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
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’.