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ASSUMED MISSING

REPORTED BURIED
the search for the lost Spitfires of Burma

A REPORT INTO HISTORICAL RESEARCH AND SUBSEQUENT FIELDWORK AT YANGON INTERNATIONAL


AIRPORT UNDERTAKEN BETWEEN 6 AND 22 JANUARY 2013
by
Andy Brockman, Martin Brown, Rod Scott and Tracy Spaight

WITH A REPORT ON THE PROGRAMMES OF GEOPHYSICS, MAPPING AND TERRAIN MODELLING


UNDERTAKEN AT YANGON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IN 2004 AND 2013
by
Adam Booth, Roger Clark and Andy Merritt

F.37/34 Publications 2015

Contents
Page 6: Foreword: Tracy Spaight, Director of Special Projects Wargaming.net
Page 12: Introduction: The Burma Spitfires Project and the Archaeology of Modern Conflict: Andy Brockman
Page 20: Project Time Line
Page 28: The Legend of the buried Spitfires of Burma.
Page 32: 1: The Research History relating to the buried Spitfires mystery: Andy Brockman
Page 40: 2: The Nature and Quality of Witness Evidence in the narrative of the Burma Spitfires: Andy Brockman;
with Martin Brown and Rod Scott.
Page 58: 3: The nature and use of Documentary evidence in the Buried Spitfires Mystery: Andy Brockman;
additional commentary by Rod Scott
Page 88: 4: Historic Aerial and Ground Level Photography, Historic Mapping and Photographic Imagery of the
Yangon International Airport site: Andy Brockman
Page 101: 5: The 2004 and 2013 Geophysical Surveys: Dr Adam Booth, Dr Roger Clark and Andy Merritt
Page 143: 6: Bomb Damage Assessments as evidence in the Archaeology of Conflict: Rod Scott
Page 145: 7: The Risk Assessments for Human Remains and Unexploded Ordnance: Martin Brown and Rod Scott
Page 148: 8: Ethics, Aircraft and Archaeology at the Yangon Airport site: Martin Brown
Page 151: 9: The 2013 Field Recording Programme: Martin Brown
Page 172 : 10: Printing the Legend: Memory, Myth and the Lost Spitfires of Burma: Andy Brockman; and the
Burma Spitfires Project Team
Appendix 1: A CASE STUDY IN THE GATHERING AND USE OF WITNESS TESTIMONY IN THE SEARCH FOR THE BURMA
SPITFIRES
Appendix 2: PROTOCOLS FOR THE TREATMENT OF FINDS OF AMMUNITION OR HUMAN REMAINS
Appendix 3:

THE LOGISTICS OF BURYING SPITFIRES


Bibliography

Copyright Notice
The contents of this report are copyright the respective authors.
All photographs in this report are copyright Andy Brockman unless stated otherwise.
Reproductions of documents from the National Archive at Kew are Crown Copyright
We have endeavoured to credit all quotations and copyright material using standard academic citations. If we have
inadvertently omitted to credit or seek permission to quote copyright material we apologise and will remedy that
omission in any future publication of this report.

This report is dedicated to two colleagues as representatives of the


generations and nations bound up in this story.

They are former soldier Stanley Coombe who served in Burma and the Far
East as part of the Forgotten Fourteenth Army and to our Burmese
researcher and translator Swe Win as a representative of todays population
of Myanmar whose hospitality and hopes for a peaceful and democratic
future the Burma Spitfires Research Team were privileged to share all too
briefly during January 2013.

BURMA or MYANMAR?
A question of names
During the period of the military dictatorship and United Nations sanctions it was customary
for many people to continue to use the names established during the colonial period, such
as Burma and Rangoon, rather than the new preferred usages endorsed by the military
regime, for example Myanmar and Yangon.
However, since the restoration of Parliamentary government, the release from House arrest
of Aung San Suu Kyi and the withdrawal of sanctions, the United Nations, much of the
international diplomatic community and the BBC amongst them, have adopted Myanmar as
the customary term for the nation which was once known as Burma.
We debated which terms to adopt in this report and ultimately, to avoid confusion, or
perhaps as a messy compromise, we have decided to use the modern accepted names, such
as Myanmar and Yangon, when discussing the events of the period 1990-2014 and the
older names such as Burma and Rangoon when discussing historical events.

The

justification for this is that these are the names as they appear in the majority of the
documents and printed sources we consulted.
Of course, all are inexact Anglicisations of the original Burmese.

The 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team


[In alphabetical order]
Adam Booth is a Research and Teaching Associate in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial
College London. He is a near-surface geophysicist, with a PhD in this subject from the University of Leeds. Adam
is an experienced field geophysicist: he has designed and conducted acquisitions in diverse environments, for the
investigation of a variety of near-surface targets. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, and sits on
editorial and educational committees of the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers.
Andy Brockman has an MA in Archaeology and specialises in community based projects and the archaeology of 20th
century conflicts, including the developing practice of the archaeology of aviation. In this role he has worked as a
consultant and specialist documentary researcher for a number of media projects including Time Team, The Real
Dads Army and What the Dambusters Did Next. He also has an interest in the detection and prevention of
heritage crime, particularly that which relates to battlefields and military sites, undertaking consultancy work in this
field for several UK Police Forces. He edits the investigative heritage current affairs blog thePipeLine and is
currently completing his first book which is on the subject of the World War Two Home Guard.
Martin Brown FSA MCIfA is Principal Archaeologist with international consultancy WYG. He has over 30 years
archaeological experience. He has worked for the Museum of London, English Heritage and Defence Infrastructure
Organisation (part of the UK Ministry of Defence), as well as in local authority heritage roles. He is an experienced
conflict archaeologist with particular experience in both leading archaeological projects investigating, as well as
writing on the Great War 1914-1918.
Roger Clark BSc(Hons) PhD FRAS undertook a PhD jointly between the MOD and the University of Leeds, then spent
some 8 years operating a small consultancy enterprise. He is now Senior Lecturer in the School of Earth &
Environment, University of Leed where h has been a member of academic staff since 1990 and Programme Leader
for the MSc Exploration Geophysics since 1996. He has authored over 60 academic papers and 120 consultancy
reports to industry for resource exploration, environmental, and engineering projects. Dr Clark undertook a 10year tenure as an academic journal editor, is a member of several professional bodies for geophysics including the
European Association of Geoscientists & Engineers for whom he sits on education-facing committees and
contributes to field-based training.
Andy Merritt took his PhD at the University of Leeds and is currently Lecturer in Engineering Geology at Plymouth
University. In addition to terrain and below ground modelling his specialities include taking a multi-disciplinary
approach to investigating the triggering mechanisms of landslides using geophysical monitoring techniques such
as Automated Time-lapse Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ALERT).
Rod Scott has a BA hons in Archaeology to go with a thirty year career in the British Army as an Ammunition
Technician and Explosive Ordnance Disposal [EOD] Operator. A member of the No Mans Land and Plugstreet
projects researching the archaeology of World War One, he has also undertaken excavations on behalf of the State
of Flanders, as well as working on many sites in the UK. He is currently developing a research project investigating
the 20th century conflict archaeology of the area around Sarre in Kent.
Tracy Spaight is the Director of Special Projects at Wargaming.net, where he works with museums and media
partners around the world to tell the stories of WW2. Tracy holds a B.A. in History from Santa Clara University and
an M.A. in the History & Philosophy of Science from Cornell University.

Foreword
Tracy Spaight: Director of Special Projects Wargaming.net
Introduction
Video game companies work with pixels, not dirt. Thus, when video game developer and
publisher Wargaming.net announced in October 2012 a plan to sponsor an expedition to
investigate reports that 20 crated Spitfires were buried in Burma at Mingaladon airfield at
the end of WW2 many observers both inside and out of the industry were taken by
surprise. In what follows, we explain why we got involved, how we went about the work,
and what we discovered.
Wargaming.net
For the past 15 years, Wargaming.net has made games that focus on military history and
strategy. Our team includes military historians as well as former and active duty military
personnel.

We love military history and it shows in our games.

In developing World of

Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Warships, our team went to extraordinary lengths
to ensure the historical accuracy of the WW2 vehicles featured in our games. We studied
original photos, technical manuals, and blue prints to model the vehicles faithfully.

The

team visited museums like Kubinka Tank Museum or the Stalin Line Museum to take
measurements from surviving WW2 planes and tanks. We also toured historic battleships
and aircraft carriers to capture their look and feel as accurately as possible. We take history
seriously.
Over the past two years, Wargaming.net has taken this passion for history from the virtual to
the real world. We have begun working with military history museums around the world to
restore, conserve, and exhibit WW2 military vehicles. We decided to sponsor these activities
because we believe in giving back to the community. Our games are based on the tanks,
planes and ships of WW2. We thus want to see these vehicles and the stories of those who
drove, flew or sailed them preserved for future generations. It is one thing to read about a
T-34 tank or a P-40 fighter (or to drive / fly one in a game), and quite another to get up
close to the actual hardware. It makes history real.
Our first such project was the creation of a CG film for USS Iowas digital theatre. The film
highlights the supporting role of USS Iowa at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The theatre
opened in the summer of 2012 when USS Iowa arrived at its new home in Los Angeles
harbour. In the spring of 2013, we dedicated the Wargaming.net Education Centre at the
Bovington Tank Museum, where young people can learn about armoured combat in WW2. In
the fall of 2013, we opened the new Wargaming.net Dornier 17 Interpretation Zone at the
RAF museum, to help museum visitors visualize the Dornier 17 bomber recovered from the

bottom of the English Channel. In the spring of 2014, we opened a new education centre at
Prokohovka Museum, recovered a KV1 from the bottom of the Don River.

Burma Spitfires
We first learned about the Burma Spitfires in April 2012 from newspaper reports, which
announced that Prime Minister David Cameron had negotiated an agreement with Myanmar
President Thein Sein for the recovery and repatriation of 20 crated Mark XIV Spitfires buried
at Mingaladon Airfield in 1945. Subsequent stories on the BBC and in the Guardian and
Telegraph provided additional detail, including the story of David Cundall, the originator of
the quest to locate and recover the planes. Wargamings Director of Special Projects Tracy
Spaight tracked down Mr. Cundall in April 2012 and invited him to come to San Francisco in
May 2012 to meet with our team and present his findings. Mr. Cundall showed us shipping
manifests, wartime photographs, letters from veterans, geophysical scans of the site and
other evidence which we found convincing.
Our team discussed whether or not to pursue the project, since we recognized from the
beginning that the risks were not insignificant. Firstly, there was the possibility that there
were no planes buried at Mingaladon. Mr. Cundalls story seemed credible, and had the
public backing of the British Prime Minister, but we knew we might dig and not find
anything. Secondly, there was the possibility that the Spitfires if they were there at all
had disintegrated after being in the ground for 70 years. Thirdly, the crated Spitfires could
turn out to be a legend that grew out of a disposal job of shot up or discarded air planes,
bulldozed into a pit as part of the post-war clean-up of the airfield.

And finally the

excavation would take place in Burma, a country that had been isolated for decades and was
only just emerging from sanctions. There were no guarantees that David and his Burmese
business partners would be able to secure permission to dig next to an active runway at the
countrys only international airport.
In the end, we decided to move forward with the project, since we believed that it would
make for a good story, whatever we found buried in Burma. We did not embark on this
project for financial gain Wargaming.net does very well making video games. And more to
the point we are not treasure hunters. Rather, we decided to sponsor the project because it
fit well with our mission to recover, preserve, and exhibit WW2 military vehicles.

If Mr.

Cundalls story turned out to be true, and there were crated Spitfires buried in Burma, it
would be a sensational discovery.

And of course we were not unaware of the potential

media value.

The Contract
The media attention surrounding the Burma Spitfire story in April and May of 2012 led to a
flurry of applications to the Myanmar government from rival groups all seeking an exclusive
contract to excavate at Mingaladon.

These included British, Singapore, Burmese, and

(reportedly) an Israeli team. Mr. Cundalls Burmese business partner, Swe Taung Por (STP),
thus urged us to come to Myanmar as soon as possible, in order to secure the contract. We
arrived in Yangon on May 31st and spent the next six weeks meeting with government
officials.

This was slow work since no less than six government Ministries had to be

consulted and their offices were located in Naypyidaw, a five hour drive each way. Mr.
Cundall (with assistance of Tracy Spaight) and his partner STP finally succeeded in securing
the contract after repeated visits in October 2012. The signing ceremony took place in
the capital, with senior Myanmar officials in attendance.

The British deputy ambassador

gave a speech praising the venture as a joint heritage project that would bring the two
nations closer together. We planned the excavation for January 2013, when the monsoonsoaked ground would be dry enough to dig.
Desktop Study
By late summer of 2012, it was becoming clear that there were gaps in the Burma Spitfire
story as presented by Mr. Cundall and the British media. Wargaming.net thus decided to
engage archaeologist and historian Andy Brockman to do a thorough archival search and
produce a detailed desktop study. The desktop study (completed in September 2012) cast
serious doubt on the Burma Spitfire story as described by Mr. Cundall, since (most tellingly)
there was no record of any such burial in the archives. On the other hand, we had testimony
from living service men that had been stationed at Mingaladon in 1945-46, who
remembered hearing about a burial or who saw large crates on the airfield. We also filmed
an interview with the head of the RAFs historical branch Sebastian Cox, who told us that the
lack of records about a burial at Mingaladon was not decisive, since paper work was
sometimes incomplete or simply lost. Finally, we also had geophysical data showing large
concentrations of metal at the location Mr. Cundall identified as x marks the spot.
The teams assessment was that even if Mr. Cundalls story of crated, buried Spitfires turned
out not to be true, very possibly we would find discarded airframes or at least parts of
Spitfires (or other aircraft), since Mingaladon was a major airfield occupied by three different
Air Forces during WW2. Moreover, our archival research had turned up clear evidence that
hundreds of planes had been broken up for scrap metal at the end of the war, as local
authorities prepared the airport for conversion to civilian use. Was this large-scale disposal
perhaps the kernel of truth behind the legend?

Given the uncertainties, we decided to approach the excavation as a CSI style investigation.
Our plan was to investigate the story of buried Spitfires, recover any aircraft if they were
discovered, and (if no Spitfires found) still tell a great story about Wartime legends. If we
didnt go to Burma, we would not be able to turn our archival work into truths on the
ground. We needed to dig.

THE EXCAVATION:
To ensure that all excavation work was performed to the highest professional standards,
Wargaming.net engaged an experienced archaeology research team, comprised of Martin
Brown, Andy Brockman, and Rod Scott. Martin Brown is a highly experienced member of the
British Chartered Institute for Archaeologists [CIfA] and has been conducting field work
since 1988, including work on a number of cases involving the recovery and identification of
fallen soldiers. As a result he is well-versed in the protocols regarding the identification
and recovery of human remains, as laid out in the Geneva Convention and by the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Andy Brockman is a recognized specialist in the
field of conflict archaeology with a specialization in WW2. And Rod Scott is a British army
expert in historic munitions and health and safety as well as a qualified field archaeologist.
We also invited geophysicists Dr. Roger Clark of the University of Leeds and Dr. Adam Booth
of Imperial College London to extend their earlier work with Mr Cundall and perform a
geophysical survey of the site.
Our primary concern was for the safety of our team, our Burmese partners, and the workers
engaged on the site. There were many potential hazards, ranging from the operation of
heavy machinery like the JCB digger to the potential for digging up unexploded aerial
dropped ordinance from the war! To guard against the later, Rod Scott monitored all trench
work. We were also aware of the possibility of uncovering human remains, since the airfield
was the site of intensive bombing during the war.

Had we uncovered the remains of

soldiers, Martin Brown was well-versed in the protocols regarding the identification and
recovery of human remains, as laid out in the Geneva Convention and by the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission. Wargaming.net also engaged expert digger operator Manny
Machado.
Our team arrived in Yangon on January 6th 2013. Over a two week period, our team surveyed
52,000 square meters of ground and excavated four trenches, the longest of which was
approximately 40 meters in length and 3 meters deep. Trench placement was directed by
David Cundall, but the archaeology team controlled recording of the site, following standard
academic protocols. From an archaeological standpoint, the Mingaladon investigation was a
qualified success:

1) The evidence for the presence of Spitfires was tested,


2) Geophysical anomalies were subject to ground truthing,
3) All trenches opened were monitored and recorded,
4) Landscape features pertinent to oral testimony were located,
5) Evidence of military activity and conflict were recorded.
These results were achieved in the face of local difficulties including delays relating to
permits, restrictions on how work could be performed, and onerous security procedures all
of which resulted in several days delay both at the outset and following the commencement
of fieldwork. We were also required to submit daily plans for our excavation work and later
any excavation work was restricted to 22:00 to 04:00 hours.
Fortunately we were able to tackle all of these problems with the assistance of our Burmese
partners Shwe Taung Por, and their always helpful and willing workforce coordinated on site
by General Manager U Pe Win and our translator and fixer Daw Tin Ma Latt. However, we
had to do so not only under the glare of the noonday sun lyricized in Noel Cowards Mad
dogs and Englishmen, but also in the spotlight of the British press.
The British press, impatient with our progress and eager for a story of triumph or tragedy
relating to Spitfires, were quick to declare our defeat when none were identified. But, while
understandable in journalistic terms, this framing completely missed what the expedition to
Yangon International Airport was genuinely about. As the Project Lead Archaeologist Andy
Brockman explained during the press launch at the Imperial War Museum back in November
2012, the expedition was not primarily a recovery operation, though had Spitfires been
found we were fully prepared to recover them archaeologically so as to gain maximum
knowledge about how and why they had been buried. Rather, it was CSI Missing Spitfires; an
evidence led, scientific study into how the legend of the Spitfires of Burma arose and
whether it had a basis in fact. To accomplish that task it was necessary to see the facts in
the ground at Yangon and the physical context of the purported crime scene.
Seen in that context and despite the challenges and difficult working conditions, our team
managed to do good geophysics, a good landscape study and good excavation work with
which to support the extensive work on contemporary documents and air photographs,
including a series of overlays which showed the team what structures were actually on the
ground at Yangon during the time the legend came into being and how the airport works
extending the airport during 1945 and 1946 changed the physical landscape of the site. We
did not find crated Spitfires but we did uncover the origins of a fascinating wartime legend
which will be described in the chapters which follow.

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In life, business, and archaeology, we do not always get the answer we initially set out to
find. We did not find Spitfires in Burma and once we were sure that there were no Spitfires
buried at Mingaladon and that the story of the buried Spitfires was almost certainly an urban
myth, Wargaming.net could have simply buried the story, particularly as the company took
flak in the press for not finding any Spitfires. Many companies would doubtlessly have taken
that route. But Wargaming.net takes history seriously. We believe we have a duty to the
public to report on our research. We thus chose to release our findings, first at a press
conference at the RAF Museum at Hendon in June 2013, and now here in print.
Tracy Spaight,
May 30, 2014

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INTRODUCTION

The Burma Spitfires Project and the Archaeology of Modern


Conflict
Andy Brockman: Lead Archaeologist, Burma Spitfires Project
It might seem odd that a team of highly qualified and experienced archaeologists and
geophysicists are devoting their time and effort to writing a comprehensive report into an
expedition which conspicuously did not find what everyone, in the media at least, thought it
was going to find that is, that as many as 36 crated Spitfires buried between the autumn of
1945 and the Spring of 1946, at what is now Yangon International Airport in
Myanmar/Burma; aircraft which were allegedly capable of being recovered and restored to
flying condition.
We are investing that time because we believe that the story of the buried Spitfires offered a
unique opportunity to explore the origins, growth, and propagation of an archetypical
modern myth. Namely that iconic objects, were buried or somehow lost to the records at the
end of World War Two and could have survived to be recovered in the present as if from
some kind of Limbo or time warp. Thus at a time when the 70th anniversary of D-Day and
the centenary of the outbreak of World War One dominate broadcasters schedules, and even
political discourse, with the former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove, engaging with one
of our leading comic actors Sir Tony Robinson, over interpretations of events during World
War One, the Burma Spitfires project offers us a valuable case study to examine our
relationship with iconic objects and iconic moments in, to quote a title much beloved of the
Daily Mail newspaper and Mr Gove, Our Island Story.
Of course, iconic moments in our National Mythology such as World War Two have iconic
objects to go with them, and surely one of the most iconic is that perfect example of a
functional art deco object, the Spitfire fighter, memorably described by Design Critic
Jonathan Glancy as ...a catwalk aircraft. [Glancy interview on camera for Room 608
Productions, 2012 quoted by permission].
This relationship between a historical archaeological subject and the current cultural setting
it resides within is important because, at a time when public engagement is, in my view
quite rightly, increasingly seen as a requirement in any historical or archaeological project in
receipt of public funding and where we are about to enter a period where a great many of us
will be working on projects related to the centenary of World War One; we must be aware
that the methods and rigor we apply are not always followed or even understood, by people
whose interest in history is that of the personal enthusiasm, hobby or family story. Given
that, we must be equally aware that the narratives historians and archaeologists offer on the

12

basis of our academic practice might not always coincide with the narratives that the wider
public, including the media, either expect, or want, or even find welcome.
The Burma Spitfires story also demonstrates how important it is that we develop a range of
written and visual languages and vocabularies to communicate not just conventional,
research driven historical analysis, archaeology and hypothesis, but also the broader
narratives which so clearly interest the public.

If you doubt this look at the amount of

historical material available on TV Factual channels on a daily basis as well as at the wellstocked popular history and biography shelves in your local bookshop - if it survives. In
communicating our work it is essential we also communicate the thrill of that research and
with it the necessity and the excitement of constantly questioning received views and
narratives and of finding new ways of describing and analysing the historical past which, we
must never forget, we do not own, but hold for a short time and must share with our various
audiences.

A word on methodology
I came to this project as an archaeologist and investigative researcher specialising in what is
termed the Archaeology of Modern Conflict.

Perhaps the best academic definition of

precisely what the archaeology of modern conflict actually comprises is that given by Dr
Nicholas Saunders of the University of Bristol in his contribution to Matter and memory in
the landscapes of conflict: The Western Front 1914-1999.

Dr Saunders wrote that the

archaeology of modern conflict encompassed


... industrialized slaughterhouses, vast tombs for 'the missing', places for returning refugees and contested
reconstruction, popular tourist destinations, locations of memorials and pilgrimage, sites for archaeological
research and cultural heritage development, and as still deadly places full of unexploded bombs and shells.
Matter and memory in the landscapes of conflict: The Western Front 1914-1999. In, B. Bender and M. Winer (eds),
Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place: 37-53. Oxford: Berg.

However, I might reduce that to a single sentence.


The Archaeology of Modern Conflict is the study, through the practice of archaeology, of communities preparing
for, involved in, or moving on from, conflict of all kinds.

In such studies it is important to remember that we as archaeologists and academics do not


take sides in old wars [which is not to say we do not take moral stances on such issues as
genocide].

On a site such as Mingaladon, archaeological evidence of Japanese Service

Personnel and local Burmese civilians would have had equal importance to that of the British
occupation or the Flying Tigers of the American Volunteer Group who were also based on
the airfield in 1941-1942.
Obviously, as archaeologists, we deal in the main with the archive of material culture which
exists out there in the field in terms of buildings, sites and artefacts on and under the

13

ground or under water. Indeed, some colleagues in the archaeological world might argue
that those facts in the ground trump anything in the documentary archive and archive of
memory because their substance imparts a materiality and an apparent impartiality that an
archive document lacks.
Therein lies the key difference between what we do and what the bulk of conventional
historians might do in the course of their daily practice and it is certainly true that often
archaeological work on sites which might appear to have a rich conventional documentary
archive demonstrates events and activity which appear in the archaeological record, but are
not found in the documentary archive. A simple case study from my own work will illustrate
this principle.
In 2009 and 2010 I directed an excavation on a World War One Anti-Aircraft Gun Battery at
Shooters Hill in south east London. The documentary record indicated the installation of a
single weapon; a 3 inch 20 cwt Anti-Aircraft Gun, but when we came to excavate the site we
found that this was actually the second weapon installed on the site. The Shooters Hill
Battery had been set up for another weapon entirely and the designers and builders had
taken the time to lay out the site and the reinforced concrete gun platform properly and
undertake a by the book building process. However, the hold fast for the weapon system
recorded in the document was actually crudely cut into the edge of that concrete gun
platform which had been built for another weapon entirely.
That single piece of Ground Truthing, a term we will come back to, demonstrated not just
the material fact of the change of plan on the part of the Royal Navy and the Royal Garrison
Artillery in late 1915, early 1916 immediately prior to the document which records the site
as using a 3 inch AA gun, but also enabled us to develop a vivid narrative of the rapid
changes in technology and practice as London came under sustained air attack for the first
time by Zeppelins of the German Imperial Naval Airship Service.

In this case the

craftsmanship and work of at least a week was simply hacked into to accommodate the
design change and weapon up-grade, a typical field modification.
It is the same kind of Field, or In Service modification we find on Roman Forts and
medieval castles, the difference being that in those historic cases we do not have the paper
trail in the War Office files for blocked gateways at Housesteads fort on Hadrians Wall, or
the development of concentric defences supplementing the Norman Keep at Dover Castle.
But it does demonstrate the necessity of doing a full documentary study alongside the
archaeology.
This was put very well by a famous American colleague from the 1930s, one Dr Jones
Archaeology is the search for fact. Not truth. If it's truth you're interested in, Doctor Tyree's Philosophy class is
right down the hall. So forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do
not follow maps to buried treasure, and 'X' never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in
the library. Research. Reading.
Indiana Jones. 1989. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Screenplay by Jeff Boam, story by George Lucas and Menno Meyjes.

14

Actually, while a few colleagues might question quoting Dr Jones given some of his other
somewhat questionable practices as an archaeologist, it is appropriate to quote the
screenplay in the context of a story where historical research and media constructs are so
closely entwined. Indeed, Stephen Spielberg and the writers of Indiana Jones and the Last
Crusade got that part of his methodology absolutely right.

Archaeology, and the

Archaeology of Modern Conflict perhaps more than any other branch of archaeology, does
depend on effective work in the paper and oral history archives held in both conventional
library and museum stores and increasingly, at least in my field, in the community, perhaps
more than some archaeologists would like to admit?
Without that secure framework of documentary and oral history evidence, collected and
curated according to well understood methodologies and usually developed before we ever
venture onto a site, half the story is missing. Indeed, when it comes to field archaeology,
without the documents which form the reference points we need to develop our research
questions and interpretations, our work would be based on, at best logical deduction, a
middle way of [hopefully informed] guess work or, at worst, pure wishful thinking.
However, there is another key difference between the kind of Archaeology we are going to
describe in this report and the kind of practice most historians undertake.
That is, our work is not a solitary quest for evidence in the archive translated into a seminar
paper, lecture, or published work. Although our work encompasses these elements too, it is
first and foremost a team effort in the office, in the archive and in the field. Our work as
individuals comes together in this report, and the report is validated by the skills and talents
of other people on the project team contributing their own unique views in a collective
enterprise.
At this point and because the best archaeology is truly a multidisciplinary coming together
of the right team, I must introduce and acknowledge the people standing at my shoulder as
critical friends and colleagues, and introduce the 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team who
are responsible for this report.
The team was recruited with a view to being able to organise and undertake the full range of
tasks the Burma Spitfires Project might require, from archive research to a full forensic
recovery of buried aircraft recorded to archaeological standards.
We were only able to work in Myanmar at all because of the efforts of Tracy Spaight, the
director of Special Projects at Wargaming.net, the tact and management skills of
Wargamings Gavin Longhurst and the overarching support of Wargamings CEO Victor
Kislyi. For an archaeologist they were the perfect funders. We were given both complete
freedom and the resources to follow the evidence where ever it took us. Even when the
evidence we uncovered took the project in a completely different direction and suggested an
outcome opposite to what was anticipated when they first became involved, Wargaming had
the courage and integrity to follow through on the scholarship and science and stick with
the project.

15

Of the actual research team on the ground, first among equals is Principal Field
Archaeologist Martin Brown FSA MCIfA who led the field work at Yangon with all the skill, tact
and diplomacy gained in thirty years of work in every sector of UK Archaeology including ten
years with the Ministry of Defence Historic Environment Team and the experience of working
on complex and highly contaminated military sites in France and Belgium with the groups
No Mans Land and the Plugstreet Project. As he will describe, even before we reached
Yangon, Martin enabled us to proceed by successfully negotiating the thicket of
archaeological ethics surrounding a project which could easily have been perceived as little
more than a glorified, media driven, treasure hunt for valuable artefacts.
Martin was assisted in the field by another veteran of No Mans Land and the Plug Street
Project, Field Archaeologist and Ammunition Technical Officer [ATO], Rod Scott. We regard
it as both unethical and foolhardy to excavate on a known military site without the first line
safety cover which Rod provided thanks to his thirty years of experience in Explosive
Ordnance Disposal [EOD] with the British Armed Forces. As Rod also explains, in the same
way an excavation might commission a pottery specialist to report and interpret the pottery
from a site, ammunition and the effect of ammunition on structures and the landscape is
also archaeological evidence which must be recognised and interpreted by people who know
their subject. The only difference between Rods work and that of a specialist in Samian
Ware or Early Saxon jewellery is the risk this particular type of cultural material, to use the
archaeological jargon, might function to lethal effect.

Therefore quite proper and

stringent legal restrictions surround handling such material and Rod was able to surmount
this hurdle too with expert advice. Rod also brought the insights of a career military man
trained to read and write military documents and conduct Interviews to Police and Criminal
Evidence Act [PACE] standards, to the documentary and oral history record.
In archaeology the landscape context is crucial in understanding any site and where, in what
form and at what depth, natural and manmade structures might exist form the basis for any
research strategy, up to and including excavation. Our ground imaging team tasked with
carrying out the vital three dimensional mapping and non-invasive surveys of the surface
and sub-surface structures at Yangon were Geophysicists: Dr Roger Clark of the University
of Leeds, Dr Adam Booth of Imperial College London and Dr Andy Merritt then a
Postgraduate Research Student at the University of Leeds.

Having worked with David

Cundall on previous projects, including Mr Cundall's 2004 expedition to Yangon, Roger and
Adam in particular were able to bring valuable personal perspective and insights into the
history of the project.
Here it is necessary to add a note about archaeological ethics and the conditions under
which the Archaeological and Scientific teams were engaged.

Martin Brown will discuss the

way the team reconciled archaeological ethics with the commercial aspects of the project in
greater detail in Section 8 of this report. Therefore I will limit my comments here to those
relating to contracts, payments and publications.

16

The archaeologists and geophysicists were employed as independent consultants to Mr


Cundall as Project Leader; either as individuals in the case of Andy Brockman and Rod Scott,
or by secondment from their respective institutions or employers in the case of Martin
Brown, Dr Booth Dr Clark and Andy Merritt.
In terms of remuneration, aside from the payment of either a day rate, or their regular salary
and expenses in the form of hotels, flights and Per Diem payments to cover meals, none of
the members of the Research Team had any financial interest or incentives, including
bonuses, shares or any other financial reward or inducement connected with the project.
In particular it is also important to emphasise that the team opposes the commodification of
the past, typified by the often speculative sale of historic objects on the commercial
antiquities and collectors market.

Therefore, the team disassociate themselves completely from any comments made by any
parties to the Burma Spitfires story regarding the commercial valuation, sale or disposal of
any artefacts, including Spitfires, which might have been recovered by the expedition.
We believe that all such material should be curated according to local and international law,
convention and archaeological and museum best practice, for the common good and not
sold for profit.

The Research Team also insisted on written conditions being inserted into their contracts
guaranteeing freedom of publication in academic and journals of record and the removal of
a perpetual gagging clause, replacing that clause with one guaranteeing freedom to discuss
any aspect of the project which the team might individually or collectively deem in the public
interest.
All these conditions were accepted without qualification.
In return the team agreed to discuss the timing of any publication with Wargaming.net
which owns the commercial media rights to the expedition.

Neither Wargaming.net, nor Mr Cundall, nor Room 608 Productions have asked for, neither
have they been given, any form of editorial control over the academic reporting of the 2013
Burma Spitfires Research Project, including this report.

With contractual and ethical issues dealt with we were able to look to an excavation
programme, which consisted of excavating trench locations chosen entirely either by Mr
Cundall, according to his perception of the evidence he had collated or been offered by his
own sources, or to test Mr Cundalls theory that Spitfires were buried at the site.

