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"Bf109T versus F2A-2 Buffalo?" Topic


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4th Cuirassier12 Sep 2023 2:37 a.m. PST

In a TMP WW2 naval thread about Germany's cancelled carriers, the question of air group arose. The Bf109T was the intended carrier fighter, which would have been quite brave considering how prone to landing accidents it was even in its non-carrier guise.

At the outbreak of war, the RN historically was desperately short of carrier fighters, being equipped with only Skuas and Rocs. From July 1940 Fulmars started to arrive and from July 1941 Sea Hurricanes.

In a counterfactual where Germany works up and deploys two Graf Zeppelin class aircraft carriers (instead of doing what it historically did), clearly the RN would have done something counterfactual too (instead of doing what it historically did). What could the RN have acquired to use as carrier fighters?

Obviously there are interesting alternative types that could have been produced, such as the very Zero-like Gloster F.5/34 or Vickers Venom, but I'm inclined to limit speculation to aircraft that were actually produced. The Bf109T was actually produced and I think ended up defending Denmark. Could the RN have ordered the Buffalo? If so, how do we think the carrier-spec Buffalo would have made out against the 109T?

The RN never did use the Buffalo, but it's surprising that it didn't, because on most points its performance was actually superior to that of the Sea Hurricane and it would have been available two years sooner.

DBS30312 Sep 2023 4:02 a.m. PST

A few reasons why not:

1) Brewster had huge problems with production capacity, which is why the USN received so few F2A-1s (only about a dozen). I suspect that made the UK very wary of placing orders, or equally meant the US authorities steered them away from any such idea;

2) the FAA strongly believed prewar that a navigator was essential for any naval fighter role other than point defence, hence the Skua and the Fulmar, as the loss of performance was outweighed by the risk of outright loss of the aircraft if it could not find its way home to mother. Even on long-range, one way ferry flights from the carriers to Malta, a Fulmar often led the way for Hurricanes and Spitfires later in the war. The FAA planned to operate in the Atlantic, often far worse weather than the USN's primary focus in the Pacific, and also expected to conduct night ops much more than the USN;

3) AA fire was assumed (by all navies) to be much more effective than it initially proved, so the fighter role was more to keep hostile maritime recce aircraft from shadowing you in the first place, something at which the Fulmar did very well with good firepower and endurance;

4) the FAA did actually field three Buffaloes for operations in Crete in 1941, but they lacked basic spares and ammo, and were lost on the ground after no meaningful contribution; and

5) the stop gap point defence option was the Sea Gladiator yes, obsolescent, but probably still quite capable of tying up a dozen Ju 87s or Fieseler 167s, and any escorting Bf 109Ts which attempted to attack an RN taskforce. The Sea Gladiators do not have to defeat the Bf 109s, just tie them up. See Malta for details!

Darrell B D Day12 Sep 2023 5:33 a.m. PST

That's an interesting post, DBS303. I've just finished "They Gave Me a Seafire" the wartime memoir of an FAA pilot and he excoriates the FAA aircraft like the Fulmar etc and the FAA senior personnel who chose them.

Your examples of why they went for the navigator and the taskS they were intended for give an alternative take on the question. His opinion of the reason for having a navigator was so the navy could have a navigator senior to the RAF pilot and so be "in command" of the aircraft.

DBDD

enfant perdus12 Sep 2023 10:49 a.m. PST

There is a fragment of truth regarding the navigator. The RN was not happy about their air component being part of the RAF (1924-1937) and correctly pointed out that RAF pilot training did not teach the same navigation skills as RN training. Having a properly trained naval officer as navigator was seen as a necessity.

However, the "Inskip Award" decided in 1937 that the FAA should return fully to RN control, with the implementation being completed in May of 1939. The Fulmar was just in the developmental stage at this point, and the RN knew that when it became operational, concerns about training would be moot.

Gozerius12 Sep 2023 7:25 p.m. PST

Brewster B-339s did see service in the Med, first at Crete and later flying from bases in North Africa, but the squadron converted to Grumman Martlets as soon as they became available. The British never considered them for carrier duty.

4th Cuirassier14 Sep 2023 8:35 a.m. PST

I asked ChatGPT.

User
How would a Brewster Buffalo F2A-2 have typically fared in a dogfight with a Messerschmitt Bf109T, the aircraft carrier variant of this aircraft? Assume equal skill on the part of the pilots.

