Skip to comments.Burmese treasure:'We've done some pretty silly things but the silliest was burying the Spitfires'
Posted on 04/16/2012 1:58:33 PM PDT by Theoria
EXTRAORDINARY plans to raise a lost ''squadron'' of Spitfires that have lain buried in Burma since the end of World War II were revealed at the weekend as David Cameron, Britain's Prime Minister, visited Rangoon.
A Lincolnshire farmer who devoted 15 years of his life to finding the planes has spoken about his quest to recover them and get them airborne.
David Cundall, 62, has spent £130,000 ($200,000) of his money, visited Burma 12 times, persuaded its secretive regime to trust him, and all the time sought testimony from a dwindling band of Far East veterans in order to locate the Spitfires. Advertisement: Story continues below
His treasure hunt was sparked by little more than a throwaway remark from a group of US veterans made 15 years ago to his friend and fellow aviation archaeologist, Jim Pearce.
Mr Cundall said: ''They told Jim: 'We've done some pretty silly things in our time, but the silliest was burying Spitfires.' And when Jim got back from the US, he told me.''
Mr Cundall realised the Spitfires would have been buried as they had been shipped, still in their crates. Before they were shipped to the Far East, they would have been waxed, wrapped in greased paper and their joints tarred, to protect them against the elements.
The first step was to place advertisements in magazines, trying to find soldiers who buried Spitfires. ''The trouble was that many of them were dying of old age,'' Mr Cundall said. He visited Burma over and over again, slowly building relations with its junta. Finally, he found the Spitfires, at a location that is being kept a secret. Mr Cundall said: ''We sent a borehole down and used a camera to look at the crates. They seemed to be in good condition.''
In August 1945, the Mark XIV aircraft, which used Rolls-Royce Griffon engines instead of the Merlins of earlier models, were put in crates and transported from a factory in the West Midlands to Burma. Once they arrived, however, the Spitfires were deemed surplus to requirements. The order was given to bury 12 Spitfires without even unpacking them. It is possible that a further eight were then buried in December 1945.
Mr Cundall said: ''In 1945, Spitfires were 10 a penny. Jets were coming into service. Spitfires were struck off charge, unwanted. Lots of Spitfires were just pushed off the back of aircraft carriers into the sea. On land, you couldn't leave them for the locals - they might have ended up being used against you.''
Ground radar images showed that inside the crates were Spitfires with their wings packed alongside the fuselages. The Britons want to work to restore as many of the 20 Spitfires as possible and get them flying. There are only about 35 flying in the world.
The final obstacle to recovering the Spitfires, however, is political: international sanctions forbid the movement of military materials in and out of Burma, and it was also feared the regime would not allow any foreign excavations.
But because of the new, reforming stance of the government, the sanctions on movement of military material may be lifted on April 23. With the help of Mr Cameron and his visit to Burma, a deal is being negotiated and hopes are high that it will conclude with President Thein Sein granting permission for the dig.
Britian may soon need these for close ground support to save them from the ‘muzzies’.
It would be awesome if they are still in good condition!!
We need more B-17s!
Spitfire Mark XIVs were on the cutting edge of what could be done with a piston-engined prop fighter. The Griffon in the XIV made over 2,000 horsepower; it could do 445 mph at top speed. That’s double the horsepower, 90 more mph top speed, and double the climb rate of the Mk I Spitfires from the Battle of Britain just four years earlier. They are absolute beasts.
The XIVs are easiest to tell apart from the older Spitfires by the prop...they used an odd-looking five-bladed propeller. It rotated the opposite direction from the Merlin-engined ones, so pilots transitioning to the Griffon-engined fighters had to get used to a lot of torque pulling the opposite direction from what they were used to.
One of the prelimary reports posted on FreeRepublic yesterday suggested that these Spits were Mk II’s. I didn’t think that could be correct for 1945. But Mk XIV’s? Wow!
nice job on the search for ‘spitfires’ title. ooops
Then let us make a pledge to stay in good health so us and other Freepers can meet @ Oshkosh in 2 to 5 years to hear a few of these scream in Formation...
