Several months ago, I was asked to review an excellent publication dealing with the Brewster 339’s operated by the Netherlands East Indies Air Force in the Malaya-Dutch East Indies theatre of operations at the beginning of World War II. It was entitled Brewster B-339C/D/-23 History of Camouflage and Markings by Gerard Casius and Luuk Boerman, and appeared on the IPMS site a while back. There was a set of decals for Brewster Buffaloes in Dutch, RAAF, American and Japanese markings in both 1/72 and 1/48 scale. These looked very good, and John Ratzenberger wrote a review on the decal sheet, but I decided to actually build some of the models and use the decal sheet, and as usual, the project got a little bit out of hand, resulting in six new Buffalo models that I need to find space for in my model display cabinets.
I already had three Hasegawa Buffaloes built up, two U.S. Navy types (F2A-1 and F2A-2) and one Finnish version, a model 239. These are excellent models. However, I had several old Airfix F2A-1 kits that I obtained a while back, and recently ordered two more from Squadron, as they are back in production again. They are identical to the original version, except that the molds are showing their age, the engine had a deformity in one of the pushrod housings, and there was a little more flash. One kit lacked one of the clear plastic parts, so I emailed Airfix, and within two weeks, they had sent another one. Thanks, Airfix. I really appreciated that little gesture. It’s nice to know that somebody cares. Anyway, that gave me a total of five complete Airfix kits, and with parts of a canopy in my spares box, I had enough for an experiment with another kit. Also in my spares box, I had five cowlings and props from Revell Buffalo kits scrapped many years ago, plus parts for some Matchbox kits. In fact, I had saved one complete Matchbox model in my “scrapped-kits for rebuild someday” box, so I got that one out in hope that it could be salvaged. It turned out that it was worth rebuilding, so I got started.
Some time back, I used one of the Airfix kits to do one of the elusive F2A-3 versions used by the Marines at the Battle of Midway. Shortly thereafter, I did an RAF Buffalo Mk. 1 as used in Singapore and Malaya, using decals from the new Airfix issue, and they were great. Later, I decided to complete the job and build the other four, using the decals from the Dutch Profile series.
The original prototype XF2A-1 was similar to the production F2A-1 except for the rudder and canopy. The F2A-1, which is supposed to be represented by the Airfix kit, had the short nose and cowling. The Finnish Model 239 was nearly identical to the F2A-1 except for the tail cone, deletion of naval equipment such as the tail hook and carrier type tail wheel, and the gunsight. The F2A-2 had more power, and a longer chord cowling, along with cuffed prop blades for better cooling. The Export model, designated 339B, for Belgium, was similar with a long tail cone and Navy style tail wheel. The 339 C, D, and E’s were all similar with larger tail wheels, no naval equipment, and different gunsights. These went to the Dutch and British, as did the Belgian order. Retaining the same powerplant, the F2A-3 for the Navy was heavier, and therefore had reduced performance. The model 339-23 was the equivalent of the F2A-3, and a few went to the Dutch, and later to the RAAF and U.S. Army, who operated them in Australia during 1942. Thus, there is a wide variety to choose from when doing any variant of the Buffalo.
Quite a number of 1/72 kits of the Buffalo have been issued over the years, including Revell, Aoshima, Airfix, Matchbox, and Hasegawa. While some of these are still available at swap meets, only the Airfix and Hasegawa kits are currently being produced. The Aoshima kit appears to be pretty crude, and the Revell kit is clearly outdated. The Matchbox kit has a pretty good outline, but also has some major issues, especially in the engine, prop, and canopy. The Hasegawa kit is probably the best of the early models, although a new Special Hobby kit of the F2A-2 is rumored to be excellent, but both are quite expensive. But nobody seems to build a good F2A-3, or an inexpensive earlier model for that matter. However, the old Airfix kit has potential, and that is the subject of this article.
When I started the Airfix kits, I made some modifications. I put some ribs in the landing gear wells, using plastic strips. I also detailed the interior, creating sidewall detail, an instrument panel, a control stick, and a rollover pylon behind the seat. A few Buffaloes had back seat armor, mostly F2A-3’s and 339-23’s, but most did not. The Airfix kit airframe is close enough that there isn’t much to change, except for the extended tail cone on anything but a U.S. Navy version. The cowling and prop are not useable, although the engine is. On the 339B, C. D, and E models, the Revell cowling and prop, suitably trimmed, can be added without any other changes, and this gives a pretty close approximation to the correct outline, although a nit-picker could probably tell me where I’m a half inch off here and several inches off there. But for practical purposes, I’m satisfied. The Airfix engine mounts right on the firewall, although I put a thin plastic disk, made with a hole punch on plastic card, to extend the engine somewhat. The overall airframe has large rivet detail which needs to be sanded down. I’ve looked at a lot of photos of the Buffalo, and it is difficult to tell whether the plane had flush riveting or not, but I suspect that some was flush and some had standard heads. I sanded the surfaces down to where the riveting was visible but not pronounced. The end result is that the model looks “rivety” without looking like a toy. The landing gear was attached to the wing just outside the gear wells, unlike in the instructions, which imply that the gear legs should begin inside the wheel well. This way, the bracing struts could be used in their natural length, and no trimming was required. The plane sits at the right angle, and looks right. Maybe the problem is in the instructions, not the kit. The wheels were the right size and shape, so these were installed after the gear legs were attached. I then added the radio mast. Machine gun holes need to be drilled in the cowling and wing leading edges, and a small hole for the pitot tube needs to be drilled in the right wingtip. Masking the canopy and underside glass is tedious, but must be done. The canopy fits perfectly.
