing that, like me, you are probably very familiar with the much-loved Gloster Gladiator, but perhaps less so with the Brewster Model 339 Buffalo (shown above in the Far East in 1941).

32 of these rather chunky looking US-built fighters were originally destined for Belgium in 1940. The rapid pace of Blitzkrieg made that order impossible to fill, at which point the Buffalo herd changed course and headed to British shores.

So how would the Buffalo have shaped up in the escort role under Operation BANQUET?

The Wright R-1820-40 Cyclone 9 radial engine up front was a respectable enough power plant, generating around 1,200 HP - compare that to the Merlin III of the Spitfire Mk I, which developed around 1,030 HP (without using war emergency power).

However, even without the benefit of a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering, one suspects that much of that 1,200 HP was devoted to keeping a rather ungainly and draggy fuselage in the air. How about a direct comparison with the Buffalo's likely adversary, the Emil version of the Messerschmitt 109?

No major surprises here when we imagine the two airframes side-by-side. In combat with a 109, with the throttle against the firewall, perhaps a very skilled Buffalo pilot might stand a chance. But a 70mph difference in cruising speed is the tell-tale penalty for a wide radial engine up front and a 'chunky' fuselage.

It's also worth noting that the Buffalo possessed half the number of machine guns of a Spitfire or Hurricane, but at a respectable calibre of .50 inches as opposed to the .303 of the Spit and Hurri. Perhaps then if a Buffalo pilot could get into a good position behind say an Me 110, there was definitely the potential to do considerable damage.

Flight Lieutenant Maurice Henry Holder, an RAF pilot tragically killed in a training accident in 1942, is the only RAF Buffalo 'ace' (credited with 5 victories). The Buffalo saw service in the Far East and claimed kills against comparable (older) Japanese types but typically did not fare well against the Zero...we could probably have expected similar results against the Luftwaffe's 109s.

11 Brewsters then could have been part of the escort group assigned to a bombing force headed for the beaches.

What can we say about their odds?

This early radial engined fighter had a meaty power plant, but also a meaty frame to boot. In skilled hands perhaps a Buffalo could compete on reasonable terms with an Me-110, especially with her four .50 Browning MGs and respectable top speed, but one has to conclude that against the sleek 109 she was probably a courageous last roll of the dice, as we shall see with other BANQUET types.

Would our Buffalos have fared better than our Gladiators though? That's another question...

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