Burma signs deal to recover buried WWII Spitfires

Sixty Brand New Spitfires – Still in Their Shipping Crates – Buried in Burma All of These Years


[Editors Note:  This is a dream come true for old plane rebuilders, to have so many of these with all original parts. Air shows of the future could have squadrons of Spitfires buzzing the field…Jim W. Dean]

WORLD NEWS TOMORROW – Back in April we wrote about a whole bunch of lost World War II Spitfires and the incredible persistence of David Cundall, a British farmer and aviation enthusiast. He has fought for years to win approval to uncover these buried treasures.

Now, 16 years, 12 trips to Burma and over $200,000 later — Cundall and the Burmese government have finally reached an agreement that could allow excavation to begin as early as this month. Htoo Htoo Zaw, the managing director of Cundall’s recovery company Shwe Taung Paw, told Fox News:

“It took 16 years for Mr. David Cundall to locate the planes buried in crates. We estimate that there are at least 60 Spitfires buried and they are in good condition… This will be the largest number of Spitfires in the world. We want to let people see those historic fighters, and the excavation of these fighter planes will further strengthen relations between Burma and Britain.”

You’ll recall from Evan’s post that the Supermarine Spitfire is a very rare, beautiful aircraft of which around 20,000 were produced from 1938 to ’48.

After the war, nobody knew what to do with them and most met an unceremonious end. Others, though, were packed in crates and buried in Burma — this is the cache we will hopefully get to see as soon as Cundall and his team get to diggin’.


Dear Folks,  I knew this Cundall fellow was a rare bird with a great passion to keep this hunt going… and without any government support until he found them. Imagine that.

But it looks like he will not be cheated, but allowed to make himself whole financially and have one for himself to fly. I went looking for more on the story. Here it is. Our thanks to both Mr. Cundall and the Telegraph.  Jim W. Dean.

David Cundall – A man following his dream and passion

Mr Cundall told the Daily Telegraph: “I’m only a small farmer, I’m not a multi-millionaire and it has been a struggle. It took me more than 15 years but I finally found them.

”Spitfires are beautiful aeroplanes and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved.”

He said the Spitfires, of which there are only around 35 flying left in the world, were shipped to Burma and then transported by rail to the British RAF base during the war.

However, advances in technology and the emergence of more agile jets meant they were never used and officials abandoned them shortly before the end of the conflict.

“They were just buried there in transport crates,” Mr Cundall said. “They were waxed, wrapped in greased paper and their joints tarred. They will be in near perfect condition.”

The married father of three, an avid plane enthusiast, embarked on his voyage of discovery in 1996 after being told of their existence by a friend who had met some American veterans who described digging a trench for the aircraft during the Allied withdrawal of Burma.

He spent years appealing for information on their whereabouts from eye witnesses, scouring public records and placing advertisements in specialist magazines.

Several early trips to Burma were unsuccessful and were hampered by the political climate.

He eventually met one eyewitness who drew maps and an outline of where the aircraft were buried and took him out to the scene.

“Unfortunately, he got his north, south, east and west muddled up and we were searching at the wrong end of the runway,” he said.

“We also realised that we were not searching deep enough as they had filled in all of these bomb craters which were 20-feet to start with.

“I hired another machine in the UK that went down to 40-feet and after going back surveying the land many times, I eventually found them.

“I have been in touch with British officials in Burma and in London and was told that David Cameron would negotiate on my behalf to make the recovery happen.”

Mr Cundall said sanctions preventing the removal of military tools from Burma were due to be lifted at midnight last night (FRI).

A team from the UK is already in place and is expecting to begin the excavation, estimated to cost around £500,000, imminently. It is being funded by the Chichester-based Boultbee Flight Academy

Mr Cundall said the government had promised him it would be making no claim on the aircraft, of which 21,000 were originally produced, and that he would be entitled to a share in them.

“It’s been a financial nightmare but hopefully I’ll get my money back,” he said.

“I’m hoping the discovery will generate some jobs. They will need to be stripped down and re-riveted but it must be done. My dream is to have a flying squadron at air shows.”

Editing:  Jim W. Dean

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11 Responses to "Burma signs deal to recover buried WWII Spitfires"

  1. Jim W. Dean  October 24, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Thanks flyingfish, for this is a mind blowing story. I have heard parts of this, but obviously a lot of our fathers were involved in all this. Such a huge waste…if even for the loss of scap metal, or if their had been a war with the Soviets.

    It almost seems that the product people wanted to be guaranteed new orders…in other words, domestic sabotage. I am not giving a end of story pronouncement here…just a smell I have of the whole thing.

    I know someone who had access to all the classified WWII material…very very interesting. I will try to get a rebriefing on the mega dumping.