17

As Martin Brown will discuss in more detail in the fieldwork report, the trenches were then
excavated and recorded to professional archaeological standards under Mr Browns
supervision.
That we were then able to excavate quickly, accurately and above all safely, was on account
of the skills of our expert JCB driver Manny Machado. In spite of suspicions to the contrary
most archaeology is not undertaken with a toothbrush and a skilled digger operator like
Manny can use a 360 tracked excavator, or a back hoe with the finesse of that signature
archaeological item, the three inch plasterers trowel. The plant, our big yellow trowels if
you like, were supplied by JCB Ltd and the team is grateful for that valuable sponsorship in
kind and for the hospitality of JCBs local agent in Yangon.
Specialist handtools for the expedition were supplied by the Archtools Archaeology Store
[Archtools] which arranged delivery at short notice at the busiest time of the year, the
Christmas New Year holiday and we are grateful to them too.
I must also acknowledge the contribution of the staff and work force of our Burmese
partner, the Shwe Taung Por [STP] Group of Companies under their Chair, Htoo Htoo Zaw. In
particular the Project Manager U Pe Win and our indefatigable translator Daw Tin Ma Latt
[Auntie Latt] kept the project moving on the ground and helped negotiate the inevitable
bureaucratic checkpoints encountered in trying to conduct an excavation on a working
international civil and military airport.
Not least because without their cooperation there would have been no project, we must also
thank the authorities at the Myanmar Transport Ministry, Yangon International Airport and
Yangon District who let us dig large trenches in Myanmars equivalent of Heathrow, and the
members of the Yangon Airport Police Battalion who handled our security.
Because we were working in a rapidly changing nation, rebuilding its relationship with the
outside world after decades of isolation and sanctions we also acknowledge and thank the
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ambassador and staff of the British
Embassy in Yangon; in particular the Ambassador and our principle contact, the then
Embassy Third Secretary Fergus Eckersley for their professionalism and hospitality which
was everything we would hope for from the representatives of the United Kingdom abroad.
Observing the whole enterprise were documentary makers Mark Mannucci and Anna Bowers
of Room 608 Productions and their team who negotiated their way through a constantly
evolving story line while retaining their journalistic independence, editorial control and
sanity. Not only did Room 608 facilitate much of the specialised documentary research by
Andy Brockman and carry out the interviews which underpin much of this report, they and
Researcher Meghan Horvath, have generously shared their initial work investigating what we
came to call the David Cundall Dossier.
All of us were working to bring clarity to the vision of the project initiator, Lincolnshire

18

Farmer and veteran searcher for lost and crashed aircraft, Mr David Cundall, and to create a
statement of record regarding Mr Cundalls belief that Spitfires were buried in Burma. Mr
Cundalls interpretation of the documentary and oral history evidence was the springhead of
the project and, when we were on site at Yangon Airport, it was Mr Cundalls clearly
expressed sense of the landscape of the site in relation to his perception of his evidence
which drove the placement of the trenches we recorded.

All the trenches were located

specifically to test Mr Cundalls theories and in at least one case, Trench 1, the Trench was
placed at his specific direction. All subsequent trench locations were discussed and agreed
collaboratively to ensure not only potential groundtruthing of both results and theories but
also safe working. No-one would have been happier than our team had Mr Cundalls vision
of buried Spitfires been realised and this report would not exist without him.
With personnel and resources in place, the body of our report will now demonstrate how this
exciting, multidisciplinary practice called the Archaeology of Modern Conflict was brought to
bear on one of the most high profile historical mysteries of recent years, the Mystery of the
Buried Spitfires of Burma. We will take you through the research process and ultimately
offer our solution to at least some of the many questions and mysteries which have
surrounded the story and make our case for a solution as to its origins which we believe is
beyond reasonable doubt.
Andy Brockman
Lead Archaeologist: 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team

19

Project Time Line

1945
1 May

Rangoon occupied by the Allies.

7 June

Thomas Barclay Hennell paints a watercolour of airfield works

14 June

Lord Mountbatten flies to Rangoon

15 June

Liberation parade in Rangoon.

17 June

Lord Mountbatten leaves Rangoon for India.

15 July

Lord Mountbatten arrives in Rangoon via Akyub.

16 July

Lord Mountbatten leaves for India.

24 July

Lord Mountbatten arrives in Berlin for the Potsdam Conference, he is


informed by both Prime Minister Churchill and President Truman that
the Atomic Bomb is about to be used and to prepare for a sudden
Japanese surrender.

6 August

Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

9 August

Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

10 August

Lord Mountbatten in London.

Japan accepts the Potsdam terms of

surrender and ends the war in the Pacific and South East Asia.
13-14 August

Lord Mountbatten flies back to SEAC HQ in Ceylon. Mountbatten is


occupied with high level conferences and preparations for the post
war settlement and preparations for Operation Zipper.

17 August

CB's arrive in Rangoon and FIRST SPITFIRE BURIAL ACCORDING TO


DAVID CUNDALL

4 September

Anglo French Fleet arrives at Singapore, Japanese surrender.

9 September

Lord Mountbatten leaves Ceylon for Singapore, transiting via Rangoon


where he arrives on RAF Mingaladon at 17.20. Mountbatten observes
of Mingaladon "Rangoon is one of the staging points for the great air
traffic moving to Singapore for the surrender..."

20

11 September

Lord Mountbatten flies to Malaya overflying the Operation Zipper


invasion fleet and then on to take the Japanese surrender at
Singapore.

12 September

Lord Mountbatten receives the formal surrender of Japanese Forces in


South East Asia at Singapore City Hall.

9 Oct., 14.30

Lord Mountbatten arrives on RAF Mingaladon to bid farewell to the


people of Burma.

10 October

Lord Mountbatten leaves Rangoon and does not return for the
remainder of his time in South East Asia.

October-December

123 Independent Mechanical Equipment Co RE working on main


runway and taxi ways at Mingaladon moving between 1500 and 2500
cubic yards of earth per day.

December 1945

SECOND SPITFIRE BURIAL ACCORDING TO DAVID CUNDALL

1946
23 March - 1 June

Lord Mountbatten on Farewell Tour of Australia, New Zealand and


India.

THIRD SPITFIRE BURIAL ACCORDING TO DAVID CUNDALL


April 1946

Stanley Coombe transits through RAF Mingaladon and reports seeing


crates and earthworks. He is told by an RAF man that they contain
Spitfires.
Group Captain Maurice Short states that rumours of aircraft being
buried at Mingaladon were current among non-commissioned RAF
personnel in Singapore.
RAF Hmwabi closes.

4 June

Lord Mountbatten lands at RAF Northolt in West London.

21

1946 -1948
Substantial rebuilding and modernisation of RAF Mingaladon Airfield including the removal
of wartime infrastructure, the extension of the main runway to the West South West, the
adding of taxiways and the diversion of the Prome No 1 Road.

1948
1 January

Burma becomes independent of Great Britain.

1997-2000
Burmese military Junta rebrands itself as the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC).
Human rights violations in Burma and the continued imprisonment of
National League of Democracy Leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, leads the
United States to intensify sanctions in 1997, the European Union
follows in 2000.
David Cundall goes into partnership with Anglo-Burmese businessman
Keith Win.
During this period David Cundall makes the first of at least eight visits
to

Myanmar

including

undertaking

excavations

on

Yangon

International Airport, the former RAF Mingaladon beginning in 1998.


Nothing is found.

2000
The military regime extend the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi
David Cundall ceases to work with Keith Win.

2004
David Cundall working with Australian Treasure Hunter Michael
Hatcher and Singaporean backers. Geophysical Survey undertaken of
parts of the North West perimeter of Yangon Airport by Dr Adam

22

Booth. An initial excavation using a tracked excavator hits wood, but


the excavation is stopped and Dr Booth leaves Myanmar shortly
afterwards without returning to the dig site.
Nov.-Dec.

Additional survey work undertaken by Malcolm Weale of Geofizz Ltd.


and local Burmese company Suntac Technologies.

Subsequently,

excavations are undertaken by David Cundall and his associates


including in the area of 2013 Trench One. Structures are found but no
Spitfires.

2007
Autumn

The Monks Revolution in Burma leads to a military crackdown.

2012
14 April

The Guardian announces UK Prime Minister David Cameron reaches


deal on Spitfires buried in Burma after talks with Myanmar President
Thein Sein.

22 April

Tracy Spaight of Wargaming.net reads article in Daily Telegraph about


David Cundall and the Spitfires.

23 April

Tracy Spaight calls David Cundall to propose that Wargaming fund the
expedition and create a documentary film about the excavation.

16 May

David Cundall arrives in San Francisco for sponsorship negotiations.

18 May

David

Cundall

and

Wargaming

sign

term

sheet

for

recovery,

expatriation, and restoration of the planes.


21 May

Wargaming engages Jon Halperin and Mark Mannucci to create


documentary film about the Burma Spitfires story.

31 May

David Cundall and Tracy Spaight arrive in Kuala Lumpur and continue
on to Yangon via Malaysian airlines. Met by Prof Soe Thein and Tin Ma
Latt, principals in the Shwe Taung Por [STP] Group of Companies, the
prospective Myanmar business partner.

2 June

David Cundall signs contract with STP.

23

8 June

Tracy Spaight and David Cundall go to UK embassy in the morning to


pick up letters of support. Htoo Htoo Zaw, Tin Ma Latt, David, and
Tracy Spaight drive to Naypyidaw with the letters.

13 June

Meeting at Park Royal Hotel with STP. Wargaming learn that the case
has been transferred to Minister of Planning.

24 June

Tracy Spaight flies to Bangkok, meet film crew. First shoot in the
afternoon and evening.

29 June

Filming in Naypyidaw.

2 July

Filming at the hotel.

3 -5 July

Filming at market, waterfront, and Anglican Church and Shwe Dagan.

6 July

Drive to Naypyidaw, meeting with Minister of Planning cancelled

15 August

David and STP finally granted meeting with Minister of Planning.

7 September

Andy Brockman first contacted by Room 608 Productions regarding


research and consultancy for the documentary. He joins Room 608s
London based researcher Meghan Horvath in ongoing campaign of
intensive archive research.

27 September

Room

608

Productions

in

UK

to

interview

Stanley

Coombe,

geophysicists Dr Clark and Dr Booth, RAF historian Sebastian Cox,


Burma historian, and archaeologist and researcher Andy Brockman.
11 October

Rod Scott approached to join project.

15 October

Tracy Spaight travels to Naypyidaw for the signing ceremony.

Film

crew join to film the event.


16 October

Signing

ceremony

with

government

Ministers

and

UK

Deputy

Ambassador and Third Secretary. Deputy Ambassador gave a speech


on joint heritage and international collaboration.
22 October

Tracy Spaight back in Atlanta, writes revised report for the Myanmar
Minister of Transportation, with assistance from Andy Brockman and
Adam Booth.

Martin Brown approached to join project as Principle

Field Archaeologist.
30 October

Meeting in San Francisco with Wargaming Management on status of


the Spitfire project.

24

7 November

Tracy Spaight returns to Burma

9 November

Meeting with STP regarding joint management of project.

11 November

Tracy Spaight and David Cundall attend the Remembrance Day


ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Memorial outside of
Yangon. Spaight and Cundall meet Maj Roger Browning RE [Ret].

17 November

Tracy Spaight, Andy Brockman and the Research Team finished 40page

excavation

plan

and

risk

assessment

for

the

Myanmar

Government.
28 November
December

Press conference at the Imperial War Museum, London.


Coordinating with STP on excavation permits, licenses, equipment
lists, personnel lists, documentation, negotiating contract with RMA
and

then

JCB,

working

with

Room608

for

travel

logistics.

Additional filming in London.

2013
4 January

London Press conference at Heathrow Hilton.

6 January

Project Team arrive in Yangon via Qatar.

7 January

Park Royal conference table meeting with STP.

8 January

Planning Meeting with STP at the Park Royal Hotel Initial airfield for
walk around.

9 January

STP call press conference at the Park Royal Hotel Yangon. Professor U
Soe Thein presents his findings from the Myitkyina survey. The
Wargaming team does not appear at the Press Conference because it
did not undertake the field work and was thus not able to comment on
it.
Complete contracts with JCB to finish a JCB JS 220 tracked excavator
and backhoe.
Geophysical survey started at Yangon International Airport.

25

10 January

Geophysics continues; film crew record footage at the docks. First full
reconnaissance visit to the site to contextualise airport and landscape
features. The blessing of the site.

13 January

First cleaning of surface features.

Pot-holing as safety check also

observed archaeologically as a watching brief.


15 January

Trench One excavated on a location directed by David Cundall. It


proves:
1) The ground has been disturbed before, it is concluded later that
this was an area previously dug by Mr Cundall and his associates in
2004.
2) Timbers from demolished structures are present, but

any

archaeological context is lost.


3) Alluvial clay is found at ~2 meters depth and is undisturbed
indicating the area has no deep buried structures.
4) Substantial quantities of ground water entered the trenches at ~2
metres depth, thus any deep excavation would be difficult and
dangerous requiring specialised equipment, shoring and constant
pumping by heavy duty pumps.
Cleaned off areas of the post WW2 taxi way and runway.
Discover T-shaped anomaly recorded in 2004 is no longer present.
16 January

Team on site. The Minister of Police and the Prime Minister of Yangon
District visit in the afternoon and order the suspension of all machine
digging at 14:00.

17 January

Geophysicists on site.

18 January

Geophysicists on site. After a briefing the BBC breaks the story


Archaeologists believe there are no Spitfires in Burma.

19 January

Manny Machado and Rod Scott dig trenches 2, 3, and 4 overnight.

20 January

The Archaeological Team Record all trenches. Professor U Soe Thein


and David Cundall working independently.

22 January

Core Burma Spitfires Project Team return to UK, David Cundall remains
in Myanmar.

26

25 January

Room 608 Productions complete filming in Myanmar.

14 February

Wargaming issue Press Release announcing preliminary conclusions.

19 June

Presentation of findings by Burma Spitfires Project Team at the Royal


Air Force Museum, Hendon recorded for broadcast on YouTube.

2013-2014
Documentary research continues alongside editing of the Room 608
Productions documentary film, working title Buried in Burma.
David Cundall continues to excavate at Yangon International Airport.
Buried structures are allegedly uncovered, but are not recorded.
No Spitfires are reported to be found.

27

The Legend of the buried Spitfires of Burma

Legends of lost or buried aircraft and other iconic vehicles and artefacts are common in the
folklore of World War Two.

One need only cite the legend of buried Spitfires hidden in

variously underground hangers or at the bottom of mine shafts at Oakey in Queensland,


Australia, the Avro Lancaster allegedly buried at the end of the runway at RAF Colerne in
Wiltshire and the stories of underground chambers full of Nazi tanks and aircraft situated at
various barracks and airfields in Germany, to demonstrate the persistence and geographical
spread of the myth. It is also the case that, particularly with the fall of the Berlin Wall in
1990 and renewed access to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union a number of rare
aircraft did emerge onto the Historic Warbird collector and museum circuit in the last
decade of the twentieth century. It is in the context of such tales some true, most at best
unverified and unverifiable and at worst very tall to the point of being hoaxes, that the
traditional version of the Legend of the Burma Spitfires was almost certainly given currency
in UK historic aviation circles by British aircraft collector Jim Pearce.
The version originally offered to the 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team is reproduced here
in full for the first time and is offered without comment.
The Legend of Mingaladon runs as follows

BEGINNING AT THE BEGINNING


In 1984 I was talking with a friend about his days on PFF Lancasters as a rear gunner. I always talk aeroplanes
whenever the chance arises, so was pleased to hear about Lincolns too, and Washingtons. His tour complete my
friend was posted to Burma in June 1946 and was based at RAF Mingaladon about ten miles north of Rangoon.
Burma was being prepared for independence and RAF operations were running down by this time. On the airfield
were 52sq and the Burma Communications Flight both flying Dakotas. My friend was attached to the
communications flight as a cargo loader. Their task was to turn the remnants of the supply dropping Dakotas into a
fledgling Burmese State Airline. As we [were] establishing routes and procedures for the Burmese to take over the
airfield was also cleared, the main runway extended and a smart new terminal building built. It seems that there
was a lot of kit to clear because my friend, who is not noted for his inaccuracy, then stated that a large hole was
dug and the lot shovelled into it, including unopened crates containing among other things Spitfires...
While I expressed amazement at this he said at the time it was a perfectly normal thing to do-no-one took much
notice, it was simply a case of get rid!
This had -to be worth investigating so with the help of a like-minded colleague initial inquiries were made...

THE BACKGROUND
Burma was cleared of the Japanese from the east during what is now called 'The Forgotten War' .The fighting was
savage and everything about the climate and terrain inhospitable. Mingaladon and Rangoon, an important port,
were liberated in May 1945. 0n completion of the occupation of Burma there were some 200,000 Allied personnel
in the country and the war was not over yet. The preparations for Operation Zipper, the invasion of Malaya had
begun and Mingaladon was in the forefront. Huge amounts of equipment were assembled and even when the war

28

was abruptly terminated by the atomic bomb 'kit' continued to arrive, it not being possible to stop items "in the
pipeline". This included aircraft which were sent by sea packed in crates and then assembled and flown on site. It
is not surprising therefore that at wars end a lot of equipment remained where it was. What with troop dispersal,
POWs to bring home plus an understandable desire to get the hell out -it was common practice to dump the stuff
or store it. In the case of Mingaladon flying aircraft were handed over to the Indian Air Force and crated ones
stored in the MU. By the time of my friends' arrival all the fighting units had departed and the airfield was being "
normalised" for civil use. The problem of disposing of surplus kit was solved by digging a hole and burying it.

It

seems that equipment was diverted from the task of lengthening the runway for this purpose. My friend estimates
that a "substantial" number of Spitfires went into that hole-at least eight but as many as twenty five has been
estimated by another witness. Having ascertained that Burma is not exactly a centre of world commerce and that
packed in crates for a sea voyage the aircraft should survive very well the next step was to find out everything we
could about Mingaladon in 1945/6

A SUMMARY AND POINTS TO NOTE


Our main witness, whose story initiated this inquiry, is in every way a reliable and sound source of
information. No doubt exists in our minds on this point.
Extensive (and discreet) inquiries through the PRO [now The National Archive], the RAF museum and exMingaladon personnel have corroborated his story. Nothing we have discovered contradicts it.
Two questions that bothered us were why no official record could found relating to this disposal and why
so few eye-witnesses could be traced. Two theories exist here. Either

a) The equipment was buried with a view to possibly retrieving it at a later date. Burma was about to gain its
independence and Communist influence very strong. One chap remembered seeing hordes of green uniformed
soldiers with the Red Star on their caps in the surrounding area. Bearing in mind the possibility of a future conflict
plans may have been laid to meet that threat. Orders for this would come down from 'on high'-perhaps the highest,
and would necessarily have being carried out as quietly and discreetly as possible in the interests of security. It is
possible that no 'official' orders were issued or records made for the same reason.
If this is true it bodes well for the condition of the stored items.
Or
b) It was purely and simply a 'get rid'job. The airfield needed to be cleared for its return to civilian use. Everyone
knew that the RAF was pulling out and no one wanted to stay longer than they had to.(many SEAC personnel had
been away over two years) We know that flying aircraft that were surplus were handed over to the Indian Air Force
at the time that they were disbanded ego 607sq Spitfire Mk VIlIs in August 1945, but that crated planes were left
with the MU because there wasn't the manpower to assemble/test fly them. By all accounts there was a large
amount to shift and the Clerk of Works would be ordered remove it. Normally it would be destroyed or burnt but in
this case it was perhaps easier to bury it. The earth moving/digging equipment used in the lengthening of the
runway was available and he possibly decided that it was quickest and easiest to use that. Now, it may well be that
such wanton waste was such a common occurrence that no one paid much heed to it and anyway most of the ex
servicemen we have spoken to have remarked that it was the norm to get on with ones own job and not worry
about what the other fellow was up to.
Another factor here is that the donkey-work was done by Japanese P.O.W.s commanded by Indian Army officers
and would not involve many British servicemen. Also the main burial site was a good way from the main airfield
buildings.
In either event, deliberately or not, the Aircraft Record Cards would simply read "Struck off Charge".
6)

Two main burial areas have been positively identified. The first, behind the terminal buildings contains
engines and spares and is relatively small compared to the second behind the MU hangar. From what we

29

have been told over a period of 2-3 months pits or trenches were dug and the crates buried at a depth of
about 10 feet. These included airframes, engines and sundry tools and spare parts. Because the engines
are separate the Spitfires will be Griffon engine variants as the Merlin engined aircraft were crated
complete. There is also the possibility of earlier aircraft (probably Mk.VIIIs) and also American types.
Estimates as to the exact number of aircraft are difficult as no-one we have traced witnessed the entire
burial. A minimum of six-seven up to twenty-five is realistic.
7)

The exact location of the sites is known (see photos / diagrams) and also the fact that the equipment was
buried in its original crates as sent from England, probably by 76 or 47 MUs at Sealand and shipped
through India or later on direct to Rangoon. We have traced ex-servicemen involved in both ends of this
operation and know that no effort was spared in ensuring that the crated items were well protected
bearing in mind their long voyage. All metal was carefully 'inhibited' against corrosion, parts swathed in
pitched sheets and, later on, shrink- wrap techniques were employed. Also the crates themselves were
carefully sealed and the whole procedure was tested by the immersion of crates in sea-water for three
weeks to check its effectiveness. Assuming that the crates were not damaged during the operation there
seems no reason why they should not have survived.

8)

Even though the area is subject to the yearly monsoon May-September the airfield is elevated above the
surrounding terrain, being surrounded by a deep gorge.

This must help drainage and, given the

precautions mentioned above, means that there is a realistic chance of the crates survival intact.
David Cundall Dossier: Room 608 Productions, October 2012.

Most recently, the scope of the story has been extended with Mr Cundall telling the media
that it involved the secret burial of the aircraft being undertaken by members of the United
States Navy Construction Battalions [the Seabees], although there may be some confusion
with the similarly named, though organisationally different, United States Army Engineers
Combat Battalions [CBs].
It has also become clear that far from originating in 1984, Jim Pearce, the apparent
originator of the story who then passed it on to Mr Cundall, claims to have first heard about
the story in an RAF context in 1951 and then had a conversation with one of the alleged CB's
in Florida in1974 [Personal Communication:

Interviews given to Room 608 Productions

2012].
This aspect of the Buried Spitfires Legend is examined in detail in Chapter 3 of this report.
In a further development of the political angle to the story, the burial has been associated
with the Karen people and their troubled relationship with the central Government of Burma
in Rangoon. There are also suggestions that there are Secret files in the UK and USA as
well as another held in the British Embassy in Yangon [David Cundall media comments
November 2012 to January 2013 and interviews given to Room 608 Productions
2012/2013].
In terms of RAF Mingaladon, now Yangon International Airport, in particular, Mr Cundall
claimed he had identified three burials of Spitfires between August 1945 and the spring of
1946.

30

We have termed these alleged events DC [David Cundall] 1, 2 and 3. The dates of the three
alleged burials are as follows:

DC 1= on or around 17 August 1945.

DC 2= December 1945.

DC 3= March/April 1946.

Mr Cundall based these claims on


1:

Evidence from what Mr Cundall terms Eye Witnesses, which forms the basis of Mr

Cundalls version of events.


2:

Evidence from documents collected by Mr Cundall from a number of sources over a

period of some fifteen years.


The remainder of this report is dedicated to exploring these various aspects of the Legend
and how that search was expressed on the ground at former RAF Mingaladon, now Yangon
International Airport in January 2013.

31

1: The Research History relating to the buried Spitfires mystery


Andy Brockman

Until the 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team began to publish its research, first of all on
the Project Blog and latterly in public presentations including presentations given at the
Royal Air Force Museum Hendon, the University of Swansea and the Society of Antiquaries,
the primary research into the Burma Spitfires mystery has largely been the domain of private
individuals invoking the protection of commercial privilege.

Thus, with the exception of

some material released to the public through the medium of press coverage, particularly
after the visit of UK Prime Minister David Cameron to Myanmar in April 2012, any evidence
gathered has not been available for checking and peer review. This treatment of a shared
history as commercially valuable information was an unwelcome departure from the regular
academic discourse regarding historical and archaeological research which we are pleased
to be able remedy in this report.
The reason for the secrecy which has surrounded the subject of the Burma Spitfires legend
is the fact that all previous research was driven by private individuals and companies who
hoped to locate and recover objects of huge cultural value and equally of potentially huge
financial value.

A World War Two Spitfire restored to flying condition is a highly desirable

and collectable item.


At the time of writing, a Spitfire in flying condition can be purchased for between $1.5 and
$3 million depending on the Mark and service history of the aircraft.

Thus, while it is

essential to state that Mr Cundall has said on many occasions that he had no desire to make
profits from any find, the search for the alleged buried Spitfires had gained many of the
aspects of a Treasure Hunt which commoditised and gave commercial value to historic
cultural objects, the alleged Spitfires.
It is also the case that, even on purely practical grounds, Mr Cundall was not interested in
adopting an archaeological approach to his research and indeed encapsulated his vision for
the project in an interview given to Mark Mannucci and Anna Bowers of Room 608
Productions.

ANNA: I was going to ask you about that because you were talking about well, you didn't take a tape recorder
to the witness, you didn't. There are things you wish you had done but you didn't do and thats sort of - the if
you were a scientist, that might be what Adam or Roger would do, or Andy would do. So now theres this

32

component of the team, the scientific component that Wargaming has added to the layer on top of what you've
been doing. How do you feel about, about this new approach?

DAVID: I've never done it that way at all. I think we have to go along with Wargaming on this with professional
archaeologist, scraping the surface. As you demonstrate, taking page after page off. How long this will take, I
don't know? This concerns me a little bit. Because we do have a time scale and I'd like to finish this project within
about six weeks. And I think if we can do that I'm happy but I've seen digs before and they sometimes take months
if not years. I'm a bit concerned about us making good progress.

ANNA: If they can do it quickly what do you see as the value of that approach? If you agree that there's value?

DAVID: My project is to find spitfires and that's it. The other archeology I don't know and Im not interested in to be
honest. I'm a bit concerned that the cost of this going to go sky high because the longer we are out there the more
money its going to cost. The more office costs, labour costs, entertainment. And they are already too high in my
opinion. And I don't want somebody to say half way through the dig and say stop we've got no money left.

ANNA: Why do you think they want to end you there?

DAVID: Well thats Wargaming's request. Not my request

ANNA: But why do what do you think is behind that?

DAVID:

I think they want to give the impression that they're doing it properly. That its not going to be done in a

few days and they want to know the history behind this site and I think thats fine, but I think more of the Spitfires
more than the archaeology and they think more of the archaeology than the Spitfires, and I think there's a
compromise somewhere in the middle, but I don't want it to go longer than 6 weeks.
David Cundall Interview given to Room 608 Productions reproduced by permission

1.1 Previous Excavations

The January 2013 Burma Spitfires Expedition was not the first time Mr Cundall had
excavated in Myanmar in search of buried Spitfire aircraft. Research undertaken subsequent
to the 2013 excavations for the documentary film made about the expedition by Room 608
Productions has established that Mr Cundall first undertook excavations in Myanmar, and in
particular at Yangon International Airport, the former RAF Mingaladon, in the late 1990's,
initially in association with his then business partner Mr Keith Win.
corroborated by the account of Spitfire researcher Peter Arnold who notes

33

This dating is

Looking back through my rumour diary I note that on 13 August 1997 David Cundall rang me to discuss in
confidence my views on a report he had of twelve Mk XIV Spitfires buried at or near Mingaladon airfield, the WWII
base just north of Rangoon. That site is now Yangon International Airport. A telephone call to Jim Pearce on 2
December of that year alluded to the same story.
Spitfire Survivors Vol 2 Appendix IV pIV-1

We have not been able to trace any written or photographic records of these earlier
excavations and crucially Mr Cundall did not disclose them to either Wargaming or the 2013
Team prior to, or during, the January 2013 expedition.
It has also been established that the business relationship with Mr Win broke down around
the turn of the millennium.
In 2004 the geophysical survey undertaken by Dr Adam Booth was accompanied by a test
excavation carried out under the supervision of Mr Cundall and Australian Salvage Captain
and Treasure Hunter Michael Hatcher, who was working on behalf of a Singaporean
Company who were supplying financial backing to the project [Dr Adam Booth Personal
Communication].
It is believed that this expedition was accompanied by a film crew who recorded at least
some of the activity undertaken.

However, we have not been able to locate any video

material relating to this period.


After Dr Booth returned to the UK, Mr Cundall commissioned a further non-intrusive survey
from Mr Malcolm Weale of the company Geofizz Ltd [dissolved 2013]. Mr Weale's work falls
outside the scope of this report as it did not follow industry standard methods of reporting
and was thus deemed of little to no archaeological value. In particular, the survey did not
locate any of its survey sites in three dimensions, nor does the reporting describe the
technical specifications of the equipment used to undertake the survey, hence the work did
not conform to established best-practice criteria. However, this did not stop Mr Cundall
claiming that Mr Weales survey supported his contention that a large number of Spitfires
were buried on the Mingaladon site and that he could see individual elements of the aircraft
such as the engines and even the pilots seat [David Cundall Personal Communications and
repeated statements recorded on camera by Room 608 Productions and others].
A survey was also undertaken by a local company Suntac Technologies in 2004, and a report
was submitted to Mr Cundall which was made available as part of the Cundall Research
dossier presented to Wargaming.net.
In late 2004, as a result of the work by Dr Booth, Mr Weale, and Suntac Technologies a
larger scale excavation was undertaken in the area of what became 2013 Trench 1 (see
Chapter 9). There is photographic evidence kindly supplied to Room 608 Productions by Mr
Weale, which shows that at least one significant structure with brick walls and a concrete

34

roof was uncovered. On the basis of photographs and anecdotal information provided to
Room 608 Productions by Mr Weale, it is possible to speculate that the structure was an air
raid shelter or storage bunker dating to the period of World War Two or shortly afterwards.
Good quality, locally manufactured, bricks were located during the 2013 excavation and are
described later (Chapter 9). It is suggested that these indicate damage to, or the demolition
of, at least one brick structure although it is not possible to tie the presence of bricks to the
structure shown in the 2004 photography.
We also believe it is likely that the previous excavation[s] also uncovered at least one
structure with significant wooden structural elements which were found in redeposited soil
without archaeological context in 2013.

Mr Cundall has suggested these beams are

consistent with his account of the burial of the cache of Spitfires being protected by teak
beams allegedly delivered by a local supplier in 1945/1946 and reported to him by the
suppliers son on his early visits to Myanmar/Burma in the 1990s [David Cundall Personal
Communications and Repeated statements recorded on camera by Room 608 Productions].
Again it is necessary to note that the above account has been put together from sources
researched by Room 608 Productions subsequent to the January 2013 expedition because
Mr Cundall did not reveal the existence or extent of these earlier excavations to Wargaming
or the 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team.
After failure of the 2004 excavations to locate buried Spitfires Mr Hatcher and the
Singaporean backers withdrew and Mr Cundall lost his excavation licence to an Israeli group
headed by businessman and entrepreneur Ziv Brosh. It is understood that Mr Brosh also
undertook further surveys and may have also undertaken excavations.

However, once

again, no records of this activity have been published. Certainly, no buried Spitfires were
announced as having been located.
Mr Cundall attempted to renew his licence in the spring of 2012 and after some negotiation
Wargaming funded a new application and he was granted a two-year licence in the autumn
of 2012.
It is in the public domain that Mr Cundall also surveyed and carried out excavations at the
airfield at Myitkyna in northern Burma, in association with Professor U So Thein, retired
Professor of Geology at the Dagon University. Mr Cundall has repeatedly suggested that
Spitfires were also buried at the Myitkyna site, often citing geophysics plots and bore hole
data provided by the Professor [personal communications and David Cundall Press
Conference 9 January 2013].
Because the 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team were not involved in those apparently
abortive excavations they fall outside the scope of this report. However, we can comment

35

that when excavated none of Professor U So Theins geophysical studies at Yangon, or


Myitkina appear to have borne out Mr Cundalls interpretation of them as buried Spitfires.
With regard to Myitkyna, in the autumn of 2012 Andy Brockman was asked to assess the
archival evidence for the alleged burial of Spitfires by the Royal Air Force at that location
with a view to Myitkyna forming the second site for investigation by the 2013 Burma
Spitfires Research Project.
It was concluded that even in the terms of Mr Cundall's dossier of documentary and
witness comments, there was no credible evidence of any kind suggestive of such an
operation ever being undertaken at the site which in any case was heavily fought over and
subsequently principally used by US Forces. Given this and the fact that the site never even
appeared on the list of operational RAF Stations in Burma, it was agreed that Myitkyna would
not be a target of work undertaken by the Wargaming funded project.
We should also note that subsequent to the January 2013 Fieldwork Mr Cundall has
undertaken at least two further digging campaigns using the original licence. While there
are anecdotal reports carried on the Key Publications Historic Aviation Forum and elsewhere,
including Mr Peter Arnolds account of the buried Spitfires story described below [Arnold
2013 pIV-3] that these excavations uncovered new, or possibly previously excavated, brick
and concrete structures consistent with mid twentieth century activity on a military airfield,
there was no archaeological monitoring of this activity. The lack of a publically available and
scientific record of these structures means that there is no supporting evidence for these
reports and, as a result, further comment here is not possible. .

