In search of buried Spitfire squadron
ARCHAEOLOGIST Martin Brown has flown to Burma on one of his strangest ever missions – to excavate a hoard of Second World War Spitfire fighter planes thought to be buried under an airfield.
Mr Brown, based in consultancy WYG's Bristol office, is a conflict archaeologist, well-used to working on old battlefields.
He will be joining a team led by Lincolnshire farmer and aircraft enthusiast David Cundall, who believes a cache of up to 60 Spitfires lie beneath Yangton international airfield.
According to witnesses, the aircraft were transported to the Far East in preparation for Operation Zipper, the reconquest of Malaysia.
When the war against the Japanese in Burma came to an end, the planes were no longer needed. Mr Cundall believes that many of them were buried in their original shipping containers.
If he is correct and they remain intact, they will be the largest collection of Spitfires anywhere in the world. Only 35 Spitfires are still flying world-wide.
The buried planes, rare Mark XIV types equipped with powerful Rolls Royce Griffon-type engines, could be worth £1.5 million each.
It has taken Mr Cundall more than 14 years and £130,000 to locate the site and to secure permission from the Burmese government, and win backing from computer gaming company, Wargaming.net, before any excavation work could begin.
Prime Minister David Cameron discussed bringing the planes home when he met Burma's president, Thein Sein, last April
Starting today, the team will identify the most promising sites, ensure that any discoveries are correctly identified and that accurate records are maintained throughout the excavation.
The team also includes a bomb disposal expert.
Mr Brown said: "We know that the original airfield there was bombed by the Japanese and the British, but I think the real issues are going to be working somewhere quite hot and steamy.
"Dehydration will be something to watch, which is not something that my colleagues in Bristol will be worried about over the next three weeks.
"This is a remarkable project that will test a legend from the Second World War and potentially shed more light on the role of the Royal Air Force during the war. I am very excited about playing a part in such a unique opportunity."
Even if no planes are found, Mr Brown's role will be equally important – to record evidence of whatever wartime activity still remains.
If the hardware has survived as well as Mr Cundall believes, the intention is to restore the aircraft to operating condition.
As well as flying at air shows, there are also rumours of interest from British businesses keen to explore potential branding opportunities.
If all goes well, after excavation and restoration, the British public could be seeing more Spitfires in the air within as little as two or three years.