ChatGPT
In a dogfight between a Brewster Buffalo F2A-2 and a Messerschmitt Bf109T, assuming equal skill on the part of the pilots, the Brewster Buffalo would likely have been at a significant disadvantage. The Messerschmitt Bf109T, being a variant of the iconic Bf 109, had several advantages over the Brewster Buffalo in terms of speed, maneuverability, and firepower.

Here are some key factors to consider in this hypothetical matchup:

Performance: The Messerschmitt Bf109T was a more advanced and capable aircraft compared to the Brewster Buffalo. It had a higher top speed, better climb rate, and superior maneuverability. This would have allowed the Bf109T pilot to dictate the terms of the engagement and choose when to engage or disengage.

Firepower: The Bf109T typically carried more firepower, often with multiple 20mm cannons or 7.92mm machine guns. The Brewster Buffalo, in contrast, was usually armed with only 7.62mm or .50 caliber machine guns. The Bf109T's heavier armament would have given it an advantage in terms of hitting power.

Armor and Protection: The Bf109T typically had better protection for the pilot and fuel systems, making it more resilient in combat situations.

Aerodynamics: The Bf109T had a more streamlined and aerodynamically efficient design, which allowed for better energy retention and maneuverability.

Training and Tactics: While pilot skill plays a significant role in dogfights, the tactics and training of the respective air forces must also be considered. German pilots were well-trained and experienced, and the Luftwaffe had established effective combat tactics.

In historical contexts, Brewster Buffaloes struggled in combat against more advanced enemy fighters, such as the Japanese Zero and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. These encounters revealed the Brewster Buffalo's limitations and led to its replacement in frontline service by more capable aircraft.

In summary, in a dogfight between a Brewster Buffalo F2A-2 and a Messerschmitt Bf109T, all other factors being equal, the Bf109T would likely have had a significant advantage due to its superior performance, firepower, and overall design. The Brewster Buffalo's best chance for success would have been to use hit-and-run tactics and leverage its maneuverability, but even with skilled pilots, it would have faced an uphill battle against the Bf109T.

BuckeyeBob16 Sep 2023 9:57 a.m. PST

From Wikipedia:
As the Brewster B-339 aircraft used by the ML-KNIL were lighter than the modified B-339E Brewster Mark Is used by British, Australian, and New Zealand air forces, they were able to successfully engage the Japanese Army Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar", although both the "Oscar" and the Japanese Navy's A6M Zero still out-climbed the B-339 at combat altitudes (the Zero was faster as well).[70] After the first few engagements, the Dutch halved the fuel and ammo load in the wing, which allowed their Buffalos (and their Hurricanes) to stay with the Oscars in turns.

Based on the above, I think they might do better than what some think but I'd agree the 109-T was the superior aircraft in many ways. Note other innovations by the Finns- replaced the guns with 4 50 cal (12.7mm). in the continuation war and improved engine life by inverting a piston ring in each cylinder.

4th Cuirassier18 Sep 2023 1:59 a.m. PST

It gets quite complicated because the Buffaloes sent to Finland were in fact F2A-1 carrier-spec models, intended for the US Navy. The Navy agreed they could be diverted to Finland and to receive instead A-2s. The diverted Buffaloes, however, were built with a more powerful engine than envisaged for the A-1 and were a fair bit lighter, with Zero-like omission of self-sealing tanks and what not.

There probably isn't a historical instance of the original carrier-spec Buffalo's dogfight performance since AFAIAA none was ever in one.

DBS30321 Sep 2023 9:19 a.m. PST

That's an interesting post, DBS303. I've just finished "They Gave Me a Seafire" the wartime memoir of an FAA pilot and he excoriates the FAA aircraft like the Fulmar etc and the FAA senior personnel who chose them.

Your examples of why they went for the navigator and the taskS they were intended for give an alternative take on the question. His opinion of the reason for having a navigator was so the navy could have a navigator senior to the RAF pilot and so be "in command" of the aircraft.

With all due respect to that author, whilst I would respect his views on the virtues of different aircraft from the perspective of a pilot, as a junior officer his views on why aircraft types were developed and purchased are irrelevant, as he would have zero knowledge of the decision process or the operational requirement as stated by the Admiralty and Air Ministry from several years before he started flying. It was the RAF that said that carrier fighters operating beyond homing beacon range (which could be used by a single-seat pilot) would need a navigator to find mother. The observer was never in command of a Fulmar; in British military aviation, the pilot always commands the aircraft, regardless of rank. The Fulmar was only ever intended as a stopgap as the true two-seat fighter wanted in 1940 was the Firefly, but that was delayed by the slow progress on the Griffon.