Fig 1.1 David Cundalls renewed digging operations in 2014


[Courtesy STP Group of Companies]

36

Given the lack of information about previous work at Yangon/Mingaladon, original


publications dealing with the buried Spitfires of Burma are as elusive on the bookshelves as
are the aircraft themselves in the archives and on the ground.
We have only been able to identify two published accounts outside of the mass media.
1.

Spitfire En Birmanie- la qute de lescadrille perdue [Spitfires in Burmathe Quest for the Lost Squadron]: A 32 page French language E-book by
Thierry Montoriol available through Amazon
and

2. Appendix 4 of the 2013 publication Spitfire Survivors Vol. 2 by respected


Spitfire researchers Gordon Riley, Graham Trant and Peter Arnold. The
Appendix was authored by Mr Arnold.

Monsieur Montoriols Spitfire En Birmanie is quickly dealt with. Described in its Amazon
listing as Un reportage de Thierry Montoriol sur lincroyable qute de David Cundall. Cet
anglais piste en effet le plus mythique des avions de guerre en Birmanie. [Spitfire Birmanie]
The publication is a brief account of the traditional legend with additional material relating
to the French re-occupation of Indo China and much unsourced speculation about the
alleged burial in the context of British Imperialism and the arms trade. It appears to draw
heavily on material already in the public domain via the project blog and other easily
accessible sources.
Certainly Monsieur Montoriol, who is a journalist and novelist, had no direct contact with the
project team, or its primary research data, although we cannot say categorically that he did
not receive material, either directly or indirectly from Mr Cundall and his supporters.
It is also the case that when Monsieur Montoriol speculates on the reasons for the alleged
burial he launches into wildly hypothetical surmise which is not supported anywhere in the
known archive sources, as here where he suggests that the British Secret Services might
have wished to leave Spitfires in Burma to intimidate a communist insurrection or that arms
traffickers had done the deal in general disorder of the end of the World War Two in the Far
East, or maybe the explanation lay somewhere in between.
Si les Spitfire furent enfouis en pleine nuit sous une pluie torrentielle, cest soit parce que des services secrets
anglais ont voulu doter un gouvernement birman dune escadrille pouvant faire peur des envahisseurs
communistes, soit que des trafiquants darmes , plus ou moins de mche avec larme anglaise, ont vendu ces
avions dans le dsordre gnral de la fin de la 2nde guerre mondiale.

37

If the Spitfires were buried in the dead of night under torrential rain, it's either because the English secret services
wanted to provide the Burmese government with a squadron capable of frightening communist invaders, or
because arms traffickers, more or less in cahoots with the English army, sold these planes amidst the general chaos
at the end of the Second World War.."
Montoriol, Thierry (2014-03-17). Spitfire en Birmanie: la qute de l'escadrille perdue [Kindle edition]

There are also obvious mistakes such as the suggestion in the text that the testimony of the
Late Group Captain Maurice Short came about through a chance encounter with the
archivists at the National Archive in Kew. In fact it was the archivists at the RAF Museum
Hendon who brokered the meeting, through Room 608 Productions Researcher Megan
Horvath.
Mr Arnolds account is a different matter. He is an acknowledged expert on the Spitfire and
was present for part of the 2013 field work, including having access to the site during the
initial excavations both as an associate of Mr Cundall and welcomed as an expert who might
provide assistance to the fieldwork team in the identification of aircraft parts. As a result
most of his account is a straight forward description of the legend of the buried Spitfires
and of events at Mingaladon during the 2013 field work, albeit he was not present during
the final excavations on 19/20 January 2013.
However, some elements of his account, which was written independently of the authors of
this report, are to be questioned. In particular this passage contains a number of assertions
which are not supported by the observed archaeology.
One of the major problems on site has been trying to correlate the current geography of the airfield with the
reports of the eyewitnesses. Over the intervening sixty-plus years the whole airfield has changed with only one
hangar in the far distance on the other side of the airfield being a common feature. The new main runway has been
laid over the existing three runway system on a completely different orientation. Lumps and bumps that were no
problem for a C-47 or a Spitfire have been graded over. Upwards of 3-5 metres of spoil now cover the original area
leading in to the drainage gulley where the aircraft are thought to be buried and where the 1947 PRU images show
apparent major earth and structure displacement.
Spitfire Survivors Volume 2 Appendix IV p IV-3

In fact it is quite simple to orientate yourself to the earlier RAF Mingaladon, and in particular
to the West South West end of the main 1945-1948 runway where Mr Cundall alleges the
burials took place. Not only does the taxi way which led to the turning circle at the end of
the runway before it was extended still exist outside the perimeter of the modern airport, it
is still a military area; the south east stub of the same runway also still exists leading to the
part of Yangon International Airport under the control of the Myanmar Air Force.
It is also the case that, while there has clearly been levelling and grading of the airport
surface, as is attested in Royal Engineers documents and contemporary visual sources as will
be described later in this report, this work has not destroyed either the natural geology, nor

38

many near surface features, such as elements of the post war runway rebuilding. In other
words, it is easy to exaggerate the amount of landscaping the site has received if the only
sources of information used in the assessment are maps, air photographs and ground
observations and these are not considered in the context of other documents, visual sources
and above all the recorded excavations and landscape archaeology.
Mr Arnold also writes of the run up to the press coverage of the announcement that the
2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team believed it to be almost impossible that there were
Spitfires buried at Mingaladon, or anywhere else in Burma in the manner described in the
legend
With the gathering press corps and the arrival of Fergal Keane and crew from the BBC, the sponsors management
team decided to cancel the [scheduled Press Conference] and make a statement. They were of the view that on the
strength of the excavations and geophysics work, that there were in fact no buried Spitfires in Burma and they
would be dispersing the team.
Spitfire Survivors Volume 2 Appendix IV p IV-3

This is not correct. The announcement to the Media, including detailed briefings given to a
number of print and broadcast journalists, was based on the complete lack of convincing
and verifiable witness and documentary evidence in support of the legend of buried crated
Spitfires; a view which the evidence of the 2013 field work simply confirmed. In addition,
while the team did indeed disperse to their regular jobs at the conclusion of the field work,
research into the primary sources has continued up until the publication of this report, both
as part of the academic reporting and as part of the research and fact checking for Buried
In Burma [working title], the Room 608 Productions film of the Buried Spitfires project.

39

2: The Nature and Quality of Witness Evidence in the narrative of the Burma
Spitfires
Andy Brockman: with Rod Scott
The earliest witness evidence for the buried Spitfires of Burma appears to date from 1987
and was provided to the 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team as part of the David Cundall
Dossier of evidence quoted previously. However, the date of the quotations predates Mr
Cundalls known involvement with the story by some years and suggests that this particular
strand of information was inherited by Mr Cundall and may actually be the result of work by
Mr Jim Pearce or one his co-researchers who undertook the early work on the subject.
The quotations provided are purported to be extracts from longer statements and are
quoted here verbatim as they appear in the David Cundall Dossier.
"From Jan 1946 to Jan 1947 I served with the RAF SEAAF and was stationed at Mingaladon and Hmawbi airfields.
Prior to leaving Mingaladon to return to UK a number of crates containing what I was given to understand were
Spitfire parts, engines, tools etc were seen to be buried in an area which I have indicated to D Daniels on maps
which he possesses. "
George Spofforth, York, ex Burma Communication Flight,
Mingaladon 6.7.87
[This witness also supplied two photographs and subsequent information, including details of trench dug off stop
end of 06 runway.]

"I was stationed at RAF Mingaladon Burma 1946 and 1947. I saw wooden packing cases being put into holes in the
ground behind the terminal building and the hangars at the other side of the landing strip. I feel sure this work was
being done by troops from India and JAP POWs. I saw the English Clerk of Works in the area"
"Crates came by Indian Army trucks"
"Crates good condition, handled carefully"
"Big and smaller crates put in walk in hole"
"Some crates were similar to my freight yard ones"
Mr W Temple Burma Communications Flight
Scarborough Sept 87

I was on guard and I noticed some crates nearby a little to the side of the main runway. As I recall the rumour was
that they contained American aircraft, possibly Mustang or Tomahawk. I was at Mingaladon until June 1947 and can
certainly remember the work on the airfield"
W.Ruffell Tyne and Wear Fitter 52sq 1 May 1987

"I did see a Merlin engine in its shipping crate which was parked at the rear of our hangar and within a few days of
the squadron arrival it disappeared"
Benny Goodman Radio Fitter. 9.8.87

40

As can be seen many of these comments clearly relate to routine activities on an airfield- an
aero engine in a transit crate, or even a complete aircraft in a crate would not be unusual.
They only become unusual, even mysterious, by innuendo if quoted in the context of the
alleged burial of crated aircraft.
Even the burial of unwanted material was a routine matter on military sites. The excavation
of such dumps is now something of a cottage industry among the metal detecting and
militaria collecting fraternity as can be seen in many You Tube Videos.
It is also the case that these accounts appear to be simple notes, or extracts and we regard
it as significant that none of them refer to the burial of complete crated Spitfire aircraft and
that none of the supposed longer statements given by these witnesses were made available
to the 2013 Research Team.

It defies logic to suggest that had any of these witnesses

reported actually seeing a Spitfire in a crate going into the ground at Mingaladon, that such
a source would not have been quoted in full.
The nature of this witness, or oral history, evidence offered in support of the burial story
which is described above leads us to examine the role such evidence has taken in the story
of the search for the Buried Spitfires of Burma and also to an examination of the
assumptions made about the efficacy of such evidence in historical research.

The Nature and Use of Oral History Evidence


The wider public, used to human interest led documentary such as the Last Tommies and
family history strands on television such as Who Do You Think You Are? probably regard
witness evidence as being extremely powerful; as indeed it is.

The voice of human

experience is unparalleled in its ability to take the listener to the heart of an individual
experience of history as it happens and properly gathered and used by experienced
practitioners it can offer unique insights on the human perception and experience of
historical moments.

However therein lies its greatest problem.

The historical research

community is well aware of the many pitfalls personal testimony offers if not very carefully
collected, assessed and used.
The issues are best expressed by the late Richard Holmes, one of the UKs most
accomplished military historians and himself a Brigadier in the Territorial Army.

The

comments relate to oral history records of World War One, but they are equally valid when it
comes to researching World War Two, or for that matter any historical incident or period.

I make this point as gently as I can, for it is no mere conventional politeness to say how much I admire the men
who fought on the Western Front. But the interviewing of veterans in the 1970's and beyond, concentrated, as it
had to, on those who had survived. Like accounts written long after the events they describe, interviews with
survivors inevitably reflect the past through the prism of the present. Although A J P Taylor was unduly harsh to
write them off as old men drooling over their lost youth, they do require at least some degree of caution.
Sometimes survivors played their roles too well: they became Veterans General Issue, neatly packed with what we

41

wanted to hear, exploding at the touch of a tape-recorder button or the snap of a TV documentarist's clapper
board. Up to my neck in muck and bullets; rats as big as footballs; the sergeant major was a right bastard; all my
mates were killed. And sometimes just sometimes, they tell us this because they have heard it themselves.
So we should be extra cautious about how we use and interpret oral history and other non-contemporary evidence.
It is often far too late recorded oral history; occasionally forgotten voices tell us about imaginary incidents.
Richard Holmes Tommy page xxiii

The pitfalls are even more pronounced in the case of the witness evidence relating to
alleged buried Spitfires of Burma because, while eye witness statements are central to the
legend narrative, it is not known when and under what circumstances these eye witness
statements quoted in support of the Mingaladon Legend were obtained. This is because
most of Mr Cundalls reported eye witnesses are either dead or are otherwise uncontactable.
We also believe recordings and/or detailed transcripts of conversations were either not
made or kept in any formal sense or if they were, they were not made available to the
research team.
Indeed, Mr Cundall stated on camera in an interview with Mark Mannucci of the Room 608
Production team that he had not kept notes at all.
MM: Theres nobody alive unfortunately that actually saw an airplane?
David Cundall: Well no not alive no.
MM: The eye witnesses, did they write this down? Is it just your memory?
David Cundall: Oh Im afraid so. I dont write anything down to be honest.
Personal Communication from Room 608 Productions, quoting an unreleased cut of their documentary, working
title Buried in Burma

Thus, while alleged eye witness statements are central to Mr Cundalls thesis of buried
Spitfires, it has not been possible to re-interview witnesses under controlled conditions, or
to properly assess the statements regarding their value, or not, as evidence by examining
the verbal constructions, vocabulary, body language and evidence of interpolated thoughts
or material, as well as for material which can be verified through reference to independent
sources such as documents in the UK National Archive.
We also see a fundamental error in the assumptions and methodology set out in the original
Cundall Project Dossier. In the summary we find the following statements
1)

Our main witness, whose story initiated this inquiry, is in every way a reliable and sound source of
information. No doubt exists in our minds on this point.

2) Extensive (and discreet) inquiries through the PRO [now The National Archive], the RAF museum and exMingaladon personnel have corroborated his story. Nothing we have discovered contradicts it.
David Cundall Dossier: Room 608 Productions October 2012.

42

Of course, in an objective investigation a witness must not just be stated to be reliable and
sound; they must be shown beyond doubt to be reliable and sound through the use of
evidence which can be verified from secure outside sources.

It must not be assumed that

just because someone is a veteran, or says they are a veteran, that they are honest and that
their recollections are true ones.
It is also the case that, while Mr Cundall and his co-workers clearly did undertake or
commission some research in the United Kingdom National Archive at Kew in West London
and the RAF Museum archive at Hendon, that research and in particular the interpretation
placed upon that research, was often selective and deeply flawed.

2.1 Fictional Eye Witness Narratives


Certainly there seems to have been no consideration of the possibility that the
recollections of witnesses might actually be incomplete or that they might even be
complete fictions as has proven the case a number of times in the past and even down to
the present.

For example as in the well documented cases of false confessions in high

profile criminal cases, such as those of the Bridgewater Four, the Guildford Four and the
Birmingham Six, have shown.
Perhaps one of the first and most blatant examples of a fictionalised life experience relating
to World War Two is that of Binjamin Wilkomirskis book Fragments-memories of a wartime
childhood published in 1995.
Wilkomirski described the awful reality of a childhood in the Nazi Concentration Camp
system and in doing so garnered much critical praise and even the recognition of
concentration camp survivors, at least one of whom claimed to have remembered
Wilkomirski from Auschwitz.
However in 1998 Swiss journalist Danial Ganzfried published claims that Binjamin
Wilkomirski was actually a name adopted by the Swiss son of an unmarried mother Bruno
Dssekker (born Bruno Grosjean in 1941). The claims were subsequently verified and even
the survivor who recognised Wilkomirski/Grosjean was exposed as Laura Grabowski, who
had earlier written about also being the survivor of Satanic Ritual Abuse, another discredited
theory which has attracted invented or false memories.
More recently the holocaust memoirs of Monique De Wael, published under the name of
Misha Defonseca, were also shown to be a hoax. In May of 2014 this hoax cost Ms De Wael
and her ghost writer 13.3 million [$22.5 million] in repaid fees to her publisher.
The lesson of the Wilkomirski/Grosjean and the other faked memoir cases is simple. People
do construct fictional lives for all sorts of complicated reasons and veterans are probably no
more and no less prone to sit somewhere on the spectrum of rectitude from the absolutely
honest to the congenital liar than are any other members of the general population.

43

Therefore our conclusion is that the witness material supplied by Mr Cundall must be
discounted as there is no verifiable chain of evidence linking any individual with the site at
Mingaladon and the information Mr Cundall quotes them as providing.
As an example as to why the Burma Spitfires Research Team reached this conclusion we will
examine the case of the witness evidence which Mr Cundall claims was provided to him by
former Crop Duster and aircraft collector Jim Pearce who in turn claims to have been given
the story by former US personnel who allegedly served in US Construction Battalions on
Mingaladon in 1945.

2.2 Seabees or not CBs


It is a consistent part of the Burma Spitfires Legend that US personnel either from the Navy
Construction Battalions, the famous Seabees, or their Army counterparts, the Construction
Battalions [CBs], were involved in the burial of Spitfires on Mingaladon and elsewhere. [Jim
Pearce and David Cundall, interviews given to Room 608 Productions].
Mr Cundall's narrative as regards the supposed involvement of the Seabees/CBs was given in
an interview to Room 608 Productions. In this extract, DAVID is David Cundall and MARK is
documentary director Mark Mannucci.
DAVID: Right, the, the people I met in Jacksonville, Florida were Seabees, right? Um, they were based in Singapore.
Uh, the war was just over. They thought they were going home and all of a sudden they were told to go to Rangoon.
There was a favour for the British.

[11:14:35;04] DAVID (continued): They brought a D3 digger and a few personnel and they were told to dig it out,
uh, place wooden, uh, beams at the bottom, and bury twelve crated Spitfires, which they did. They thought it was
very unusual. In fact, so unusual that nobodys ever done it. But they did it. They were told to treat the boxes like
eggs and they were shouted at by a British major with a swagger stick, uh, and told not to drive over the boxes with
the bulldozer.

[11:15:12;00] MARK: And where did this story come from?


[11:15:13;22] DAVID: The Seabees, Jacksonville, Florida. First of all, through Jim Pearce, who told me this story. I
checked it out. They told me the same story. The same story has been supported by British eyewitnesses and
Burmese eyewitnesses

MARK: Im sorry
DAVID: The same spot.
[11:15:31;21] MARK: But you didnt speak to the Seabees themselves. You spoke to the sons [crosstalk]

44

DAVID: No, unfortunately, no, they died unfortunately. This was, uh, uh, in 2000. The year 2000. Uh
[11:15:44;02] MARK: Why couldnt the Brits bury the planes themselves? Why did they-[11:15:49;02] DAVID: They probably didnt have any equipment. Um, it was a favour they did for the British. There
is American file on the burials. Ive seen one page of it. Uh, we did get the, um, information from an ex-CIA agent,
who faxed over a copy of it. Uh, and it confirmed that we have found them at Mingaladon.

MARK: Where is that page?


[11:16:14;14] DAVID: Well, it was a hand sketch. The man didnt take the file out. He wasnt allowed to. So he
memorized it and he drew the runway. He drew the [Chun?], or the wet area, and he put a cross.

MARK: This is the CIA man?


DAVID: Yeah. CIA man. Yeah.
[11:16:28;10] MARK: What was his name?
[11:16:30;03] DAVID: Jim Clymer.
MARK: Do you remember how it was spelled?
[11:16:33;18] DAVID: Um, C-l-y-m-e-r. Uh, Im not sure whether hes still alive or not. I cant contact him.
[11:16:43;06] MARK: And why would the CIA be involved?
[11:16:45;03] DAVID: Uh, well, uh, it was a secret operation. Um, it was a favour to the British. Uh, and, um, the
only record, uh, that I found is from, from them. The British wont let me have their files because its still Burma.
They dont want to be criticized for burying arms, um, especially in Burma. Maybe in years to come that will be
reversed. They will probably give me the file.
David Cundall- interview with Room 608 Productions used by permission

However, beyond even the historical issues such as the fact if any US Security Agency was
involved it would have been the Office of Strategic Services [OSS] not the CIA which did not
come into existence until 1947, and the practical problems such as the suggestion that one
D3 digger and a few personnel would be enough resources to bury twelve Spitfires
weighing at least 3000kg each, this alleged evidence is deeply problematic. For one thing
Mr Pearce (PEARCE in the following extract) the apparent originator of the story, gave a
different account of the substance of the story to the same interviewers in 2012.
Mr Pearce stated he first heard the story of the buried Spitfires from RAF personnel in 1951.

45

PEARCE: That night sitting in the mess with all these boys they were all talking I happened to say what do you boys
do these days? So they said, well we normally build runways.
And airfields and roads and things like that so, they said but recently we've been clearing up in the heart of the war,
clearing up, digging holes burying rubbish and vehicles and things. And I said well that's crazy thing to do, and
they said well not as bad as the Americans, they did a crazy thing. They buried some brand new Spitfires.

MARK: The Americans.


PEARCE: The Americans did. Some brand new Spitfires. Yes, they said. Never... They're still in the packing cases.
And I said where the heck was that? And they were telling me about Mingaladon, Yangoon. It's some passing that
was it.

MARK: This was in 1951?


PEARCE: '51.
Jim Pearce- interview with Room 608 Productions used by permission

Later in the same interview Mr Pearce added that he then heard the story again, this time
from one of the participants during a visit to Florida in 1974.
MARK: To Florida, Jacksonville?
PEARCE: Jacksonville, Florida.
MARK: Jackson or Jacksonville?
PEARCE: I think it's just Jackson. And anyway it was while I was with Pete and his dad and we're having a drink in
the garden and the neighbour stuck his head over and um they were, his father and his neighbour were chatting
away. And he said come on round I'd like you to meet a friend of Petes, here from England, and this chap came
around, and he said the first thing he said to me, pleased to meet you, he said, I buried some of your airplanes
once. And I said my airplanes? He said well your Country's. And I said where was that? And he said in Burma. And I
said Oh, I've heard this story. I've heard a story. And he decided to tell me you know you hear these things as you
go along, about stories, and they may be true and they may not be and um, anyway, it went on and he said If you'll
hang on a bit. I've got a picture.
And he went back to his house and what he'd done, he'd, he was driving a bulldozer and he got married to an
American girl just before they were shipped off to the east. And he wanted a photograph to send home. So he got
his friend to take a photograph and he got out of the cab and he walked to the front of the bulldozer and he's
leaning on a blade and it's just a picture of him with a bulldozer really but in the trench beside him, there were
these coffins, these boxes you see. And he said Thats the Spitfires. and he showed this picture that he sent to his
wife. And, um, so that was quite interesting. But what it did do was give me the motivation behind it you could see

46

the control tower in the distance. And that's got the hills and things like that. So you could see a bit of
trigonometry.

MARK: What did the land look like? Was it swampy?


PEARCE: A bit mountainous.
Jim Pearce- interview with Room 608 Productions used by permission

Aside from the sheer confusion of the narrative and its unverifiable nature; for example no
personal or unit names are mentioned, the key point here is that the area around
Mingaladon is not mountainous. Indeed, the airfield, in common with many early airfields,
was established on a ridge overlooking lower lying areas to take advantage of the wind
blowing across the hill top in assisting aircraft to take off and land. Thus if this recollection
of the photograph is genuine and accurate it cannot refer to Mingaladon.

However, the

north of Burma is mountainous and was the scene of a great deal of activity by US Forces
during the campaigns in the China/Burma/India [CBT] Theatre during World War Two. Thus
this episode could misinterpret for whatever reason, references to genuine activity and
memory relating to another part of the Burma Theatre.
More to the point, in addition to the geographical error in the above narrative, there is
absolutely no evidence in the copious documentation held in the National Archive at Kew,
that such US personnel ever passed through Rangoon or RAF Mingaladon in any significant
numbers, let alone that any engineer unit stopped off with their machinery in mid-August
1945 and worked digging long trenches, thirty five feet deep, for the RAF on their principal
airfield, in full view of hundreds of British service personnel, local workers and Japanese
Prisoners of War.

Indeed, Mountbatten's own personal diary and numerous official

documents record the airstrip on Mingaladon was being lengthened by the British so that it
could land the new four-engine transports such as the RAF Avro York and US built Douglas
C54/DC4 Skymaster. Not only that, as will be discussed later in this report, there are War
Diary entries and even paintings in the RAF Museum collection which show precisely who
was doing the runway works and how and it was not US Construction Battalions. However,
none of this evidence appears to have been located by the proponents of the buried Spitfires
Legend, or if it was located it was either not understood, or was ignored.
Beyond even this there is also an even more fundamental reason why the story told by Mr
Pearce and Mr Cundall cannot be accurate and it goes to the heart of the failure of
proponents of the legend of the buried Spitfires to bed their story amid the framework of
verifiable historical events during the period 1945-1946.
As can be seen from Mr Cundall's interview it is a core element of his account of the alleged
burial that the Seabees/CBs reached Rangoon from Singapore, with their heavy equipment,
in time to undertake the burial of Spitfires on or around 16 August 1945. However, as is
easily verifiable from the copious published sources which discuss the end of World War
Two in the Far East, the Japanese Empire surrendered on 15 August 1945.

47

However, Singapore was only reoccupied by British Forces on 5 September 1945, with Lord
Mountbatten signing the formal instrument of surrender on 12 September 1945. Thus it is
impossible for US Seabees or CBs to have been travelling from Singapore to Burma in time to
bury Spitfires on 16/17 August.
In the light of this overwhelming evidence it is the conclusion of the Burma Spitfires
Research Team that even if Mr Pearce ever took part in the conversation regarding CBs on
Mingaladon, there is no proof that it took place in the terms recalled, because that
conversation itself was being recollected more than thirty years after it allegedly took place.
Further, the internal evidence regarding US personnel operating D3 Bulldozers in
mountainous terrain suggests that, if the account relates to genuine activity at all, it is most
likely to relate to activity in the mountainous areas of northern Burma where US Engineers
did indeed operate in numbers creating the infrastructure of the Burma Road and the air
bridge over the hump into China as well as supporting the drive south to liberate Burma
itself.
We have also concluded that the version of the story proposed by Mr Cundall shows all the
signs of having been further developed in the retelling.
Therefore it is our judgement that the story of the SeeBees or CB's is based on at best a
misunderstanding and misreporting of events which took place thirty years before in the
1970's, and at worst may even be a hoax perpetrated on Mr Pearce and/or Mr Cundall.
Albeit one which may well have been undertaken as a shaggy dog story told over a few
beers rather than with any malicious intent.

2.3 The Wider Issue of Eye Witnesses in the story of the Buried Spitfires of Burma
Widening this discussion from the case of the CBs to other eye witnesses quoted by Mr
Cundall, we have concluded it is also all but impossible to disentangle the genuine
comments relating to the witnesses own memory of actual experiences, from their reporting
of the legend as recounted to them by Mr Cundall and others.
Indeed, such is the lack of corroborative material in the form of recordings or
contemporaneous notes that it is impossible to verify if any of the comments ascribed to
witnesses by Mr Cundall were ever even made and are not a case of the Mr Cundall believing
a person to be a witness and reporting what he wants to hear.
This is not to say Mr Cundall and others have consciously fabricated eye witness evidence
to support their case.
In assessing this issue it is necessary to introduce some observations on the nature of
memory and the use of witness evidence from outside the direct historical literature.

48

This passage drawn from Guidelines on Memory and the Law: Recommendations from the
Scientific Study of Human Memory, [British Psychological Society Research Board 2010], is
crucial to understanding the psychological mechanisms in play in the recording and
reporting of witnesses in the Burma Spitfires Dossier
In one series of studies (3.30) university students were asked to take part in an experiment in which they were to
recall childhood memories as best they could. In order to facilitate recall the researchers wrote to each students
parents and asked them to provide a short list of events from the students childhood that they thought the student
would remember. Students were presented with a brief description of each event and were asked if they
remembered it. Unknown to the students, a false event that referred to attending a wedding and knocking over a
bowl of punch was also inserted into the list. About one third of the students remembered the false event and in
subsequent recalls elaborated and integrated it with their other childhood memories. Moreover, when instructed to
try to bring to mind visual images of each event as an aid to remembering it, even more students developed the
false memory (an effect now known more generally as imagination inflation, 3.24 & 3.32).
British Psychological Society Research Board, Guidelines on Memory and the Law: Recommendations from the
Scientific Study of Human Memory, 2010

Even more crucial is this conclusion from another standard work on this subject [My italics].
Misinformation can cause people to falsely believe that they saw details that were only suggested to them.

Misinformation can even lead people to have very rich false memories. Once embraced, people can express these
false memories with confidence and detail.
Elizabeth F Loftus, Learning and Memory, Planting Misinformation in the human mind- a thirty year investigation
into the malleability of memory.
2005

Loftus adds [our italics]...

In the real world, misinformation comes in many forms. When witnesses to an event talk with one another, when

they are interrogated with leading questions or suggestive techniques, when they see media coverage about an
event, misinformation can enter consciousness and can cause contamination of memory. These are not, of course,
the only source of distortion in memory. As we retrieve and reconstruct memories, distortions can creep in without
explicit external influence, and these can become pieces of misinformation. This might be a result of inferencebased processes, or some automatic process, and can perhaps help us understand the distortions we see in the
absence of explicit misinformation (e.g., Schmolck et al.s [2000] distortions in recollections of the O.J. Simpson
trial verdict).
Elizabeth F Loftus, Learning and Memory: Planting Misinformation in the human mind- a thirty year investigation
into the malleability of memory.
2005

Another paper by Lane and Zaragoza states:


Our results suggest that pressing witnesses to describe the physical appearance of suggested items (e.g.,objects,
actions, or people) that they do not remember witnessing is likely to have unintended consequences. Even when
such descriptions are not re-presented to witnesses, the negative effects persist, in such a way that they are more
likely to falsely remember witnessing the suggested items and more likely to recollect them vividly.

49

Lane and Zaragoza, A little elaboration goes a long way: The role of generation in eyewitness suggestibility,
Memory and Cognition 2007

Indeed, we have to conclude that, while we cannot say if any of the material has definitely
been fabricated, the witness material supplied in the dossier exhibits all the characteristics
of being tainted by the use of leading questions, the repetition of facts and descriptions
which were actually first suggested by the questioner and the well-known process where the
interviewee offers answers they believe the questioner wants to hear in order to please
them.
It is also necessary to observe that as soon as the key elements of the Burma Spitfires story
were placed in the public domain, particularly during the period April 2012 to March 2013
when the story received extensive media coverage, the memory of anyone hearing it could
become tainted in the way described by Loftus and her colleagues.
Therefore, at worst we believe that Mr Cundall and Mr Pearce may have been misled by the
fantasies and fabricated stories of at least some of their supposed witnesses, though
whether this was done deliberately with the intention to deceive, done as a joke, or because
the witnesses genuinely believe their fictional or fictionalised constructs it is impossible to
say on the evidence currently available.

2.4 Eye Witness Testimony which contradicts the legend of buried Spitfires
The British Psychological Society guidelines quoted above also suggest that approximately
two thirds of subjects will resist any attempt to plant a false memory and indeed we believe
can see this effect in play in the case of the Burma Spitfires witnesses alongside reports of
corroborative testimony. While several members of the public came forward to report family
members remembered the burials, [see Appendix 2] other witnesses including a number
who had served in Rangoon and at RAF Mingaladon when the burials are alleged to have
taken place, contacted media outlets to state their view that the burial could not have
happened. These included,

Flight Mechanic Lionel Timmins (The Times, 9 January 2013),


Mr Timmins wrote
I served in RAF 81 squadron as a flight mechanic from August 1946 until February 1948. The squadron
was stationed at Seletar air base, Singapore. But, being a photographic reconnaissance squadron engaged
with acquiring data for mapmaking and unable to take photos through cloud, we shifted from Seletar to
Mingaladon for a substantial part of each year. I have no diary of those days but am quite certain I was at
Mingaladon until three weeks before Burmese independence [January 1948], and in March 1947 when I
celebrated my 21st birthday. Altogether in those days I spent a total of about ten months in two periods at
Mingaladon. Our dispersal was close by the runway where we worked in the open with a full view of the
runway, the hangar having neither roof nor doors.

50

During those periods I neither saw anything of the burials nor did I hear any rumours, which I believe
there most certainly would have been had the aircraft been buried.
Two further points: the runway was made of interlocking steel plates laid directly on the ground which
would almost certainly now account for evidence of buried metal. We flew back to Seletar all our Squadron
of 9 PR Mosquitoes Mk39 or 34, 1 Spitfire Mk19 and 1 Harvard.
In an earlier account reference was made to the burial spot being hidden in jungle. There is no jungle in
that area; indeed trees there are quite sparse.
The Times 9 January 2013 [Paywall]

Flying Officer Pat Woodward (Northern Echo, 20 January 2013),

I was there until August 1946, when I got the boat to come home. I was flying continuously during that period,
going up and down that runway. I never saw anybody digging any holes. In fact it would have been quite
dangerous for them to dig holes there. What intrigues me is where he got the story from...They are talking about
dozens of Spitfires. If it was happening anywhere near the runway we would have been warned about it. It would
have been on the hazard list.
Northern Echo, 20 January 2013

John Bell Accounts Department at Mingaladon (Quoted by Mr Woodward in the


Northern Echo. 20 January 2013),

Warrant Officer Stanley Ross RAOC (Scunthorpe Telegraph, 15 January 2013) ,

If they are buried there, it will have been a very well- kept secret because none of the RAF lads we knew ever said a
word about it."
Scunthorpe Echo, 15 January 2013

Major Roger Browning RE Rtd, Commander of one of the Indian Engineering Units
working at Mingaladon (Great Tey to Rangoon a farmers story, Myanmar Times,
18-24 February 2013 and Personal Communication, January 2014).

In addition journalist Adam Lusher noted a further witness, Flight Lieutenant Michael Hole,
an RAF Fighter pilot with 607 Squadron who also served in Rangoon in 1945 in the 221
Group Control Room.

