OT… a little: Long buried Spitfires may fly someday

From the Telegraph (UK):

Squadron of ‘lost’ spitfires could be flying again in three years
A lost squadron of Spitfires buried in Burma after the Second World War could be flying again within three years, experts said today.

Archaeologists will begin digging for the historic hoard of at least 36 British fighter planes in January.

A proportion of the aircraft will then be carefully packaged and brought back to the UK next spring, where they will be restored.

David Cundall, a farmer and aviation enthusiast from Scunthorpe, Lincs, has spent 16 years researching the project after being told about the burial by a group of US veterans.
It was his tenacity and perseverance and his “obsession to find and restore an incredible piece of British history” that will finally see a team begin digging in the New Year.

The extraordinary treasure hunt was described as a “story of British determination against all odds”.

Surveys undertaken at one of three sites in Burma have shown that large areas of electrically conductive material are present underground at a depth of around 10 metres.

The location and depth is consistent with eight eye witness reports given to Mr Cundall that the rare Mark XIV Spitfires were buried there in August 1945.

“We put a camera down a boorhole and went into a box and through two inches of Canadian pine,” Mr Cundall disclosed.

“Yes, we did see what we thought was an aeroplane.”

Mr Cundall was first told about the fighters in 1996 and spent two years researching the claims. He found eight people who “told the same story” about the crates being buried and at what depth, all pointing to the same spot.

He has since been to Burma 16 times conducting surveys and negotiating with the authorities.

When sanctions forbidding the movement of military materials in and out of the country were lifted earlier this year, he knew his dream could be realised.

“Hopefully, they will be brought back to the UK and will be flying at air shows,” he said.

(Full story here)

This would be cool to the power of 10.

Not uncommon in any war for equipment to be buried or otherwise discarded in caches like this.  Who knows what Civil War equipment was just packed away in the corners of garrisons and forts.  There was some question about just such artifacts in regard to Fort Monroe.   And there was some question recently about buried cannons at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.   But, in my opinion, we should turn to the archeologists to explore these possibilities.  Often the “treasure” isn’t just the physical artifact but the story it can tell.


World War II Podcasts

A bit… OK… a good bit off topic for me – World War II.

Recently I discovered Ray Harris’ The History of World War II Podcasts.  Thought I’d mention his excellent work as there are a few readers out there who’s focus is in that direction… and a good number of us who really need to diversify our military history!

Ray’s approach is somewhat different than other podcast series on the subject.  Instead of touching upon several different aspects of the war, he takes the listener through major events or campaigns providing both a macro- and micro-viewpoint.  For example, over the span of six episodes Ray covers the Dunkirk evacuation.  He addressed the rather sticky situation between allied Britain and France, the failures and successes in German high command, all the while detailing the daily operations in the port and on the beaches.

He devoted a full episode to the destruction of the French fleet in 1940.  As I’ve mentioned before I am rather familiar with that topic, having written my thesis on Operation Catapult.  I found Ray’s coverage well rounded and complete for the allotted time slot.

Currently he is working through the Battle of Britain.  The last few episodes have covered the opening actions in that air-battle – three days at a time.  Beyond just the standard trip through the Battle of Britain – Hurricanes, Spitfires, Me 109s, radar, Fighter Command, Goering, the Blitz, perhaps a bit about tactics, and then “the Few” – Ray’s approach walks us through the changes with strategy and tactics, all the while pinned against the backdrop of two nations at war.  The listener is not lost in the weeds discussing the aircrews and aircraft, but not held too high aloof considering the national leaders making grand decisions.

Ray’s got a great series going.  Even if you are only into Civil War history, these are good entertainment, providing some “rounding out” to your podcast library.

Grant vs. Lee

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M3 Grant Medium Tank
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M3 Lee Medium Tank

And you are looking for a review of the recent PBS American Experience releases?  Tricked you!  An off topic segue using a Civil War theme.

