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Squadron of Lost WWII Spitfires To Be Exhumed In Burma 142

Posted by timothy
from the but-they're-out-of-date dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt that sounds like a good Neal Stephenson plot point: "Like a treasure chest stuffed with priceless booty, as many as 20 World War II-era Spitfire planes are perfectly preserved, buried in crates beneath Burma — and after 67 years underground, they're set to be uncovered. The planes were shipped in standard fashion in 1945 from their manufacturer in England to the Far East country: waxed, wrapped in greased paper and tarred to protect against the elements. They were then buried in the crates they were shipped in, rather than let them fall into enemy hands, said David Cundall, an aviation enthusiast who has spent 15 years and about $200,000 in his efforts to reveal the lost planes."
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Squadron of Lost WWII Spitfires To Be Exhumed In Burma

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  • Condition (Score:5, Funny)

    by _Shad0w_ (127912) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @05:52AM (#39830853)

    If they turn out to be in good enough condition to be made flyable I will squee, a lot.

    • Re:Condition (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@NOspaM.gmail.com> on Saturday April 28, 2012 @08:49AM (#39831265) Journal

      While I'm always happy to see a bit of history recovered frankly the only way i would have "squeed' about it as you put it is if they would have been German or Japanese planes, why? because so many of their planes were completely wiped off the face of the earth. With a few exceptions nearly all of the Allied planes survive, with models in museums and even some of them still flying, but so many of the Axis planes are completely gone, not even a single example preserved. I mean sure we have a few Zeroes and BF109s but try to find a Do217 or a Kate and they are all gone.

      So while I'm glad they have these to restore personally I wish we had at least one example of every major and minor plane from BOTH sides so that we could preserve that history of aviation.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You want a Do217? Man, I got one out in my hanger. I didn't know they were in such high demand. I was going to scrap it too to make room for the three B5Ns I'm getting in.

      • If memory serves, there is only one flying Zero left in existence (with the Sakai engine), I don't remember how many there are total (3 IIRC, with P&W'w), but I think it can be counted on one hand, and none more will ever be flyable. Yes a cache of 16-20 Zero's would be mind-blowing, but I think I'm content to Squee about the Spitfires, Zeros would make me do substantially more than Squee.
        -nB

    • by Guppy (12314) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @10:21AM (#39831609)

      No, we should leave them sealed. Every collector knows they're worth more in the original box. I mean, who wouldn't jump at an eBay listing like:
      "Spitfire Vintage MINT NEW IN BOX - SUPER RARE!!! (Returns: Not Accepted)"

  • Preserved Junk? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Not so sure about the perfectly preserved bit.

    Not much anything mechanical does well with time. The ground has moisture which is the big enemy. I really doubt they had put them in a big plastic bag and vacuum sealed it. And even if they had, and nothing chewed into it, that still dries out anything made of rubber or leather.

    They may just be preserved junk at this point - but it will certainly be interesting to see.

    • Re:Preserved Junk? (Score:5, Informative)

      by peragrin (659227) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:32AM (#39830951)

      They were covered in tar and grease and crated.

      The region they were found in has mostly dry soil.

      while I doubt all of them will fly I wouldn't be surprised if they can't get 6-12 of the 70 they found flying.

      • Re:Preserved Junk? (Score:5, Informative)

        by speederaser (473477) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @12:42PM (#39832333)

        They were covered in tar and grease and crated.

        The region they were found in has mostly dry soil.

        while I doubt all of them will fly I wouldn't be surprised if they can't get 6-12 of the 70 they found flying.

        In 1957 they put a brand new unprotected 1957 Plymouth Belvedere into an underground concrete time capsule and 50 years later in 2007 unearthed it:

        http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19249855/ns/us_news-life/t/auto-time-capsule-unearthed-after-years/ [msn.com]

        It was a horrid sight but I imagine a no-expenses-spared frame-up restoration could recover that car. If an unprotected car comes out good enough to be restored I imagine a protected aircraft might come out in better shape even though its been 65 years.

        I can't wait to see them unearthed.

        • by Amouth (879122)

          also from what i can see that car was not exactly protected at all except a simple car cover.

          I'm betting these planes will be in fairly good shape

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Every so often someone finds one of these WW2-era crates with all the described sealing being opened up - last I saw was of a few radio parts. What you see is equipment in exactly the new state it was shipped ~70 years ago. None of that rusting or staining you think of when you see old gear.

      It is eerie.

