Dutch Buffaloes over Singapore

Visiting a WW2 forum, I was stung by someone’s question why the Dutch had done so little to help the British and Australians during the hectic battle for Malaya and Singapore.

Ashley Jackson, in his book “The British Empire and the Second World War”, points out that ‘… when war came, the Dutch committed some of their best forces to the Malayan campaign. They defended the British territories in Borneo from Japanese naval attack and reinforced Singapore with two squadrons of Glenn Martins and one squadron of Brewster Buffaloes. In doing so they lost many aircraft, as well as quite a few of their best crews…’

On December 9, 1941 and barely 24 hours after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong and Singapore, Dutch reinforcements arrived at Singapore. They consisted of three Glenn Martin bomber squadrons and a single squadron of 12 Brewster Buffaloes.


Dutch Buffalo unit 2-VLG-5, after its arrival at Kallang (Singapore), Dec.9 1941. Capt. van Helsdingen (centre, sitting) holding the “skull & Crossbones” squadron mascot. Sgt. Bruggink third from right on the wing

The Buffalo squadron (2-VLG-V (2nd squadron, 5th Aircraft Group) was dispatched from Buitenzorg (West Java) to Singapore under a pre-war mutual (and unofficial) defense agreement.  The squadron, commanded by Captain J.P. (“Piet”) van Helsdingen, was based at Kallang airfield, where they joined up with 453 Squadron (Australian) and 243 and 488 (New Zealand).  For the rest of the year, the Dutch squadron joined the New Zealanders on extensive convoy protection duties, while 453 (Australian) squadron was sent north to  Ipoh. This squadron was virtually wiped out during the battle for Ipoh, its three remaining Buffaloes came limping back to Kallang on Dec. 22. 1941

With the beginning of January ’42, the air war over Singapore intensified.
The Dutch Buffaloes first came into action on January 12, 1942, when they intercepted 5 Nakajima KI-27’s. The Japanese were driven off by ensigns Swarts and Scheffer and Sgt. Bruggink. Swarts claimed a “probable” having seen his target turn away with a smoking engine.

That afternoon, the Ki.27’s came back for more. A three ship flight crewed by Capt. van Helsdingen, Lt. Deibel and Sgt. Bruggink engaged 9 of them at 4.000 ft. Deibel shot down two, van Helsdingen and Bruggink claimed one each. Deibel’s Buffalo was lost. He had to bail out and was hospitalized for four days with a slight head wound. In this action, 488 (NZ) Sqn lost two Buffaloes and had 5 seriously damaged.


Sgt. Deibel, in front of Capt. van Helsdingen’s Buffalo at Kallang Airfield, December 1941

January 15 saw van Helsdingen, Swarts and Bruggink in action again, this time against a large number of Mitusbishi A6M Zeros. No kills were claimed but Ensign Swarts was shot down and killed. On January 16, Bruggink attacked a Japanese bomber formation but without results.

By January 17, the Dutch squadron had lost five Buffaloes, had two pilots killed and two seriously injured. The Aussie and Kiwi squadrons had jointly lost 32 aircraft and had 14 pilots killed. A shipment of 51 Hawker Hurricanes had arrived and it was decided to re-organize the defense of Singapore. One of the decisions was to send the remnants of the Dutch squadron back to Java…

Honour Roll: The Dutch fighter pilots assigned to Kallang:

Pilot Airplane Remarks
Capt. J.P. van Helsdingen B-3110 Comnmanding officer
Sgt. G.M. Bruggink B-3107
1st Lt. A.G. Deibel B-3100 Shot down Jan. 12, 1942, switched to B-398
Ens. J.H.A. Ellecom B3108 Crashed Palembang 1, Jan.6, 1942, pilot seriously injured
Sgt. N. G. de Groot ?
2nd Lt. P.A.Hoyer ?
Ens. F. Pelder B-3111
Ens. R.A. Rothkrans B-3115
Ens. J.F. Scheffer B-399 Crashed + w/o Jan 7, 1942, pilot injured
Ens. A.E.Stoové B-3117
Ens. F. Swarts B-3103 Shot down, pilot killed January 15, 1942
Sgt. A. Voorbij B-3105 Ditched + lost at sea near Billiton, Jan.15, 1942


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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One Response to Dutch Buffaloes over Singapore

  1. GP Cox says:

    Heroes all!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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