Operational history:

Of the first deliveries, beginning in June 1939, nine went to VF-3 aboard the USS Saratoga. The balance of 44 were declared surplus and sold to Finland. Although it was becoming clear the F2A was inferior to the latest German fighters, in early World War II, all modern fighter types were in demand, including the F2A. Consequently, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands East Indies purchased several hundred of the land-based versions.


Just before the start of World War II, Belgium sought more modern aircraft to expand and modernize its air force. Belgium ordered 40 F2A-2s (which had a factory designation of B-339), with a different engine, the Wright R-1820-G105, with a power output of 1,000 hp. The arrestor hook was removed and the aircraft was modified with a slightly longer tail. Unfortunately, only two aircraft reached France during the collapse of Belgium and they were later captured by the Germans. Six aircraft ended up in Martinique with the French Air Force, where they were eventually destroyed.

British Commonwealth

Facing a shortage in combat aircraft in January 1940, the British government established the British Purchasing Commission to acquire US aircraft that would help supplement domestic production. Among the fighters that caught the commission's attention was the F2A. The balance of the French order was passed to the UK. Appraisal by the British criticised it on numerous points including lack of armament, maintenance issues and cockpit controls while it was praised for handling, roomy cockpit and visibility. With a top speed of about 300 mph and poor performance over 15,000 ft it was considered unfit for duty in western Europe and they were supplied to British Commonwealth air forces in Asia; as well, the UK ordered 170 of the B-339E variant.

Brewster Buffalo Mark I's for the re-equipment of Nos. 21 and 453 Squadrons RAAF, being inspected by RAF personnel at Sembawang airfield, Singapore, Oct. 12, 1941. (Source: British Government)

The B-339 was fitted with an export-approved 1,100 hp Wright Cyclone engine and modified for land use with navy equipment such as the life raft and arrestor hook removed. The RAF stipulated numerous upgrades to their order, including replacement of the standard ring and bead gunsight with a British Mk III reflector gun sight, and improving pilot protection, by adding reinforced armor plating and installing armored glass behind the canopy windshield.

They were sent to Royal Australian Air Force, RAF and Royal New Zealand Air Force fighter squadrons in Singapore, Malaya and Burma, shortly before the outbreak of war with Japan.

Prior to December 1941, the Western Allied air forces seriously underestimated the numbers, pilots, leadership and capability of their Japanese opponents. Despite having initial successes against the Ki-43 Oscar and Ki-27 Nate, the five British Commonwealth squadrons flying Buffalos in the Malayan campaign, suffered severe losses on the ground and in the air, especially during the first week of the campaign, resulting in the ongoing merger of squadrons and their gradual evacuation to the Dutch East Indies.

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Wikipedia: Brewster F2A Buffalo