I then painted the aircraft in the appropriate color schemes, beginning with light colored trim, then underside colors, followed by the upper surface colors, using masking tape to achieve the desired camouflage patterns. The decal instructions give clear patterns to follow, and the Casius book has basically the same information in color. Once painted, I gave the models a coat of Testor’s Gloss Cote and applied the decals directly from the sheet. They did not need trimming, although I did cut them pretty close to the color line. A few of the decals are in two pieces, notably those that include white, so pay attention to the instructions. Decal solution was used, although I don’t think it was really necessary. The end result was a nice decal application, especially after re-spraying them with Testor’s Dullcote. This gave a very realistic finish, and allowed for weathering and other finishing touches.
The first aircraft was Brewster 339E Buffalo Mk. 1, AN185, TD-V, of No. 453 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, flown by Pilot Officer R.D. Vanderfield (5 victories) operating from Ipoh, Malaya, on 13 December 1941. The decals were standard from the new Airfix kit, and were excellent in all respects. The plane featured a Sky and Black undersides, Sky band and spinner tip, and Dark Green and Dark Earth topsides, standard RAF colors for the period.
The second aircraft used the Dutch Profile Decals. This was an NEIAF Model 339-C, B-3107, of 2-VI G.V. “Red Patrol” based in Java in early 1942. The colors listed were Olive Drab and Medium Green, with aluminum undersides, but I opted for RAF Dark Green and Dark Earth instead. The aircraft carries the early Dutch orange and black triangles on the fuselage and wing undersides. A ring and bead gunsight is added.
The third aircraft used decals from the Dutch Profile sheet. This was an NEIAF Model 339C, B-395, of 2-VI G.V. operating out of Aalang, Singapore, in early 1942. A ring and bead gunsight is added. This represents the markings adopted towards the end of the campaign, a red, white, and blue tricolor replacing the orange triangles. After the surrender, the Japanese captured a number of these aircraft and repainted them in their colors, performing extensive flight testing in Japan. Decals are provided on the sheet for one of these captured aircraft, which merely had Japanese hinomarus replacing the Dutch markings.
The fourth Buffalo represents a Model 339D, B-3119, which was never delivered to Java. It used decals from the Dutch Profile sheet. This 339D was one of a group that remained in Australia, and eventually was assigned to the American 5th Air Force, who operated the aircraft in an unknown role. This plane carries the colors described in the instructions, although I used Faded Olive Drab and RAF Dark Green. Standard American markings are carried, with stars in four positions, a white serial on the rudder, and Insignia Blue “U.S. Army” under the wings. Several Buffaloes of various types were operated by the U.S. Army in Northern Australia early in the war.
The fifth Buffalo is another Airfix conversion, this time a Marine Corps F2A-3. This plane was coded “MF-15”, and was operated by VMF-221 from Midway Island during the Battle of Midway. Flown by Capt. William C. Humberd, it was one of the few survivors in the early part of the battle. Humberd received the Navy Cross for his exploits. Modifications on this kit include the use of a rear section of a Matchbox cowling built up with putty to add the extra length to the engine section, and the cowling and engine from a Matchbox kit. The prop came from a Wildcat, probably a Frog kit, although the prop from the Hobby Boss FM-2 kit would be perfect, especially since it can’t be used on the HB kit anyway. Markings are standard U.S. Navy for the period, and are from the decal box, not the Dutch Profile sheet.
The sixth Buffalo was an experiment. In my scrapped models box, I had a complete Matchbox Buffalo, and I decided to rebuild it to see if it was salvageable. It was, although I had to add a nose extension similar to that of the F2A-3, since this was to be a long nosed Model 339-23. I used a Revell prop, as this aircraft had a spinner. I also used a partial set of Airfix canopy pieces, although the Matchbox kit does not include any provision for the belly windows included in the Airfix kit. The Matchbox canopy is very toy-like, and the Airfix canopy is a real improvement. This plane was delivered to Australia on a Dutch contract, and was one of the last 339-23’s built. It was taken over by the USAAF, and later given to the RAAF, who issued it to No. 25 Squadron, RAAF Pearce, Western Australia, during 1942. It was used for the defense of Perth, but fortunately, was never flown in combat. Some of these aircraft were reconnaissance aircraft, and others were used by the USAAF, sometimes as station hacks. Colors are listed in the book as Olive Drab and Medium Green over RAAF Sky Blue. I used Dark Earth and Dark Green instead.
This is an excellent decal sheet for anyone interested in filling in the gaps in their collection with unusual Brewster Buffaloes. The Airfix kits are a good basis for inexpensive conversions, although the Hasegawa F2A-2 would suffice for any of the 339B, C, D, and E series with few modifications. You’ll either need to have a good supply of spare cowlings in the spares box, or maybe vacuform them. The canopies could also be vacuformed. But I was able to do these models “on the cheap”, and I am satisfied with the results. Be brave! Try one of these!
Thanks to John Noack and Dutch Profiles for the decal sheet. I provided the Airfix kits, and Airfix was kind enough to provide the last clear plastic part for one of the kits. Now if Airfix would just consider retooling the front end of their kit to make an F2A-3 possible, the whole job would be a whole lot easier. And they would probably sell a lot of them. But maybe I hope too much.