      • by sir-gold (949031)

        some small mechanical parts are actually packed in machine oil and put in sealed cans (like a soup can), I have seen stuff like this at surplus stores

    • Re:Preserved Junk? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sycodon (149926) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @08:02AM (#39831161)

      Even then, no matter. Planes have been pulled from swamps, bottoms of lakes, and worse and been restored to flying condition.

      But this ROCKS! Anyone with even a little bit of interest in WWII aircraft knows this is a find of he century. The mechanical parts alone are worth millions.

    • Re:Preserved Junk? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @08:36AM (#39831241)

      In about the middle of the 1990s at the rifle range where I was taught to shoot, we demolished our old storage shed to make room for a new clubhouse. The shed had always been the same to me; I'd played in it from the late '70s, and the old pre-WWII comms and target shooting gear fascinated me (and probably started my delight in history and retro gear).

      There was a hell of a lot of stuff we found inside there that hadn't been touched in decades, including grease-packed radio equipment. It was packed and forgotten since the end of WWII, and was absolutely brand new. I expected the grease would have consumed plastic components by then (like it does now if you leave spare parts in the packing too long) but nothing from the time used those plastics. We sold almost all of it but kept a couple of (fully working) sets for display.

      Underneath the shed were more parts in crates - I'd always thought the crates stored under there were just junk, because the outside wood was eaten away and the boxes themselves had sunk in a foot of relatively damp ground where a little water had run every wet season. They were never-opened storage crates though - half a dozen crates of willys vehicle parts. I witnessed the opening of a few of them and there was no noticeable decay. Everything looked like it'd been made yesterday, and this was gear from the 1930s. It wasn't just mostly in good condition mind, *everything* was like new. Water had obviously come in and left silt through the packaging, but the grease, wax and bitumen worked a treat to protect what mattered.

      It wouldn't surprise me terribly if seventy out of seventy of those planes were able to fly with the use of very few modern spares.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You obviously don't do much with Curio and Relic firearms. The Russians pull 100 year old weapons out of the ground constantly and they're in the same condition as when they went in once you get all the cosmoline washed off.

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      maybe you missed a whole one third of the article where they were waxed, wrapped in grease, paper and tar

    • by dj245 (732906)
      I'm glad someone raised this point. Even today, with crazy spray-on polymer packaging and protective films designed to evaporate at a certain temperature, the practical lifetime of most preservative coatings is about 5 years. Its a bit of a problem when you sell parts for machines which have major overhauls every 8 years. After the coating breaks down, rusting begins. Rubber and other rubber-substitute products have a finite lifetime, even today. Even with good airframes they have a big restoration job
  • by Maquis196 (535256) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:05AM (#39830875)

    With recent austerity measures, the UK are looking at bringing these fighters back into service.

    Thanks David!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They'll probably sell it to us unsuspecting Canadians now that we have the F35 price quote blaming game in our parliament.
      Good havens how well their 3 subs they sold us. I think we might get 2 of them finally seas worthy later this year.

    • Re:Perfect timing (Score:4, Insightful)

      by igb (28052) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @05:52PM (#39833805)
      You might joke, but for the last twenty years, the RAF haven't faced any opponents where a competently flown late Spitfire wouldn't have been more than adequate. I guess for ground attack some new old stock Typhoons might be more appropriate, but the days of the RAF being able to demand limitless money for fast jets to counter the Russian menace are over: the potential enemies simply don't have the equipment.
  • by DrXym (126579) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:17AM (#39830913)
    These planes will be needed in the uprising against the psychlos.
  • erection (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Penguinshit (591885) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:19AM (#39830919) Homepage Journal
    I have had the pleasure of seeing-hearing-feeling a Spitfire fly by at full speed at very low altitude. It's a sexual experience for anyone who appreciates aircraft.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Of all the WW2 aircraft, the spitfire was the looker. It's a lovely locking aircraft - and with a well-deserved reputation for awesomeness too.

      But seriously dude... erection. Get some help.

      • by JustOK (667959)

        Now, if it was an Hurricane or a Mosquito...

      • Re:erection (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fnj (64210) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @09:26AM (#39831379)

        A lot of WW II (and other era) gear looks nice, but there is nothing quite like the sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 hammering overhead. If it doesn't make your heart beat fast, you are dead. Even better than the Spitfire, the Lancaster had FOUR of these babies. I understand a flyover by a Lancaster gives your goose bumps goose bumps. I haven't had that privilege - yet - but I've stood directly underneath a B-17 followed by a B-24 at low altitude really booking in a shallow dive, and pretty near the last airworthy B-29 taking off and flying. I'm with penguin on this.

