Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

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The Belgian Brewsters

Belgian Brewsters bound for France

After the Munich Crisis of 1938, Western Europe set off on a shopping spree for modern combat aircraft, to prepare for what seemed to be an inevitable war with Germany. Belgium had been trying to replace its obsolete fighter force, but was low in priority for the more modern European designs. So the government was happy to be offered one of the few new aircraft types still available in numbers and in time: an export version of the Brewster F2A-2. That December, Belgium ordered forty Brewster B-339Bs of the type later known as "Buffalo."

The first of the Brewsters, painted in dark earth and dark green camouflage, sailed for Belgium on April 27, 1940, shortly weeks before the German army charged into Holland, Belgium, and France. The freighter was diverted to Bordeaux, where it remained untouched in its crate until captured by the Germans. (It was found at Darmstadt in 1945, suggesting that the Luftwaffe took an interest in the American design and probably assembled and tested it.)

Meanwhile production of the Belgian Brewsters continued, and six more were sent north to Canada and loaded aboard the French aircraft carrier Béarn at Halifax. Alas, France surrendered on June 20, and the Béarn was ordered to sail to the Carribean island of Martinique. Here, the six Belgian Brewsters together with other aircraft ordered by the French Government were offloaded at Fort-de-France and placed in storage at La Pointe des Sables. The Belgian government in exile at London tried to recover the aircraft but the puppet French government at Vichy remained silent. After two years in the tropical air of Martinique the aircraft had to be scrapped, with only the engines being recovered. As production continued at Newark, the Belgian Government in London signed a cessation agreement for the 33 remaining aircraft which then were transferred to the Royal Air Force. All aircraft arrived in Britain in July and August 1940.

Belgian Brewsters in storage
on Martinique

A tip of the virtual hat to Jim Maaas and the Belgian-Wings website.

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