This witness too failed to corroborate the buried Spitfires story

[Personal Communication, Adam Lusher to Room 608 Productions].


It must also be said that this negative anecdotal evidence is more fully documented and
referenced than anything Mr Cundall and supporters of the burial theory have offered.
Indeed, presented as it is, at best the witness evidence quoted by supporters of the Buried
Spitfires hypothesis amounts to hear say and would not be admissible in a legal case.
With the reported witness evidence an evidential dead end the team decided to concentrate
research on three living witnesses whose comments might be verifiable.

51

2.5 Living Witnesses: Stanley Coombe, Maurice Short and Roger Browning
The authors and members of the research team have interviewed or reinterviewed the three
subjects and reviewed quotes supplied by Mr Cundall, as well as additional quotes supplied
independently of Mr Cundall by Mr Tracy Spaight of Wargaming America. Most importantly
the team also assessed the full raw unedited transcripts of interviews conducted by Room
608 Productions with retired soldier Stanley Coombe who passed through Mingaladon as a
Private on a posting to the Berkshire Regiment in 1946 and retired RAF Officer, Group
Captain Maurice Short, who served at Mingaladon in the latter part of 1945 as an
Aircraftsman in the engineering branch servicing Dakota transport aircraft [the Dakota being
the RAF designation of the Douglas C47 twin engine transport which was the workhorse of
the RAF supply chain in the Far East]. Major Roger Browning of the Royal Engineers was
interviewed by Andy Brockman in early 2014.

2.5.1 The Evidence of Group Captain Maurice Short


The late Group Captain Shorts testimony was important because he had not been
interviewed previously about his RAF career in Burma and his views had not been reported
by David Cundall or any other previous researcher. Instead the production team were able
to talk to him through a contact made at Group Captain Short's instigation via the RAF
Museum Hendon. In a subsequent interview given to Mark Mannucci and Anna Bowers of
Room 608 Productions, Group Captain Short gave a vivid account of his time as a young RAF
Engineer at Mingaladon and reported rumours of the burial of Spitfires, this time in a
swamp, not on the airfield itself, reaching him at his new posting in Singapore during 1946.
In this extract MM is Mark Mannucci of Room 608 Productions.
Maurice Short: It was, if I would only relate it to Boy Scouts, but it was a campfire conversation. You go down to
the squadron area, and start work. And somebody would say, Have you heard? They're going to dump some
Spitfires. And that's how it started. So then you ask questions. Where are they going to dump Spitfires? Why are
they dumping Spitfires? And that's the sort of basis of our knowledge. Uh, there was no senior officer coming
along giving a lecture. It was I suppose gossip rumour mongering in the main.
MM: Were there American construction core working at Mingaladon at the time?
[00:06:09.07] Maurice Short: I didn't see it.
MM: You weren't assigned or it wasn't proposed that you'd be assigned to aid this burial operation?
MS: No. There was, no, there was rumour, hearsay, and I think I told you on the phone, my understanding was the
Army were required, because of the size of this issue, we might be needed to push, but nobody came along and
said so or directed us on board anything to go and do it.
MM: You heard that you might be needed to assist this effort, but it never came to pass.

52

Maurice Short: No, no, no. Purely hearsay, and because there's nothing much else to talk about. Of course, we
were by then wrapping, people were just happy to do, it was all finished.
The Late Group Captain Maurice Short, 2012 Interview with Room 608 Productions, used by permission

Although we cannot state for certain this recollection of barracks and bar room gossip is a
genuine memory, Group Captain Short was adamant he saw nothing which might be
identified as any form of burial of an aircraft while he was stationed at RAF Mingaladon as
an eighteen year old Leading Aircraftsman with 101 Repair and Salvage Unit servicing
Dakotas. Crucially, this period when he was based on Mingaladon includes the period of the
DC1 burial by a US CB unit which allegedly took place in August 1945.
In that regard it is important to note that when Mr Mannucci specifically asked Group
Captain Short if he had seen any US Personnel at Mingaladon, he replied that he had not.
We should also note that Group Captain Short was posted to Singapore in December 1945 at
least three months before Stanley Coombe arrived at Rangoon.
Therefore, while it suggests that stories regarding the disposal of aircraft and burial of
aircraft or parts may have been current among the rank and file service people in South East
Asia Command during 1946, his testimony cannot be used to support the case of a burial as
once more it amounts to hearsay, possibly influenced by the psychological mechanisms
discussed previously.
Stanley Coombes evidence is potentially more significant because he actually claims to have
seen crates close to the runway/taxiways on the North West side of RAF Mingaladon at a
date which can be verified in the documentary record.
In his interview Group Captain Short made extensive references to the rapid draw down of
the RAF presence in Burma and the sometimes febrile atmosphere among the rank and file
airmen as they awaited demobilisation.
Interestingly in a further account of what Group Captain Short admits is a rumour he is
unsure about, regarding the burial of Spitfires he did make one comment which relates
directly to the sense of what the Spitfire represented and what the experience of War
represented [Our italics].
Maurice Short: I was just an airman, so my conversations were hearsay, this is where my concern about the factual

side of [word], but I did know for a fact that the Spitfires were buried. They were, you asked the question this
morning, they were in, they were boxed, but I was told there were some that had been assembled who were put
into this, I suppose it was a great, 'cause marshes around there, as you having been there would realize, were
common, because of the weather.
And of course they had the big pond by the [word] building that didn't get in there for sure. So it became apparent,
um, but this of course by now didn't, didn't bug me in a way that it does today at the thought of those marvellous

pieces of kit just being thrown away, so when that was, that wasn't the end of this sort of tirade of loss.

53

The Late Group Captain Maurice Short, Interview with Room 608 Productions, used by permission

Although we cannot state if this is a recollection of a memory from the period, or a


perception developed in the years since it maybe provides a hint at how the story started
and the reason it has gained momentum as part of the folklore of World War Two.
In a final collision between the Legend of RAF Mingaladon and the recollection of an RAF
Engineer who was there, Mark Mannucci of Room 608 Productions asked Group Captain
Short two key questions. First if he had ever had to deal with crated aircraft while at the
base?
MM: Did you ever receive crated airplanes?
Maurice Short: No, never.

Mr Mannucci also asked if he had ever met American personnel while at Mingaladon in the
Summer/Autumn of 1945?
MM: Were there American construction corps working at Mingaladon at the time?
Maurice Short: I didn't see it.
The Late Group Captain Maurice Short, Interview with Room 608 Productions, used by permission

2.5.2 The Evidence of Stanley Coombe


In the autumn of 2012 Mr Coombe gave two interviews to Room 608 Productions and was
also able to visit Yangon International Airport during the fieldwork in January 2013.
In comparing the two statements and moderating them through conversations over several
days on site at Yangon Airport and in the team base at the Park Royal Hotel in Yangon, it is
clear that Stanley Coombes interviews contain material he could not have recalled from
1946, such as the suggestion Lord Mountbatten was involved in ordering the burial for
political reasons. It is clear that in that circumstance he is actually recounting information
which was supplied to him either by Mr Cundall, by another party, or is repeating material
he has read or seen in the media coverage and has absorbed in the way described by Loftus
and her colleagues.
Indeed, there seems to be an awareness of this on the part of the subject because when
pressed by the film interviewer Mr Coombe repeatedly also uses such formulas as I dont
know, I did not see and perhaps most pointedly I am only going on another persons

word they were Spitfires in those crates. [Personal Communication:


Room 608 Productions used by permission, authors italics].

54

Interview given to

Once you remove the statements which Mr Coombe can only have heard second hand from
David Cundall, the Media or others, such as the statement that Lord Mountbatten gave the
orders for a burial, Mr Coombe only says three things.
One: In the late Spring of 1946 he was sated in the back of an Army Lorry on the Old Prome
No 1Road heading north out of Rangoon to the base of his new unit, 2nd Battalion Berkshire
Regiment.
Two:

The lorry was stopped because the Prome No 1 Road was about to be closed to

accommodate the new runway extension at Mingaladon and having crossed the 1945/46
main runway he looked out to the left and saw earthworks in progress and large crates.
Three: Looking across the airfield from the Mingaladon cantonment the next day Stanley
Coombe saw some more crates, or possibly the same crates. He asked an RAF man what
was in them and was told - Would you believe it, Spitfires."
Because Stanley Coombe cannot have been in Mingaladon before late March or April 1946until then he was serving with the 9th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in India and MalayaDavid Cundall can only use this testimony to corroborate burial DC3 not the two earlier
alleged burials which are supposed to have taken place in 1945.
Anecdotally, Mr Coombe complained and was reported in the UK Press as complaining, that
the search for Spitfires at Yangon in January 2013 was in the wrong place.
We believe this to be correct in the sense that the initial search areas at Yangon were those
defined by geophysics and all were agreed in advance with David Cundall. They were not
agreed with Mr Coombe, and it is our conclusion that Stanley Coombe was almost certainly
in the area immediately north of the perimeter of the modern airport when he saw the crates
and earthworks in the Spring of 1946.
We also believe that we can explain what he may have seen by investigating the use that
part of the airfield was put to in 1946 when Stanley Coombe visited and what was
happening in terms of the delivery of aircraft and equipment at RAF Mingaladon.
As will be described in detail in the next chapter of this report, we know from the Port
Records kept by 41 Embarkation Unit of the Royal Air Force [41EU] that the only Aircraft
imported into Rangoon by sea during the period May 1945 to December 1946, thus almost
certainly in crates, were Auster Communication Aircraft imported from Calcutta in three
batches; the first 19 aircraft in December 1945 aboard the transport Jalaveera and the
second batch in April 1946. The first 4 aircraft arrived in Rangoon aboard the transport
Hickory Ghyll docking on 17 April. The final delivery of came as a larger batch of 14 aircraft
on the transport Ismalia on 30 April [TNA 41 EU ORB].
Thus it is our conclusion that while Mr Coombe might well have seen large crates on
Mingaladon Airfield and while it is possible those crates might even have contained aircraft,

55

perhaps the Taylorcraft Austers which are attested in documents as having been imported
into Rangoon in 1945/1946, it is all but impossible that the crates contained Spitfires.

2.5.3 The Evidence of Roger Browning


The initial contact between the Research Team and Major Roger Browning RE [Retd] was
made by Tracy Spaight of Wargaming.net who met Major Browning at the 2012 November
11 remembrance Day Parade at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Yangon. Mr
Spaight was attending with David Cundall while Major Browning was visiting Burma with
members of his family. In conversation with Mr Spaight Major Browning confirmed that he
had been in Rangoon at the time of the alleged burials, but that he knew nothing of them
and his unit, while working at RAF Mingaladon, had not taken part in any such activity.
Subsequently Andy Brockman interviewed Major Browning at his home on 2014, the
conversation being recorded on a digital voice recorder.
Major Browning held a wartime commission with the Royal Engineers, specialising in works
involving heavy equipment, principally bridging and the construction of forward airfields. In
the autumn of 1945 he was the Commanding Officer of 652 Mechanical Equipment
Company Indian Engineers, based in large colonial bungalow close to the air base at RAF
Mingaladon.
Having moved south with XIV Army, Major Browning had arrived in Rangoon in August 1945
initially taking up a posting 657 ME Company Indian Royal Engineers based in Canal Street,
one of the Royal Engineers Units assigned to the Greater Rangoon area and engaged in
supporting the military effort and restoring essential services.

Shortly after this Major

Browning joined a sister unit, 652 ME Company.


By November 1945 Roger Browning had been promoted to command 652 Mechanical
Equipment Company Indian Engineers, their principle tools being D8 Caterpillar Bulldozers
and Motor Graders, with Federal Low Loaders for the transport of the heavy plant.

The

deployment of the six platoons under his command offers a snapshot of the genuine
engineering priorities of the British Authorities in Rangoon five months after the
reoccupation of the city.
123 ME Platoon RE and 709 ME Platoon IE were both engaged on works at Mingaladon
airstrip. [Major Browning records separately in his memoir that they were laying tarmac]
711 ME Platoon IE was working at Rangoon Docks.
749 ME Platoon IE was working at the Wan and Mokpalin Quarries.
751 ME Platoon IE was working at Zayatkwin Airstrip [this time laying PSP according to Major
Browning]

56

And
752 ME Platoon IE was at Waketchaung Quarry
By the middle of the month 709 ME Platoon IE had been transferred from Mingaladon to
work on the airstrip at Pegu.
Asked if it would have been possible to bury crated Spitfires using the equipment available
at the time to the Indian Royal Engineers Major Browning replied.
You could do it with tractors and scrapers doing a round route, that was feasible, but to my
knowledge it wasnt done. Major Browning added A bulldozer, its the wrong equipment
for the job.

Conclusion
In summarising this admittedly small sample of recorded, rather than reported, eye witness
testimony it is interesting to note that those most open to the possibility that Spitfires were
buried at Mingaladon are those who were of junior NCO Rank and below in 1945-1946.
That is, those personnel who were least likely to be in the know and most open to filling
the vacuum of information with gossip and hearsay.
Conversely a significant number of the reported critics of the buried Spitfires legend,
including Major Browning, were officers, or working in positions where they would be aware
of such activity, if it were taking place, either because they would be involved in planning it,
would know about it, or would even have seen it as they flew in and out of Mingaladon on
operations.

This pattern is broadly repeated when the same analysis is applied to Mr

Cundalls witnesses and to those reported by the media and quoted previously.
In concluding this section of the report it is perhaps worth stepping back and quoting the
words of Misha Defonseca born Monique de Wael when her Holocaust memoir was exposed
as a hoax in 2008.
This book is a story. It is my story...It is not the true reality but it is my reality. There are times when I find it
difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world.
Lindesay Irvine, Nazi flight memoir was fiction author confesses, The Guardian, Monday 3 March 2008

57

3: The Nature and use of Documentary Evidence in the Buried Spitfires


Mystery
Andy Brockman: with Rod Scott

The first piece of archival documentary evidence relating to the alleged burial of Spitfires in
Burma to be examined in detail as part of the investigation funded by Wargaming.net was an
apparent wartime photograph which appeared in the Daily Telegraph and other news outlets
and which was credited as having been supplied by Mr Sean Spencer of Picture Agency- Hull
News and Picture, who also supplied a portrait of Mr David Cundall. A further example of its
use can be seen in an article from the Birmingham Post
Final Push in Battle to Save Mark XIV Spitfires Justine Halifax, Birmingham Post, August 17,
2012, [third photograph in the article].
It is believed that the period image of the crated Spitfire had originally been supplied by Mr
Cundall, or someone associated with him and/or his previous expeditions to Yangon,
although it is not currently known from where it was ultimately sourced.
Captioned Spitfires being prepared for burial in Burma the image was subjected to a full
investigation by Andy Brockman at the request of Room 608 Productions and what follows is
an edited version of that report.
STARTS
Background to the Research
The author was asked by Mark Mannucci of Room 608 Productions to comment on the
photograph captioned Spitfires being prepared for burial in Burma: Photo Sean Spencer,
published in the Daily Telegraph of 15 April 2012. The photographed was re-produced to
accompany an article about Mr David Cundalls search for Royal Air Force [RAF] Spitfire
aircraft allegedly buried on Burmese airbases in the period 1945-1947.
Photograph 1: The Daily Telegraph Photograph Spitfires being prepared for burial in Burma:
Photo Sean Spencer
15 April 2012 The Daily Telegraph.
Methodology
The author examined the photograph as submitted in a .pdf file and on the Daily Telegraph
website.

58

The author also undertook an Internet based search for analogous images and relevant
information.

1. General Impression
An examination of the use of the Picture reveals that it was supplied by Mr Sean Spencer of
Picture Agency- Hull News and Picture, who also supplied a portrait of Mr David Cundall.
There is no further provenance given, however, looking at Hull News and Pictures Website
http://hullnews.photoshelter.com/about/ there is no evidence that they deal in historic
images and if this image had been obtained from a commercial picture library such as Getty
Images it should have been credited. Therefore the precise origin of the image remains a
mystery pending further research which might include asking Mr Spencer or Mr Cundall
where they obtained the picture. In this connection I note that Hull News and Pictures list
public relations as one of their functions and it appears that they have supplied a package of
images to go with the publicity and reporting of the Burma Spitfires Project. Given that the
credit is to Mr Spencer this image may well be part of the package.
The image reproduced is of poor quality. Even on the Daily Telegraph website it appears
fuzzy and pixelated. While there is no proof contained within the image it is thought this
may be because it is reproduced from a newspaper or magazine source.
The poor framing also suggests the picture may also have been cropped from a larger
original.
The lack of crisp detail hampers the analysis of the image but there is enough visible detail
to make general comments under various headings as set out below.

2. Internal Evidence for Date


From the visible tail unit, the aircraft depicted appears to be a Vickers Supermarine Spitfire
of unknown Mark. Thus it must have been taken after the Spitfire first flew on 5 March
1936.
The men working around the aircraft also appear to be wearing Royal Air Force Uniforms
and fatigues including the figure left of frame who appears to be wearing a dark coverall.
RAF Fitters did wear dark blue coveralls as did Royal Navy Engine Room personnel. The fact
that the aircraft has been crated for transport suggests the photograph was taken at some
point when the RAF was transporting Spitfire aircraft to the various theatres of war it was
engaged in during World War Two.
Thus it is likely the photograph was taken at some point between 1940 and 1945. In fact
this can probably be narrowed down further to the period c1942-1945 when Spitfires

59

became available for delivery to the Mediterranean, Middle and Far East Theatres of War.
Previously they had been prioritised for Home Defence Squadrons.
However, the image may contain a detail which will assist in tying down both location and
date.
Lower Right of Frame is what appears to be a box containing objects and which may have
lettering on the side- possibly EP2 or ER2, perhaps EP or ER213.
Spitfires had a two letter three figure manufacturers serial number which stayed with the
aircraft throughout its life. EP and ER are prefixes primarily used in Spitfire serial numbers
for batches of the Mark V aircraft built at Castle Bromwich under Air Ministry Contract
981687 issued in August 1941.
Thus the box may indicate the serial number of the aircraft in the crate and the objects may
be its associated paper work, log books and manuals, or some other material specific to
supporting that aircraft.
If so most Spitfires Vs with an ER or EP prefix served in Western Europe the Mediterranean
and Middle East, some eventually being passed on to the USSR.
EP213 was one such aircraft which went to the USSR in 1943.
ER213 spent its career in the Mediterranean and Middle East and was Struck Off Charge
[SOC] after a landing accident in March 1945 [http://www.spitfires.ukf.net]
Therefore it is concluded this is almost certainly a Spitfire Mark V photographed in 1942.

3. Internal Evidence for Location


As stated above, the aircraft appears to be crated for transport and the crate is located next
to what may be another crate, or building, which can be seen right of frame. The shadow
between the two clearly indicates the crate containing the aircraft is a separate entity.
ion as the photograph lacks any landscape
context.
n of the Royal Air Force during World
War Two, therefore the presence of that type of aircraft cannot be used to narrow down the
location.
Turning to the clothing of the figures recorded in the photograph, the figure in the
foreground is wearing a dark coverall and what appears to be a forage cap. Both are
consistent with the clothing worn by RAF Ground Crews during World War Two.

60

However it should be noted that Ground Crews in the Far East were most commonly
seen wearing what is termed Khaki Drill [KD] cotton uniforms and clothing.

The figures in the background of the Daily Telegraph photograph may be wearing
KD, but as KD was also worn in the Mediterranean and North African Theatres by
RAF, Army and Royal Navy personnel, the clothing is at best inconclusive as to the
possible location. If the identification is correct it simply suggests a location which is
not in the UK or Western Europe

4. Internal Evidence for the Nature of the Activity depicted


Aside from the fact that some activity is being carried on around the crated aircraft there is
no clear visual evidence as to what that activity is.
However, certain things are clear from the image as reproduced

The lighting of the image shows that the crate is open at both ends as would be the
practice if it was being worked on/in.

The standing figure facing left between the standing figure right of frame and the
tail fin of the aircraft appears to be supporting and looking up at an object which
may be the left, or Port, wing of the aircraft. The thick curve of the leading edge of
the wing appears to be visible.

The figure left of frame in the coverall and cap appears to be holding a tool such as a
hammer or wrecking bar in his right hand. Again this is consistent with work in
progress.

NB: Of course images do get mislabelled, but all the images of crated aircraft which I have
been able to locate are of aircraft being described as being unpacked from their transport
crates. I have not been able to locate a single example so far of such an image which is
labelled as recording packing for burial or any other purpose.

5. CONCLUSIONS
I begin with a question- Why of all the reports of buried aircraft anywhere in the world, is
this the only example of an image which is described as depicting an aircraft being prepared
for burial?
With that question in mind the following comments are made

61

1. It is necessary to investigate the source of this picture. It is likely it derives from a printed
source, or possibly it has been copied from a private collection.
2. The image does depict a crated Spitfire.
3. There is no evidence contained within the picture to indicate it depicts what it purports to
depict. It could as easily and appropriately be captioned- A Spitfire being unloaded from its
transport crate prior to rebuilding and flight testing.
4. The image contains no internal evidence as to location except to suggest it is more likely
to have been in the Mediterranean or Far East than in the UK or Western European Theatres.
5. The aircraft may be a Spitfire Mark Vb, of the production batches with a serial number
beginning ER or EP manufactured at Castle Bromwich after August 1941. If so the picture is
very unlikely to have been taken in the Far East in 1945.
In short, without a detailed provenance this photograph on its own cannot be taken as
evidence of the burial of Spitfires in Burma or any other Theatre of World War Two.
ENDS
In fact subsequent research suggests this photograph may well show activity on Gibraltar in
September 1942 where the work of the Special Erection Party which prepared crated aircraft
for flight and onward ferrying to Malta and North Africa was recorded in still photographs
and newsreel, including by a War Office official photographer Lt G W Dallison of No.1 AFPS,
Army Film and Photographic Unit. The results were then widely disseminated [for example
Imperial War Museum Photograph CM 6697 and Imperial War Museum film ID: RMY 132-217]
It was not possible to find out who had originally represented the image as being of the
alleged Burma operation.

However, the fact that a clear misrepresentation of supposed

evidence had been made and has repeatedly surfaced in the UK national press, served as a
warning to the project team that all evidence supplied to the project, or referenced by Mr
Cundall had to be treated with great care, checked and verified.
Given the frailties which were becoming so apparent in the supposed witness evidence
reported by Mr Cundall and his supporters, the team also had in mind another caution
regarding historical research of the recent past offered by the late Richard Holmes...
Much better to go back to what people thought at the time...and there is really no excuse for not doing so.
Richard Holmes, Tommy, page xxiii

This meant turning to the documentary record, using both official documents such as might
be found in the public archives; principally the UK National Archive at Kew in West London
and such other contemporary documentary material as might be located, such as

62

newspapers, books and magazines as well as personal documents such as letters and
diaries.
However, as with the controversial image of the crated Spitfire and the alleged witness
statements we began with an assessment of the documentary material offered to Wargaming
and Room 608 Productions by Mr Cundall.

3.1 The Documentary Archive produced in support of the burial of Spitfires at RAF
Mingaladon
Aside from the standard narrative which Mr Cundall can repeat by rote, [albeit with
variations, most often in the likely number of aircraft buried] and which is now in the Public
Domain through recordings and interviews in the News Media, the basis of the alleged
evidence for the legend of buried Spitfires was a mass of information supplied by Mr Cundall
to Room 608 Productions as part of that companys research process. This uncatalogued
mass of paper records was then turned into a more or less coherent .pdf file by Room 608
Productions and was passed on to Andy Brockman and later to other members of the team
in that form, under the terms of a Non-Disclosure Agreement [NDA] [Mark Mannucci
Personal Communication].
As it turns out the NDA was superfluous as virtually all of the information was derived from
official British documents held in the public domain via the UK National Archive and RAF
Museum Archive in Hendon and is thus available to any researcher who cares to look.
However, it must be said that the imposition of an NDA only served to heighten the sense of
mystery surrounding the buried Spitfires story and arguably to enhance its credibility.
The only original material in the dossier was in the form of quotations from supposed
witness statements and correspondence from alleged witnesses, some apparently dating
back to the mid 1980s apparently before David Cundall began his own research, prompted
by Jim Pearce who we believe was almost certainly the source of at least a proportion of the
earlier material.
As we have seen, these accounts were swiftly shown to be highly suspect, both in terms of
the content and certainly in terms of the interpretation placed upon them.
Another strand of supposed evidence were the Form 781 record cards which allowed the
RAF to follow an aircraft from the time it was manufactured to the time it was SOC Struck
Off Charge. Much was made of a series of MkVIII and MkXIV aircraft which appeared to have
been sent to India in 1945 on various transports, but which seemed to have no recorded
Squadron service and no definitive end to their RAF career.

However, it soon became

apparent that this was a dead end. There was no chain of evidence pointing to these aircraft
straying anywhere further than precisely where the records last left them, in India.

63

The rest of the dossier was in the form of short extracts from RAF Operations Record Books
and other official documents, all of which were used to infer the burial of Spitfires without
offering any direct, concrete or verifiable chains of evidence to suggest that this operation
had actually taken place.
Having been given the dossier as a starting point Andy Brockman quickly realised that the
best way to assess the value of the material it contained and the conclusions drawn by Mr
Cundall, would be to research the original full versions of the Operations Record Books and
War Diaries of the Units which served at Mingaladon and in the greater Rangoon area, but
which were represented in the Cundall Dossier.

Fortunately all are available in the UK

National Archives at Kew.


It was also realised that the key to unlocking the story of what had actually happened at RAF
Mingaladon during the second half of 1945 and 1946 almost certainly lay in accessing the
documents which David Cundall and the researchers he either commissioned or received
material from, clearly had either not seen, or at the very least had seen but for whatever
reason, had chosen not to include in the dossier submitted to Wargaming and Room 608
Productions and in particular look at the actions and commentary of senior RAF officers and
the actions going on within the RAF supply chain.
First among these and the foundation for this narrative are two documents, one from either
end of the RAF Chain of Command. One is the Park Report written by the most senior RAF
officer in the Far East at this time, Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park and the second is the
Operations Record Book of 41 Embarkation Unit at Rangoon Docks.

3.1.1 The Park Report in the London Gazette and the ORB of 41 Embarkation Unit
The first of these crucial, but uncited, documents is Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park's
official report on Air Operations in Burma to September 1945 written in 1946 and published
for public consumption as a supplement to the London Gazette in 1951. Parks account is
important because he was the Operational Commander of the Royal Air Force in Burma at
the time the burials were alleged to have taken place.

Thus his account represents the

official and contemporary benchmark against which to test all other narratives.
Parks report contains this very interesting statistic for the first months of the RAF
occupation of Rangoon in 1945.
"During the months from May to August, the Repair and Salvage Units returned to service 830 aircraft and

dismantled a further 420 which had been written off. [Our italics]
SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 19 APRIL, 1951 Page 2165

This ties in with the data from the AHQ Burma Operational Record Book [UK National
Archive: Air 24/359] which, as we shall see, refers to 100 Surplus aircraft being present at
RAF Mingaladon and then being sold onto the local scrap market. It is also precisely the
period when David Cundalls story of the disposal of Spitfires seems to have originated.

64

Park also comments that, as well as the single engine fighter squadrons being disbanded
because they were no longer required, American supplied aircraft such as Thunderbolts
were also being phased out because of the ending of Lend Lease and the consequent
shortage of spares which were no longer obtained on grounds of the cost to the UK
Government.
There is no mention in Parks narrative of any political arrangement to supply aircraft to any
of the native peoples of Burma, or for any special arrangements regarding the disposal of
aircraft.
In short, Parks narrative confirms that from shortly after the fall of Rangoon in June 1945
onwards there was an official policy involving the large scale scrapping and disposal of
surplus aircraft operating at RAF Mingaladon and other airfields in southern Burma at just
the time David Cundall alleges the burial of Spitfires began.
It was subsequently reported by Mark Mannucci of Room 608 Productions that David
Cundall did possess a copy of the Park report [Mark Mannucci Personal Communication by
e-mail 2012]. He simply did not refer to it. We can only surmise this was either because he
did not understand its significance, or perhaps it was discounted because it did not accord
with his version of the history.
Another document Mr Cundall either was not aware of, or if he was aware of its content,
chose not to refer to, is the Operations Record Book of 41 Embarkation Unit.

The RAF

logisticians based at Rangoon Docks from days after the invasion through to the end of
British rule in Burma.
The premise behind looking at the work of 41 EU is simple. To bury crated Spitfires at
Mingaladon in August and December of 1945 as David Cundall alleges, crated Spitfires had
to arrive at Mingaladon in August and December 1945 and the only way that could have
happened in the period 1945-1946 would be for those crates to have arrived through
Rangoon Docks.

If they were to arrive through Rangoon Docks then 41 EU would have

handled the unloading and forwarding of the crates, as can be seen in the well-known
newsreel film of Spitfires being unloaded on Gibraltar in 1942.
The month by month break down of the imports and exports handled by 41 EU are
meticulous and detailed and reading them it soon becomes clear that no aircraft of any
description were imported into Rangoon by sea until December 1945 and then not Spitfires
but Taylorcraft Austers [ORB 41 EU].

It inevitably follows that if no new crated Spitfires

were imported, no new crated Spitfires could be buried.


In addition to the failure to properly utilise potential primary sources such as the Park
Report, and the ORB of 41 EU even when they were easily identifiable to a competent
researcher and easily available at the National Archive and in the case of the Park Report, on
line, a further disturbing pattern of selective quotation and omission of primary sources
swiftly emerged.

65

A key example is the Operational Records Book of AHQ Burma [UK National Archive: Air
24/359] quoted above.
Mr Cundall quotes a number of entries from the AHQ Burma ORB, including an entry for
October 1945 which notes that orders have been issued for the disposal of 100 aircraft
which are Category E.O and E.S1.
However, what is not quoted is the outcome of that order for the disposal which appears a
few pages later in the entry for November 1945 and which is reproduced below

3.1.2 AHQ Burma ORB


This crucial entry found in the contemporary RAF Records (Figure 3.1) shows not only the
export or disposal of surplus stores such as explosives, it also clearly demonstrates a
standard RAF method for the disposal of unwanted aircraft was sale to the local scrap
metals market.

Figure 3.1. AHQ BURMA ORB November 1945 UK National Archive Air 24/359 [Crown Copyright]

The document also clearly demonstrates that the local market was only too ready to take
any alloys which were on offer to meet local shortages of aluminium pots and pans. In
Rangoon in the autumn of 1945 the ending of World War Two was less a case of the Biblical
beating Swords into Ploughshares than local kitchen ware suppliers beating warbirds into
woks
It must also be noted that while the AHQ Burma ORB openly records the disposal of these
aircraft by scrapping it makes no mention of the disposal of Spitfires, or any other surplus
aircraft by burial.
In a further example of a standard policy of the scrapping or assignment to storage of
surplus aircraft, on 15 July 1946 the ORB for AHQ Burma refers to the disbandment of 267
Squadron being delayed because of the lack of instructions for the disposal of aircraft and

Damage Categories in RAF unit accounts for aircraft considered Write-offs

66

comments that the postings out of tradesmen cannot be implemented until the aircraft

leave due to the very large number of surplus aircraft already held in command [150]
[TNA ORB AHQ Burma- authors italics]. A few days later the fate of some of these aircraft
was confirmed as they were to be allocated to India for storage [TNA ORB AHQ Burma].
Taken together the Park Report and the ORB of AHQ Burma both provide clear evidence that
the routine method for the disposal of surplus aircraft was for them to be dismantled and
for the metal to be disposed of locally, or for the aircraft to be reassigned and flown out of
Theatre.
However, to once more test the case that Spitfires might have been buried at Mingaladon
the documents were examined for evidence for the physical state of the airfield at the time
of the alleged burials.

3.1.3 Specific References to the disposal of Spitfires in RAF Records


In the legend of Mingaladon much is made of references to the disposal of Spitfires by
harassed

RAF

officers,

aircraft

struck

off

charge

without

apparent

service.

In fact there is nothing at all mysterious about any of the records we have been able to
trace.
For example in this entry for November 1945 we find Spitfires being transferred into Theatre
by air from India.
Equipment for Squadrons and ASR Flights was being issued following the re-arming
programme. It was being collected ex India by air.
No 273 Squadron from Spitfire VIII to Spitfire XIV/XVIII
No 8 RIAF Squadron

Ditto

No 9 RIAF Squadron ditto.


