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Subject: dogfight Buffalo vs. P-40
From: (Erik Shilling )
Date: Sep 29 1995
Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military

Re: Dan Ford's comments about RAF pilots fighting over Rangoon.

     For a little over 50 years I had been trying to get in touch
with the RAF pilot that flew the Brewster Buffalo in a dogfight I
had over Toungoo Burma.  At last I succeeded  and am enclosing his
letter. To bring the reader up to speed I am including a little
background on the subject.
     A number of ex-navy and former marine pilots, after seen the
RAF in both Singapore and Rangoon flying the Brewster, became
disgruntled with Chennault. They though the P-40 was an inferior 
plane and wanted to trade a squadron of P-40s for a squadron of
Brewster Buffalos. I guess it was out of loyalty to the navy and
one of its fighters.
     I received a letter from Commander Brandt, a RAF pilot who had
fought the Japanese along side the Flying Tigers in the sky over
     Several of them expressed their opinion verbally, and
apparently Chennault heard their grumbling.  He arranged with the
RAF for a dogfight between the Buffalo and a P-40. Much to my
delight, I was chosen to fly the P-40.  
     My adversary happened to be Squadron Leader Brandt, a pilot
fresh from the battle of Britain.  The dogfight was flown directly
over Toungoo, our training base in Burma.  All the men in the AVG
were on hand to watch, and so were many RAF pilots, including the
Air Vice Marshal from Rangoon.  The contest was to be two out of
three fights. I won the first two fights so the third one was
called off.  Looking back, I think that Chennault had taken a great
risk.  Suppose I had lost.  
     The following is an excerpt for a book I wrote, "Destiny:
A Flying Tiger's Rendezvous With Fate." I hope you don't mind.

