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Prisoners of war: the Japanese Buffs

Japanese airman with abandoned RAF Buffalo

The Japanese captured a herd of Buffaloes in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia (more or less), and in Malaya, now Malaysia. Above, a Japanese airman poses in front of one of the wrecks, which has lost its wheels and engine. And below is a remarkable color photo of a field full of wrecked Buffaloes, taken from the book Japan's War in Colour by David Batty.

Wrecked Brewster Buffaloes

One of the regulars on the now-disused Warbird's Forum message board posted images from the Japanese magazine Aviation Review for August 1942, showing further images of the same Brewsters, abandoned near what he guessed to be Senbawan, Malaya.

Cover of wartime Aviation ReviewAt left is the cover of that same wartime magazine, showing a fairly complete Buffalo front, along with an RAF Hurricane in the background. Writes Mark Haseldon: "I'm still puzzling why the aircraft appears to have a dark underside colour. I had an initial theory it was one of the Buffalos converted for night fighter operations by 151 MU in Singapore, particularly because it also lacks the Sky-painted spinner markings worn by virtually all RAF Buffalos. However, that idea is contradicted by the presence of the standard engine exhaust rather than the 5-pipe fishtail arrangement that was fitted to these aircraft."

Mark reckons that at least three of the Buffs belonged to the merged 21/453 Squadron, including AN206, W8156, and AN195. "These aircraft are also shown in the now-famous colour pic of wrecked Buffalos that first appeared in 'Japan's War in Colour'. W8156 is particularly visible in the colour photo, while the nearest Buffalo in that colour shot looks like W8207."

When I was researching the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers in the 1980s, I acquired a bunch of Japanese newsreel and feature films from WWII. A staple of these movies was a sequence showing the destruction of the Rangoon docks in the winter of 1941-42, including the "bombing" of a Brewster Buffalo wearing a crudely painted RAF roundel on its flank. I guessed at the time that this was a Dutch or British Buffalo captured in the Dutch East Indies, and this indeed seems to be the case. There's an interesting page at Dave Pluth's Japanese Aircraft & Ship Modeling site, which shows images taken at Tachikawa naval airfield, near Tokyo, and published in the Asahi Shimbun newpaper in May 1943.

Poland's Daughter

captured Buff The photo at left was credited to Kazetagawa-san and Gohyakki-san, as shown in the reproduction, which was taken from the newspaper archives and digitally enhanced. NAMBU Ryutaro provided these photos to Dave, who gave me permission to repost them here. And below is an even more dramatic photo of Buffalos captured in the Netherlands Indies. I count at least nine Buffs in this photo. Though they don't have the hinomaru on the flank, as in the photo above, they evidently carried it on the port upper wing surface, at least, to judge by the wing in the foreground. (After posting these photos, I received an email: "The nine Brewster Buffalos with those horizontal 3-colored markings on the sides are indeed of the Dutch air force in the Indies. Only, these markings were to my knowledge used after the orange triangle used in the 2nd world war." Sure enough, all other photos of the Dutch Buffaloes do show the inverted triangle.)

captured Buff

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