TNA Air24/359, AHQ BURMA ORB, November 1945

In another example, on 3 August 1946 the Operations Record Book of AHQ Burma records
that
A signal from ACSEA [Air Command South East Asia] querying the state of surplus Spitfires suggests that an
operation for the disposal of these is in hand.
TNA Air24/359, AHQ BURMA ORB, November 1945

There are two things to note here: First that the disposal of surplus Spitfires was being
openly discussed between commands and, second, that it is discussed as an ongoing
operation which both parties, ACSEA and AHQ Burma are fully aware of.
On 11 August 1946 the same ORB records that

67

Strike off authority received from HQ ACSEA for 9 Spitfire XIV beyond current repair period. These have been
standing unserviceable since February/March as the result of defective magnetos.
Because of the inadvisability of ferrying the remaining aircraft through the monsoon to Singapore Air Ministry are
asking the Navy to provide a carrier lift.
Air 24/359TNA, ORB AHQ Burma

This entry demonstrates that not only were Spitfires being routinely Struck Off Charge and
so recorded in the Operations Record Book, the remaining serviceable aircraft were being
transferred out of Theatre, in this case to Singapore. Not only that, both the Air Ministry
and the Royal Navy were involved in the discussions around facilitating the transfer. Indeed,
the scale of the potential operation was growing because on 12 August the same source
records that two of the surplus Spitfire XIX aircraft then in Burma were also allocated to
Singapore.
On 12 October 1946 HQACSEA requested that Mingaladons Spitfires were prepared for
allocation to 60 Squadron.
On 4 November 1946 RAF stations Mergui and Akyab were told to apply for the Strike Off of
a total of five Spitfire XIVs.
There were clearly remaining serviceable Spitfires at Mingaladon because on 7 November
1946 Mr Kimber, the representative of Vickers, was present with a fitting party carrying out
Mod 1672 to these aircraft.

3.1.4 RAF Policy for Surplus Aircraft in Burma in 1946


This discussion can now be widened because the records contained in the Operations
Record Book for AHQ Burma state precisely what happened to surplus aircraft in Burma.
In April 1946, at the time the DC3 burial is alleged to have taken place the ORB of Air
Headquarters Burma records a routine disposal of derelict aircraft for recycling.
Arrangements have now been made for the Cottage Industries Department of the Government of Burma to
commence the collection of derelict aircraft from our air fields in Burma. Arrangements which were in operation
with C.A.S[B] ceased when that organisation disbanded, and it has only just been possible to make these fresh
arrangements. Clearance will commence first at Hmawbi due to the imminent closure of that airfield.
ORB Air HQ Burma [Crown Copyright]

Hmawbi closed on 30 April. Then on 21 May 1946 the Senior Engineering Staff Officer and
the Chief Engineering Officer inspected the surplus aircraft at Mingaladon, in particular
those awaiting strike off authority from ACSEA. They also agreed than a unit establishment
of 200 personnel would be sufficient to meet commitments in this area.

68

Finally in August 1946 the situation with regard to disposals is discussed in type by type
detail.

On 16 August 1946, 30 Taylorcraft Austers and 12 Harvards were shipped from


Rangoon, bound for Singapore on LST 3011.

On 26 August the ORB recorded that a census of aircraft carried out in June 1946 recorded
the following.
There were 208 aircraft in Theatre.
By 26 August 1946 there were 101 Aircraft in Theatre. However of these 85 were deemed
Surplus to Requirements.
These Surplus aircraft were accounted for as follows

21 Spitfires, 4 Beaufighters, 9 Harvards and 4 Austers were to be ferried to 390 MU


at Seletar.

8 Dakotas were to go to 322MU at Cawnpore India.

22 Sentinels and 7 Expediters were to be returned from Lend Lease.

2 Beaufighters and 1 Harvard were to be left by 684 Squadron.

5 aircraft of various types were still awaiting a Strike Off authority.

In conclusion, at no point does the highly detailed ORB of AHQ Burma, the principle RAF Unit
in charge of supporting all RAF Operations in Burma, mention even the discussion of
burying any aircraft of any type, either because it was struck off charge or for any other
reason.
The key point is of course that in August 1946 21 Spitfires in Burma, a large proportion of
the existing RAF establishment, were not struck off, dismantled let alone buried. They were
ferried out of theatre.

3.2 The physical state of the airfield infrastructure of RAF Mingaladon


It is clear from a thorough examination of the available RAF and Royal Engineers records
that RAF Mingaladon which the Royal Air Force inherited in May 1945 was severely damaged
and the scarcity of the resources of men and particularly heavy equipment, meant that
reconstruction was slow and difficult, with problems reported well into 1946 almost a year
after the end of the War in the Far East.
We are fortunate that we have an account of the works undertaken on the airfield at RAF
Mingaladon, during the period June to December 1945 when the first two DC burial events

69

are alleged to have taken place, both in the form of military War Diary entries and a
remarkable series of contemporary watercolours.

The Watercolour Paintings of RAF Mingaladon by Thomas Barclay Hennell


The Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon has in its Art collection a set of watercolour
paintings by the artist Thomas Barclay Hennell which were executed at Mingaladon in the
summer and early autumn of 1945 during the Monsoon and as the airfield was being
renovated and the runway extended.
Born in Kent in 1903, Thomas Hennell had trained at the Regents Street Polytechnic, before
becoming an art teacher. After a period of mental illness in the early 1930s Hennell turned
increasingly to creating his own art, specialising in images of rural scenes and rural
craftsmen. On the outbreak of War in 1939 Hennell volunteered his services to the War
Artists Advisory Committee and worked for, amongst others, the Ministry of Information.
By 1943 Hennell was a salaried War Artist and was sent to Iceland to replace the more
famous Eric Ravilious who was missing after the RAF patrol aircraft he was aboard
disappeared.

Returning to England Hennell took part in the D-Day landings and the

advance through France and Belgium into Holland, accompanying Canadian First Army and
later a Royal Navy unit.
In the late spring of 1945 Hennell was assigned to the Far East, working on behalf of the Air
Ministry and arrived in Rangoon via India, in early June, not long after the reoccupation of
the City and during the Monsoon.
The series of watercolours which Hennell painted at Mingaladon offer a vivid impression of
an airfield and the medium of watercolour with its literal and visual fluidity, lends itself to
the depiction of an airfield working through the mud rain and spray of the monsoon.
Indeed, Hennell brings the sense of the contrast between industry set in a non-industrial
landscape as he brought to earlier works such as his late 1930s landscape: Flint Heap
Roadmaking, now in the Tate Gallery collection [Tate Gallery N05287].
While Hennells paintings do not show any activity which can be construed in any way as
relating to the burial of Spitfires, his artists eye picked out the machines resculpting the
West South West end of the main runway at Mingaladon [RAF Museum FA03108]. While in a
second painting dated 7 June 1945, Hennell painted individual workers, perhaps local
labour, perhaps Japanese Prisoners of War, digging at the slick mud of the airstrip with pick
and shovel and with no sign of heavy machinery [RAF Museum FAO3110].
After visiting Rangoon Hennell moved on to be present at the surrender of Singapore.
However, sadly Thomas Hennell did not live to return to England. In November 1945 he was
captured by insurgents while on another assignment in Batavia [now Java] and vanished. It
is presumed he was murdered by his captors. He was forty two.

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132 Repair and Salvage Unit and a shortage of cranes at Mingaladon in Autumn 1945
On 29 September 1945, approximately one month after the DC1 burial is alleged to have
taken place, the Operations Record Book of 132 Repair and Salvage Unit at RAF Mingaladon
records that the unit was expected to service the crane commitments to two airstrips,
Mingaladon itself and the satellite strip at Zyakwen, with just three vehicles. This begs the
question how the crates containing the aircraft to be buried, which would weigh several
tons, would be maneuvered and if 132 R&SU was the unit on Mingaladon capable of
manoeuvring crates why does their ORB not mention the burial.

Figure 3.2. The ORB of 132 R&SU Reports a shortage of cranes in September 1945
[Crown Copyright]

The War Diary of 123 Independent Mechanical Equipment Company RE Describing Airfield
Works at RAF Mingaladon
In addition to Hennells watercolours created in June 1945 and the personal account of Royal
Engineers Officer Roger Browning there is a third account of airfield works at RAF
Mingaladon in the Autumn and Winter of 1945 contained in the War Diary of another of the
Indian Royal Engineers units which was stationed in the Greater Rangoon area.
Between October and December 1945 123 Independent Mechanical Equipment Company
were working on the repair and rebuilding of runways and taxiways on the airfield at
Mingaladon.
The sequence of work described is significant.
Between1-3 October 1945 work was not possible because of rain. A situation which surely
has a bearing on the possibility of undertaking major excavation works during mid-August
as the buried Spitfires legend contends.
However, between 4 and 11 October work had commenced on the north side of the runway
to remove 24,000 cubic yards of earth. As a result between 13 and 31 October the unit war

71

diary records that an average of 1500 cubic yards of earth per day was being removed by
the units bulldozers and graders.
The work continued throughout November 1945 when the War Diary records that the
average daily output had risen to 2500 cubic yards of material shifted per day.
Finally in December 1945, the month the DC2 burial allegedly took place, 123 Independent
Mechanical Equipment Company recorded that the work on the north taxi track was
complete and that on the south taxi track had commenced. The total volume of material
removed had been maintained.
In this account which entirely supports that of Major Browning, there is no suggestion of any
unusual excavation or burial works being undertaken. The sole object of these significant
works is the maintenance and upgrading of the airfield. It is important to note that these
works also give a bench mark of the actual capability of front line engineering units on
Mingaladon in 1945, to shift earth. That is a maximum of 2500 cubic yards per day.

However, even the best efforts of the engineering units culminating in the relaying of the
runway with Pierced Steel Planking [PSP] through late 1945 into 1946 did not solve the
problems on Mingaladon as shown in this extract taken from the Operational Record Book
of RAF Mingaladon describing the state of the airfield in June 1946 at around the time of the
alleged DC3 burial of Spitfires.

Airfield Serviceability
Work is in constant progress on runway, dispersals and taxi tracks. However, most of the intersections to the
runway are to be considered dangerous to aircraft in view of the badly laid PSP. Again the attention of the CRE has
been drawn to this.
RAF MINGALADON ORB June 1946 [Crown Copyright]

CRE is a reference to Commander Royal Engineers, the senior Royal Engineers Officer who
was responsible for deploying Royal Engineers personnel to undertake airfield works. This
reference is important on two levels.
1.

It shows that even a year after the fall of Rangoon the Royal Air Force was still not

capable of repairing its own Airfield but had to ask the Army in the shape of the Royal
Engineers to undertake the work and
2. Once again it is confirmed that the work was done by the British and Indian Engineersthere is no mention in any primary source of the American Construction Battalions [the Army
CB's or Navy Seabees] who appear in the Legend.
We can further extrapolate from the reference that

72

Work is in constant progress on runway, dispersals and taxi tracks that the airfield was
indeed full of activity. A view backed up by all the other documents which relate to the
operation of RAF Mingaladon.
This view of ongoing repair and reconstruction works at RAF Mingaladon begs two final
questions

Are these the circumstances for a secret, labour intensive, burial of as many as
thirty six aircraft to first be undertaken at all and then to remain secret?

Additionally,

If it was a get rid of operation where was the need to keep it Secret? After all in
the previous Autumn the scrapping of over 100 aircraft had already been openly
recorded in the ORB of AHQ Burma and it was widely known that thousands of
vehicles, aircraft and other war material was being disposed of all over the world.
Advertisements for war surplus material, including Taylorcraft Austers, appeared
in the trade press and the subject was widely covered in the media at the time.

3.3 The Karen Connection


David Cundall has repeatedly suggested that the burial of Spitfires was a secret political
operation undertaken in support of a possible future uprising against the central Burmese
Government in Rangoon by the Karen people [David Cundall various recorded comments
including to Room 608 Productions]. Indeed, the idea that a high profile figure like Lord
Louis Mountbatten might undertake a secret operation on his own authority is one of the
most compelling elements of the Legend.
Certainly Mountbatten was not above exceeding his authority with sometimes disastrous
results, as the critics of the raid on Dieppe, undertaken when Mountbatten was Chief of
Combined Operations, have noted. However, in the case of the buried Spitfires and any
potential link with the Karen hill people, there is no evidence Lord Mountbatten took any
special interest in the Karen over and above that he was forced to in the act of trying to
settle Burma for a post war transfer of power and independence.
Instead, it is likely that the connection between the Karen, whose tribal fighters had indeed
provided considerable service to the British during the Burma campaign, and the buried
Spitfires Legend came from two sources which have become conflated in the development of
the Legend.

The presence of the future first head of the Burmese Air force as a pilot with 273
Squadron flying Spitfires out of RAF Mingaladon in 1945 and

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The presence at RAF Mingaladon of members of Force 136 of the Special Operations
Executive [SOE] and a detachment of 357 Special Duties [SD] Squadron flying
Lysander aircraft in and out of jungle airstrips and even neighbouring countries, as
part of the British efforts to bring the war to an end and prepare for the post war
political settlement.

With regard to ethnic Karen pilots and aircrew, it is established from the squadron
Operations Record Book that 273 Squadron was operational at RAF Mingaladon from the
liberation in early May 1945 until the entire unit flew from Mingaladon to Bangkok on 11
September 1945 en route for Tan Son Nhut airfield in Saigon where they arrived on 19
September.

At this time the Squadron was flying Spitfire Mk VIII's.

They converted to

Spitfire Mark XIV's while at Saigon [TNA 273 Squadron Operational Record Book].
Meanwhile, the same RAF Operations Record Books shows that the ground crews of the 273
Servicing Echelon were sent to Singapore where the "burial" story may have become current.
The Squadron was officially disbanded as part of the standing down of the single engine
fighter units in Saigon on 31 January 1946.
There is one definite non-European name on the roster of pilots flying with 273 Squadron
and that is: Flight Lieutenant Shi Sho [TNA 273 Squadron Operations Record Book].
Flight Lieutenant Shi Sho is the man who as Wing Commander Saw Shi Sho was the first
Commander in Chief of the new Burmese Air Force in January 1948.
He is referred to in "Memoirs of the Four Foot Colonel" by General Smith Dun, the first CinC
of the Independent Burmese Armed Forces.

Smith Dun confirms that the now Wing

Commander Shi Sho was an ethnic Karen, one of three Karen pilots who he describes as
"battle tested". He does not name the other two.
Wing Commander Shi Sho went into hiding in January 1949 when senior Karen officers in the
armed forces were purged and placed on "Special Leave" by the Burmese majority in the new
independent Government of Burma.
Returning to the situation in August 1945 when it is alleged Spitfires were being buried for
the Karen, the situation in Burma was summarised in a report to the Cabinet

BURMA.
Report by the Secretary of State for Burma.
Enemy-Occupied Burma.
81. Many of the Japanese forces still in Burma did not hear of the offer of
surrender, and some of those who did were reluctant to accept it for some time.

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Fighting, however, was on a much reduced scale, as S.E.A.C. suspended active


offensive operations. The news gradually percolated, and at the end of the month
things were generally quiet.
Liberated Burma.
82. Political groups are losing their temporary cohesion and are manoeuvring
for position. The Thakin Party has split into three groups"Communists,"
'' Social Democrats," and an intermediate group. On the other side, several parties
have revived, but some of them, including the Myochit (U Saw's) Party, are
tainted with collaboration and lack respectable leaders. The various parties,
however, are reported to be getting together to compile a list of persons to propose
for the G o v e r n o r ' s Executive Council. The Karens still remain firmly aloof from
the other parties and are apprehensive of their future lest self-government should
place them at the mercy of the Burmese.
TNA CAB129/2 REPORT FOR THE MONTH OF AUGUST 1945 FOR THE DOMINIONS,
INDIA, BURMA AND TFIE COLONIES AND MANDATED
TERRITORIES

Here there is no hint that the Karen are being given any form of special treatment. Indeed,
far from wishing to promote or supply a putative Karen uprising, other British Government
files in the National Archives at Kew show how through the latter half of 1945 and 1946,
when the burial is alleged to have occurred, the political representatives of the Karen felt a
betrayal at the British failure to offer the Karen self-determination as part of the post war
settlement. In addition, far from wanting to grant the Karen arms, the British were actually
discussing whether it would be possible to disarm the Karen fighters who had been armed
by the Special Operations Executive [TNA FO643/66/4, FO643/66/5 and FO643/78].
What the Karen did need at this period and what was provided by the British was food. For
example, in the autumn of 1946 the Government of Burma asked the RAF to undertake food
drops of rice to up to 10,000 Karen. The mission, Operation Hunger III, was accomplished
by four 48 Squadron Dakota aircraft. Operation Hunger IV followed in March 1947.
As the British prepared for the withdrawal from Burma in 1947 achieving continued access
to the now strategically important Mingaladon Airport was one of the principal requirements
of the British negotiators. However, while the gifting of craft to the new Burmese Navy and
the writing off of the value of remaining stores are discussed, there is no mention of
provision for the recovery of any kind of material buried at Mingaladon or anywhere else. It
is also the case that documents refer to a shipping limit of 5000 tons per month for military
stores leaving Burma with the main concern being lethal stores which were being back
loaded to Malaya as rapidly as possible [TNA PREM/8/417]. This again raises the question
why crate up and bury something you can fly and why bury something you can offer to the
Burmese as a diplomatic sweetener or payment in kind?
Another reason to suspect the service rumour mill is the presence on RAF Mingaladon of a
detachment of 357 Special Duties Squadron flying Westland Lysanders in and out of remote
jungle airstrips in support of the work of Special Operations Executive Force 136, the
clandestine unit tasked with undertaking guerrilla and political operations in Burma and

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other parts of south east Asia [The SOE being the British counterpart of the US Office of
Strategic Services or OSS, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency].

After the

surrender of Japan, 357 Squadron even flew Japanese liaison officers to negotiate the
disarming and surrender of the more remote and sometimes more reluctant, remains of the
Japanese Imperial Army [357 Squadron ORB].

It is the kind of hush hush and unusual

work which would attract attention and speculation from airmen and soldiers who did not
need to know.

Figure 3.3. Squadron Leader Turner and members of 357 SD Squadron at RAF Mingaladon in the autumn of 1945
recorded in a photograph contained in the ORB of ACSEA, Note the temporary nature of the visible buildings and
the tentage in the background of this image [Crown Copyright]

There is of course one final overarching point which should finally end speculation
regarding a political burial of Spitfires to aid a Karen uprising.

How could Lord Louis Mountbatten in the autumn of 1945, know that the Karen
would want, need and be able to support, several squadrons of Spitfires in the postindependence Burma of 1948? To believe this version of the buried Spitfires legend
we must add to Mountbattens talents and legendary self-confidence, the psychic
powers of a Nostradamus.

3.4 Other theories surrounding the alleged burial of Spitfires at Mingaladon


In addition to the story at the core of the legend, that Lord Mountbatten ordered the burial
of factory fresh crated Spitfires in 1945 and 1946, perhaps to aid an uprising by the Karen

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People, other variations on the legend have been offered. Most when it became clear that
the traditional version of the legend was no longer tenable in the face of the documentary
and archival evidence presented by the 2013 Research Team.
Most of these narratives appeared in the posts on the Key Publication, Historic Aviation
Forum, as part of threads relating to the Burma Spitfires.
The principle theories, all offered at various times by Mr Cundall and/or other supporters of
the Buried Spitfires story, are summarised below.

1. The Crated Aircraft were imported from India via northern Burma using a combination of
rail, river and road transport.
The immediate response to this theory is a simple question. That is to ask Why?
It is a truism that Aircraft can fly so why would anyone in the SEAC logistics operation even
consider allocating substantial material resources to an operation designed to deliver
aircraft at great effort in days or weeks, when the aircraft concerned were becoming
tactically unnecessary and which, if they were suddenly to be needed, could be flown into
Theatre from bases in India in a matter of hours in any case?
Nonetheless, in spite of no evidence being offered the theory was tested against the
documentary record and the following conclusions reached.
The Royal Air Force did not bid for space for the transport of crated aircraft as part of the
sealift of war material to Rangoon in the Summer/Autumn of 1945 and the records of the
Royal Air Forces 41 Embarkation Unit at Rangoon docks shows no aircraft of any description
were imported into Burma until December 1945 [TNA, WO203/1760 and ORB 41EU].
The Records of the Burma Railway for 1945-1946 were also examined in detail and it can be
shown that throughout this period the railway was in a process of recovery after substantial
wartime damage caused by the initial demolition by the retreating British in 1942, neglect
by the Japanese and particularly by strategic and tactical bombing by the Allies during the
Burma Campaign.
In particular, the Report of the Burma Railway Board for 1945-46 [TNA FO 643/66/2] offers
a useful comparison between the Pre War and Post War system and the demonstrates the
rate of repair. It is clear even in January 1946, as the railway returned to civilian control
there were gaps of in some cases hundreds of kilometres in the network (Figures 3.2 and
3.3).

This limitation is in addition to a shortage of rolling stock and speed restrictions

across much of the network.


In summary, this theory emerged after the suggestion that the 41 EU Operations Record
Book showed that crated Spitfires could not have entered Burma through Rangoon docks

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and it is suggested it owes more to supporters of the buried Spitfires theory looking for an
alternative mechanism to keep the theory alive than to any actual evidence.
During the Burma campaign, without the benefit of railways and with no roads capable of
taking the standard Queen Mary Trailer to transport crates and aircraft, the ever resourceful
Royal Air Force engineering units had actually devised a method for transporting non
airworthy Spitfires by air between front line air fields and rear maintenance units as this pair
of photographs taken in May 1944 by No 85 repair and Salvage Unit demonstrates.
However, this ingenious solution to a logistics problem dates from a period in the war in
Burma when aircraft were a valuable commodity and worth the investment in the logistics of
returning them to active service.
By the Autumn of 1945, with passenger space on transport aircraft at a premium such an
investment of resources in transporting fighter aircraft which were no longer required in the
previous quantity would be a profligate use of resources. Thus any suggestion that aircraft
destined for burial could have been flown into Mingaladon in this way falls at this hurdle.
Then of course the theory would still have to explain how and why they were crated up and
buried.

Figure 3.4 A method of transporting a dismantled Spitfire by DC3 with a wing slung under the aircraft. No 85
R&SU May 1944 [Crown Copyright]

78

Figure 3.5. The Burma Railway System on 31December 1945 showing breaks and sections under repair.
[The National Archive Crown Copyright]

79

Figure 3.6. The Burma Railway System in January 1946 compared with the Pre War system and noting the schedule
for restoration through to May 1947.
[The National Archive Crown Copyright]

80

2. The Aircraft were dismantled and crated using crates built on site at Mingaladon
We have discounted this theory because there is no evidence of any kind that it took place
and copious evidence which shows aircraft leaving Theatre by other means or being struck
off charge and dismantled on RAF Mingaladon.
It is also the case that as the Operations Record Book for RAF Mingaladon records in May
1946, ten buildings which appeared on blueprints did not actually exist and a number of
senior NCOs were still living in tented accommodation under field service conditions. A
great concern as the 1946 monsoon approached [ORB RAF Mingaladon].
Higher up in the RAF Chain of Command, on 13 February 1946 AHQ Burma reported to HQ
ACSEA that there was a serious shortage of sawn timber and lack of labour. [AHQ Burma
ORB].

Fig 3.7 The cypher message to HQ ACSEA on13 February 1946 reporting a shortage of Timber in Burma
[The National Archive Crown Copyright]

At Unit level the ORB of 132 Repair and Salvage Unit, reported as early as 24 September
1945 that there was a shortage of timber to build crates to export aero engines [ORB 132
R&SU].
Thus to suggest that a far greater quantity of timber than was needed to crate aero engines
was available to build crates for the burial of complete aircraft at the expense of leaving RAF

81

personnel under canvas for a second monsoon season stretches credulity beyond breaking
point.
Incidentally, the same applies to the suggestion that a local carter and his son could simply
roll up to the airfield at Mingaladon, hand over valuable teak beams and then leave knowing
they were destined for the secret burial of crated aircraft.

3.

The aircraft concerned were flown or taken by railway to Mingaladon from the nearby

sister airfield at Hwabi


This theory was promoted on the Key Publications Historic Aviation Forum on 3 July 2013
after the published analysis of the genuine documentary record showed that it was most
unlikely that any Spitfire aircraft had been delivered by surface transport to Rangoon in
1945-1946. The essence of the Hwabi theory is this.
However improbable it may seemit would be a relatively simple task to knock down a couple of Squadrons of
Spitfires, box them in available of new made crates and rail then down to Mingaladon, ignoring, ignoring and
ignoring the logic of why they might be there for burial.
Key Publications Aviation Forum, Retrieved 18-12-2014

In fact such an action is far from being relatively simple. It has to be ordered by the Chain
of Command for a start and there is no known documentary evidence for such an action.
Various documents in the National archive show that the airfield at Hwabi seems to have
been routinely demilitarised and closed its, units being disbanded or redeployed as part of
the RAF draw down in Burma in the post war period and as we have seen from the ORB of
HQ ACSEA it finally closed on 30 April 1946 over a year and a half before Burmese
independence.
It is also the case that to knock down the aircraft and place them in newly made crates, it
would require a substantial allocation of the right kind of timber, appropriately skilled
labour and other equipment and material all of which would have to be allocated in the face
of other priorities. Then the right type of flatbed railway wagons would also be required.
The circumstances of the theory emerging, that is it was first published after the original
Legend of Buried Spitfires was shown to be utterly unverifiable by both documentary and
archaeological research, suggests that its emergence was more designed to keep the story
alive. An interpretation which might be supported by the authors own apparent scepticism
displayed in the use of the term ignoring, ignoring and ignoring the logic of why they might
be there for burial.
3.

The Aircraft were destined for Operation Zipper and were buried when Zipper was

cancelled
Operation Zipper was the projected allied invasion and recapture of Malaya and Singapore.
In the planning through the summer of 1945, Zipper a large scale amphibious operation was

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designed to deliver 100,000 Allied troops and 500 aircraft into theatre from India and
Ceylon. The operation was cancelled when it was rendered unnecessary by the surrender of
Japan in August. However, a scaled down version of Operation Zipper was carried out on
starting on 4 September 1945 and a larger Operation under the code name Operation
Tiderace using much of the reassigned Zipper Force, was rapidly planned and executed
following the surrender of Japan.
Some versions of the legend of the buried Spitfires hold that the burial came about because
crated Spitfires which had been moved forward to RAF Mingaladon suddenly became Surplus
to Requirements when Operation Zipper was cancelled.

There is no documentary evidence

which supports this theory.


The comprehensive documents prepared by the logisticians for Operation Zipper do refer to
the import of crated Spitfires into Theatre, but a document dated 3 August 1945 and
originating with 224 Group in Bombay [Mumbai] shows that the wastage of Spitfires during
Operation Zipper would be covered by deliveries from aircraft carriers until D+70 [D-Day
being originally scheduled as 9 September 1945]. The 224 Group was bidding for space for
crated Spitfires, but only on a convoy scheduled for D+53.
In other words crated Spitfires were not being forwarded to RAF Mingaladon in August 1945.
A fact corroborated by the records of 41 Embarkation Unit at Rangoon Docks which did not
import any aircraft of any description until December 1945.

Fig 3.8 The message from 224 Group describing the supply of Spitfires to Operation Zipper
[The National Archives Crown Copyright]

It is also worth pointing out that in August 1945 the RAF Engineering Branch was having
considerable problems with defective rear wing attachments on MkVIII and MkXIV Spitfires.
This led to a temporary ban on dive bombing and low level attack sorties. However, the

83

documents suggest these aircraft were kept in service albeit with the restrictions on their
use, rather than being struck off charge or otherwise disposed of.

4. The Burial was so secret it never appeared in the Official Records


The Beyond Top Secret argument is usually the last line of defence for conspiracy theorists
faced with conventional evidence which contradicts the conspiracy theory and no evidence
that the conspiracy theory has any basis in reality.
Faced with this kind of assertion there is nothing that a researcher can do except to quote
Occam's Razor- the solution which requires the least number of assumptions is likely to be
the most correct- and then retreat gracefully leaving the field to those who value belief over
evidence.
A complimentary theory to the Secret Burial holds that...

6. There are Secret files in the British Embassy in Yangon and/or at the CIA which will be
released and reveal the entire story once the Spitfires are located
The concept of secret or supressed documents is another common trope in lost treasure
stories.

Indeed, commercial Treasure Hunters often allude to secret or uninsured

cargoes, and report newspaper rumours as fact, in an attempt to attract speculative or


overly romantic investors. For example in 2014 Odyssey Marine Exploration suggested the
wreck of the Paddle Steamer Central America continaed a secret cargo of gold shipped by
the US Army X Still Marks Sunken Spot and Gold Still Awaits. When the ship was excavated
during 2014 no such cargo was found.
In the case of the Burma Spitfires this suggestion of Secret Files and the ongoing role of the
Intelligence Services in covering up of a secret burial became a consistent undercurrent of
Mr Cundalls story and it can be seen expressed here in another interview given to Mark
Mannucci [MM] and Anna Bowers of Room 608 Productions [Our Italics].

MM: Why couldnt the Brits bury the planes themselves? Why did they-DC: They probably didnt have any equipment. Um, it was a favour they did for the British.

There is American file on the burials. Ive seen one page of it. Uh, we did get the, um, information from an ex-CIA
agent, who faxed over a copy of it. Uh, and it confirmed that we have found them at Mingaladon.
MM: Where is that page?
DC: Well, it was a hand sketch. The man didnt take the file out. He wasnt allowed to. So he memorized it and he
drew the runway. He drew the [Chun?], or the wet area, and he put a cross.
MM: This is the CIA man?

84

DC: Yeah. CIA man. Yeah.


MM: What was his name?
DC: Jim Clymer.
MM: Do you remember how it was spelled?
DC: Um, C-l-y-m-e-r. Uh, Im not sure whether hes still alive or not. I cant contact him.
MM: And why would the CIA be involved?
DC: Uh, well, uh, it was a secret operation. Um, it was a favor to the British. Uh, and, um, the only record, uh, that I
found is from, from them. The British wont let me have their files because its still Burma. They dont want to be
criticized for burying arms, um, especially in Burma. Maybe in years to come that will be reversed. They will
probably give me the file.
MM: Because there is no record of any Seebees
DC: No.
MM: --serving.
DC: None at all. None at all.
MM: And that tells you?
DC: That, that adds more weight to this secret operation.
[Interview with Room 608 Productions, used by permission]

As can be seen this version of the story manages to bring together the CIA, the British
military authorities and the Foreign Office through the British Embassy in Rangoon/Yangon,
in a secret operation and cover up. However even leaving aside the discrepancies in the
story, for example, Mr Cundall refers to the CIA rather than the more correct OSS [the Office
of Strategic Services the CIAs predecessor organisation] the evidence is US Forces withdrew
from Burma as rapidly as possible in 1945. In addition it must be pointed out that lost files
and the fact that dead or otherwise non contactable human sources are a constant in many
buried treasure stories. Certainly we have not been able to find any evidence of such a
cover up. As a result our conclusion is that, while it is always possible that material relating
to Burma during this period has been withheld or destroyed for any number of reasons,
such is the range of documentation available regarding Burma during the period 19451948, including material relating to once highly secret SOE Operations and Cabinet level
reports about the same difficult security situation within Burma which supporters of the
burial legend cite as corroboration, it would be stretching credulity to breaking point once
again to suggest that only material relating to the alleged burial of Spitfires has been
withheld or redacted.
Retired British diplomat and Burma Desk Officer from 1959 to 1962, Derek Tonkin also
reminded the members of the Key Publications Historic Aviation Forum that any Secret files

85

held at Rangoon would have been forwarded to the Foreign Office in London for archiving as
soon as possible and all Mr Cundall had to do to see if any files were being held back from
the National Archive was to submit a formal request.
In summary Mr Tonkin has written
I can't think of any plausible reason to bury them [the Spitfires] clandestinely. In any case,
all the archives relating to clandestine operations (SOE/Force 136, OSS, Chindits etc.) have
now been release to National Archives and I am not aware that any records have been
withheld. The last batch of really sensitive material to be released (to the British Library)
were the private papers of the two last Governors of Burma, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith and
Sir Hubert Rance. They make fascinating reading, but throw no light at all on our story.
Key Publishing Burma Spitfires Discussion Page 70. Retrieved 19 Feb 2015

3.5 Conclusion
It is our conclusion that the use of documentary evidence in the traditional version of the
Buried Spitfires legend embodies the same flaws as we have already seen and discussed in
terms of the statements quoted from alleged witnesses.
1.

There was no sign of structured documentary research and no attempt to use the

copious contemporary documentary sources to provide context for the burial story.

For

example, Lord Mountbatten is quoted as authorising the burials personally in early August
1945 when a simple check in his biography and published diary would have shown that he
was not even present in Theatre, but was either at SEAC's HQ at Kandy in Ceylon [now Shri
Lanka] or in Europe where he visited London and Berlin, attending the Potsdam Conference
as part of the British delegation. Thus, even if he were to authorise the burial remotely that
would simply add to the number of people who would be involved in the chain of command
and the likelihood of the story becoming public at some point.
2. There was no understanding that the understanding and assessment of the value of a
historical document as evidence depends on context and the traditional questions:
created it?

When was it created?

creating it?

