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'Nothing like it for close-quarter combat'

(Brewster Buffalo on the eve of war)

Sam Case, 67 Squadron

These photographs and the following article appeared in the Singapore Straits Times in the spring of 1941, soon after the first Brewster Buffaloes arrived in Malaya. They are from the scrapbook of Sam Case, a mechanic in RAF 67 Squadron in Malaya and later in Burma, and were forwarded to me by Peter Crocker, to whom many thanks. That's Sam at left, in his best go-to-hell pose. When I phoned him in November 2000, he was in great form; he's 81 and still working at odd jobs for his neighbors. (Alas, he died little more than a year later.) He told me he was English--as were most of the 67 Squadron ground crew--and had joined the RAF in 1939 before the war began, for a six-year term that turned out to be closer to seven years. -- Dan Ford

"SQUADRONS of Brewster Buffaloes, 300 mile-an-hour American made planes which are proving to be first class fighters are among new R.A.F. reinforcements in Malaya. Malaya is the first country in the British Empire east of Suez equipped with these American fighters. They are capable of turning more quickly than any other fighter yet designed. The Buffaloes are flown by specially selected personnel, among whom are crack fighter pilots who have fought the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and have been credited with destroying a large number of Heinkels and Messerschmitts. These pilots, who only a few months ago, handled Britain's marvel plane the Spitfire and Hurricane--are taking to the Buffaloes like ducks to water. They declare that the Buffalo is a delight to handle. "There's nothing like it for really close-quarter combat," one of them said, "It can turn on a cent." The planes, which are now in service with R.A.F squadrons in Singapore can be assembled and take the air 24 hours after the crates have been unloaded in Singapore (pictures bottom of page).

"The Buffalo started its career as a fleet fighter of the U.S. Navy's air arm and was designed to land on aircraft carriers. Its unusually thick, barrel-like fuselage--its appearance on the ground thoroughly warrants the name "Buffalo"--makes it an unmistakable type in the air. Its speed with the 800 h.p Wright Cyclone engine fitted is comparatively speaking not very great--not much more than 310 m.p.h.--but speed, although ranking high among the qualities of the modern fighter, is proving by no mean the only important factor in aerial fighting."

Buffs under assembly

Buffs under assembly

The photographs were taken at an assembly plant at Seletar, Malaya, probably in May 1941. 67 Squadron was formed from a "draft" of 5 officers and 111 airmen who arrived aboard the Aquitania on March 11. The commander, flight leaders, and a few officer-pilots were British, but most were enlisted men from New Zealand.

The work was done by local labor, and it seemed to go much faster than the assembly of the AVG Tomahawks that were being shipped to Burma at about the same time.

Buffs under assembly

More: pilots of 67 Squadron Buffalo