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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from the but-they're-out-of-date dept.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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  • Preserved Junk? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:02AM (#39830869)

    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.

  • by ausrob (864993) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:35AM (#39830955)
    If they prove to be well preserved, they'll probably be amongst the best (working?) examples in the world. None of them saw active service - they came straight out of the factory, and assuming they can be put together.. why not?
  • 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:39AM (#39830967)

    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.

  • by rossdee (243626) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @06:48AM (#39830995)

    There aren't many Spitfires still flying, and I am sure that there are many air museums and old plane enthusists that wouyld want one.
    I am originally from New Zealand, andoften get asked "Do you have Hurricanes in New Zealand" and of course my answer is, No, but we still have a couple of Spitfires, a Corsair and a Mustang and a Sea Fury...
    I don't know if Sir Tim Wallis is still alive, but the Warbirds in the South Island woulld jump at the chance of getting more Spit's
    The Mustang may have been tyhe best fighter of WWII but the Spitfire looked more beautiful.

    Anyway Adolf Galland once asked Goering for a Squadron of Spitfires during the Battle of Britain.

  • 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.

  • Re:Preserved Junk? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:12AM (#39831051)

    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 arth1 (260657) on Saturday April 28, 2012 @07:32AM (#39831095) Homepage Journal

    The Mustang may have been tyhe best fighter of WWII

    I think the answer will vary depending on who you ask.
    The Zero and Yak-3 were arguably better dogfighter planes. Late war planes with more armament and raw power? The Typhoon and Ki-84 would be contenders.

    I even have a Swedish friend who claims that the J22 was the best fighter plane, because not a single one was shot down. :-)

    The late European theatre where the Mustang saw most of its kills was more like shooting lightly armed fish in a barrel, with Germany resorting to badly repaired planes with young inexperienced pilots, and the Americans never entering a fight on equal terms - superiority or abort. Finally, any American who shot at a plane that went down would often get a "kill" - in one account of a battle I read, Americans surprised four FW's, and shot them down. For a total of seven kills.
    While the Mustang was a great plane with many great pilots, it still means that the number of kills is less impressive than the same number of kills by pilots from other countries.

    If I had the chance to pick a WWII plane for myself, it would be the Spitfire or the Ohka.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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)

"Love your country but never trust its government." -- from a hand-painted road sign in central Pennsylvania

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