Who

Where was it created? And What was the intention in

There was also no understanding of the way documents are archived by

Government.
3. Even when useful documents were located, we have observed a number of cases where
researchers appear to have read what they wanted to read, in that documents, or even single
lines from documents, were taken as proof of a hypothesis, namely the Spitfires were buried
at Mingaladon in 1945/1946.
In at least one case a line was extracted from a document and used as evidence for the
burials taking place, even when the same document taken as a whole provides secure
evidence to the contrary.

86

4. When credible contrary evidence was published suggesting that the burial of Spitfires
could not have occurred as set out in the legend, supporters of the legend invested in
creating a fresh hypothesis which would allow the burial to have taken place. A process of
moving the goalposts which it seems possible will continue ad infinitum.
While to an outsider these hypotheses became increasingly untenable in evidential terms,
they allowed the supporters of the legend to both sustain their belief and to attack any
research which contradicted their view that the burial took place as the legend maintains.

87

4: Historic Aerial and Ground Level Photography, Historic Mapping and


Photographic Imagery of the Yangon International Airport site
Andy Brockman with Rod Scott
The importance and sensitivity of these types of imagery in relation to the legend of the
buried Burma Spitfires has already been referred to in the previous section of this report,
where the misidentification and subsequent unwitting misrepresentation in the media of a
documentary image, the alleged photograph of a Spitfire being prepared for burial in
Burma, released to the media in the Spring of 2012, served as a warning that all the images
of the site at former RAF Mingaladon would need to be located and their origin and content
examined with great care. So in embarking on this section of the report it is worth quoting
the warning offered by Dr Nicholas Saunders in his essay discussing aerial photography and
Great War Archaeology Ulysses Gaze
Aerial Photographs and satellite imagery are material culture-but what we make of them
[i.e. the interpretive process] is influenced and configured, not just by pixels and analytical
procedures, but by politics, ideology, hubris and wishful thinking.
[Saunders 2009 p38]

With that in mind it was recognised form the start of the research process that images of all
kinds would be helpful in research terms in addition to being necessary for the
documentary. However, as the Burma Spitfires project moved towards a fieldwork phase
this requirement to create as comprehensive image library relating to the site as possible
took on an increased importance, as it was vital from a planning point of view to gain an
understanding of the development of RAF Mingaladon and the wider landscape within which
the search areas were located.

Imagery was also located which showed the airfield at Mingaladon in operation, with the aim
of showing how the airfield was used, who used it and what the conditions were like on the
airfield at various periods.

This imagery served the double purpose of serving both the

purposes of the investigation of the buried Spitfires story and the purposes of the
documentary film, a very helpful economy of scale.
In discussing this imagery it is also important to stress that
1. no known aerial photograph of RAF Mingaladon depicts any action which can be
interpreted in any way as indicating the burial of Spitfires is in progress in the way that
recent analysis has captured, for example, another highly secret operation, the detraining of

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deportees at Auschwitz in real time [Sortie 60PR/694 25 August 1944 Yad Vashem
Auschwitz aerial photos].
2. It is also the case that no known aerial photograph of RAF Mingaladon can be interpreted
as indicating large numbers of aircraft have been buried in crates.
3. All known air photographs depicting earthworks at RAF Mingaladon can be subject to a
number of interpretations and it is as well to employ Occams Razor and suggest that the
interpretation which requires the least number of assumptions is the most likely to be
correct.

That is, disturbed ground photographed between 1945 and 1948 equates to

documented airfield renovation and rebuilding rather than any more exotic explanation.
In other words no known aerial photograph can be said to make it more likely or less likely
that crated Spitfires were ever buried at Mingaladon.

With that judgemental framework in place the images which were finally consulted fell into
three broad areas.
1. Air Photography of the Mingaladon Area undertaken for mapping and reconnaissance
purposes and capable of being used to locate activity and objects in the airfield space and
2. British and Japanese Maps and Plans of former RAF Mingaladon.
3. Documentary photography and images which record moments of activity, or in the case
of the paintings an artists perception of activity, which can be taken as indications of
activity, infrastructure and conditions at RAF Mingaladon.

As required by standard archaeological research methodology, where a sequence of images


of a similar location is available, the images were assessed chronologically in the form of an
image regression and it is under these three headings that the images are now discussed.
NB: In the course of this discussion it is important to note that because the 2013 excavation
trenches were to be located entirely by Mr Cundall, based on his interpretation of the
evidence available, the project team's use of air photography was designed purely to
1. Assist in the interpretation of the wider landscape and its features by identifying the
general location of airfield infrastructure and other features at various periods,
2.

Thus to assist in the interpretation of any features which might be discovered in Mr

Cundall's trenches and

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3. As Rod Scott discusses in his contribution to this report, to assist in the risk assessment
for unexploded ordnance.
In short, unlike a conventional archaeological excavation, the trench array was not based on
any attempt to locate and evaluate features identified from the available aerial photographic
and map regression by the project team.
If that had been the teams methodology the trench array would have looked very different.

4.1 The use of aerial photography related to RAF Mingaladon


The project team examined aerial

photography taken

between

1942 and

2012.

Most images were vertical exposures in black and white taken by Royal Air Force and other
Allied Air Forces Photo Reconnaissance sorties undertaken between October 1942 and the
end of British rule in Burma on 1 January 1948.
Contemporary colour aerial photography was taken from Google earth and other openly
available sources.

4.1.1 Google Earth


The freely available Google Earth software makes establishing a time line of activity on the
Yangon Airport site a very straightforward matter.
-

The 2004 Excavations

The 2004 excavations by Mr Cundall and Michael Hatcher, which were witnessed in their
initial stages by Dr Booth and later by Malcolm Weale of Geofizz Ltd, are proven and shown
in Google Earth imagery dated 6 November 2004.

The 2013 Excavations

The first stages of the 2013 excavations are visible on Google earth imagery dated 15
January 2013.

However it should be noted that these images predate the later trenches

described in this report.

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4.1.2 Overlays of Vertical Aerial Photography in Google Earth


Overlaying maps and aerial photography to assist in the understanding of an archaeological
site and aid the location of potential trenches is a standard technique in field and landscape
archaeology.
In the professional archaeology world this work conventionally undertaken using GIS
[Geographical Information System] Software, in the UK usually Arc GIS, although other
programmes such as Manifold and the Open Source GRASS, are also available.

However, in the case of the 2013 Burma Spitfires fieldwork, the trench array was to be
confined to locations which would be chosen by Mr Cundall. Initially the principal area of
interest was the site of the T-shaped geophysical anomaly identified in 2004 which Mr
Cundall indicated would be his priority in the Press Conference at the Imperial War Museum
(November 2012) and elsewhere.

Therefore it was decided that the more limited, but still effective, layering features of Google
Earth would be used to provide basic information about the development of the areas of RAF
Mingaladon which Mr Cundall was interested in and their relationship with the modern
layout of Yangon International Airport.
This was deemed important by the team for two reasons.
1. The evidence provided to the project team suggested that no assessment of the
potential for historic airfield infrastructure being located in the areas Mr Cundall chose
to survey had been undertaken previously because the excavations had been purely
focussed on digging for crated Spitfires at particular locations regardless of the actual
history of those locations as illuminated by documents, maps, plans and photography.
2. As Rod Scott will described, aerial photography for the period 1942-1945 could be
used, in conjunction with other information such as Bomb Damage Assessments [BDA's],
to assess the risk of encountering unexploded ordnance at particular locations.

A vital

safety element which we believe was also ignored previously in excavations at Yangon
International Airport.

Therefore Andy Brockman undertook the overlay of various period air photographs on the
most recent available Google earth Imagery on the basis of obtaining an approximate best
fit using the standard technique which utilises a minimum of three control points

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common to each image which could then be overlaid on top of each other. These controls
varied according to the size of the area covered by the original photograph, but included the
Old Prome No 1 Road with its distinctive curve and runway crossing; the taxiway and
hangers to the north east of the site which is crossed by the Old Prome No 1 Road; and
buildings within the Mingaladon Cantonment as well as the Mingaladon to Rangoon railway
spur on the south east side of the airfield.
As can be seen in the sequence of images described below, the area of interest to Mr
Cundall saw much activity throughout the period 1942 to 1947 including the extension of
what became the main runway and the provision of a new main runway and adjacent taxi
ways on the same alignment. Earlier images show a taxi way leading from a turning circle to
an area of hangers and workshops and shorter taxi way leading to a dispersal area as well as
numerous blast pens and other structures. The old Prome No 1 Road is also clearly shown
in the photographic sequence and its course remained fossilised in the landscape even after
the 1946 diversion of the road to accommodate the runway extension. We should note here
that the Prome Road remains visible at ground level from the airfield as a gap in the tree
cover on the north side of the so called Red Road where the surviving stub of the Prome
Road is located.

4.2 Historical air photographs relating to the north east quadrant of former RAF
Mingaladon
The Burma Spitfires team were able to examine a comprehensive sequence of air
photographs covering the period 1942 to 1947. The sources for these images include the
National Archive at Kew and the Royal Air Force Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre
[JARIC]. The JARIC material came courtesy of Spitfire researcher Peter Arnold and we are
grateful for his assistance. All photographs are Crown Copyright and in the Public Domain.
The objective was to create a standard photographic progression showing the developing
and changing situation on the ground in the area Mr Cundall claimed that Spitfires were
buried with a view to assessing
1. Whether the images contain any evidence for or against the burial of Spitfires at RAF
Mingaladon,
2. Which other buildings or features might be present in the areas of interest with a view to
assessing what might survive in the archaeological record, and
3. The risk from Unexploded Ordnance [UXO]. Rod Scott will describe this process in detail
in Chapter 6 of this report so no further comment will be made here.

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4.3 Chronology of the Development of the West South West Quadrant of RAF
Mingaladon as revealed in Air Photographs 1942-1947
The Situation in June 1945
The team looked at Interpretation and Bomb Damage Assessment Reports for RAF
Mingaladon contained in files found at the National Archive [Air23/3869] which included a
number of air photographs including close ups of the area of interest to Mr Cundall.

Figure 4.1 RAF Mingaladon under Japanese occupation in the autumn of 1942. The area of interest in 2013 is
approximately the upper and lower quadrants, right of frame at the west south west end of the pre war ENE-WSW
runway
[TNA AIR23/3869 Crown Copyright]

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The earliest high resolution air photograph consulted dates from 26 October 1942 and was
taken by 3 PRU of the Royal Air Force [474 ND/64 3 Photo Reconnaissance Unit]. This image
supplies a baseline of data relating to the site as it was six months after the Japanese take
over in March 1942 [Fig 4.1].
Of particular note is the course of the Prome Road and the taxi way to the hangers and
engineering area in the lower left quadrant of the frame.

These clearly avoid the then

southern end of the channel or Chaung.


As can be clearly seen, the area of interest to Mr Cundall already contained a number of
structures, roads and track ways and bomb craters east of the Old Prome No 1 Road, within
the bounds of the airfield all of which would be expected to leave at least some trace in the
archaeological record.
The team then followed the RAF reconnaissance and bomb damage photography through to
the early months of 1945 in order to get an impression of the state of development of the
airfield, and damage to it, when the RAF took over in June 1945.

Figure 4.2 The same area of RAF Mingaladon photographed on 4 March 1945 showing extensive cratering from
allied bombing and numerous structures including hangars and blast pens built by the Japanese. Centre frame the
Old Prome No 1 Road can be seen crossing the WSW runway extension which would be completed by the British.
[TNA AIR23/3869 Crown Copyright]

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By the early months of 1945 the area of interest to Mr Cundall was still clearly an
operational part of the airfield, containing blast pens and other structures as well as visible
damage in the form of extensive cratering from SEACs tactical bombing campaign [Fig 4.2].
Importantly the runway extension of the main runway was also already underway. However,
the Prome No1 Road is still clearly visible in the area of disturbance.
Of course it must be stressed that these images predate the alleged burials by a period of
up to three years and are only of use in assessing the layout and development of the airfield
at Mingaladon.
While once again useless as a source of evidence for the buried Spitfires story, either for or
against, there is further very good RAF air photography of Mingaladon dating from 1947, a
year after the alleged burials took place, which sheds a great deal of light on the
development of the airfield in the area of interest to Mr Cundall.

Figure 4.3 The same area of RAF Mingaladon photographed in February 1947 showing the completed runway and
taxiway modernisation undertaken by the Royal Engineers.
[The National Archive Crown Copyright]

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By 1947 [Figure 4.3] the post war layout was complete, with the now extended main runway
crossing the course of the Prome Road which is clearly seen to take a clumsy diversion
around the west south west end of the runway.
From the accounts of the Royal Engineers cross referenced with the visual sources such as
the Hennell paintings and the RAF air photographs an example of which is shown in Fig 4.3
and 4.4, it appears that the runway was extended with material redistributed from a process
of scraping and levelling of parts of the hill top adjacent to the north west end of the new
runway.

Fig 4.4 Detail of an RAF air photograph taken in January 1947 showing the area of the water channel or chaung [A]
controlling the course of the Prome Road [B] and the infilling of part of the chaung to allow for the building of the
north side taxi way [C]
[Base Image: The National Archive Crown Copyright]

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As can be seen the course of the Prome Road is controlled by the presence of the dried out
channel of the Chaung which is clearly seen running top right to lower left of frame to the
right of the Prome Road which is clearly seen to curve to avoid the south end of the chaung.
It also appears that the south end of the chaung was levelled with dumped material to allow
the building of the new post war taxi way which runs to the north of the relaid main runway,
bottom of frame.

This is apparently corroborated by the images of Dakota KN594 which

aborted its take-off and slid off the runway into a ditch, probably this chaung, in October
1945. Key Publishing Burma Spitfires Discussion Page 178.

Photographs show the aircraft was apparently stripped of anything movable or useful and
then at least partially covered by dumped material from the runway works.

However, there

is no indication the aircraft was deliberately buried as part of a landfill operation. It appears
it was simply inconvenient to try to move it when there were far more important calls on the
scarce engineering resources of the RAF at Mingaladon.

4.4 Historical documentary photography related to RAF Mingaladon


As discussed previously the only alleged photograph of the burial of Spitfires in Burma is
irrevocably tainted as evidence and the complete lack of other verifiable photographs or
cinematic records of the alleged burial of the Burma Spitfires, has always been a major
obstacle to the story becoming more widely accepted by mainstream aviation historians.
This is a particularly pointed omission when it is considered that many photographs exist in
the public domain of even more clandestine operations, extending to the mortuary
photograph of the deceased rough sleeper Glyndwr Michael, the Man who Never Was
published in Ben Mackintyres book Operation Mincemeat [Bloomsbury 2010] and even of
atrocities in the process of being committed during the Holocaust.
Indeed, in spite of attempts to prohibit candid and amateur photography in all the armed
forces a huge archive of photographs exists taken during World War Two by participants
using the first and second generations of easily portable 35mm roll film cameras and even
cine cameras.

Major Roger Browning RE used both types of equipment throughout the

Burma Campaign and even had access to some colour cine film. Some of this material is
held in publicly maintained archives such as that of the United Kingdoms Imperial War
Museum and it must be assumed that much more is held in family and private archives
waiting to be discovered and assessed by historians, although it must be argued that thanks
to its sheer quantity and diversity, what is available in the archive forms a representative
sample of the total.

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We have found this to be as true of the India/Burma/China Theatre of Operations as


anywhere else in World War Two. Even when the scope is narrowed just to RAF Mingaladon
there is a substantial amount of photography available which relates directly to the layout
and use of the site at the period the burial of Spitfires is alleged to have occurred.
The team found no evidence that previous researchers into the buried Spitfires story had
attempted to access this material.
The principal archives consulted were

The Imperial War Museum

The Getty Archive

The Australian War Memorial

Having examined these archives in detail, while the photography offers many insights into
the state of RAF Mingaladon at various periods, the activities of personnel, and offers a
ground-level view of a number of the structures which can be seen in aerial photography
(e.g., dispersal areas), there is nothing which can be said to shed any light on the buried
Spitfires story, either for or against.
However, as an example of the coverage in archive photography of clandestine activities
there is a sequence of Photographs in the Australian National War Memorial which includes
Japanese personnel being transported by 357 Special Duties Squadron during the period in
the Autumn of 1945 when SEAC were attempting to arrange the peaceful surrender of the
Imperial Japanese Burma Area Army. Similar photographs are available in the UK National
Archive. Therefore it is considered likely that had any burial of Spitfires taken place, some
form of photographic record would survive and with the extensive media coverage the story
gained in 2012/2013, it would have come to light and would have been placed in the public
domain. It is surely significant that it has not.

4.5 Historic mapping


The UK National archive contains various plans and maps of RAF Mingaladon and its
environs including the scaled plan of the airfield compiled by the RAF Targeteers in May
1943 and reproduced below.
A further targeting map was produced in February 1945. The most significant feature as far
as the investigation is concerned was the presence of runway works indicating a plan to
extend the West South West end of the principle runway. This is reproduced here as the

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primary mapping source for the layout of RAF Mingaladon when the Royal Air Force
reoccupied the site in the Summer of 1945 (Figure 4.1).
While useful in assessing the layout of RAF Mingaladon at various periods between 1942 and
1946 none of the maps or plans consulted in professionally maintained archives, such as
the UK National Archive, contain any useful information directly relating to the Buried Burma
Spitfires story.
In other words, as far as archived mapping and plans are concerned the Spitfire burial
operation cannot be said to have taken place. Instead the available maps and plans from
the period 1942-1948 effectively corroborate the evidence of the air photographs. Indeed,
air photographs are the principle source for the wartime maps and plans.

Figure 4.5. RAF Targeting Map of former RAF Mingaladon then under Japanese occupation and dated 6-2-1945
[The National Archive Crown Copyright]

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Mr Cundall also supplied a number of sketch plans allegedly showing the location of Spitfire
burials and an annotated airfield map of RAF Mingaladon all of which appear to have been
derived from private sources or privately acquired information.

All appear to have been

generated during the period Mr Cundall has been researching the Buried Spitfires story,
which is between approximately 1995 and 2012.
For example this sketch [Figure 4.7] supplied to Room 608 Productions is designed to
indicate Stanley Coombs view of the crates from the Prome Road looking towards Rangoon
in the Spring of 1946.

Figure 4.6 Modern Sketch of the view towards Rangoon with runway and crates
[Supplied by David Cundall to Room 608 Productions used by permission].

The team was not able to verify the origin or contents of any of these maps and plans.

Conclusion
In conclusion it is perhaps worth quoting the great pioneer of archaeological air
photography OGS Crawford who had the vision to see how such images could lay out a
palimpsest of the past, but were at the same time dependent on ephemeral accidents of
nature and light. In 1928 Crawford wrote in the introduction to his seminal book Wessex
from the Air
On a June morning before breakfast the greater part of Salisbury Plain is seen to be covered with the banks of
abandoned Celtic fields, but afterwards they fade into the light of common day.

In paintings, plans and photographs the buried Burma Spitfires too fade into ephemeral
nothingness in the light of common day.

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5: The 2004 and 2013 Geophysical Surveys

Figure 5.1. Map of geophysical acquisitions performed at Mingaladon Airport, Myanmar, during the
2004 and 2013 field campaigns, detailed in the main text. Background image Google Earth,
12/08/2012). Lower right: location map within Mingaladon Airport (blue and red rectangles show,
respectively, locations of the enlarged map above and the survey area). Inset table shows geographic
co-ordinates of the corners of the local grid.

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This chapter reports on two campaigns of geophysical survey conducted at Mingaladon


Airport, and presents observations and interpretations of the data that were collected.
Section 5.1 presents the motivation for geophysical survey and describes how certain survey
methods were selected for use at Mingaladon. Sections 5.2 and 5.3 then describe the field
campaigns undertaken in 2004 and 2013, respectively.
To serve as an initial reference, Figure 5.1 shows an overview map of the complete suite of
geophysical measurements performed in both survey campaigns. Note that the inset map
shows the location of the survey grid within Mingaladon Airport, and the inset table gives
the latitude and longitude co-ordinates of the corners of the local grid.

5.1 Geophysical Survey Rationale and Methods


While it is not the place of this chapter to serve as a textbook for geophysical theory and
survey design, it is deemed necessary to contextualise the geophysical surveys performed as
part of this project.

We therefore review the rationale behind geophysical survey,

considering the advantages and limitations of geophysical analysis, before placing these
considerations within the framework of the survey at Mingaladon Airport.

If the reader

wishes to appreciate the subject in greater detail, the publication by Mussett and Khan
(2000) is an accessible book for the technically-minded non-specialist.

5.1.1 What is Geophysics?


Geophysics is the application of the principles and experimental methods of physics to
study what is beneath the Earths surface without actually disturbing it. It is applied on an
immense range of scales, starting at centimetre-scale analyses of soil structure, through the
kilometre-scale thickness of the Earths tectonic plates, all the way through the dimensions
of the Earth itself.

As such, the features that it can reveal magma beneath volcanos,

hydrocarbon reservoirs, engineering and construction materials are similarly diverse. The
scientific discipline is rather little known to the general public, but it has provides (and still
provides) immense practical value to society (Lawyer et al. 2001): for example, it is the
principal tool by which the worlds chief energy source hydrocarbons are detected, and
has similar applicability in the detection of mineral reserves and aquifer assessment. Its
application in this report spans near-surface environmental and engineering (Reynolds,
2011) and archaeological geophysics (Clark, 1996), with the top tens of metres of the
subsurface under investigation.

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5.1.1.1 How does Geophysics work?


The scientific basis of a geophysical survey lies in different materials (soils, rocks, or
otherwise) having differing physical properties, such as their density or electrical properties.
For example, water-saturated sandstones and clays do conduct electricity to some degree
but, by contrast, a crystalline rock (such as granite) is essentially an electrical resistor.
Therefore, geophysical surveys that exploit electrical properties could be useful in efficiently
diagnosing whether the subsurface is composed of clay or crystalline rock at some depth of
interest. In general, it is the differences in these properties that represent a measurable
change termed an anomaly in the physical observations that are made.

A schematic example of a geophysical survey is shown in Figure 5.2a. The gravitational


field we experience at surface is influenced by the density of the material beneath our feet.
An air-filled cave, in otherwise solid rock, represents a local reduction in density (to all
intents and purposes, the density of air is effectively 0 kgm-3, whereas that of rock exceeds
2000 kgm-3) therefore the Earths gravitational field is weaker immediately above that cave.

Figure 5.2. Schematic representation of a geophysical survey over a target subsurface, here describing
the use of gravity methods for detecting and characterising an air-filled cavity in otherwise solid rock.
a) True geology and expected gravity response. The density (symbol ) of the air is much less than
that of the rock, and the geophysical data would be expected to show a low gravity anomaly. b)
Derivation of a geophysical model. By comparing a predicted response to the observed data, the
geophysical data can be used to derive a geophysical model of subsurface structure.

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A survey of local variations in the strength of the Earths gravity is therefore an effective
means of detecting and characterising the cave.
Gravity surveying is an example of a passive geophysical survey, in which an instrument is
deployed to measure the natural condition of the subsurface. By contrast, active methods
require some type of signal to be injected into the ground, and recorded after it has
travelled through the subsurface (e.g., the use of echo sounding by ships to assess water
depth).

It is also necessary to distinguish contact and non-contact methods, with the

former requiring some form of signal generator, and sensors or detectors, to be implanted
in the ground. Surveying with a contact method is more labour-intensive than non-contact
since the installation of sensors is time-consuming: as such, contact methods are less
efficient in terms of both areal coverage and cost. Of course, this does not mean that any
given method will be excluded on the basis of efficiency alone, but survey efficiency will
always be considered in the design stages of a geophysical investigation.

5.1.1.2 An Overview of the Geophysical Survey Process


The first stage of any proposed geophysical survey is a desk study of the anticipated
physical characteristics of the target (including its depth, geometry and material properties)
and the geological or other materials that surround it. These studies establish whether the
target is detectable in principle, or whether it is too small, deep or lacks sufficient contrast
with its host. Once such issues are understood, appropriate geophysical method(s) can be
recommended and balanced against other constraints (including budget, logistics, access
and environmental restrictions) to decide in practice if and how it is worth applying
geophysical surveys to the characterisation of the target.
After making a choice of geophysical method(s), a survey is performed and geophysical data
are acquired. These raw data typically require some degree of data processing but can then
be interpreted to produce a prediction (model) of what is causing the observed anomalies.
The interpretation process may be purely qualitative, or it may be quantitative at any
number of levels of sophistication (at most requiring technical geophysical insight and
extensive computational power, as is routine in the hydrocarbon industry).
This overview is also contextualised in Figure 5.2. Having identified gravity surveying as the
most effective way to image the subsurface cavity, a campaign of field survey is undertaken
and geophysical observations are obtained (Figure 5.2a). Having processed these data, a
geophysical model is created; when there is an appropriate match between the observed
data and the predicted model response, that model is accepted as a plausible explanation
for the observations (Figure 5.2b).

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In other circumstances, geophysics may be applied in a reconnaissance sense.


Acquisitions are performed using efficient (i.e., fast and inexpensive) geophysical methods
in order to obtain an overview of the geophysical character of a site, and thereafter to
determine if and where further geophysical surveys (using less-efficient but more
quantitative methods) and/or trial excavations should be performed.

Reconnaissance

methods typically require little data processing before an initial interpretation can be made
and, as such, they are typically extremely useful in situations where there is a short timeframe for surveying, and where there must be rapid communication between a geophysical
survey crew and an excavation team.

Indeed, reconnaissance-style acquisitions were

included as part of the field campaigns at Mingaladon Airport in both 2004 and 2013
(Sections 5.2 and 5.3).
5.1.1.3 Uncertainty and Ambiguity in Geophysical Surveys
However simple or sophisticated the interpretation of the geophysical dataset, the
subsurface model it predicts wont be a perfect representation of what is actually present.
Those interpretations can be affected by:

an imperfect description of the physics of the real-world in our calculations such

that the model is imperfectly accurate (note in Figure 5.2 that the cave has small-scale
geometric features which are not represented by the model),

propagation of measurement errors into the final survey the model is imperfectly
precise, and

ambiguities where more than one subsurface model can fit the observed data (e.g.,

Figure 5.3) the model is non-unique.


Finally, it is important to appreciate that the geophysical interpretation is merely a
prediction of a targets geometry, depth and physical contrast. In both Figures 5.2 and 5.3,
the geophysical model makes no claims about the cause of the anomaly, only that it is likely
caused by a density contrast of 2300 kgm-3 which is localised in vaguely elliptical region
beneath the ground. To place a geological (or engineering, archaeological, etc.) significance
on the interpretation of a model requires insight into what is likely to be present in a given
subsurface, and requires discussion with expert practitioners in those relevant disciplines.
Once these caveats are understood and accommodated into the survey design and
interpretation, geophysics is a powerful de-risking tool to guide invasive investigations such
as trial-pits, excavations, or boreholes.

The billions of dollars spent on geophysical

exploration by hydrocarbons industries, the mandatory surveys which form part of


engineering projects, and the numerous examples of archaeological case studies, are
testament to this.

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Figure 5.3. Non-uniqueness in a geophysical survey. The three scenarios depicted in (a), (b) and (c)
could give geophysical anomalies which match the modelled data equally well. a) Air-filled cavity, as
in Figure 5.2. b) The air-filled cavity is larger, but high-density () material at its base cancels out
the effect of extra air in the subsurface. c) Water-filled cavity in a higher-density rock: although
water has a higher density (1000 kgm-3) than air, the anomaly produced will be identical to that in (a)
if the contrast of 2300 kgm-3 is present between cavity and host rock.

5.1.1.4 Geophysics in a Near-Surface Application


It could be considered that the most definitive way of characterising a subsurface target
would be to perform an excavation, since digging will eventually prove (or disprove) whether
that target is genuinely present. Indeed, one of the questions that a field geophysicist is
often asked is Why not just dig it up?!

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Geophysical surveys provide a non-invasive, de-risking tool that can be used to specify
where trial excavations should be located, where they are not warranted, or where they must
proceed with caution if the geophysical signatures of (e.g.) unexploded ordnance (UXO) are
detected. Furthermore, surveying over a given area with geophysical methods is typically
much more efficient than excavating the equivalent area, both in terms of speed and cost.

5.1.2 Survey Considerations at Mingaladon Airport


The routine outlined in Section 5.1.1.3 was followed when considering the design of the
geophysical survey at Mingaladon Airport.

The hypothesised target a crated Spitfire

aircraft was first considered in terms of its geophysical properties, with suitable
geophysical survey methods determined thereafter. While reconnaissance for the putative
target was the principal aim of the 2004 field campaign, consideration was also given to the
characterisation of the overall archaeological framework of the Mingaladon site ahead of the
2013 survey.

5.1.2.1 A Buried, Crated Spitfire as a Geophysical Target


During planning discussions with David Cundall ahead of the 2004 field campaign (Section
5.2), the following description of the hypothesised target was provided:

The target comprises an uncertain number of wooden crates (potentially 36), each 30

ft (9 m) long, 6 ft (1.8 m) wide and 10 ft (3 m) high.

The crates are buried at a depth of some 20-30 ft (6-9 m) beneath unconsolidated

geological material, end-to-end (rather than side-by-side) in either an in situ trench or


a purpose-dug pit. Their integrity was unknown; if intact, they could be air, water or
soil-filled (or combinations thereof), but they could otherwise be crumpled or intact.

Each crate contains a partly-assembled Spitfire aircraft, with the aircraft itself made

predominantly of aluminium but with small amounts of other metal (steel, copper) in its
engine, armaments and wiring; other metallic items, such as tools, could also be
present. The condition of the metallic components depends partly on the integrity of
the crate; they could be highly corroded but otherwise, optimistically, could have been
appropriately prepared for long-term burial by being oiled and wrapped.
Since geophysical imaging requires a subsurface contrast to be present, it is important to
understand the geological/geophysical properties of the host material in addition to those
of the target. However, no formal indication of the geological properties of the site was
given. Contemporary descriptions from the Second World War, and David Cundalls own site

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visits, suggested that the area was poorly-drained (e.g., Figure 5.4) despite being on a small
plateau, and that there was a heavy, clay-rich soil present. Further guidance came from the
outcomes of trial surveys conducted at Mingaladon Airport by David Cundall and
collaborators prior to the involvement of any of the authors of this report.

Figure 5.4. Waterlogged ground conditions during the 2004 survey at Mingaladon airport. The
photograph is taken close to the existing runway, and looks north-west over the survey site
(Courtesy of Dr Adam Booth).

A further consideration must be made of additional material which could be present in the
subsurface at Mingaladon, particularly if that material has properties which are ostensibly
similar to those of the hypothesised Spitfires because the two could be confused on
interpretation of the geophysical data. From the military occupation of the site (i.e., during
the Second World War and in the years thereafter), any variety of material could remain in
the subsurface, including aircraft taxi-ways, buildings or building debris, pierced steel plate
(PSP) or even the remains of aircraft not related to the hypothesised burial.

Clearly,

historical munitions are of additional practical concern, given the risk posed to excavation
crews.

Nevertheless, whilst artefacts from the Second World War could cause a false

positive in the context of a search for the buried Spitfires, they could reveal conflict
archaeological features of great heritage value and should therefore be considered as
geophysical targets.
The modern infrastructure of the airport (e.g., buried power supplies and other services)
could also be detected during the survey.

However, it is unlikely that this would be

misinterpreted as a historical artefact since it ought to be possible to confirm its position


with airport authorities, therefore discounting it from the interpretation of the geophysical

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data. Indeed, certain infrastructure (e.g., PAPI and runway landing lights) are visible on the
ground surface hence co-located geophysical anomalies can be interpreted with due
caution.
5.1.2.2 Survey Method Selection
Given the issues of geophysical non-uniqueness and ambiguity raised in Section 5.1.1.4, no
geophysical method can be credibly considered as a Spitfire Detector.

It is therefore

important to select geophysical methods which will be sensitive to the anticipated properties
of the target, are capable of estimating its size and depth, and are compatible with the
logistical restrictions of the field campaign.
Beyond whether it is simply present in the ground or not, the biggest uncertainties in the
description of the target are the integrity of the buried crate (and hence whether or not it
still represents a void), and the degree of corrosion suffered by the aircrafts metallic
components.

However, regardless of these uncertainties, electrical conductivity was

identified as the most important physical contrast to exploit in the design of a geophysical
survey. All of the aircrafts metallic components would be highly conductive, far more so
than any natural geological materials or groundwater; Kaye and Laby (1973) list the
electrical conductivity of aluminium as 40 million S/m, compared to a typical estimate of 0.1
S/m for a clay soil (Reynolds, 2011) (S is the Siemen, the unit of electrical conductance;
note that in later displays of EM data, units of milli-Siemens are quoted). Furthermore,
these components would be present regardless of the integrity of the crate: the largest
electrical contrast would result if the crates were air-filled (given that air is an electrical
insulator), but the metallic components would still be detectable were the crate to have
collapsed or become filled with soil and/or groundwater.
Additionally, contrasts in magnetic properties were anticipated.

