The Lost Spitfires of Burma – The anatomy of a legend

Related Articles

Related Articles

at the RAF MUSEUM HENDON 19.30hrs – 19 JUNE 2013

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, 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.

About Wargaming

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 Service, the epicentre of the online battle gaming universe that will gather the series under a single portal —
Official website:

A detailed Programme and final Ticketing Arrangements will be announced shortly so please do not contact the Royal Air Force Museum.-

To register an interest in attending please e-mail: [email protected] and state which in which capacity you wish to attend,

1.  Media: stating which organisation or outlet you represent

2.  Professional Interest: stating which organisation you represent

3.  Member of the Public.

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic


The Modhera Sun Temple

The Sun Temple is an ancient Hindu temple complex located on a latitude of 23.6° (near Tropic of Cancer) on the banks of the Pushpavati river at Modhera in Gujarat, India.

Scientists Hunt For Lost WW2 Bunkers Designed to Hold Off Invasion

New research published by scientists from Keele, Staffordshire and London South Bank Universities, has unveiled extraordinary new insights into a forgotten band of secret fighters created to slow down potential invaders during World War Two.

Sea Ice Triggered the Little Ice Age

A new study finds a trigger for the Little Ice Age that cooled Europe from the 1300s through mid-1800s, and supports surprising model results suggesting that under the right conditions sudden climate changes can occur spontaneously, without external forcing.

The Two Fanjingshan Temples

Fanjingshan Temple is actually two temples, located on the “Red Clouds Golden Summit or Golden Peak” on Fanjingshan Mountain (also known as Mount Fanjing), the highest point of the Wuling Mountains in southwestern China.

Venus’ Ancient Layered, Folded Rocks Point to Volcanic Origin

An international team of researchers has found that some of the oldest terrain on Venus, known as tesserae, have layering that seems consistent with volcanic activity. The finding could provide insights into the enigmatic planet's geological history.

Undersea Earthquakes Shake up Climate Science

Despite climate change being most obvious to people as unseasonably warm winter days or melting glaciers, as much as 95 percent of the extra heat trapped on Earth by greenhouse gases is held in the world's oceans.

Raids and Bloody Rituals Among Ancient Steppe Nomads

Ancient historiographers described steppe nomads as violent people dedicated to warfare and plundering.

Ancient Human Footprints in Saudi Arabia Give Glimpse of Arabian Ecology 120000 Years Ago

Situated between Africa and Eurasia, the Arabian Peninsula is an important yet understudied region for understanding human evolution across the continents.

Popular stories

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.