        If you want to cry, consider that the RAF was buying Merlins for £2,000 apiece at the time. Those were times that life was colored a lot more vividly.

        • the flyover of a lancaster really is remarkable, and leaves your bones shaking. its almost like your hair is tingling, as though it was on fire.

        • by Tool Man (9826)

          One of the two flying Lancasters left came to Winnipeg a while back. I wasn't quite in the right spot for a close-up flyover, but was still close enough for the initial approach and a couple of pics coming in over the local Air Command. The sound is indeed awesome, and you can totally see the Spitfire profile in the engine pods. The local air museum had a very busy display for a little while there, and my son and I got to go through the plane. Awesome!

    • Re:erection (Score:4, Informative)

      by bamf (212) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:57AM (#39831017)
    • by Catmeat (20653) <mtm@@@sys...uea...ac...uk> on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:13AM (#39831057)

      I have had the pleasure of seeing-hearing-feeling a Spitfire fly by at full speed at very low altitude. It's a sexual experience for anyone who appreciates aircraft.

      I'm not sure exactly what kind of experience this reporter [youtube.com] had with a low, fast Spitfire, but it doesn't seem to have been sexual, despite what he subsequently said.

    • I've certainly experienced WWII aircraft flying over my head at close range, then crashing.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oobkqiHavFc [youtube.com]

      That video ain't from the shows I went to, but it's one of the best shots out there. It was much more impressive at River Plate stadium, bigger wall, and the plane going a larger distance.

      Best. Show. Ever. Still getting goose bumps.

      • So did my father (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @08:18AM (#39831195)
        And a lot of his friends. Fortunately for him and the others involved in D-Day, they were German, and the crashing bit was courtesy of the AA guns of the Royal Navy.

        He would tend to the view that, rather than it being a sexual experience, a Stuka attack was more of a shit-in-the-pants affair. Even a friend of his who was a Lancaster navigator never showed any inclination to go to air shows post war.

        Yes, the past romanticises everything. The Spitfire was pretty, but the old engineers i worked with when I started would recollect its awful design flaws - like the fuel tank right in front of the pilot (the reason so many pilots were burned.) Like the battlecruisers at Jutland, the Spitfire was of the "the only way not to get killed is not to get hit" school of design. The British aircraft of WW2 that most of them regarded as the pinnacle of design was the first stealth bomber - the Mosquito. The ex-WC who tried to teach us metalwork said that he owed his survival to being picked to fly a Mosquito - your chance of surviving a mission was over 99% while in the metal bombers it was around 96%, bad odds in a long war. Unfortunately, as its radar near-invisibility was achieved by being made largely of plywood, there aren't many left.

        • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @09:35AM (#39831417)
          "In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft, but not now! It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I'm going to buy a British radio set - then at least I'll own something that has always worked." (Hermann Goering, 1943)
          • by Tore S B (711705)
            [[citation needed]] - there are two hits for that quote on Google, yours and another web site; is the quote genuine?
        • by jbwolfe (241413)

          Yes, the past romanticises everything. The Spitfire was pretty, but the old engineers i worked with when I started would recollect its awful design flaws

          That pretty much sums up the British automobile industry as well- warm beer and all...

        • I assume you didn't check my video.

          I was talking about The Wall. If I tell you that I still get goosebumps about a heavily anti-war album, you should be able to understand I wasn't romanticizing war, either current or past in any way.

          It was a joke, and I was talking about the fucking music.

    • I heard lots of Packard built Merlins at the 2007 Gathering of Mustangs and Legends at Rickenbacker AFB outside of Columbus Ohio. The overflight of a couple of dozen Mustangs in a "51" formation was particularly nice. More recently, I recorded the overflight [facebook.com] of 19 B-25s at the 70th reunion of the Doolitlle Tokyo Raiders at Wright-Patterson AFB. Turn up your speakers and enjoy the "noise." That many bombers in the air is just something you don't see or hear anymore.

      Cheers,

      Dave

    • by Jawnn (445279)
      If that's what gets you off, you owe it to yourself to attend the Reno air races at least once in your life.
  • Reason for burial (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ignavus (213578) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:36AM (#39830959)

    They were buried in August 1945 - so after the end of WW2. The Japanese - the most recent "enemy" - had surrendered, and were not in a position to get control of the aircraft or use them. The reason they were buried was because the aircraft were surplus and it would cost too much to return them to the UK.

    So I am not sure who the "enemy" was that they were being hidden from. I suspect it was a case of burying military equipment after a war because it would be dangerous for anyone else (eg random civilians or possible insurgents, etc) to have access to it.