     This following is a description of a previous dogfight, that
led up to my being chosen as the pilot to combat Brandt.
     As our training progressed, many of us were scheduled for mock
dogfights between pilots within our squadron.  Dogfighting, accord-
ing to Colonel Chennault, was never to be tried against the
Japanese.  However, it was good training, forcing pilots to learn
the capabilities and limitations of any airplane they might be
     Back in the States, pursuit pilots were still being taught
antiquated World War I tactics, leading the American pilots to
believe that the "dogfight" was the only way combat could be accom-
plished.  They were taught that you had to get on the enemy's tail
to shoot him down.  Chennault taught dive, hit, and run.
     Frank Schiel and I were scheduled for a dogfight around noon
one day in early October. Normal procedure for a dogfight was that
both pilots would meet and agree on the rules of the fight: Who
would lead the flight? What was the maximum power we would use? We
would also decide the altitude the fight would start, a safety
altitude, and the minimum altitude where the fight would be discon-
tinued.  The pilot who was first to descend below the floor would
have to fly straight, level rocking his wings in submission.  How
long would one have to stay on the other's tail, and what consti-
tuted a victory? Even then some guys would get into arguments over
who won.  I always thought it should be quite evident.  After
everything was settled, we took off in formation, climbing to the
agreed altitude.
     I was in the lead and rocked my wings for his attention.  When
he nodded, I turned ninety degrees to the left. Frank turned in the
opposite direction for separation.  In a few seconds, we were far
enough apart, so we both turned toward each other.  When our wing
tips passed, the dogfight was on.  I made as sharp a turn as I
could.  I'm sure he did the same.  From here on in, each of us
tried to get the utmost from our ships.
     Because the planes were identical, the best pilot would
normally win.  After jockeying around and yo-yoing up and down, I
finally positioned myself on Frank's tail.  He decided that by
pulling the ship directly up into the sun, I would be blinded
trying to keep his ship in sight.  This didn't work.  I only had to
kick a little rudder, skidding off to his right.  From this
position, he was no longer in the sun, and I could see him per-
     It was close to noon, so Frank had to climb almost vertical to
head into the sun.  He made the mistake of waiting too long with
his nose pointed straight up before kicking it over. The airplane
rapidly lost all forward speed.  When this happened, he lost com-
plete control of the airplane.  It started a tail slide, like an
automobile sliding backward on a steep icy hill. As it slid tail
first, the airplane rapidly picked up speed.  It violently swapped
ends.  As the ship continued plummeting earthward, the big heavy
engine made the P-40 cartwheel, tumbling end over end several
times.  It recovered from the tumble and then went into an inverted
spin.  Still in the spin, pointed almost straight down headed for
the rice paddies a scant two thousand feet below, I could sense
that at this altitude it would be impossible for the P-40 to gain
level flight before hitting the ground.  
     I was most relieved to see Frank leaving the ship.  Because of
the centrifugal force, Frank was violently thrown straight out of
the plane as soon as he released his safety belt.  Catapulted from
the ship, his chute streamed out behind him almost parallel to the
ground.  Obviously, he pulled his rip cord as he left the cockpit. 
The chute blossoming like a giant mushroom was a most welcome
sight.  He got out of the ship a scant thousand feet above the
ground.  Fascinated, I continued to watch the ship as it plunged
into the paddy field.  It threw up a geyser of water like Old
Faithful at Yellowstone.  
     Then I focused my attention on Frank, circling him as he
descended into the water.  He splashed down about one mile east of
the Burma Road.  I was surprised to see him swimming after he got
untangled from his parachute.  Rice paddies were only about six
inches deep.  Not far away from Frank, I saw a native paddling to-
ward him in a dugout canoe.  I continued circling overhead until I
saw he was safely picked up.  
     I turned north to the airfield and landed.  Parking as close
to the operations building as possible, I cut the engine and jumped
out of the ship before the prop stopped turning.  Doc Gentry
happened to be nearby, and I told him about Frank bailing out.  Doc
was in his station wagon, which doubled for an ambulance, so he
decided to drive down the road to render assistance.  He was
concerned that Frank might have been injured in the landing.  I ran
back to my ship, shouting to Doc, "I'll circle over the road close
to where Frank came down."  I started my engine and took off.
     When I arrived over the road near where Frank had gone in, I
started circling.  It wasn't long until I spotted Doc's car
speeding down the Burma Road.  When I was sure he saw me, I flew to
the east to find Frank.  Not seeing him immediately, I circled over
a native hut where I thought he had been taken.  It was a shack
perched on bamboo stilts several feet above the water.  It wasn't
until I made several orbits over the hut that Frank appeared on the
porch and got into the dugout canoe.  As they then headed toward
the Burma Road, I turned back to find Doc.  When I spotted him, he
was already in a native canoe, being paddled out to meet Frank.  
     As I flew over Doc's canoe, I would throttle back and shout
one or two words of direction, such as "LEFT," "RIGHT," or
"STRAIGHT."  Back in the States I did the same thing, shouting out
of the window of a J-3 Cub, and found I was clearly heard on the
ground.  I wasn't sure they would hear me from the P-40, but
thought I would give it a try.  Doc said later that they could hear
me quite clearly each time I flew overhead.  After they met, and I
saw that Frank was safely transferred to Doc's canoe, I returned to
the field to tell the men.  As far as I could see from the air,
Frank was okay.  
     When I saw Frank back at Kyedaw, he told me there was
something strange about the way the native acted after he rescued
him.  It seems he was reluctant to let him out of the bungalow, and
only did so after hearing me circling overhead.  We were unable to
think of a reason for his actions, or what the native might have
had in mind.  We found out later there were many Japanese spies
around the airfield.  I wonder if the Son ov'a bitch, was thinking
of killing Frank, hoping we would think he was lost in the
     Some ex-Navy pilots in the AVG thought the Brewster Buffalo,
originally an American Navy fighter plane, was superior to the
P-40.  A few criticized Chennault for not getting the Brewster and
were angry that the RAF (Royal Air Force) were flying, as a few put
it, a better fighter than we had in the AVG.  Some didn't hide
their feelings and were quite verbal, wondering why we wound up
with the P-40, a second-rate fighter.  There were some who even
wanted Chennault to swap a squadron of P-40s for a squadron of
     Chennault was aware of their dissatisfaction with the P-40 and
arranged for a RAF pilot to fly to Kyedaw for a fly off between a
P-40 and the Brewster.  I have to admit I thought he took a wild
gamble in arranging such an exhibition.  Chennault must have been
pretty damn sure of the P-40.  His plan proved to me he was able to
evaluate a fighter plane's performance from the ground, and he
certainly was an excellent judge of an aircraft's capabilities.  
     Much to my surprise and with an inward feeling of pride, I was
delighted the Old Man chose me to dogfight the Brewster.  It turned
out to be quite a festive occasion.  Several high-ranking British,
including an Air Vice Marshal, came up to witness the contest.  The
AVG even put on an aerial review in their honor.  
     Squadron Leader Brandt was flying the Brewster, and I believe
he gained "Ace" status over England during the Battle of Britain. 
Brandt and I took off in formation, climbing to ten thousand feet
over Kyedaw.  We were flying to the east as we came over the
airport, crossing the runway at ninety degrees.  When directly
overhead, we made a 90 degree turn away from each other, which put
us flying parallel to the runway.  After a few seconds we turned
back toward each other, coming down the centerline of the runway. 
     We met directly over the heads of those on the ground.  The
combat was on as our wing tips passed, each pulling his plane into
as small a circle as our ships were capable of turning.  Again,
like many times before, I developed the circle into a 45 degree
plane.  Each time at the top of the turn, with the Brewster below,
I would pull back hard on the stick, doing a one quarter turn spin
cutting across the circle, gaining a little each time.  
     When I finally locked onto his tail, Brandt, in a desperate
attempt to dislodge me, dropped his gear and flaps, hoping I would
overrun him.  I saw his flaps as they started down, so I pulled
back on the stick instead of the power.  I was able to conserve
energy by gaining altitude and at the same time losing speed, I
stayed behind him.  When he finally decided what he was going to do
next, I dove back down on his tail.  There was no doubt in my mind
that I won fair and square, with no mistakes on Brandt's part.  I'm
certain the P-40 was the better airplane. 