While the main metallic

component of the target is aluminium, secondary amounts of ferrous material, including


steel, were expected and these could provide a significant magnetic contrast with nonmagnetic soil minerals.
Consequently, three geophysical methods were deployed during the two field campaigns,
which would be sensitive to the electrical and magnetic properties of the subsurface:

Electromagnetic (EM) methods.

EM equipment is a professional/industrial scale

application of the principles used in military mine detectors and amateur archaeologists
metal detectors.

Typically, EM surveying is considered as an active, non-contact

method (see Section 5.1.2.3a), in which data acquisition is rapid and little processing is
needed before an assessment of a target subsurface can be made.

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Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) methods. ERT methods are often used as the

follow-up step to a reconnaissance survey in which electrical properties have been


exploited.

The method is active and requires contact to be made between the

subsurface and a number of electrodes between which electrical current is passed and
measured (Section 5.1.2.3b), hence the method is slow.

However ERT delivers more

accurate estimates of target depth and geometry than EM; its output data is typically a
two-dimensional profile through the ground which can be interpreted as an electrical
cross-section.

Magnetometry.

Like EM, magnetometry is a fast, non-contact, method which

measures variations in the strength of the Earths magnetic field (Section 5.1.2.3c). The
technique serves well as a reconnaissance tool, and is sensitive to targets at different
depths: shallow targets produce strong but narrow anomalies, whereas the anomaly
from a deeper target is weaker but broad. Magnetometry is an ideal complement to
electrical surveying since the combination of two offers corroboration of depth estimates
and the ability to discriminate between ferrous and non-ferrous (i.e., magnetic and nonmagnetic) metals.

Magnetometry would also assist with the characterisation of other

archaeological features at the Mingaladon site and, importantly, with the de-risking of
excavations by identifying potential UXO (Chapter 6).

Two other methods were considered as potentially useful for detecting the target at
Mingaladon Airport but, after consideration of other factors, these were deemed to be lessattractive than the three methods already mentioned. For completeness, we review their
advantages and drawbacks here.

Gravity surveying. If an intact crate is viewed as a hollow in the subsurface,

representing a zone of low density, it may be detectable with gravity methods (e.g.,
Figure 5.2).

This has been shown to be worthwhile where subsurface voids (e.g.,

building basements, mine workings) are anticipated. However, here, the target crates
could be collapsed or water-flooded thereby reducing their density contrast with host
soil. The additional fact that gravity surveys are somewhat slow to perform suggests
that survey effort would be better directed towards exploiting electrical contrasts.

Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR).

GPR is widely established in near-surface

surveying and its survey speed makes it attractive in reconnaissance surveying. While
the putative crates would make excellent GPR targets, the GPR signal is rapidly absorbed
in a wet, clay-rich soil (like that expected at Mingaladon) hence the target depth
(exceeding 6 m) is deemed to be too great for effective GPR use. This effect is seen in
results from small-scale trial surveys conducted by David Cundalls other collaborators,
who showed that GPR is ineffective beyond depths of 1 m. GPR was therefore dismissed
as a suitable method.

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It is again important to stress again the issue of ambiguity in the interpretation of


geophysical survey results.

If anomalies are detected by any/all of these methods, the

anomalies are not themselves sufficient to conclude that buried Spitfires are present: those
anomalies are merely the necessary evidence for such an interpretation, and serve as guides
for whatever further investigation is deemed appropriate.
5.1.2.3 Selected Survey Systems
There are many systems available for the acquisition of geophysical data. Those applied in
the geophysical survey of Mingaladon Airport are listed here, in addition to basic theory (see
e.g., Reynolds (2011) for further detail).
a. Electromagnetic (EM) System
A Geonics EM34-3 system (Figure 5.5) was used as the reconnaissance tool during the 2004
and 2013 surveys, to provide rapid detection of electrical conductivity anomalies at the
Mingaladon site.

Figure 5.5. Schematic diagram of EM34-3 theory. a) Operator, and a coil of the Geonics EM34-3, held
here in upright orientation (photo: A.Booth). b) Induction of currents in subsurface electrical
conductors by the electromagnetic field radiated from the transmitter coil (T). c) Subsurface currents
and their associated secondary electromagnetic field, detected at the receiver coil (R). Note that (b)
and (c) are separated for clarity, but essentially occur simultaneously.

As with many EM systems, the EM34-3 comprises two coils (orange hoop in Figure 5.5a)
which serve as a transmitter (T) and a receiver (R) of an electromagnetic field.

The

electromagnetic field radiated from the transmitter (green, Figure 5.5b) induces electrical
currents in any subsurface conductive object in the subsurface (red, Figure 5.5b) and is also
detected by at the receiver.

The subsurface current then induces a secondary

electromagnetic field (blue, Figure 5.5c), also detected by the receiver coil. The equipment

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then compares the transmitted and secondary fields, leading to an estimate of the
subsurface conductivity at a particularly survey location.
Unlike most EM systems, the coils of the EM34-3 are separable and are not fixed (e.g.)
within some prefabricated housing.

As such, the equipment can be tuned to provide

sensitivity to different depth ranges hence the EM34-3 is rather more flexible than some
other systems. This is achieved by i) changing the orientation of the coils with respect to the
ground surface, and ii) changing the separation between them.
The theory behind different coil orientations is detailed in the manufacturers technical
notes (McNeill, 1983), but the basic overview is as follows:
1)

With coils held in an upright position (e.g., Figure 5.5a), the EM34-3 is most

sensitive to the electrical properties of the material immediately beneath the ground surface,
and is effectively insensitive to material at a depth greater than one-half of the separation
between coils.
2)

With coils lying flat on the ground (e.g., schematically in Figure 5.5b), the EM34-3 is

most sensitive to material at a depth equal to 0.4-times the coil separation, although
significant contributions are still received from a range of depths from 0.2 to 1.5-times that
separation.

It should be noted that the actual system response of the EM34-3 is a complex function of
target depth and subsurface electrical properties, but these guidelines are nonetheless a
useful rule-of-thumb when designing a survey. Furthermore, by comparing observations
made at the same location with different coil orientations it is possible to speculate on the
likely burial depth of a conductive object: if that object is located at a similar depth in the
ground to the separation between the coils, it is more-likely to be detected using flat-lying
coils than upright coils given that the latter are most-sensitive to material at very shallow
depth.

In terms of coil separation, the EM34-3 can function with coils offset by either 10 m, 20 m
or 40 m. In both 2004 and 2013 campaigns, the separation between coils was fixed at 20
m given advice from David Cundall that the hypothesised target was buried at a depth of up
to 9 m.

In accordance with the McNeill (1983) technical notes, it follows that for coils

separated by 20 m:
1)

Upright coils will be insensitive to material buried deeper than 10 m (33 ft) (i.e., half

of the 20 m coil separation), and most sensitive to material immediately beneath the ground
surface.

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2)

Flat-lying coils are most sensitive to a range of 4-30 m (12-100 ft) beneath the

ground surface (i.e., from 0.2- to 1.5-times the 20 m separation), and are most sensitive to
a depth of 8 m (26 ft) (i.e., 0.4-times the 20 m coil separation).
The use of a 20m coil separation does impede the spatial resolution of the EM34-3 system
(i.e., the detail with which it perceives subsurface structure); however the principal remit of
the EM34-3 survey was site reconnaissance rather than detailed characterisation hence
resolution issues are not deemed to be crucial.
b. Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) System
A SYSYCAL IRIS PRO ERT system was deployed at the Mingaladon site during the 2013
campaign, following the initial reconnaissance performed in 2004 and that performed
during 2013.
ERT systems inject and monitor electrical current in the ground via a series of electrodes
which are installed along a given profile (Figure 5.6a). The measurement method is exactly
analogous to using a voltmeter; current is passed between one pair of electrodes, and the
voltage (or potential) is measured at a second pair. The resistance of the material is then
obtained via Ohms Law, which states that resistance is simply the ratio of voltage to
current.

The interpretation of ERT data requires that certain geometric corrections are

made, since the path length of electrical current changes depending on electrode spacing,
but Ohms Law forms the basis of ERT theory.
The output from an ERT survey can be interpreted as a cross-sectional slice through the
ground, along a given surface profile; the slice usually shows electrical resistivity as a
function of surface position and depth. The effective sample depth is modified by changing
the separation between the electrodes; when electrodes are widely separated, current is
made to sample to greater depth (Figure 5.6b). The lateral variation in resistivity structure
is imaged by moving the electrodes along the ground surface (Figure 5.6c). Although this
would appear to be a labour intensive process, involving the movement of many pairs of
electrodes, modern ERT systems feature a switchbox (Figure 5.6a) which sequentially selects
a set of electrodes to be energised. As such, after the initial installation of electrodes along
the profile, the ERT equipment can take care of itself. Nonetheless, the ERT survey can still
take around two hours to install and run, therefore ERT profiles are scheduled only after
reconnaissance surveys have been performed.
The ERT system available to this project is used with 48 electrodes, but a trade-off exists
between lateral resolution and the depth of sampling hence electrode spacing must be
chosen carefully. Closely-spaced electrodes allow the ERT survey to resolve the detail of
lateral variations in resistivity structure, but a rule-of-thumb suggests that the greatest
sample depth will be to one-sixth of the largest electrode spacing.

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For the profiles

performed at Mingaladon Airport, it was necessary to characterise electrical conductivities to


a depth exceeding 12 m (i.e., the 9 m burial depth as suggested by David Cundall, plus the
3 m height of the crate). As such, all ERT profiles were designed with this criterion in mind.
Since resistivity is the reciprocal of conductivity, quantities observed in an ERT dataset can
be compared to those in EM data. Resistivities are quoted in units of m ( is the 'Ohm', the
unit of electrical resistance).

Figure 5.6. Schematic diagram of ERT usage.


a) Operator, and the control console of the SYSCAL IRIS PRO system; inset, an electrode installed along
the profile line (photos: A. Booth).
b) Current passed between the blue, green and orange electrode pairs allows the ERT system to
sample to progressively greater depth, given their increasing separation, with electrical potential (V)
measured at the red electrodes.
c) Moving the current electrodes along the ground surface (from blue, to green, to orange positions)
allows a different part of the ground to be measured, thereby allowing lateral changes in resistivity to
be mapped. Many current paths combined into the same dataset allow comprehensive imaging
subsurface electrical resistivity trends.

c. Magnetometry Systems
Two magnetometers manufactured by Geometrics were deployed during the 2004 and 2013
campaigns at Mingaladon Airport.

The first campaign used a G-856 Proton Precession

Magnetometer, and the second used a G-858 Caesium Gradiometer (Figure 5.7a). Both of
these systems respond to the same subsurface properties, the G-858 being somewhat more
sensitive in its measurements; acquisition efficiency was also more efficient with the
available G-858, which suited the more-intensive programme of magnetic acquisitions
scheduled in the 2013 survey.
The magnetometer is a passive instrument which measures variations in the magnetic field
strength of the Earth. At Mingaladon Airport, the strength of the magnetic field is ~ 43500
nT (symbol T is the Tesla). If the

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Figure 5.7. Schematic data from a magnetometer survey.


a) Operator, and the Geometrics G-858 Caesium Gradiometer (photo: A.Docker). Note that the
equipment has two sensors mounted on a carry frame.
b) In the absence of any magnetic of magnetisable subsurface objects, the magnetometer will record
the strength of the Earths magnetic field across the survey site.
c) Magnetic features in the subsurface have their own magnetic field, which distorts that of the Earth
and a magnetic anomaly is recorded. Note, however, that the most intense field strength is not
recorded directly over the object.

subsurface contained no magnetised (or magnetisable) materials, the magnetometer would


simply measure this background field and there would be no anomaly (Figure 5.7b).

If

magnetic objects are present in the ground, their own magnetic field (blue lines in Figure
5.7c) interferes with that of the Earth and the magnetometer data will reveal a local anomaly.
Since the Earths magnetic field changes through the day, it is also good practice to monitor
fluctuations in field strength at a fixed base station and correct data accordingly.
When used for reconnaissance, magnetic surveying and the processing of magnetic data is
very quick indeed; the equipment is programmed to take recordings at set intervals, and the
operator walks at a comfortable pace collecting data along the required profiles. However,
notice in Figure 5.7c that the most intense field strength does not occur directly over the
magnetic body, but slightly off to one side.

This is frequently the case in magnetic

surveying; therefore, identifying the exact position of a magnetic target requires either data
processing (Hansen et al., 2005) or a modification to the acquisition method. Notice that
the system in Figure 5.7a comprises two sensors mounted on an aluminium (because it is
non-magnetic) frame; in addition to the magnetic field strength recorded at these sensors,
the G-858 can deliver the field strength difference (termed the vertical magnetic gradient)
between them. Magnetic gradients are effective at delineating the boundaries of a magnetic
target hence gradiometer data are often described as an edge detector.

As such, the

magnetic data presented in this report (Section 5.2.3.3) are shown as the strength of the
vertical magnetic gradient (in units of nT/m, nanoTeslas-per-metre). Use of a gradiometer

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also lessens the reliance on a magnetic base station since any time-variations in the Earths
magnetic field are assumed to affect the two sensors equally.
d. Differential Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) Systems
Although not usually regarded as a geophysical survey method, the use of GPS systems in
this project is described for completeness. Differential GPS is a highly accurate geospatial
location system, involving collection and real-time comparison of positional information at a
static base station and a mobile (roving) receiver (Figure 5.8).

Differential GPS has

improved accuracy over a stand-alone roving system, and certainly superior accuracy to a
recreational hand-held GPS unit, especially in the vertical dimension.

A GPS system was

required both to record the position of all geophysical measurements, but also to map
variations in topography across the survey site.

The latter application is valuable since

buried archaeological features can sometimes be associated with lumps and bumps in
surface topography, given the differential settling of soils that occurs over solid objects and
hollow regions (Figure 5.8b).

Figure 5.8. A Trimble GNSS Surveying system (a) and, schematically, the relationship between buried
archaeological targets and surface topography (b) (photo: A. Booth).
Soil layers settle differently over subsurface hollows and buried solid objects (e.g., an intact bunker

versus a bomb-damaged one); this can result in highs and lows with respect to the mean elevation
through a site.

Due to budgetary restrictions on equipment shipping, no GPS data were recorded during the
2004 campaign. However, all observations were referenced to a fixed point in the airport
infrastructure (specifically, the runway landing light labelled 46N; see Figure 5.1); this
point, together with all other surveyed grids, was marked with the GPS system during the
2013 field campaign. During the 2013 survey, a Trimble R7 unit was installed at the GPS
base station (orange triangle in Figure 5.1), using a Trimble Zephyr 2 Geodetic Antenna to
communicate with a roving Trimble R8 GNSS Receiver. The manufacturers specifications
suggest that the positional accuracy of this system will be 3 mm in horizontal directions,

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and 5 mm in the vertical direction (note that the vertical direction is always the leastaccurate component in GPS data).

5.2 Geophysical Field Campaign Summer 2004


During summer 2004, Dr Adam Booth (then, an MSc graduate at the University of Leeds)
accompanied David Cundall to perform a geophysical survey of Mingaladon Airport. Surveys
were designed prior to the survey, in consultation with Dr Roger Clark and David Cundall.
The specific remit of this survey was to determine if there was any geophysical evidence of
the hypothesised Spitfire burial and, as such, reconnaissance acquisitions were scheduled
with an EM34-3 electrical conductivity meter and a G-856 proton precession magnetometer.
An area of approximately 170 m x 100 m was defined as being of potential interest, and
was surveyed by Dr Adam Booth during a two-week field campaign.

5.2.1 Survey Design and Implementation


Geophysical acquisitions during the 2004 survey were performed on a grassy strip
immediately adjacent to the runway of Mingaldon Airport, and almost directly across the
modern runway from the main terminal buildings (see Figure 5.1). The field is bounded on
its south-eastern side by the modern runway itself, and on its north-western side by a
vegetated drainage ditch and the perimeter access track immediately inside the boundary
fence. The base-line for this grid was defined parallel to the main runway, along a line of
runway landing lights. The origin of the grid (i.e., co-ordinate [0, 0]) was located at landing
light 46N (Figure 5.1), and survey profiles (extending at right-angles from this base-line,
on a bearing of 57) were performed from -40 to 130 m from this landing light.
The scheduled grid was completed during the two-week survey period although acquisition
efficiency was somewhat hampered by undertaking it during the monsoon season.

In

places, the grassy field was better-described as a swamp (Figure 5.4) with pools of
standing water present in the southern half of the grid. Conditions in the north of the grid
were somewhat better, although the ground remained waterlogged. However, the bigger
impediment to surveying was the monsoon itself; geophysical equipment can be damaged if
used in heavy rain hence surveys were halted almost every afternoon at the onset of the
monsoon.

5.2.1.1 Electrical Conductivity Methods

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The EM34-3 was deployed as the principal survey apparatus during this campaign.
Throughout the survey, the separation between the transmitter and receiver coils if the
EM34-3 was fixed at 20 m. Readings were taken every 5 m along any given profile, and
successive profiles were separated by 10 m; however, after identifying interesting areas of
elevated electrical conductivity, the separation between some profiles was reduced to 5 m to
improve the definition of the anomaly.

This sampling regime was considered to be

sufficiently dense given the potential size of the target. Two electrical conductivity readings
were taken at each survey location, once with the coils of the equipment held upright and
again with coils lying flat on the ground (e.g., Figure 5.5) to facilitate a basic depth sounding
(Section 5.1.2.3a).

5.2.2.2 Magnetometry
Initially, the G-856 proton precession magnetometer was to be deployed in support of the
EM34-3, given that the magnetic signature of the target was deemed to be less detectable
than its electrical conductivity. However, a component of the EM34-3 system was misplaced
by the airline at the start of the survey period hence EM measurements could not take place
from the outset!
Magnetic readings were recorded at the same interval as the electrical conductivity
measurements (5 m along a profile, 10 m between profiles). Periodically, a base station
location was revisited, which allowed fluctuations in the ambient magnetic field to be
monitored and (where necessary) corrected.
It transpired that magnetic acquisitions proved too noisy to provide any useful complement
to the EM34-3 acquisitions, and a chaotic pattern of short-wavelength anomalies was
obtained. These could not be interpreted as being caused by any large-scale feature in the
subsurface. More likely was that they were attributable to small magnetic objects (e.g., nuts
and bolts, modern debris) buried at a very shallow depth, but these anomalies could not be
sufficiently resolved due to the coarseness of the spatial sampling interval.

As such,

magnetic data from the 2004 campaign are not presented here; however, magnetic
responses were much more stable in the 2013 campaign and these are discussed in Section
5.3.2.3

5.2.2 Geophysical Data


Figure 5.9 shows the values of electrical conductivity recorded with the EM34-3 at the
Mingaladon Airport site. Panel (a) shows the conductivity values recorded when the coils of

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the EM34-3 are held in their upright position, whereas panel (b) shows the recorded values
when coils are placed flat on the ground (therefore, (a) and (b) have maximum sensitivities
at shallower and deeper depths, respectively).
Two zones of elevated electrical conductivity are observed in the EM data, showing electrical
conductivities that are at least 4-tmes higher than a background electrical conductivity of
30-60 mS/m. These zones are spatially coherent across a number of profiles and, in one
case, are observed in both coil orientations (i.e., the high conductivities are seen in both
Figures 5.4a and b). These zones are delineated in Figure 5.9c, and are termed Zone A and
Zone B, respectively in the south and north of the 2004 survey grid.

5.2.2.1 Zone A
The axis of Zone A (blue, Figure 5.9c) trends obliquely across the 2004 survey grid, and
therefore to the present-day runway, on an almost east-west bearing. The anomaly spans
almost the whole width of the survey site, starting very close to the existing runway and
closing around 90 m away from it. At most, it is approximately 25 m wide. However, the
anomaly only appears in Figure 5.9b, implying that elevated electrical conductivities are only
detected when the coils of the EM34-3 instrument are positioned in a flat-lying orientation.

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Figure 5.9. Electrical conductivity measured during the 2004 reconnaissance survey. Geonics EM34-3
equipment is used with coils in (a) upright and (b) flat-lying orientations. c) Definition of anomalous
Zones A (blue) and Zone B (red), overlaid on data from (b). The bar and axis terminology relate to
specific parts of the T-shaped region which Zone B defines. The blue circle shows the location of the
recommended test excavation (Section 5.2.4.1).

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5.2.2.2 Zone B
Zone B describes a T-shaped anomaly (red, Figure 5.9c), the axis of which trends almost
perpendicular to the present-day runway. This axis is present in both coil orientations, and
is particularly strong 50-100 m away from the runway. The bar of the T-shaped anomaly
is only defined in the flat-lying coil orientation, but that bar is at least 70 m wide and
remains unclosed against the termination of the survey grid. The width of both the axis and
the bar of Zone B is approximately 20 m.

5.2.3 Interpretation of the 2004 Dataset


It was anticipated that the crated Spitfires would be associated with discrete zones of
elevated electrical conductivity. While no geophysical survey can unambiguously identify a
Spitfire burial site, the zones identified in Figure 5.9 were clearly of interest. Indeed, the
implied electrical conductivities are sufficiently high to be suggestive of buried metal, and
they have neither the magnitude nor the geometry to be consistent with any naturally
occurring variation in subsurface electrical conductivity relating from (e.g.) geological
and/or hydrological characteristics.
Of the two zones, Zone A is more consistent with the hypothesis of buried Spitfires, given
David Cundalls suggestion that their burial depth would exceed 12 ft (3.6 m).

No

significant anomaly was detected when the coils of the EM34-3 were held in an upright
position (Figure 5.9a), but the anomaly is strong when instrument coils are held in their flatlying orientation (Figure 5.9b).

This is not the case for Zone B, in which the anomaly

appears in both coil orientations. Therefore, the body which causes the anomaly in Zone A
is likely deeper than that in Zone B.
Numerical rule-of-thumb methods do exist for obtaining depth estimates based on the
shape of an EM anomaly, but these require that data are acquired along profiles at rightangles to a target (McNeill, 1983). Without a priori information about target orientation, it
was impossible to orientate survey lines appropriately for this purpose (and, in any case, the
remit of the 2004 acquisition was simple anomaly detection rather than quantitative
interpretation). Furthermore, the full shape of the EM anomaly could not be recorded: in
certain cases, the EM34-3 can record a negative electrical conductivity (see Figure 5.13), but
the equipment available to this survey had an analogue dial which could not express
negative magnitudes. Where negative values were observed, they were left as blanks in the
dataset to be interpolated during data processing.

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5.2.4 Recommendations
Following the completion of the EM34-3 survey, recommendations were made for the
location of a test excavation site, and for further geophysical survey of the anomalous
zones.

5.2.4.1 Test Excavation


Time and permission were available to conduct a single test excavation, and the electrical
conductivity anomaly at the tip of Zone A was selected as a suitable site. Not only was the
likely depth of the target more consistent with the hypothesised burial at this position, the
excavation was more than 50 m away from the active runway therefore airport operations
could continue uninterrupted. Furthermore, airport authorities suggested that there would
be no services (e.g., cables, pipes) located at this position.
The test excavation was located at co-ordinate [-10 m, 70 m] (blue circle in Figure 5.9).
This marks the centre of a strong anomaly within Zone A. Given that the spatial resolution
of the EM34-3 with 20 m coil separation is likely to be 10 m, a trial excavation would
normally be an elongate trench to mitigate positional limitations in the geophysical survey;
however, the strong conductivity anomaly on which the pit was centred suggested that an
excavation would likely reveal the causative body.
The test pit was dug by a 360 mechanical excavator (Figure 5.10) until, at a depth of 2-3
m, its bucket struck a buried wooden beam. This was inspected by project personnel, but it
was unclear whether this was an isolated plank, one of the putative crates, or related to
some other historical feature. The hole was then back-filled without further investigation.
A series of systematic trial excavations was recommended through the axes of Zones A and
B, but to be performed after the cessation of the monsoon season.

5.2.4.2 Further Geophysical Survey


The EM survey identified two discrete anomalies in the grounds of Mingaladon Airport, but
the data recorded cannot be readily interpreted in terms of a quantitative estimate of target
geometry. The EM survey could therefore be repeated with an optimised profile orientation,
or the anomalous zones could be targeted with ERT profiles to provide more rigorous
geometric characterisation.

Therefore, ERT surveys over Zones A and B were strongly

recommended if Mingaladon Airport was ever to be revisited by a geophysical field crew.

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Figure 5.10. The commencement of the test excavation at the end of the 2004 geophysical campaign
(photo: A Booth).

5.3 Geophysical Field Campaign January 2013


In January 2013, Mingaladon Airport was again surveyed with geophysical methods. A field
crew including Dr Adam Booth, Dr Roger Clark and Dr Andrew Merritt (then, a PhD student
at the University of Leeds) performed EM, ERT, magnetic and GPS surveys at the site during a
two-week field project. The remit of this survey was to:

contextualise the anomalous zones detected in the 2004 survey within the overall

conflict framework of the Mingaladon site

provide a quantitative assessment of the observations made in 2004, and

recommend areas for text excavation, including depth estimates, but ensuring where

possible that these were free from the geophysical signatures of UXO.

These three aims required a revisit of the 2004 survey area, to provide a depth estimate of
the anomalous zones, and also an extension of the 2004 area to encompass a larger region
of the overall site from a conflict archaeology perspective.
5.3.1 Survey Design and Implementation
Given the larger field crew, multiple systems could be operated at the same time and,
therefore, a larger area (encompassing that defined in 2004) could be surveyed (see Figure
5.1).

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Since January falls within Myanmars dry season, ground conditions were more conducive to
efficient survey than during the 2004 campaign. However, the heat and humidity did make
for some testing conditions, and occasional problems were encountered with geophysical
systems overheating (and, indeed, field crew too!). In places, it was difficult to install the
electrodes of the ERT system into the hard-baked ground on the site, and some significant
muscle-power with a hammer was required!

5.3.1.1 Electrical Conductivity Methods


For consistency with the 2004 acquisition, the EM34-3 equipment was used with the
equivalent coil configurations (upright and flat-lying coil orientations, 20 m separation),
measurement density (5 x 10 m) and profile orientation (perpendicular to the modern
runway); furthermore, landing light 46N was again used as the grid origin, and new
acquisitions to the south of the 2004 grid were referenced to this position.

These new

acquisitions proceeded south, from distances -50 to -280 m from landing light 46N, as far
as an asphalt road which crossed the survey site from the perimeter access track to the
runway.

By sampling to this point, EM surveys were expected to cross the trace of the

former Prome Road, the location of which was deemed to be necessary for contextualising
the account of veteran Mr Stanley Coombe.
In addition to the extension of the original survey grid, surveys were performed to verify the
observations of the 2004 survey and to check the calibration of the system between the two
survey periods. This was deemed necessary given the potential effect of the drier ground
conditions in the 2013 acquisition; the background electrical conductivity, and therefore the
visibility of the EM anomalies in Zone A and B (and, indeed, elsewhere), could be influenced
by the change in subsurface hydrology. These test lines crossed the anomalies in Zone A
and B at a constant distance of 50 m from the existing runway, and also repeated a survey
line from the 2004 acquisition immediately north of the Zone B.

5.3.1.2 Electrical Resistivity Tomography


ERT acquisitions were prioritised over Zones A and B, and were thereafter targeted over
regions of interest observed in the 2013 electrical conductivity observations. The location
of ERT acquisitions is shown by the pink lines in Figure 5.1, and again in Figures 5.14 and
5.15.
Five ERT profiles were acquired with the IRIS SYSCAL PRO equipment. In the first two lines,
the 48 electrodes were installed at intervals of 1.5 m; in all other lines, this separation was
increased to 2 m to sense to slightly greater depth.

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At some sites, where the ground was particularly dry, electrodes required watering.

In

these cases, the ground is so electrically resistive (usually because it is dry) that current
cannot be injected into the ground. This issue is overcome by pouring water around the
base of the electrode. It should be noted that this is a common operation procedure in ERT
surveying and does not affect the measurement of resistivity of deep subsurface structure.

5.3.1.3 Magnetometry
Following the observation of new electrical conductivity anomalies in the EM34-3 dataset
(see Section 5.2.3.1), two magnetometer survey grids were established. The first of these
grids was located over Zone C; the second was located between Zones A and B, to
investigate any other archaeological content at the site (no survey was possible directly over
Zone A since test excavation was already underway at the time of surveying).
Magnetometer surveys followed a different routine to that in 2004.

Firstly, the G-856

magnetometer was replaced by a G-858 gradiometer; not only does the latter system have
somewhat better sensitivity to small magnetic anomalies, its measurement of magnetic
gradients offers interpretative advantages when defining the edges of magnetic features.
Secondly, rather than acquiring data at fixed intervals along a given survey line, the
magnetometer was programmed to take 10 measurements every second and moved over
the ground at a constant rate. This resulted in successive magnetometer readings typically
being separated by 0.1 m; successive magnetometer profiles were acquired every 1 m, and
were orientated parallel to the runway (i.e., crossing the dominant trend of EM anomalies
orthogonally). The two sensors of the gradiometer were mounted on an aluminium carryframe (Figure 5.7a), and separated vertically by 1 m with the lower sensor held around 0.5
m above the ground surface.

5.3.1.3 Differential GPS Surveys


To facilitate the acquisition of differential GPS data, the GPS base station (orange triangle,
Figure 5.1) was established immediately north-west of a bank of Precision Approach Path
Indicator (PAPI) lights (blue squares, Figure 5.1).

Topographic data were acquired by

walking a continuous path with the roving antenna, with the system programmed to record
a location once per metre, resulting in a positional survey point approximately every metre
over the survey site.

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5.3.2 Geophysical Data


5.3.2.1 Electrical Conductivity Measurements
Results from the EM34-4 calibration surveys are shown in Figures 5.11 and 5.12, for both
upright and flat-lying coil orientations, and compared to the equivalent observations made
in 2004.
Figure 5.11 crosses the anomalous regions of electrical conductivity observed in Zones A
and B (the ranges of these are marked in grey). While it is clear that background electrical
conductivities are not significantly modified by the change from saturated to dry ground
conditions, it is immediately apparent that the electrical conductivity anomalies are
significantly different between the 2004 and the 2013 surveys.
1.

The anomaly in Zone A was clearly observed in 2004 with coils in their flat-lying

orientation (150 mS/m above background), but no equivalent electrical conductivity anomaly
was perceived in the 2013 acquisition; observations in both upright and flat-lying coil
orientations show no deviation from their background trend.

2.

The anomaly in Zone B was observed in 2004 with both coil orientations (note that

readings are absent in the upright orientation, given the use of equipment with the analogue
dial), and was measured to be approximately 20 m wide. A negative conductivity anomaly is
observed in the 2014 acquisitions, in both coil orientations, but its width persists for one
sample location only (specifically, at position = 95 m).

These surprising observations prompted a full check and re-calibration of the EM34-3
equipment, but it was deemed to be fully functional and therefore delivering reliable results.
These were verified by acquiring the data shown in Figure 5.12, comparing data along a
profile at 120 m from landing light 46N.

This profile was chosen since it comprises

background conductivity values, and also samples the bar of the T-shaped anomaly in
Zone B (see Figure 5.9). Clearly, background trends are comparable in the two surveys, but
the elevated electrical conductivities seen in the bar of the T-shaped anomaly are absent
in the 2014 record.
The apparent change of the anomalies in Zones A and B was investigated further in ERT
Profiles 1-3 (see Figure 5.14), and the implications of the combined observations are
described in Section 5.3.3.2.
Figure 5.13 shows the complete suite of electrical conductivity observations, combining the
data recorded in 2004 with those in 2013. Panels (a) and (b) show observations made with
the coils of the EM34-3 held in upright and flat-lying positions, respectively, with (c)
showing the definition of new zones of interest (note that Zones A and B now appear as
dashed lines, since they do not appear to contain anomalies in the 2013 data).

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Zone C defines an area of high-magnitude electrical conductivity responses, which trends


obliquely to the existing runway on an almost north-south bearing.

The zone is best-

defined in the flat-laying coil orientation as a region of strongly negative conductivities (< 200 mS/m; black colour in Figure 5.13b), flanked by positive conductivities of 120-200
mS/m. There is an accompanying response in the upright coil orientation (Figure 5.13a) but
the observed conductivity anomaly is less significant than in 5.13b. At the centre of this
anomaly, some 50 m from the existing runway, is an exposed patch of concrete ( in Figure
5.13c). The effect of this on the electrical conductivity readings would depends strongly on
the presence of steel reinforcement therein hence magnetometer surveys were also
performed over this location (Section 5.3.2.3).
Zone D is a region of high electrical conductivity, again better defined in the flat-lying coil
orientation than in the horizontal. The trend of the zone is orthogonal to the present day
runway, detected only in profiles between -110 m and -130 m from landing light 46N. The
PAPI lights are present within this zone (blue squares in Figure 5.13c), -125 m from 46N.

