UK & World News

  • 18 February 2013, 1:50

Burma Spitfire Mystery Is Solved

A group of archaeologists, historians and scientists have admitted defeat in a mystery which has spanned decades.

After just over a month of digging for lost World War Two Spitfire planes in Burma they have concluded that none exists.

"No Spitfires were delivered in crates and buried at RAF Mingaladon (in Burma) during 1945 and 1946," a statement from the company funding the search read.

Rather than discovering the iconic World War Two planes, the team uncovered evidence which suggested that it would have been impossible to have buried them.

"(The) documents tell a story of appalling weather conditions at Mingaladon (airbase) and shortages of everything from heavy equipment to timber and labour all of which we believe suggests it would be almost impossible that the Royal Air Force could have buried aircraft thirty feet deep in wooden crates even if it had wanted to do so," a statement from the team said.

"The team now believes, based on clear documentary evidence, as well as the evidence from the fieldwork, that no Spitfires were delivered in crates and buried.

"Most significantly, the archival records show that the RAF unit that handled shipments through Rangoon docks, 41 Embarkation Unit, only received 37 aircraft in total from three transport ships between 1945 and 1946.

"None of the crates contained Spitfires and most appear to have been re-exported in the autumn of 1946," the statement concluded.

The group of experts flew out to Burma in January to begin digging at a site within the perimeter fence of Yangon international airport.

The trip had followed years of dedicated research by a farmer and aviation enthusiast from Lincolnshire.

David Cundall's life ambition was a determination to uncover the mystery of the lost Burma Spitfires.

His firm belief that the spitfires existed stemmed from rumours and indirect documentary evidence.

In 1996 he was told that the rare MarkXIV Spitfires had been declared surplus to requirements at the end of the war and buried in crates rather than being shipped home.

Evidence from the UK National Archives and other sources had supported the claim that surplus equipment was, on occasion, buried rather than repatriated.

Mr Cundall subsequently gathered eyewitness testimony from eight surviving servicemen who claimed they saw the burial.

Three separate sites were excavated by the aviation enthusiasts and archaeologists but nothing was found.

As many as 36 planes were believed to have been buried at the airport, which was under British occupation during World War Two and called RAF Mingaladon.

The team left the UK with 17 years of research and a firm belief that as many as 140 of the planes were buried in near pristine condition at various sites by American military engineers at the end of the war.

Until mid-January, the team remained confident and committed to the search.

A series of images from a specialist camera at one site promoted some early excitement.

"The images I have seen are not conclusive but it is very encouraging that we have found a wooden crate in the same area where the Americans buried the Spitfires," Mr Cundall said at the time.

"The water is muddy, it's causing problems, we can't see through the water and we will have to pump the water out before we can give more information."

By late January confusion surrounded the project with the team's spokesman forced to deny reports that the search had been called off.

"We haven't found any yet," Frazer Nash told Sky News at the end of January.

"We're still looking. Just because we haven't found them, it doesn't mean they are not here." he said.

However, just three weeks later the team has now conceded that none were ever buried in Burma.

The excavation had been given approval at the highest authority with UK Prime Minister David Cameron raising the issue with the Burmese Government on a visit to the country last year.

Years of military dictatorship in Burma had prevented the search from taking place earlier but political reforms over the past two years gave the team the go-ahead.

In a statement, the CEO of Wargaming, Victor Kisly, said: "We chose to support the Spitfire project because we found the story fascinating.

"We wanted to be a part of this unique archaeological investigation of an enduring mystery - whether we found planes or not.

"We are delighted our team has shown how good research can help tell a great story about not just the warplanes themselves, but the people who flew, maintained and care about them to this day," he said.

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