Too Little, Too Late…

How the Curtiss-Wright CW-21 ended up in the Dutch East Indies.

The German campaign in Poland during September 1939 was a very rude awakening for the European democratic nations. The Dutch government could no longer pretend there was no risk of war and frantically tried to re-arm both the home country and the colonies.

By that time many other countries were jostling in the marketplace and the Dutch, being very late, had little chance of finding and obtaining adequate quantities of weapons, equipment and aircraft.

The St.Louis division of Curtiss-Wright had a lightweight fighter available, the CW-21. The type was rejected by the US Army and intended for the Chinese air corps to be deployed as a fast interceptor.The Dutch government ordered 24 of an improved version, the model CW-21b. However, the Netherlands were invaded by Germany soon after the order was placed and the CW-21b’s were rerouted to the Dutch East Indies


Propaganda publication of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army showing CW-21 pilots running towards their planes

One ML-KNIL squadron (2-VlG-IV) was equipped with the type, first at Andir, later at Maospati. It soon turned out that the lightweight construction of the Curtiss-Wrights gave rise to structural problems. Several aircraft were grounded by cracks in the undercarriage, and were still awaiting repair when war with Japan began on December 7, 1941. According to one source only nine CW-21Bs were operational at that time…

The CW-21b’s initially flew convoy protection patrols from Palembang on Sumatra. In January 1942 they were recalled to Java and based at Perak (East Java, near Surabaya). From the beginning of February 1942 they would encounter massive Japanese raids by the Tainan and 3rd Air Group and within a few days 12 CW-21’s were shot down or badly damaged.

The remaining personnel of 2-VlG-IV and their 6 CW-21b’s were ordered to Kalidjati (West-Java) to re-form on Hawker Hurricanes. The squadron was rapidly worn down by overwhelming numbers of Japanese fighters and March 3, saw the last sortie of the CW-21b. Three of them took off, escorting three Glenn-Martin 139’s during an attack at Kalidjati airfield, now in Japanese hands.

“…Too Little, Too Late…” is a fitting title for the story of the CW-21b. The pilots fought bravely but had little chance against overwhelming numbers of enemy fighters.

A more detailed description of the CW-21b’s service career can be read at ‘pages’.

About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
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3 Responses to Too Little, Too Late…

  1. GP Cox says:

    Interesting, info I never knew before. It’s always great to learn something new!
    [when I STOP learning, please close the lid…]

    Liked by 1 person

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