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AIRCRAFT HUNTERS hope to find as many as 36 Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft that were buried next to a Burma airfield at the end of World War II. According to The Guardian (http://goo.gl/zvAaq), the hunt culminates a 17-year quest of British farmer and aircraft preservation advocate David Cundall.
Near war’s end, British authorities feared that the Burma-based Spitfires, late Mk XIV versions, could fall into Japanese hands. To avoid this, the aircraft were secretly buried in crates the size of double-decker buses—and essentially forgotten.
An old timer, in Burma as a young soldier, recalls seeing huge wooden crates with a massive trench dug alongside Mingaladon airfield, now part of the international airport for Yangon (today’s name for Rangoon).
Odd though it seems today, at the close of WWII and immediately afterward, there were many incidents of aircraft being scrapped, destroyed, tossed in the sea and the like.
Formally, the Spits now belong to the Burmese government. However, Cundall cut a deal with Thein Sein, the country’s president, in which the government gets half of whatever’s unearthed, Burmese partners get 20 percent and Cundall gets the rest.
Cundall plans to bring his share back to Britain and get them into the air again. Of the 22,759 Spitfires and related Seafires produced, only 35 airworthy examples remain at this time.
Costs of the archaeological work are underwritten by Wargaming.net, a Belarus-based online gaming company. It has already put up $500,000, “and there is no bottom in that bucket if more is needed,” said a company spokesman.
There’s plenty of uncertainty involved. The location is based on radar technology and only the sketchiest of historical records. Work begins with attempt to confirm this evidence. Then comes mechanical excavation, followed by trowels and toothbrushes in the delicate phase.
The Spits might be in fine condition. They’re buried more than 30 ft. underground, in thick Canadian Pine crates on a platform of teak logs. The depth’s paucity of oxygen may have saved them from oxidation decay.
At the other extreme, it’s possible the planes’ aluminum could have crumbled away into something known as “daz,” a substance resembling green soap powder. If the Spitfires’ condition is very poor, archaeological ethics may demand leaving them in the ground until a conservation protocol is devised.
The Supermarine Spitfire is revered for its involvement in the Battle of Britain, July-October 1940. In fact, Hawker Hurricanes (http://wp.me/p2ETap-5q) were the real workhorses, the newer and more advanced Spitfires being less numerous at that point of hostilities. In any case, the Spitfire remains among the most elegant aircraft of all time.
I was in England during the fiftieth anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day, celebrated 7 May 1995 there and in commonwealth countries, 8 May in others. The highlight of a village fête (“fate,” as Brit friends say) was a flyby of a restored Spitfire.
As the aircraft flew over, doing a couple of victory rolls, there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. Standing next to me was an elderly man who said, “You know, even after all these years, those machines still terrify me.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013