The Admiralty papers of January 1940, whilst regretting that the Fulmar was not yet in service, dismissed the idea of buying anything from the US, as they had nothing worthwhile (ie, F2As at best) to offer.

Lastly, one might note that the great Winkle Brown thought highly of the Fulmar as a carrier aircraft of its generation. Even the pre-production A6Ms only entered service in July 1940, so in fact the Fulmar was probably the best carrier fighter actually in operational service in summer 1940…

4th Cuirassier22 Sep 2023 7:01 a.m. PST

So if you were creating a what-if RN carrier force to oppose a what-if KM carrier force in 1940, the most realistic choice of fighter might be the Fulmar, with its development / delivery speeded up / expanded a bit, in the same way that the same what-if would be assuming the German aircraft and ships would also be speeded up…

DBS30322 Sep 2023 1:15 p.m. PST

Fulmar would be the primary fighter, as fast as production allowed the first carrier squadron was operational September 1940, with four squadrons by the end of the year with Sea Gladiators potentially filling gaps, though that type had been envisaged primarily for point defence of anchorages with fleet carrier usage distinctly secondary. But against a small German carrier strike wing, confidence might have rested primarily in AA defence (which was the prewar doctrine), plus the hope that the more experienced FAA TSR squadrons would find the German ships first, especially in bad weather. In which case, the question would be whether a German carrier would be sufficiently well organised to get off more than a pair of fragile Bf109Ts to take down the Swordfish and Albacores…

Before September 1940, the only real other option would be the Skua – pretty useless as a fighter against Bf109Ts, but a formidable divebomber (it is often forgotten that RN Skuas were the first divebombers in the world to sink a major surface combatant) which would have complicated the German carrier defence problem even more.

4th Cuirassier23 Sep 2023 5:48 a.m. PST

Could rhe Defiant have been navalised? They and the Roc were both built by Boulton Paul, and used the same turret, which makes you wonder why they bothered. If you wanted a turret fighter the Defiant was 100mph faster and the RAF was already using them. You couldn't fold the wings of course so you'd embark fewer of them than you would Rocs, but you'd probably rather have fewer somewhat effective Defiants than more completely ineffective Rocs.

DBS30325 Sep 2023 7:24 a.m. PST

The RN were very worried about weight even with the Fulmar, and kept the observer's kit to a minimum, which is why he was never formally given a rear RCMG for example (a few aircraft were fitted locally with a VGO…)

Problem with the Defiant is that, even if you could add on arrester hook, etc, the turret was very cramped and the gunner could not have performed any meaningful navigation task, which was the whole raison d'etre for the Fulmar. The Fulmar offered better performance and far better endurance and its only limitation in the anti-shadower role (which was arguably its most important task) was operational ceiling if the enemy used high altitude recce.

Also, the RAF was making good use of its Defiants, as night fighters, ASR spotters, trainers and target tugs. Even 8th Air Force had a pair gifted by the RAF as their first target tugs…

4th Cuirassier26 Sep 2023 9:40 a.m. PST

Another challenge with the Defiant might have been its wingspan. The 1930s era FAA aircraft including the Skua and Roc had wings that folded almost flat to the fuselage, the Defiant of course nothing of the kind. So even if it weren't too heavy for carrier lifts, it might have been too wide.

DBS30327 Sep 2023 5:25 a.m. PST

The RN of course did not use deck parking in the early years of the war, and whilst they relented later in the Med, Indian Ocean and Pacific, it was still a risk in Atlantic weather and not usually used there. Only Furious (and Courageous and Glorious if they had survived) had lifts that could cope with Hurricanes and early Seafires without folding wings. A quick glance at the lift dimensions suggest the Defiant would probably also have fitted on those early lifts.

Note that it was Churchill who personally vetoed the original 1940 proposals for what became the Seafire, as he judged Fighter Command needed them more than the FAA, and the first Hurricanes to go to the RN were of course rather well-used RAF cast-offs. Whether WSC would have taken a different view if the Graf Zeppelin was operational, who can say, but even he as a former First Lord would probably have still given priority to home air defence demands.

The armoured carriers were deliberately built with small lifts. They could take a good weight, were very robust, and cycled faster than US elevators, but the dimensions were locked in. Even folding wings on the Corsairs had to clipped to fit in the low hangars as they folded up, not backwards.

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