Spits Buried Since 1945 Located in Myanmar
Preserved in crates, condition could be pristine
Five Spitfires were photographed in formation flight over Oshkosh in 1995. (Photo by Phil High)
April 16, 2012 - A British farmer announced over the weekend that he has located a dozen or more Supermarine Spitfires buried in their shipping crates beneath Myanmar (Burma) since 1945. David Cundall, 62, told The Telegraph that he confirmed through radar imaging technology at least 12 and as many as 20 crated aircraft are buried some 40 feet underground. In February he saw the crates after sinking a camera through a borehole, and they appear to be in good condition.
His 15-year quest included 12 trips to Myanmar and more than £130,000 out of pocket as he searched for the airplanes. "It took me more than 15 years but I finally found them," Cundall told The Telegraph. "Spitfires are beautiful aeroplanes and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved."
Cundall said he first learned of the buried treasures in 1996 from a friend who had spoken with American construction battalion soldiers, who said, "We've done some pretty silly things in our time, but the silliest was burying Spitfires." That started Cundall's quest that included contacting Burma Campaign veterans and persuading the Myanmar government to locate the Spitfires.
He eventually met one eyewitness who drew maps and an outline of where the planes were buried and took him to the scene. "We realized that we were not searching deep enough as they had filled in all of these bomb craters which were 20 feet deep to start with," Cundall told pressdisplay.com. "I hired another machine that went down to 40 feet and after going back surveying the land many times, I found them."
The airplanes were shipped from the factory to the Burmese RAF base near the end of World War II, but were deemed surplus to requirements. Plus they were land-based planes and lacked the range for the "island-hopping" missions, as opposed to the carrier-based Seafires. Commanders ordered that the 12 Spitfires be buried while they were still in their transport crates to make sure they didn't fall into enemy hands.
About two weeks later, the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, leading to the Japanese surrender in September. The Spitfires have remained underground ever since.
"They were waxed, wrapped in greased paper, and their joints tarred," Cundall said. "They will be in near perfect condition." It is also possible that in December 1945 eight more Spitfires were buried along with the original 12 for a potential 20 crated, pristine fighters.
A thread discussing the announced finding in the EAA Forums concurs to their likely preservation. Well-known Spitfire owner and pilot Bill Greenwood, EAA 198472/Warbirds of America 3339, posted:
"Just a guess, but those most likely are Mk XIVs, or Mk XVIs. If not then some foreign ones were a rarer Mk VIIIs. If they were new and crated when buried they were probably preserved in cosmoline (a rust preventative), maybe even wrapped in a oil type wax paper that I have seen some Merlin parts in; and they might be well preserved. At the least they would probably be great static museum displays, and some parts useable in any event. I'd like to have one ..."
"Can you imagine the market value of a brand factory new Spitfire, complete with all military parts (radio, guns, etc.), fresh factory Rolls engine, if they were found and had not deteriorated at all?"
British Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly taken a personal interest in helping unearth and return the fighters back to the UK, reports defencemanagement.com. Cundall and his backers are now preparing for the estimated £500,000 excavation process with the aim of restoring as many of the aircraft as possible. The Daily Mail quoted a "Downing Street source" as saying that an agreement had been reached with the Myanmar government to allow the return of the planes.
Backers are the Boultbee Flight Academy based in Chichester, West Sussex, England, which was founded by enthusiast Steve Brooks. He will reportedly receive be one of the Spitfires.
The British government promised Cundall it would be making no claim on the aircraft, and that he would be entitled to a share in them.