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Lev 24 cover Lentolaivue 24

(Kari Stenman & Kalevi Keskinen)

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Buffaloes against the Red Air Force

This is one of a half-dozen books that every Buffalo buff should have in his library. Stenman is the great Finnish aviation history, and no doubt this book is partly an "Englishing" of the relevant parts of his FAF history. Osprey of course is the British company that has given us the gorgeous if pricey Aircraft of the Aces series. This early entry in the new Aviation Elite series follows the same format: a cover painting, a short but serviceable text, several dozen black-white photos, and color side-views of individual aircraft, no doubt intended for modelers but of interest to anyone who dotes on vintage fighters. (In this case, a page of fixed-gear Fokkers, four of Brewster 239s, four of Messerschmitt Bf-109Gs, and another of miscellaneous aircraft.)

Naturally, it's the Buffalo chapters and photos that interest me most. What an airplane in Finnish hands! It was in front-line service with Lentolaivue (Squadron) 24 for nearly three years, and for two of those years the 44 Brewsters bought from the United States made up the entire strength of Finland's most important fighter squadron. Flying Brewsters, basically the same plane as the "suicide barrel" detested by Australians in Malaya, New Zealanders in Burma, and U.S. Marines at Midway, the Finns of Squadron 24 claimed no less than 459 Russian aircraft at a cost of 15 Brewsters lost in combat. (Four more were totaled in accidents, and two were lost to air raids.) Hasse Wind alone was credited with 39 victories, and eleven other Squadron 24 pilots were double aces in the Brewster fighter. Whatever allowance you make for overclaiming (and the authors don't seem to make any such allowance, though once in a while they admit that the Russians reported fewer losses than the Finns claimed) this was probably the best record for a single fighter squadron of any nation, and that in a fighter everyone else regarded as hopelessly inadequate. (The victories don't include those credited to the "Gustavs," as the Bf-109Gs were known.)

For those who've followed the adventures of BW-372, the Brewster fighter rescued from Russia a few years ago and now being shopped around, there's plenty of interest here. The cover painting shows gallant old "White 5" on a combat mission, though playing second fiddle to Hasse Wind in BW-393.

The text is a difficult read, which is surprising given that much of it is straight out of the combat reports. (Others may not share my problem with this.) Once in a while I got a twinge, seeing all those swastikas and Teutonic uniforms, and remembering that the Finns were fighting alongside German forces. But altogether, this is one of my prize books in the very good Osprey series.