     I thought some of you may be interested in Squadron Leader
Brandt's viewpoint concerning the air battles over Rangoon, and his
answer to my inquiry as to the type of tactics they had use against
the Japanese. Knowing the Buffalo was inferior to our P-40, I also
asked how were they able to survive against the Japanese.  His
answer follows:  
     Brandt says, Quote: How I wish I could have swapped my
aircraft with yours.  How it happened and how it developed I don't
know, but in matters of combat towards defence we copied the German
tactics ie.  German fighters came in high above their bombers, dove
through our Spitfires, with all guns blazing and continued diving
knowing the Spit, was more agile than their aircraft (German). 
This was so much to our advantage in our Buffalos particularly as
the Japs for some reason or other abandoned their bombers to hope
to cope with the P-40s.  It was great.  If you remember the last
time they came over Mingaladon we in our Buffalos managed to shoot
the lot down.  A silent "Thank you" came from Me to your lot." (The
     The last time I had anything to do with Toungoo was after we
left Rangoon and moved to Magwee.  Up north a rather aged Brigadier
called for us to come to his assistance since he intended to fight
the Japs further since he was convinced that there were something
like 100,000 Chinese soldiers just over the boarder to help him
out.  It took me some time to convince him that the Japs were well
north of him on the western road parallel to Toungoo.  Sadly the
very next day they whole of his unit was wiped out by the Japs.  I
think he must have been in cloud Cuckoo Land." unquote.

                       *     *     *     *
     As you can see the RAF pilots, using almost identical tactics
as we did in the AVG, didn't do too badly.  Apparently the Buffalos
were faster than the Japanese fighters and could out run and dive
them but not to the extent of the P-40 could.  Also as Commander
Brandt says, the Japs were concentrating on the AVG's P-40s. 
Leaving the RAF pilots some what of a clear field to those in the

Erik Shilling

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