  2. flyingfish  October 21, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    My dad was an army officer during WWll. Near the end of the war he was assigned to an island in the Philippians where he received new ordinance and equipment, tanks, trucks, jeeps, field guns, etc. After receiving all this material, he was ordered to pack it for long term storage, which at the time meant coating with wax, grease, tar , and crating it along with silica gel. He was then ordered to ship it to another island where it would be received. He was transferred to the 2nd island where he received and inventoried what he shipped from the first. His new orders were to unpack what he had received, dismantle the equipment repacking like parts, wheels, tires, tracks, gear boxes, etc and inventorying it all again, than pack it for long term storage according to the Army Manuel and specifications in different crates than they arrived in which crates must be destroyed by fire. The local population was in desperate need of fuel of any kind, but were denied access to the crate materials. The repackaged and inventoried now parts were ordered shipped to a third island and dad was ordered to follow after the last shipment. Meanwhile he requested to be relieved from his command so he could go home and resume his life. His requests went unanswered twice but on the third time he was denied as “Officer Necessary”. Off he went to the third island where he again received what he had shipped. His new orders were to unpack and inventory the boxed shipments and burn the crates. Then, new orders were handed down to re-catagorize the parts, and pack them again for long term storage.This was completed and the then orders arrived to load the crates on barges from where they were dumped in the South China Sea. Dad always maintained the parts were so well coated and packaged that they survived on the sea bottom to this day

  3. JKinTX  October 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    It’s a nice thought, but highly unlikely to happen. Buried in earth in the tropical climate of Burma in wooden crates, the moisture would rapidly get in, and after not more than a few weeks the aircraft were on their way to oblivion.
    He may recover a few saveable artifacts, but the whole is probably a corroded, rotting mess by now.
    And don’t get me wrong, I love the Spitfire.

  4. Excalibur  October 19, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Great story Jim – and you are right – all these people are out there. Nowadays usually trimming their hedges and cursing at the whitefly on their cabbages.

    You will see some of them at regimental get-togethers – carefully disguised as human beings.

  5. Allesandro  October 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Great story, let’s hope for good relations with Burma, and the recovery effort.

  6. DaveE  October 18, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    You mean “The Skipper” was really a CIA spy? How about Gilligan? (Sorry Jim….. I just couldn’t resist….. Great story…..!)

  7. Risodang  October 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    National Pride should rise in England over this news. Have each township get one to put on permanent display…

  8. Jim W. Dean  October 18, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I had an WWII OSS officer on the way home, and transferring boats told me of watched bulldozers cranked up on the big supply ships and just run off the exit ramp into deep water. If they had brought all that stuff back the inventory would have shut the plants down for years.

    I was really shocked as the amount of money involved in all of that stuff was just huge.

    Bill Miller was his name, West Pointer, and the last OSS officer to go into China under John Birch at the end of the war, the ones that came down out of the mountains to take surrender of Japanese garrisons. I roomed with him in Barbados for a few months. One day after lunch he plopped a large manila envelope in my lap. The first 8×10 glossy was of a blackened corpse. He told me it was John Birch after he had been dug out of a shallow grave.

    He had had his head skinned to hide is Caucasian identity. The others were official full military funeral photos for Birch, with lots and lots of Japanese brass. Bill ruled, as a 1rst Lt., an area of central China the size of new England, for six weeks. He had taken the surrender of a city the size of St. Louis by stepping off a sampan one morning and walking into town passing companies of astonished Japanese soldiers, not a one of which said a word to him.

    An Army brat, he had been in Manila as a young boy when his father served with MacArthur and Ike early on, where he spear fished over the sunken Spanish fleet, and he went native wearing a loin cloth and plying in the jungle with the kids of the Philippine scouts his father was training.

    He ended up being Section 8’ted out of the military for divulging to another officer that the general in charge of Southern command, post war in Panama, was a pedophile and had made his G-2 find kids for him. Being listed as a national security risk killed him from ever testifying with any credibility.

    But he survived as a famous biologist and fisherman, supplying the national zoo a lot of their stuff, worked for National Geographic and then being a celebrity charter boat captain, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, etc.

    It sank into me that I had had an uneventful life in some regards. He used to run over names of explorers I had never heard of, and was astounded I had never heard of any of them, the second tier ones, like early Alaska explorers and the later African ones.

    He mentioned once I must have been born on the moon. For a poor kid who did a few years of top New England prep school that set me back, but impressed upon me the education that you get from doing things that book work is no substitute for. It did not know it then, but it was the beginning of my path to VT 🙂

  9. DaveE  October 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Amazing! Like King Tutankhamen’s tomb…… The Spitfire WAS a beautiful plane and quite a piece of engineering.

  10. Excalibur  October 18, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I believe that the Spitfire was the first Brit fighter really to be made out of sheet metal instead of canvass over a wooden frame. Therefore there is a chance that much of the planes are savable and maybe even serviceable.

    American WW2 enthusiasts might be interested to know that here in the south of England there was a massive amount of US military kit buried at the end of World War Two. It was considered too expensive to take back stateside after the war – therefore huge pits were dug and kit placed in them. Whole lorries full of kit, vehicles, motorcycles, boxes of arms and ammo. Mostly just driven into the pits and buried.

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