Kit No. SH72126
Decals: Three versions, all for U.S. Marine Corps aircraft of VMF-221 stationed at Hawaii, later Midway, in mid-1942
Comments: Engraved panel lines; detailed cockpit with resin pilot’s seat and sidewalls; detailed landing gear with resin wheels; resin radial engine; well-researched kit
The Brewter F2A Buffalo first entered service in December 1939 with the U.S. Navy, the first deliveries being assigned to VF-3 aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga. Originally designed in 1936 in response to U.S. Navy specifications as the Brewster Model B-239 by Dayton T. Brown and R.D. MacCart of the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation, the Buffalo evolved into a slightly larger design, the B-339 export version reflecting modifications requested by the British government. These included a larger fuel tank, armor plating, and a larger, more powerful engine.
In 1941, the U.S. Navy placed an order for 108 of the export version, which was designated F2A-3 (Brewster Model B-439). The Navy had to wait while pending orders from Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand were filled, but F2A-3’s began arriving soon afterward. The F2A-3 had the GR-1820-G205A engine rated at 1,200 hp at take-off and 1,000 hp at 14,200 feet. Slight modifications to the armor plating and a slight lengthening of the forward fuselage by 9 inches to improve the center of gravity were the major improvements. In addition, the F2A-3 retained the heavier armament of the earlier U.S. versions, four .50 caliber machine guns instead of the four .303 inch guns specified for British and Commonwealth nations. While the F2A-3 had a heavier punch, it was slower and less manueverable than the F2A-2. As a result, the F2A-3 saw limited service with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps before production was terminated in March 1942.
In addition to the fighters sold to the British Commonwealth, 43 F2A’s were sold to Finland. Although the Buffalo was inferior to German and Japanese fighters of the time, modern monoplane fighters were in high demand. The Buffalo, by virtue of its design if not its performance, was no exception. In Finland, the Buffalo performed well against older Russian fighters, the I-15 and I-153, in the Russo-Finnish War of 1940-41, but this must be taken in context. The effect of Stalin’s purges against the Russian Air Force meant that the overall quality and specifically the initiative and tactics of many Soviet pilots of the time was sorely lacking.
Still, in Finland the Buffalo had a reputation of being one of the more successful fighters, easy to fly and maintain. It was a match for Russian fighters until the appearance of more modern aircraft such as the MiG-3, Yak-3 and the LaGG series. Generally, the Buffalo was state-of-the-art when it was on the drawing board and even when first rolling off the assembly lines, but given the rapid progress of other nations in aircraft development in the late 1930’s, it was unfortunately obsolete soon afterwards. With the exception of its service in Finland, its operational history is that of a once modern but outmoded design forced to go up against superior aircraft, with tragic results. This happened at the Battle of Midway and in the Far East in the opening months of the Pacific War.
In December 1941, only three squadrons were flying the F2A-3: VF-2, VS-201 and one Marine Corps Squadron, VMF-221. On December 7, 1941, the U.S.S. Saratoga arrived at San Diego from Bremerton, Washington, and sailed for Hawaii on December 8th with VMF-221 and its 14 F2A-3 Buffalos aboard. It stopped at Pearl Harbor on December 15th only long enough to refuel, proceeding to deposit VMF-221 at Wake Island to reinforce the Marine garrison there. But VMF-221 never arrived; the Saratoga was delayed by the slow speed of its oiler and the force was recalled on December 22nd, by which time Wake Island had fallen to the Japanese.
On Christmas Day, 1941, VMF-221 was launched and landed at Midway Island to form part of the defense force there.
By the time of the Battle of Midway, VMF-221 had been reinforced with 21 more F2A-3’s and 7 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats. At about 6 a.m. on June 4, 1942, 25 VMF-221 fighters were scrambled in two formations following detection by radar of a large enemy aircraft formation approaching Midway. The first formation consisted of 7 F2A-3 Buffalos and 5 F4F-3 Wildcats; the second formation was made of of 12 Buffalos and one Wildcat. The first formation of 12 aircraft made contact with the Japanese about 30 miles (48 kilometers) out from Midway. They dove on the Japanese and were soon joined by the second formation of 13 Marine Corps fighters. In the ensuing air combat, the Marines learned that the Buffalo was no match for the agile Mitsubishi A6M Zero; 13 of 19 Buffalos and 2 of 6 Wildcats were shot down by the Japanese, with all 15 pilots being killed. Only 2 of VMF-221’s remaining aircraft were flyable.
One of the pilots who survived the battle, Captain Philip R. White, later wrote, “It is my belief that any commander who orders pilots out for combat in an F2A should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground.” Midway was the Buffalo’s last combat with U.S. forces in World War II – it was relegated to training roles for the rest of the war.
Wingspan: 35 feet
Length: 26 feet, 4 inches
Powerplant: Wright GR-1820-G205A radial engine of 1,200 hp
Armament: Four .50 caliber machine guns; provision for two 100-pound bombs on underwing racks
Maximum speed: 323 mph at 16,500 feet
Rate of climb: 2,290 feet per minute
Service ceiling: 33, 200 feet
Range: 1,680 miles
Weights: 4,732 lbs empty; 7,159 lbs. loaded
Special Hobby’s F2A-3 Buffalo is a beautiful, miniature version of its 1/48 scale kit, with engraved panel lines, a detailed radial engine crisply molded in resin, and sharp detail among the other resin parts: instrument panel and hood, sidewall instrumentation, pilot’s seat, control stick, and wheels. The landing gear are also quite well detailed, with its internal components in the lower fuselage aft of the engine recreated with painstaking care. There is a three-piece canopy with a periscope gunsight mounted just forward of and through the windshield — a nice bit of detail rarely seen in this scale. There are also options for a clear Plexiglas part in the belly just beneath the cockpit, a spinner, and for two types of propeller blades — but the instruction sheet tells the modeler to disregard them. One note about the outstanding level of detail of the kit, a good indication of this is the accurate molding of the cowling, with openings both above and below the main opening for the air cooler and radiator, as well as openings for the machine guns in the upper portion of the cowling. The kit decals are the usual high quality Aviprint variety often included in Special Hobby kits. They are perfectly in register and offer both early war versions of the national insignia (with the red dot inside the white star) and the red-and-white stripe pattern for the rudder, as well as the later national insignia without the red dot.
A great kit of a pivotal piece of aviation and WWII history. Highly recommended.
- Special Hobby instructions
- Midway: The Turning Point by A.J. Barker; Bantam Books, New York, 1971