Saturday 20 October 2012

British aeroplane enthusiast wins right to dig up buried Spitfires in Burma

British aeroplane enthusiast wins right to dig up buried Spitfires in Burma

Back in April I did a post about the revelation that twenty-odd Supermarine Spitfires were believed to be lying buried beneath a jungle in Burma, probably still mint and unbuilt in their packing cases having only just been unloaded from the boat that brought them from England, amid fears of a Japanese counter offensive.

Supermarine Spitfire XIV, 1944

The proof of their existence and the attempt to pinpoint them with a view to bringing some if not all back to the UK - decades of work for Lincolnshire man David Cundall - was given a huge fillip by the recent changes in the Burmese government, helped along by a visit from and discussions with British Prime Minister David Cameron.  A tentative agreement was made to allow Mr Cundall to begin preparations to unearth the Spits.

Now it appears that those preparations are very nearly complete as the final bit of paperwork is signed and work could be under way before the end of the month!  Even more welcome is the news that the initial number of 20 airframes is now thought to be on the conservative side and that there may in fact be as many as sixty aeroplanes hidden under the Burma soil!  That's very nearly twice as many as currently exist (in airworthy condition) worldwide!

Supermarine Spitfire FR Mk XIV, 1944

The general consensus is that these buried Spitfires are the Mark XIV example with the later Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, of the type which was beginning to make its way to the Far East theatre by 1945, rather than the earlier Merlin-engined Mark VIII that had been the more prevalent version up until that point.  If so it will be all the better as there are currently fewer extant Griffon-engined Spits then there are Merlins, so if these aircraft do exist it will do the Griffon population a lot of good!

One hopes against hope that Mr Cundall and his team are at least partially successful and do find something, even if it is fewer than 20 (never mind sixty) Spitfires - and even if they are in poor condition (one reads stories about time capsules buried for several decades in supposedly watertight containers being dug up at a later date with the contents in various states of disintegration, so there's always a chance of that happening with airframes sitting beneath tropical ground for 70 years greased paper or no greased paper) - otherwise it will all be a dreadful disappointment for everyone.  I'm sure there must be a high level of certainty for the scheme to have got this far, though, and I can't wait to see the results!

Supermarine Spitfire F Mk XIV, May 1945

Even so the whole thing still sounds almost too good to be true and I shan't honestly be able to believe it until the first one comes out of the ground.  This has all the potential to be an unprecedented discovery not only in historical aviation terms but in the history of both Britain and Burma.  The idea to split the recovered airframes between the two countries sounds eminently fair and with maybe as many as 60 there would certainly be enough to go around!

I will be watching the progress of this with much interest with the hope that the full scale of this discovery can be realised.  Sixty more Spitfires in the world?  Yes please with knobs on!

1 comment:

  1. My father told me about this, it's truly fascinating to think that so many Spitfires have been buried underground for so many years. I wait with baited breath for the next instalment.


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