Recently I’ve added a  few cross-posts over at Bring the Heat discussing some less well-known armored fighting vehicles – the M56 Scorpion, early Bradley Fighting Vehicle prototypes, and the MICV/AIFV series.  So that’s prompted me to pull some of my old references off the dusty “modern warfare” shelves in the study.

I bring up the Grant and Lee tanks to illustrate just how prevalent the memory of the American Civil War remained even during World War II.   Not just over here in the United States, but also over in the “home country” of England.

The US Army has a knack for rather unglamorous designations such as “M3” to identify equipment.  “M” of course stands for “Model” and the number indicating the sequence within a given classification.  So there was an M3 Medium Tank; and M3 Light Tank; and M3 Carbine; and M3 Submachine Gun; and no doubt an M3 Toilet Brush somewhere in the inventory.

When US equipment arrived in the Royal Army, those spartan designations gave way, in typical British fashion, to names evoking great American generals from the Civil War.  What better to fight back Rommel and the Afrika Corps, right?

The first batches of American tanks included the M3 Medium Tank, which the British christened the “General Lee.”  As seen in the second photo above, the Lee had a rather tall turret, which the British didn’t care much for.  They also wanted radio gear in the turret, allowing the tank commander ready access.  So they developed a new cast steel turret to meet their needs.  Tanks receiving the new turret also received the name “General Grant” to differentiate the models.

At the same time, the British received the M3 Light Tank for their reconnaissance formations, which they aptly named “General Stuart” after the Confederate cavalier.

Late Model Stuart Light Tank

But not before the Brits briefly called it the “Honey.”   Um…. don’t go there….

Of course, the most prevalent of the American tanks of World War II received the designation “General Sherman” when entering British service.

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M4 Sherman

Thus we have names like Grant, Lee, Stuart, and Sherman associated with great victories in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany.   Tells us something of the strong memories of the Civil War that persisted even 80 years after the events… on both sides of the Atlantic.

Remembering D-Day

For my normal “Civil War readers” I ask for the indulgence of one off topic post today to honor and recall those men who landed (by parachute, glider, or landing craft) in France on this day in 1944.  We can point to many pivotal events in history and say a person changed history.  For this particular event, it was a group of people – soldiers and sailors – who changed history.

While there is, fittingly, a grand memorial to those men in France, here in America the place that I think best touches the memory is the national World War II memorial.  I believe it is correctly placed in the center of our nation’s Capitol, as  a proper and respectful reminder.  That memorial is not exclusive to just D-Day or the European Theater, but to all Americans who served in all theaters of war.  But it is D-Day when we seem to stop and think of World War II and the greatest generation the most.

The D-Day Landing Relief on the Memorial
The D-Day Landing Relief on the Memorial

I grew up listening to the stories of World War II veterans, and of course reading about that war in the books.  And over the years I’ve had opportunity to visit a few of the battlefields in Europe (unfortunately none in the Pacific from my otherwise exotic travel log cursory of the U.S. Army).  At each of those sites, be it Omaha Beach, the Nijmegen Bridge, or Bastonge, after viewing the terrain I’ve always walked away impressed with the feats of arms accomplished by those men. Yet I’ve never heard any of those veterans, be it in face to face conversation or in television interviews, express much more than humble pride at their accomplishments.

When examining the plaques on the World War II memorial, I can’t help but wonder why it took fifty years for our nation to place the memorial?  (After the Vietnam and Korean War memorials BTW.)  Many have attributed that to the humble nature of the “greatest generation.”  I can’t say I disagree, but why is it our nation as a whole needs to be “humble” about our veterans?

I think the same should be said toward the veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We should not be “humble” about their achievements.  No, we should be exalting and uplifting their example of service and sacrifice.

There are modern day Major Howies over there in the “box” today.  Their story should be told.

The Paratroopers Relief on the Memorial
The Paratroopers Relief on the Memorial