Are there really Spitfires buried in Myanmar?

It’s been a month since the fanfare of the search for buried Spitfire planes in Myanmar was launched, but little has been reported of anything actually found. This piece in the Myanmar Times talks about how the ‘legend’ of buried Spitfires may have been exaggerated and that the evidence to suggest the existence of the planes is quite flimsy.

Myanmar Times 20130204
Myanmar Times 20130204

Myanmar’s phantom Spitfires: how a legend was born
The Myanmar Times, 04 February 2013

In recent weeks we have been regaled with stories about the imminent unearthing In Myanmar of literally squadrons of brand-new World War II Spitfires – that iconic aircraft of the Battle of Britain in 1940 – that were supposedly buried 40 feet deep in their original shipping crates strengthened with Burmese teak. As many as 140 could be found, we were told, but the first phase would be restricted to excavating 36 Spitfires at Yangon International Airport (Mingalardon), 18 at Myitkyina in Kachin State and 6 at Meiktila in Mandalay Region. Contracts were signed, blessed by the British embassy in Yangon, and we awaited breathlessly the results of the first dig in mid-January. So far, though, there has been not a trace of these aircraft and as Men with Dark Glasses have told the excavation team to stop using JCB diggers after only two days because they were too close to the main runway, who can say what might have been found, or might still be found if digging by hand is permitted during the silent hours?

When I first heard of this story, back in 1998, the rumour was that in August 1945 a handful of newly arrived Spitfires had been placed in a shallow earthen silo as there was no vacant space around the airport buildings at Mingalardon and that these few aircraft had quietly sunk into the ground after heavy monsoon rains, so much so that within a matter of months they had disappeared from sight and were soon forgotten. The rumour supposedly came from US engineering construction veterans who had been tasked to do this by the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was a delightful story, scarcely credible, but one or two businessmen and Spitfire enthusiasts thought it worth a closer look and even investing a little time and money. In the end, a Lincolnshire farmer, David Cundall, saw off the opposition and secured the recovery contract.

What started off, though, as no more than an amateurish treasure hunt has since April 2012 been transformed into a saga of veritable fantasy. The report that so many aircraft might still exist is based on evidence of a very flimsy nature. In any case, there is simply no good reason to treat Spitfires in this way. It defies all common sense, which has been remarkably absent in all media comment on this affair.

Full story here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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