It was a CSI Cold Case like no other.
The missing person was a machine and a world icon- the Spitfire fighter.
The crime scene was a battle-scarred airfield in the Far East.
And the crime, if it took place at all, took place more than sixty five years ago.
In January 2013 the World’s media watched as a crack team of historians, archaeologists and geophysicists assembled by global game company Wargaming.net, set out to solve the mystery of the lost squadron of Spitfires which, according to aviation enthusiast David Cundall, were buried by Allied Forces at airfields in Burma at the end of the Second World War.
The Wargaming team approached the project as a CSI style police procedural mystery, looking for alleged ‘missing persons’ – the Spitfires. To solve the mystery the team went in search of the Royal Air Force’s “Means”, “Motive” and “Opportunity” to bury the aircraft, following up clues in the military archives; examining geophysical data and testing it against historical photographs of the site; and pouring over the RAF shipping records and Operational Record Books.
Recognising that this was a very human story they also read numerous witness statements, talked to surviving witnesses and in the ultimate test of their theories, visited the ‘crime scene’ at Yangon International Airport, in order to turn months of documentary research and the perceptions of witnesses into facts on the ground.
As a result of this archive research and the ‘ground truthing’ by archaeology at Yangon Airport, the team are now confident that the legend of the buried Spitfires of Burma is just that: a captivating legend about a beautiful and iconic aircraft.
As the world now knows, after weeks of specifically targeted surveys and excavations, no trace of crated Spitfires was found at Mingaladon. At Myitkyina, in northern Kachin State, the Burmese-led surveys also produced no trace of the Spitfires which were also alleged to have been buried there. This had the effect of independently confirming the conclusion of earlier documentary work carried out regarding the Myitkyina site by the Wargaming team.
Wargaming’s research team now believes that these facts on the ground, endorse the conclusion of their documentary research which proves beyond reasonable doubt that no crated Spitfire aircraft were ever delivered to Mingaladon or Myitkyina, let alone buried in crates at either site.
However, this disappointing conclusion turns out to have a silver lining. The missing Spitfires of Burma are the first and only such piece of World War Two folklore to have ever been investigated objectively and scientifically. This means that, although though there will not be a newly discovered squadron of vintage aircraft gracing the skies, the Wargaming team can demonstrate the fascinating genesis and evolution of a wartime legend, born in the mud and chaos of RAF Mingaladon in 1945 in a world which now lies at the fragile edge of living memory.
The case of the Burma Spitfires goes to the very heart of how we remember this traumatic and endlessly fascinating period of our shared history; while the worldwide interest in the project has demonstrated how the Spitfire remains alive in the hearts and memories of all those who love the history of aviation and recognise its value. This is the case even though it is over two generations since the glory days of R J Mitchell’s masterpiece in the skies of every theatre of war between 1939 and 1945 and a number of conflict zones thereafter.
Now for the first time the Wargaming research team are going to present the full findings of the investigation at Mingaladon in a special multimedia presentation at the Royal Air Force Museum Hendon on 19th June 2013 with the main presentation starting at 19.30hrs.
The historians, archaeologists and scientists who actually carried out the research will take you on a journey which will place you behind the lens of a reconnaissance camera in 1945; at a desk at the UK National Archives as a crucial document which has never before been looked at comes to light and at the screen of a laptop on the sun beaten expanse of Yangon Airport as a lost road which is key to the story takes form out of the electronic background.
The evening will be fully illustrated by slides and video of the expedition and will include the team’s suggestion as to how and why the legend of the Burma Spitfires came to be so widely believed by the public and the media.
The evening will include opportunities to ask questions of the team and special arrangements will be made for members of the media who wish to undertake more extensive interviews.
Wargaming Thanks the Royal Air Force Museum for enabling us to mount this event.
Wargaming is an award-winning online game developer and publisher and one of the leaders in the free-to-play MMO market. Founded as a privately held company in 1998, Wargaming has shipped more than 15 titles and employs over 1500 people across such key regions as North America, Europe, Russia, Asia, and Australia. Currently, Wargaming is focused on its team-based MMO war series dedicated to mid-20th century warfare that will include the company’s flagship armoured MMO World of Tanks, launched in April 2011 and currently boasting 55 million players worldwide, the flight combat World of Warplanes, named one of the most anticipated MMOs, and the naval World of Warships, both scheduled for release in 2013. In June 2012, Wargaming announced the Wargaming.net Service, the epicentre of the online battle gaming universe that will gather the series under a single portal — www.wargaming.net.
A detailed Programme and final Ticketing Arrangements will be announced shortly so please do not contact the Royal Air Force Museum.-
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