    • Re:Reason for burial (Score:5, Interesting)

      by the_raptor (652941) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:06AM (#39831037)

      My favourite example of this kind of stuff is the reefs in the pacific made from dumped US and Japanese war surplus. Even though much of that equipment remained in US arsenals through the 1950's and was used by US allies well into the 70's it was cheapest to dump brand new tanks and use the space to ship soldiers home.

      • According to my grandpa (who was part of the postwar "cleanup crew" in korea), they weren't even allowed to sell the stuff to the locals. It all had to be destroyed.

    • by Duhavid (677874)

      Winston Churchill ( English PM ) was convinced that conflict with the Russians ( and other communists, I expect ) would be the order of the day after Germany ( and Japan ) were defeated. I would not be surprised if "the enemy" were either the Russians or the Chinese.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Good luck getting them out of Myanmar, it is still a military dictatorship and there are still sanctions in place against the place that prevent the transfer of military hardware. And I'm not sure whether a "visit by PM Cameron" where he discusses them for maybe 20 seconds is going to change much.

    • the planes still belong to the RAF. There's a small matter of pride here, the RAF are not going to just let them go. As for it being military hardware; OK technically you're right but what hope do you reckon those Spits'll have against even, oh, an F86 Sabre? Ignore the fact that the B52 has been flying for 60 years and ask yourself; could you consider a 70 year old airframe that is so hopelessly obsoleted by what we now consider to be training aircraft, as a viable piece of military hardware? Most of the r

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They have (depending on what variant these are) either .50 machine guns, 20mm cannon, or quite possibly both, and maybe some .303 machine guns on the side. In general, these would be considered quite viable pieces of military hardware, if adapted to a tripod or ground vehicle mount. I'm not familiar with the details of the sanctions GP mentions and whether they'd have an issue with this (AIUI, such sanctions are usually against transfering arms to such countries, not from them), but it's just silly to say a

        • The planes can fly without the guns. There are some cracking examples which are part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. All it needs is for someone to take a hacksaw to the guns and they're permanently disabled. From weapons of war to wing weights in ten minutes.

          Better yet, borite plugs. Disabling automatic rifles for collectors since the year Tet.

        • by Duhavid (677874)

          British aircraft would have either the .303 machine guns ( 8 of them ) or the 20mm cannon. Not the .50 caliber Browning ( flown in American aircraft, usually 6 per aircraft, except for the Thunderbolt ( P-47 ), which had 8. ).

      • by Toy G (533867)

        > simply give the Burmese some much needed medical and food supplies as a gesture of thanks for looking after these aircraft.

        Actually, at this point I suspect the Burmese government will milk the finding for all its worth, it's the only thing that might give them some respite from the unending flow of news about Aung San Suu Kyi. I'd be surprised if the HM Government could get away with just dropping some food... chances are that the oligarchs will ask for something more relevant in exchange -- help at

    • by Toy G (533867)

      The historic and propaganda value is high enough for Cameron to actually push a serious diplomatic effort. The tabloids would love a nice pic of "Dave" near the recovered Spitfires surrounded by decorated generals; make that ceremony coincide with some other military-related date (say, a new ship), and you have an unbeatable "good news day" for the government.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:39AM (#39830971)

    Burying military surplus is a great way to give future military historians and archeologists solid evidence to study in the future. It is inexpensive and should be done with other unneeded military hardware.

    Like, landmines and nerve gas.

    • by Rudolf (43885)

      Burying military surplus is a great way to give future military historians and archeologists solid evidence to study in the future. It is inexpensive and should be done with other unneeded military hardware.

      Like, landmines and nerve gas.

      Aren't landmines already burried? Are there other ways to use them?

  • Beneath Burma? (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by G3ckoG33k (647276)

    Beneath Burma? Why not in Burma? Or did you mean Thailand?

  • (Mild spoiler here)

    A couple years ago, long after I read The Baroque Cycle and its ending about strange alchemic gold coming from The Solomon islands, they discovered traces of what must be the wreck of La Perouse expedition [wikipedia.org], 230 years after it disapeared. For mind blowing reference: the last words of Louis XVI as he walked up the steps to the scaffold were 'Is there any news of La Pérouse?'. It was begging for volume 4 to be written...

  • with the Spitfires from Demons Run...

  • If indeed they turn out to be viable, they would be worth a fortune or maybe even priceless. If the Burmese and UK governments are involved, I would bet they won't end up owned by private parties- they'll likely fly less under those circumstances.

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