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Brewster F2A-1 & Model 239

by Jim Maas


Brewster F2A-1


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Brewster F2A-1 and Model 239


By the mid-1930s, the U.S. Navy needed to replace its biplane fighters with a more modern aircraft. After a competition among several manufacturers, the entry from the fledgling Brewster Aeronautical Corp. of Queens, New York, was chosen.

Designed by Dayton Brown, the F2A-1 was an all-metal monoplane with retractable landing gear and (for the time) exceptional pilot visibility

Following an order for 54 aircraft, the Brewster F2A-1 began to enter squadron service with the U.S. Navy in the fall of 1939.

F2A-1s equipped Fighting Three (VF-3) alongside Grumman F2F’s. However, the Brewster Aeronautical Corp. was already demonstrating the more powerful XF2A-2, which the Navy would have preferred. Deliveries to the Navy were halted after the first eleven; only VF-3 was partially equipped, operating its F2A-1s alongside older Grumman F3F biplanes.

At the same time, the Soviet Union attacked Finland when the Finns refused Soviet demands for territorial concessions. Finland desperately sought modern armaments including aircraft from abroad. Despite the isolationist sentiment of the time, there was strong American sympathy for the Finns’ David-and-Goliath struggle. Finnish representatives, the U.S. State Department and the Navy worked out a deal by which the Navy would relinquish most of its F2A-1 contract (43 aircraft) in favor of Finland, to be replaced by an equal number of F2A-2 fighters later. Brewster would ‘denavalize’ these aircraft as the initial part of a Finnish order for 66, under the export designation of Model 239. The life raft container and tailhook were deleted, and a different style RDF loop substituted. Once in Finnish service, Revi-type reflector gunsights and pneumatic tail wheels (originally designed for wheelbarrows) were adapted.


Boxes of Model 239s started arriving in neutral Sweden in January 1940; the aircraft were uncrated, assembled, and test-flown before being flown over the border to Finland. Only a handful were in Finland when the “Winter War” with the Soviets ended in March; Finland cancelled the balance of the order after 44 239s had been built. Fourteen months of peace allowed the pilots of LeLv (squadron) 24 to become thoroughly familiar with the aircraft, a quantum leap from the unit’s previous fabric-and-fixed gear Fokker D.XXIs.

When hostilities with the Soviets resumed in June 1941 (the ‘Continuation War’), LeLv 24’s pilots demonstrated a nearly complete ascendancy over Russian opponents. During the three years LeLv 24 flew Brewsters, the Finns enjoyed a 30-1 victory ratio, including Yaks and LaGGs. Part of this stemmed from poor Soviet tactics. Russian pilots would assume a two-dimensional defensive circle, which had worked during the Spanish Civil War. The Brewsters could dive and climb through these defensive circles, using three-dimensional tactics to their advantage. Many Finnish pilots scored heavily with Brewsters (Capt. Hans Wind had 39 victories, Sgt. Juttilainen 34).

When HLeLv 24 began receiving Bf-109G’s in mid 1944, the remaining 18 Brewsters were reassigned to HLeLv 26, which, even against newer Soviet aircraft, managed better than a 4-1 victory ratio. After Finland dropped out of the war in September 1944, the Brewsters reportedly were used against German forces in the north, although claims of Ju-87s shot down may be inaccurate. A handful of 239’s remained in service until 1948 when they were scrapped.

No authentic Brewster fighter remained until a few years ago, when a Finnish ace’s aircraft was resurrected from a Russian lake. This aircraft (BW-372) is now at the U.S. National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida, awaiting restoration and exhibit.

Technical Summary

  • Powerplant: Wright WAC 1820-34 (F2A-1). 1820G-5 (239)

  • Armament: one .30 and one .50 caliber fuselage machine guns; two .50 caliber wing guns

  • Wing Span: 35 feet

  • Length: 26 feet ˝ inch

  • Maximum Speed: 311 mph at 18,000 feet

Text & Images Copyright © 2005 by Jim Maas
Page Created 09 May, 2005
Last Updated 08 May, 2005

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