At least those Spitfires were buried to preserve them. When Japan surrendered, whole escort-carrier-loads of brand-new, factory-fresh Navy Corsairs and Hellcats were just pushed over the side into the Pacific. The Navy already had thousands of them; with the war over, why carry them out to the Far East just to have to bring them home? So they were dumped into a watery grave by the dozens. Makes you weep just thinking about it now.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if David Gilmour from Pink Floyd committed some funds to the recovery and restoration. He’s a huge fan of vintage aircraft, and founded Intrepid Aviation Co. Ltd., which he later sold.
Perhaps a stupid question, but here goes: What would stop a well-funded company from bringing Spitfires or Mustangs back into production?
I read that the US is looking at adopting a new prop-driven ground attack aircraft, and is thinking of buying them from Brazil or some other South American country. There would be a market for a brand-new WWII model fighters upgraded with modern radar and technology.
If we did it once, why can’t we do it again?
Met an airforce vet who spent some time with an air refueling detachment at Midway in the 60’s. Said there were crates on top of crates of brand new Allison V-12 engines sitting along the flight line. Totally bagged & cosomolined. Order came down to “push them into the lagoon”. UGH! What a waste!
Flugwerk — a German aviation company — has built kit versions of the FW-190. They have a version of the FW-190D “Dora” discussed on their website. I belive that these are scaled-down versions of the original, but still...
I’d settle for just one, myself. Why not? The FedEx guy is already mad at me for the ammo.
I'm no expert - not even a pilot - but if you want to bring back a WW II aircraft for ground support I would think it would have to be the A1-E SKYRAIDER! What a beast of an aircraft!
yep I agree!
I HAD A PAIR OF THEM FLY CLOSE AIR SUPPORT FOR MY COMPANY ONE TIME. Got right down on the deck with us.
The aircraft that are being floated as light counter-insurgency strike aircraft are going to be turboprops. Modern turboprop engines can produce more power per pound than even the best piston engine, with far less complexity, easier maintenance, and easier access to fuel. (Jet fuel is actually easier to find than the leaded aviation gasoline than even light piston engines require...much less the serious high-octane juice that engines like the Merlin and Griffon were built for.)
The plane you’re thinking of is the Embraer Super Tucano, from Brazil. It’s already in use with several South American countries, and won the USAF competition though it’s tied up in court with the losing company, Hawker Beechcraft. If the court case gets resolved, the USAF Super Tucanos will be built in Jacksonville.
Interestingly, in the 1980s, Piper Aircraft *did* try to produce an upgraded, modern, turboprop version of the venerable Mustang for the USAF as a strike and counterinsurgency. They called it the PA-48 Enforcer. I’ve seen one of the remaining prototypes, it’s at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
Agree. What a waste. But then again in the postwar, if you could buy a Corsair at the Army-Navy store, would Piper Aircraft ever had a chance?
“There are only about 35 flying in the world. “
If he’s still alive, he would be 84, one of them is at Whitman Air Park in the San Fernando Valley belonging to Nelson Whitmnan.
When he returned from Korea his dad had a newly refutbished one waiting for him!
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Thanks Theoria.Ground radar images showed that inside the crates were Spitfires with their wings packed alongside the fuselages. The Britons want to work to restore as many of the 20 Spitfires as possible and get them flying. There are only about 35 flying in the world.Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution.
Fascinating... I did not know that.
I recall there were some old smokestacks next door painted white and orange. Made it easy to locate from the air.
It's been a loooooong time, so I hope by old brain isn't playing tricks on me.
That’s the airport.
The Whitmans not only owned it and lived in a neat home on top of the hill at the airport, they also produced concrete punping equipment.
I haven’t seen Nelson aince the 50s when I quit building and racing cars to get married.
I didn’t start flying until the late 70s but knew Nelson when he was a hotrodder in the early and mid 50s.