A group of buried British spitfires is set to make an unlikely return to the skies.A lost squadron of Spitfires buried in Burma after the Second World War could fly over Britain within three years, the enthusiast seeking to restore the planes said yesterday.
Digging for the hoard of at least 36 Mark XIV fighters will begin in January at a remote airfield.
Should the archaeologists succeed, a number of the aircraft will be carefully packaged and brought home next spring, where they will be restored.The discovery could more than double the number of Spitfires flying.
More than 20,000 were built in the 1930s and 1940s but only around 35 remain in the skies.
David Cundall, a farmer and aviation enthusiast from Scunthorpe, Lincs, has spent 16 years tracking down the aircraft, ploughing more than pounds 130,000 into the project after being told by a group of US veterans about their burial.
His tenacity and ”obsession to find and restore an incredible piece of British history” has been credited with bringing it to fruition.
”It’s not been easy, it’s been financially stretching but I’ve done it,” he said.
”If I can get just one Spitfire out it will be wonderful. I can’t wait.”
The Spitfires used 37-litre V12 Rolls-Royce Griffon engines instead of the 27-litre Merlins of earlier models.
They are believed to have been wrapped in tar paper, put in crates and transported from the factory in Castle Bromwich, West Midlands, to Burma in August 1945.
When the war against the Japanese in Burma ended, the British South East Asia Command buried them, still packed in their crates, to ensure they could not be used by Burmese independence fighters.
Surveys at one of three sites identified in the country have shown large areas of electrically conductive material, suggesting the metal parts of the aircraft, around 30 feet deep.
The location and depth is consistent with eight eye witness reports given to Mr Cundall.
”We put a camera down a borehole and went into a box and through two inches of Canadian pine,” Mr Cundall disclosed.
”Yes, we did see what we thought was an aeroplane.”
The treasure hunt has been described as a ”story of British determination against all odds”.Mr Cundall, 62, was told about the fighters in 1996. He has since been to Burma 16 times, conducting surveys and negotiating with the authorities.
A breakthrough was made when sanctions forbidding the movement of military materials in and out of the country were lifted earlier this year following the intervention of David Cameron.
In October, Mr Cundall was given exclusive rights to the three sites. He has had offers from British companies to restore the aircraft.
One option is for them to be stored at RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall and restored by the Spitfire Heritage Trust.
If the dig goes as planned, Mr Cundall expects his Spitfires to be brought home next spring.
”My share will be brought back to the UK and will hopefully be flying at air shows within three years or so,” he said.
Under his agreement with the Burmese authorities, Mr Cundall will be entitled to 30 per cent of the discovery, his Burmese partner to 20 per cent and the Burmese government to 50 per cent, which it is expected to put up for sale.
The dig is being financed by Victor Kislyi, a computer games entrepreneur, and his company, Wargaming.net which got involved after a director read about Mr Cundall’s quest in The Daily Telegraph in April.
It will involve around 17 people, including British archaeologists, academics from Leeds University and a documentary film crew.
Andy Brockman, the lead archaeologist, acknowledged that the complex project could end up yielding nothing.
But he added: ”We are interested in converting the speculation and rumour into facts on the ground.”
Either way, we will come up with a picture of a forgotten part of the Second World War in a part of the world that is still culturally incredibly rich but has been deeply troubled for many years.”
“At the end of it all, we will have a cracking story to tell.”
– The Telegraph
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