Figure 5.11. Electrical conductivity measured in 2004 and 2013, along a line parallel to the existing
runway, at a distance of 50 m from it. EM34-3 coil orientation is (a) upright and (b) flat-lying.
Anomalies identified in the 2004 acquisition are reduced (in magnitude and extent) when revisited in
2013, although background values are unchanged.

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Figure 5.12. Electrical conductivity measured in 2004 and 2013, along a profile 120 m from landing
light 46N. EM34-3 coil orientation is (a) upright and (b) flat-lying. Background values are consistent
between survey periods, but the bar of the T-shaped anomaly is only observed in the 2004 record.

Compared to the other anomalies, the anomaly in Zone E is somewhat subtle and is not
associated with strong contrasts in electrical conductivity.

It is nonetheless a distinct

anomaly which is apparent in both coil orientations. With upright coils, the EM34-3 coils
perceives a sharp boundary from low to higher electrical conductivity (an increase of
approximately 20-40 mS/m) yet, with flat-laying coils, the system detects a region of low
electrical conductivity trending almost north-south. The difference in conductivity regimes
between the two coil orientations suggests that there is some electrical transition at depth,
and this was imaged in ERT Profile 4 (see Figure 5.15).

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Figure 5.13. Electrical conductivity measured during the 2013 survey. Geonics EM34-3 equipment is
used with coils in (a) upright and (b) flat-lying orientations.
c) Definition of anomalous Zone C (green), Zone D (orange) and Zone E (cyan), overlaid on data from
(b). The symbol denotes the location of an exposed patch of concrete within Zone C.
Note the relationship of Zone D with the position of the PAPI lights (blue squares).

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5.3.2.2 Electrical Resistivity Tomography


Having identified areas of interest in the EM34-3 data, five ERT profiles were performed to
add quantitative constraint to their interpretation.

Profiles 1-3 are suite of acquisitions (Figure 5.14) installed to investigate the original

electrical conductivity anomalies in Zones A and B (note: locations are shown in the figure).
These were originally scheduled to add quantitative depth constraint to the EM observations
made in 2004, but are now acquired as much to investigate the absence of these anomalies
from the 2013 record. The positions of intersection of these profiles is marked in the figure
(black dashed lines), as is their intersection with Zones A and B (grey areas). Profiles 1 and
2 were acquired with electrodes at 1.5 m spacing. Profile 3 was designed to image deeper,
with electrodes at 2 m spacing; note also that this profile is actually the combination of a
number of overlapping profiles, allowing the profile length to be extended.

Profile 4 (Figure 5.15) is a single profile acquired, on an almost east-west bearing, to

image the subtle electrical conductivity anomaly identified in Zone E. The electrode spacing
in this profile is 2 m. It is interesting to note that there is a systematic variation in ground
conditions along this profile, recognised simply by the ease of installing electrodes. On the
western side of this profile, the ground was baked hard and electrodes had to be hammered
into place; by contrast, those on the eastern side could be pushed into the ground by hand.

Profile 5 (Figure 5.15) is a single profile acquired, also with electrodes at 2 m

interval, along the airport perimeter track. The aim of this acquisition was to obtain any
image of the old Prome Road passing beneath the perimeter track. It is understood that the
Prome Road was composed of compacted brick, hence it is possible that it may appear as a
region of anomalously high resistivity, although its depth beneath the ground surface is
unknown. This record is incomplete due to the ERT system overheating, but data up until
the point of failure can be reliably interpreted.

a. Profiles 1-3
It was initially anticipated that Profiles 1-3 would show discrete, electrically conductive,
bodies at some subsurface position, consistent with the original definitions of Zones A and
B in the 2004 survey.

However, Profile 3 crosses both Zones A and B and shows no

electrically conductive anomalies to be present; instead, the profile describes a simple twolayer case of electrical resistivity varying with depth, featuring an electrically resistive upper
layer (plotted in red colours; 100-500 m) to a depth of 2-3 m and electrically conductive
material (plotted in blue colours; < 30 m) beneath. This profile can be considered as the
background trend.
Profiles 1 and 2 intersect close to the site of trial excavation performed in 2004, and
therefore over the intensely electrically conductive anomaly observed at the tip of Zone A.
These show some variation from background, and Profile 1 in particular shows a zone of

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moderately resistive material (plotted in green) at the centre of Zone A, extending from the
surface to a depth approaching 6-7 m and some 20 m wide. A similar structural trend is
observed in the rotated orientation in Profile 2; again, a region of moderately-high
resistivity material extends from the surface to a depth of 6-7 m n Zone A, but the character
of the north-eastern half of the profile is similar to the background trend in Profile 3.

b. Profile 4
EM observations suggested that this profile may show a lateral change in the subsurface
resistivity structure with depth, and this appears to be the case along Profile 4. The eastern
half of the profile is dominated by electrically conductive material, to a depth of 10-12 m,
and the data are immediately suggestive of the background trend defined in Profile 3. The
western half of the profile is dominated by electrically conductive material (< 30 m). The
transition from low-to-high resistivity is rather abrupt at the ground surface (evidenced by
the experience of installing electrodes along the line), but is more discrete at depth and a
transition zone of moderately resistive material, some 20 m wide and having resistivity
between 50-100 m, is present between these regions.
c. Profile 5
Although incomplete, Profile 5 shows some evidence of the background trend defined in
Profile 3. There is no strong evidence of a discrete electrically resistive anomaly which could
confidently be interpreted as the Prome Road, although the high resistivity anomaly (yellow)
located approximately 30 m along the profile is consistent with its likely width. However,
alternate geophysical methods provided stronger indications of the Prome Road location
(see Sections 5.3.2.3 and 5.3.3.3).

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Figure 5.14. ERT data along Profiles 1-3, showing each profile intersection and its intersection with
Zones A and B. Profile 3 can be considered to show the background electrical structure across the site,
with Profiles 1 and 2 showing higher resistivity variations from this.
In the location map, arrowheads show the direction of increasing distance along the profile.

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Figure 5.15. ERT data along Profiles 4 and 5. Profile 4 was installed to investigate Zone 4, with Profile
5 installed to investigate any possible signature of the Prome Road passing beneath the airport
perimeter track.
Note that the latter profile is incomplete due to an equipment shut-down in the heat. In the location
map, arrowheads show the direction of increasing distance along the profile.

5.3.2.3 Magnetometry
The match between the position of the electrical conductivity anomaly in Zone C and the
surface location of exposed concrete prompted the definition of a magnetometer survey
grid crossing this zone.

Although concrete itself would not be expected to have high

electrical conductivity, steel reinforcement within the concrete should respond in both EM
and magnetic surveys. Not only would magnetic methods therefore provide constraint on
the material properties of the concrete, they would also improve the definition of any
subsurface target since the G-858 magnetometer offers superior spatial resolution of a
shallow-buried target than the EM34-3.

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The first magnetometer survey grid was therefore established over the northern half of Zone
C (southerly acquisition in Figure 5.16a). The background magnetic field gradient is plotted
in this image in green; strong deviations from this are indicative of a magnetic target in the
subsurface and are plotted in black and white colours. There is an extremely distinct region
of strong magnetic responses aligned with the long-axis of Zone C (a bearing of 333). The
feature is approximately 16 m wide, matching closely the width of the exposed concrete
patch (labelled ). At its northern end, the anomaly appears to change direction through
90, and a spur of 4 m width extends away from the main anomaly on a bearing of 238
(Figure 5.16b). The implications of this apparent match between the exposed concrete and
geophysical anomalies are considered in Section 1.2.4.
The second magnetometer survey grid was defined between Zones A and B, with its
northern corner extending partly over the bar of Zone B. No evidence of any magnetic
properties were detected within Zone B and, indeed, the majority of this grid simply shows
background values. However, there are small-scale anomalies, rarely exceeding 10 m in
their spatial extent, which may be associated with shallow-buried targets. The absence of a
correlating electrical conductivity anomaly supports the initial observation that these bodies
are likely rather small and shallow.
Magnetic data gave no indication of any unexploded ordnance or services at any prospective
excavation site hence operations were considered to be risk-free from the geophysical point
of view.

Nonetheless, excavations were closely monitored by field crew in case any

anomalies had been missed.

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Figure 5.16. Magnetometer data, acquired in 2013 with a Geometrics G-858 instrument.
(a) Data acquired in two grids, the southerly of which targets the anomalous conductivity region in
Zone C. (b) Observations from (a), together with zones defined in the EM survey and the location ()
of the exposed concrete patch.

5.3.2.4 Differential GPS


Figure 5.17 shows the variation of topography across the survey site. Measured elevations
have been de-trended such that the average slope through the topography grid has been
subtracted and only small-scale lumps-and-bumps remain in the grid. Generally, the
surface gradient across the site is very even and the remaining topography varies by only 60
cm either side of this average elevation.
The distribution of datapoints used to build this topographic model is shown in Figure
5.17a, and also shows the relative positions of the anomalous zones identified in the EM
and magnetic datasets. Software used to build the elevation model is allowed to interpolate

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between points to in-fill locations where there is no data control. Since topography varies
smoothly, it is anticipated that this process does not introduce spurious results.
The topographic grid shows few local elevation anomalies, and certainly none that are
clearly associated with any of the zones defined from the EM analysis. Some of the small
magnetic anomalies may be associated with local depressions, specifically those within the
grid between Zones A and B.

Figure 5.17. Topographic variation across the Mingaladon Airport site, measured with Trimble
differential GPS equipment. a) Data points (grey dots; almost 24000 of them!) and the position of
geophysical anomalies (see definitions in Figures 5.13 and 5.16. b) Elevation anomaly. Elevation
varies smoothly, but localised depressions are observed in some isolated areas.

5.3.3 Geophysical Data Interpretation


This section draws together the geophysical observations from both the 2004 and 2013
surveys, and presents the evidence for the interpreted subsurface at Mingaladon Airport.
These sections refer to the schematic diagram of the subsurface structure at the airport, as
presented in Figure 5.18.

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Figure 5.18. Schematic representation of the interpreted subsurface structure at Mingaladon Airport,
based on observations in the geophysical data.
Annotations A-F are discussed in Sections 5.3.3.1-6, respectively, and the accompanying annotations
note the data source from which the interpretation is made.

5.3.3.1 Background Electrical Structure


ERT profiles suggested that the background electrical structure at the Mingaladon survey
site comprised a two-layer case (Figure 5.14), involving a high resistivity layer (of thickness
2-3 m, typically 100-500 m) immediately beneath the ground surface and an underlying
layer of lower resistivity (typically < 30 m).

Such a two-layer regime is immediately

suggestive of subsurface hydrology, and it is proposed that the division between high and
low resistivity corresponds to the water table (labelled A in Figure 5.18).
As such, material at depth greater than 2-3 m will sit beneath the water table, and will
therefore be saturated. The similarity of background electrical conductivity values between
the 2004 and 2013 acquisitions (Figures 5.11 and 5.12) may also suggest that the position
of the water table is not significantly influenced by seasonal hydrological variations (i.e.,
between the wet and dry seasons). Above the water table, material may not be saturated
but it is certainly expected that water saturation will decrease to surface where the ground
was observed to be largely dry.

5.3.3.2 Absence of Zone A and B Anomalies in 2013 Data


Comparison of electrical conductivity data from 2004 and 2013 (Figure 5.11 and 5.12)
suggested that subsurface electrical conductivity structure had changed in Zones A and B
between the two survey periods. Specifically, it appeared that the (ostensibly) electrically
conductive material which caused the anomaly in 2004 was not present in the subsurface

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during the 2013 survey; no evidence of the anomaly in Zone A remained, and the size of the
anomaly in Zone B had been greatly reduced.
If electrically conductive material was still present within Zones A and B during the 2013, it
should have been detected by the ERT profiles through the zones. ERT Profiles 1 and 2
(Figure 5.14) did reveal a structure beneath Zone A which deviated from the background
trend but, rather than identifying a zone of electrically conductive material, the anomalies in
these profiles are electrically resistive (typically around 50 Ohm-m). In ERT Profile 1 (Figure
5.14), the electrically resistive zone cuts into the underlying conductive material (to a depth
of 6-7 m, over a 20 m distance) and it is possible that this feature is the geophysical
signature of a trial excavation (labelled B in Figure 5.18).
The date of any trial excavation is not known, but there is obviously plenty of opportunity
for it to have occurred between the 2004 and 2013 field campaigns.

Critically, the

excavation must also have removed the vast majority of the electrically conductive material
that caused the anomalies in 2004, and the provenance of those anomalies cannot now be
suggested with confidence from geophysical sources alone.
It is important to note that the change in electrical conductivity observations is not likely
attributable to the change in season between the 2004 and 2013 surveys (i.e., surveying
first during the monsoon, and after in the dry season). If anything, electrically conductive
material in a dry subsurface should represent a stronger anomaly than in a wet subsurface,
given that there should be a more significant contrast with the host material. However, ERT
profiles acquired in the dry season suggest in any case that the water table is in any case
present at a depth of 2-3 m, hence any material buried at a depth exceeding 6 m is likely to
be hosted in permanently saturated soil.

5.3.3.3 Geophysical Anomalies in Zone C and their relation to the Prome Road
There is a clear correlation between the electromagnetic and magnetic anomalies in Zone C,
and the observed of the exposed concrete patch. The strongest negative response observed
in the EM34-3 matches closely with the centre of the exposed concrete: this observation
shares some consistency with model responses in the manufacturers technical notes for a
target of similar geometry (McNeill, 1983) albeit with a greater depth extent than the likely
thickness of the concrete.
The strong response of the magnetometer over the concrete suggests an association with
ferrous material, interpreted as steel reinforcements within the concrete. In terms of the
shape of the magnetic response, recall that the magnetic gradient (as plotted in Figure 5.16)
serves as a useful edge detector for the boundaries of a magnetic body. The strongest

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magnetic responses are observed directly over the boundaries of the concrete exposure
hence the full width of the concrete body is exposed at this point. Beyond the exposure,
there is little change in the character of either the electrical conductivity or magnetic
anomaly (until the spur is reached in the latter case) hence the concrete is interpreted as
continuous through the subsurface at shallow depth (labelled C in Figure 5.18).
The geophysical data do not preclude there being anything buried beneath the concrete
although, if anything is present, it is unlikely that it comprises a significant amount of
ferrous material. If this were the case, the magnetic anomaly would likely be broader than
the exposure of concrete.
The anomaly defined in the magnetic dataset is instantly reminiscent of airport
infrastructure. On comparing the geophysical anomaly with aerial photography described in
Chapter 4, the suggestion is made that the magnetic response is indeed co-located with a
taxi-way at the site.
Having matched the geophysical anomaly to the taxi-way, the data become key to
determining the possible location of the Prome Road. The aerial photograph suggests that
the Prome Road crosses the site close to the taxi-way (approximately 10 m away), on its
eastern side.

Consequently, although the magnetic data do not image the Prome Road

directly, they are invaluable in targeting an excavation to locate and characterise this feature
(see Section 5.3.4). It should also be noted that the route of the Prome Road beneath ERT
Profile 5 (Figure 5.15) is consistent with the location of the small resistivity anomaly
detected therein, although this evidence is less conclusive than that from the magnetic
dataset.

5.3.3.4 Shallow Buried Ferrous Items


Given the history of the Mingaladon Airport site, in both conflict and civil settings, it is
unsurprising that there may be shallow-buried ferrous material located around the area (D
in Figure 5.18).

While these are beyond the resolution capabilities of the EM and ERT

systems, a number of features were detected in the magnetic survey grid between Zones A
and B (Figure 5.16) which, furthermore, may have some association with topographic
anomalies (Figure 5.17).

It is likely that, if the magnetic grids were extended (Section

5.3.4.2), similar anomalies would be detected and these could have direct relevance to the
conflict archaeology of the site.

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5.3.3.5 Electrical Transition in Zone E


There is a distinct electrical anomaly in Zone E, detected in both EM34-3 data (Figure 5.13)
and ERT Profile 4 (Figure 5.15). This is interpreted as some deflection of the water table (E
in Figure 5.13), such that the shallow subsurface in the west of Profile 4 is relatively starved
of water and is therefore more electrically resistive.

This could simply result from a

hydrological effect: recall that the western edge of the site is bounded by a well-vegetated
drainage ditch hence water transit through the site could be made more efficient in the
western half of the site. However, no similar trends are observed in any other ERT profile
(e.g., Profile 1, which also trends towards the ditch) and it is unclear why drainage effects
would be preferentially efficient in isolate areas of the site.
Instead, it is possible that there is some object in the subsurface which represents a barrier
to groundwater flow, such that that the water content of the ground immediately beyond
this barrier is lower. Since there is no direct geophysical image of this potential object, any
estimates of size and depth would be speculative and any further suggestions (e.g., of its
origin and/or function) would be unjustified (hence the use of ? in Figure 5.18). If present,
the object is likely to be located between 40-60 m along Profile 4 (i.e., 50-70 m away from
the existing runway).

However, it is important to recognise that this object does not

represent the significant electrical conductivity anomaly which would be associated with the
burial of significant quantities of metal.

5.3.3.6 Electrical Conductivity in Zone D


Zone D was a discrete electrical conductivity anomaly which trended across the whole survey
site, trending perpendicular to the existing runway and in line with the row of PAPI lights
(Figure 5.13).

It is unknown if any metallic cables and/or services are located in the

subsurface at this location, but the anomaly is clearly associated with modern airport
infrastructure at least to a distance of 60 m from the existing runway (i.e., the point at
which the EM34-3 coils are more than 10 m away from the PAPI lights).

As such, the

anomaly in Zone D is attributed to modern infrastructure: any test excavation in this area
should proceed with extreme caution to avoid damaging cables which could be present at
this location.

5.3.4 Recommendations
A large volume of geophysical data was acquired during the 2013 survey, and several
targets were identified which were immediately worthy of trial excavation. However, with

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limited time for excavation, it was necessary to prioritise the investigation of certain targets
and recommend others for investigation at a later date.

5.3.4.1 Recommendations for Excavation During the 2013 Campaign


Four test excavation sites were defined on the basis of the geophysical observations; these
sites are shaded blue in Figure 5.19.
The largest of these is positioned over the western half of Zone A, and is a rectangular area
of dimension 40 x 50 m.

Of course, geophysical data suggested that Zone A had been

significantly disturbed since the 2004 survey period. Nonetheless, it was deemed important
to investigate the structure observed in ERT Profiles 1 and 2, and its relation to any
excavation and/or archaeology within Zone A, and to provide independent evidence of any
excavation activities between the 2004 and 2013 surveys.
The three other excavations focused on the concrete runway located around Zone C. The
longest of these excavations was situated over the likely location of the Prome Road, based
on the match between the magnetic anomaly in Zone C and the aerial photography. Note
that this excavation is immediately opposite an excavation further to the south, either side
of the exposed concrete patch ().
Observations from each of these excavations are considered in Chapter 7.

5.3.4.2 Recommendations for Further Excavation and Geophysical Survey


Additional excavations would be recommended between Zones A and B, and over Zone E.
Those between Zones A and B would focus on the characterisation of the small anomalies
identified in the northern magnetic grid in Figure 5.16, whereas those in Zone E would offer
insight into the cause of the anomalous electrical structure imaged in this area. However, it
is recommended that no excavation takes place without experienced supervision to mitigate
the risk from unexploded ordnance particularly if the magnetic objects are to be examined
since the responses of these are not inconsistent with ordnance!

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Figure 5.19. Recommendations for excavation locations (blue enclosures) based on the geophysical
observations. Excavations are located over the western half of Zone A, and are clustered around the
northern end of Zone C.

Given the value of their high-resolution definition of historic airport infrastructure,


extensions to the magnetometer grids are recommended. Additionally, the anomaly in Zone
C could benefit from ERT investigation to determine if there are any underlying structures;
however, this is not considered likely given the close correlation of the geophysical
anomalies with the location of the wartime taxi-way.
Of course, interpretations of geophysical responses can only be made where geophysical
data are acquired. All of the geophysical methods deployed in the 2004 and 2013 surveys
offered valuable insight into the history of Mingaladon Airport, and they could all be usefully
applied to a larger survey of the site.

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6: Bomb Damage Assessments as evidence in the Archaeology of Conflict


Rod Scott
"Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography."
General Sir Charles Harington to the Press the evening before the Battle of Messine 6 June 1917

When it comes to investigating an archaeological site in a conflict which has been subjected
to shelling or bombing, a study of contemporary records such as targeting data, the nature
of aircraft load outs or artillery fire missions,

bomb damage assessments and air

photographs has two principle functions.

The first, and most important, function relates to site safety and is performed as part of the
risk assessment.
To a trained eye, and this job must be performed by a person with appropriate qualifications
and experience, images of the damage caused, coupled with as much background
knowledge regarding the site as is available, can indicate
1.

A measure as to the potential for blinds - that is munitions which have failed to

function which might translate into a UXO Hazard.


2.

The type of weapons deployed against the site- necessary knowledge in order to

risk assess both the potential types of weapon which might be encountered and the effect
the munitions might have on factors such as soil stability and drainage.
Here it is necessary to point out that while an expert can produce a threat assessment with a
reasonably high accuracy; this kind of study is an inexact science.

For example,

photographic coverage might not be comprehensive and documents can misidentify


locations and weapon types. Thus any such assessment must be treated as a guide only and
all site workers must be briefed to be UXO safety aware.

The second function is to inform the planning and interpretation of the archaeology.
At Yangon in 2013 a bomb damage assessment was carried out in order to see if the area of
interest to Mr Cundall, and thus the area which would be excavated by the field work team,
had been subjected to bombing and if so what was the likely impact on the ground in terms
of the density of impacts of munitions and thus the likely damages to soil structures, the
signature such impacts would leave in the ground, any evidence for repairs and back filling
and the location of cratering.

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There is a simple reason for this founded in an understanding of Archaeological


Stratigraphy. It is a given in archaeology that the deeper you dig the older the deposit and
that careful analysis and observation of the stratigraphic layers and the material they
contain, for example coins or as would be the potential at Mingaladon, date stamped
ammunition items, enables the excavator to date deposits both individually and relative to
each other.
In practical terms related directly to the excavations at Yangon in 2013, Mr Cundall alleged
that the Spitfire burials took place at specific locations in 1945 and 1946. However, if on
excavation those locations were found to be covered by back filled bomb craters which must
predate the British reoccupation of the site in June 1945, it would be impossible for a later
burial to have taken place at that location because any trench would have cut through and
destroyed [truncated in archaeological jargon] all or part of the bomb craters concerned.
It is also the case that such features as bomb cratering might be observed in the Geophysics
plots and metal either from fragmentation, or even individual unexploded bombs might
appear in any magnetic data obtained as part of the geophysics programme.
As an example of the type of images assessed and the conclusions which can be drawn, this
air photograph dated 17 January 1945 shows the results of the most recent attack by forty
two RAF and USAAF B24 Liberators dropping 500lb and 1000lb high explosive bombs
(Figure 6.1). As can be seen there is extensive cratering of the runways and adjacent areas
as might be expected in a tactical air campaign.

The area of interest in the 2013 the

excavations is very approximately that between the North Arrow and the letters B and C [Fig
6.1].

Figure 6.1. Mingaladon AF REPORT [S]386 in AIR 23/3869 The National Archive [Crown Copyright].

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7: The Risk Assessments for Human Remains and Unexploded Ordnance


Martin Brown and Rod Scott
If archaeologists, or anyone else, undertake intrusive investigations of former military sites
or sites of modern military conflict, it is inevitable that there is a risk, sometimes a high risk,
of encountering both unexploded munitions and dumped, stored or discarded ammunition
belonging to any of the combatants involved.
Similarly any scene of conflict gives rise to the risk that investigations could recover the
remains of persons who became casualties of that conflict.
Of course, such material and human remains are part of the archaeological record and
should be recorded as such, but before such remains become part of the Archaeological
Record they must first and quite correctly be treated according to the prevailing legal,
ethical, moral and safety considerations which govern the excavation.
The proper and appropriate risk assessment and preparation for dealing with these issues
becomes particularly important if the work is being undertaken in a third party jurisdiction
as was the case with the 2013 Burma Spitfires Project, where the team needed to be
prepared to deal with the potential for ammunition finds as well as finds of human remains
relating to British and associated forces, Japanese Armed Forces and the local Burmese
population, all under the jurisdiction of the Myanmar Government.
As a result the Project Team undertook a detailed investigation and risk assessment in these
two areas and put in place detailed contingency plans for dealing with any situation which
might arise from the unexpected discovery of either munitions or human remains.
Under the agreed protocols:

In the event human remains became an issue Martin Brown, who is highly
experienced in this area would take the lead.

In the event any unexploded munitions were encountered Rod Scott as a qualified
EOD Operator would take the lead.

7.1 The Historical Context for the potential discovery of unexploded munitions and human
remains
Former RAF Mingaladon was an active airfield and Royal Air Force station from at least the
1930s. Thus there was the potential for finding discarded ammunition of all kinds from the

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first military occupation of the airfield onwards.

However the principle risk applies to

material from the period December 1941 to January 1948.

This is the period of the

airbases active participation in the Burma Campaign of World War Two and the subsequent
clear up and British departure from the station.
As described previously and shown in Figure 7.1, RAF Mingaladon was subjected to
bombing, rocketing and strafing from 23 December 1941 until the British reoccupation of
the site in June 1945. Subsequent to the British reoccupation of Rangoon and shortly after,
the end of World War Two in South East Asia, there was a programme of clearance and
demilitarisation which included RAF Mingaladon and which documentary accounts indicate
involved the deconstruction of large amounts of military material, including the collection
and disposal of munitions of all types.

Figure 7.1: A bomb strike plot for a daylight raid on 28 February 1945 with concentrations in the area
of the Prome Road [Crown Copyright]

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This intense combat activity is known to have led to casualties, with the period of the
Japanese occupation being particularly poorly recorded.
It was concluded that the site of the 2013 excavations was likely to be contaminated with at
least some unexploded ordnance and the excavation programme and safety briefings to
personnel were conducted on that basis. In particular it was noted that many raids included
air dropped munitions with time delay fuzes. It was also noted that the sheer quantity of
iron blasted into and across the ground at Mingaladon, including from fragmentation
munitions, could affect some geophysics results.
It was felt that the risk of discovering human remains was smaller, and if human remains
were to be encountered they were most likely to relate to the period of most intense
bombing during the Japanese occupation.
The protocols for the treatment of Ammunition Finds and Human Remains designed and
adopted by the 2013 Burma Spitfires Team are reproduced in Appendix 4 in the hope they
will be of assistance in developing best practice in the Archaeology of Modern Conflict.
As it turned out it was not necessary to implement either of the procedures described above
for human remains or an ammunition hazard. However, the team is confident that had such
a response been necessary the work would have been effective, ethical and above all, safe.

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8: Ethics, Aircraft and Archaeology at the Yangon Airport site


Martin Brown
The involvement of Professional Archaeologists in the 2013 Burma Spitfires expedition
involved some careful discussion, planning and the negotiation of contractual obligations to
ensure that professional ethics were not compromised by an apparent association with what
appeared to be a Treasure Hunt, however incorrect that perception might be. In particular it
was felt important that the Code of Conduct of the UK Institute for Archaeologists [IfA], now
the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists CIfA], the body which regulates the ethical
conduct of UK Archaeology was not only observed, but also seen to be observed.
The Project Sponsor Wargaming.net were clear that they regarded professional
archaeological input to the project as critical in order both to give scientific credence to the
research and to answer, so far as possible, the questions relating to the presence of Spitfire
aircraft buried at Yangon International Airport. Unfortunately it was also clear from
comments made to the Media and in preliminary meetings of the project team that David
Cundall failed to understand the proposed methodology and to appreciate the importance of
an archaeological approach, fearing it would slow the expedition down.
Despite the value placed on archaeological input to the project, it was also clear from
information provided to the team was given that, were Spitfires found, there was a
commercial agreement in place to divide them up, with the risk that

important heritage objects would not be kept together as a single site assemblage
and archive and

Spitfires or Spitfire manufacturers plates or other parts could be sold for


commercial profit.

None of the Fieldwork Team could allow themselves to be associated with either of these
cases. Nevertheless, it was felt that the story was of such historical and archaeological
interest that appropriate professional recording and reporting of the project was valid. In
addition, the desk top study suggested that the team would not find complete, buried
Spitfires. The team was confident that given the opportunity to investigate appropriate
locations then material relating to aircraft could be recovered and it was apparent that this
work must be distinct from any potential exploitation of cultural material, which went
beyond the acceptable international archaeological and museum standards. These may be
summarised as

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A. all finds of cultural material, that is artefacts, of any kind from an archaeological
excavation must be kept together as a single site archive and made available for research
purposes, and
B. No cultural material of any description from an excavation should be sold commercially or
otherwise disposed of in a way which undermines the principles of 1.
The team also felt it had an ethical responsibility to mitigate any potential damage that a
totally object-focussed approach had the potential to inflict on any archaeological remains
present on the site. In simple terms, Mr Cundall was proposing relatively random machine
holes and trenches across Yangon Airport. This proposed methodology ignored the
historical desk top study that suggested such random excavations would inevitably damage
World War Two archaeology and could possibly damage the archaeology of other periods in
Burmas long and rich history which might be present. As a result, it was considered
essential to undertake a watching brief to record and interpret what was seen to be
uncovered by other agencies and to attempt to intervene and mitigate the potential damage
should anything of significance emerge. However, this participation should, in no way be
seen as an endorsement or validation of the less archaeologically-driven approach.
After a process of informal discussion within the team, with the sponsor Wargaming and
with the film maker Room 608 Productions who were following the expeditions, as well as
having taken soundings from officers of the Institute for Archaeologists [now the Chartered
Institute for Archaeologists] and the Ministry of Defence Joint Casualty and Compassionate
Centre with regard to the possibility of finding human remains of service people, the
following rules of engagement were fixed.

The role of the Principal Field Archaeologist on the Burma Spitfires Expedition to
Yangon International Airport was not the conventional one of directing all
excavations, including directing the placement of the trench array. Instead it was
intended to act as monitor and to record and report on works undertaken, as well as
to interpret deposits and remains identified. To continue the Crime Scene
Investigation analogy adopted by the public facing element of the project it was
more to be the Scene of Crime Officer, or Crime Scene Manager responding to a
situation created by others.

The placement of trenches would be agreed collaboratively, with the two most
important consents coming from the Airport Authorities, [for obvious safety and
security reasons] and from Project Initiator and Team Leader, David Cundall, the
testing of whose theory that Spitfire aircraft were buried at specific locations at
Yangon International Airport was the objective of the expedition.

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The role of the archaeological team, in conjunction with JCB Operator Manny
Machado and Mr U Pe Win the General Manager of STP, was then to operate the site
safely and efficiently in order to maximise the chance of answering the research
question relating to the possible burial of aircraft at the locations indicated by Mr
Cundall.

The following practical protocols for the safe conduct of the site were also agreed by all
parties, including the film crew from Room 608 Productions.

In the event human remains were encountered Martin Brown FSA MICfA, would take
immediate charge of the site with the assistance of Mr Scott and would take the lead
on liaising with the local Burmese Authorities and relevant national casualty agency,
such as Commonwealth War Graves Commission..

In the event unexploded munitions were identified Mr Scott would take immediate
charge of the site and liaise with the local authorities.

The team would have complete freedom to publish academic accounts of the
historical and archaeological work undertaken by the expedition, the only proviso
being that the team agreed to discuss the timing of publications with Wargaming as
the Media Rights holder.

Neither Mr Cundall, nor Wargaming, nor Room 608 Productions would have the right
to exercise any editorial control or veto over any academic publication of the teams
work.

It was on this basis that all subsequent work and publication has been undertaken.

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9: The 2013 Field Recording Programme


Martin Brown

Figure 9.1. David Cundall discusses trench locations with Martin Brown

Although a prudent archaeologist never says never, the desk top study had shown that
there was almost no chance that the legend of buried crated Spitfires would be shown to be
a reality by a fieldwork programme. Nevertheless, the team approached the excavation
phase of the project prepared deal with whatever evidence presented itself. Whether
Spitfires were present or not, the background research had clearly indicated the heritage
value of the area and it was also felt that archaeological research might complement the
historical research undertaken in the attempt to explain the origins and understand the
longevity of the legend of the buried warbirds.

9.1 The Landscape Scoping Assessment


An initial site walkover survey of the site at the West South West end of the former WSW-ENE
runway at the south west side of the modern airport was undertaken on 8 January 2013,

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which was followed by subsequent visits to the site, including during the works undertaken
during the excavation period.
The team field walked the entire area of the proposed excavation and geophysical survey
and compared the terrain as observed with historical and contemporary air photography.
The team also observed areas outside the modern airport perimeter fence, including the
relic course of the Old Prome No 1 Road.
During the walkover survey the team was particularly looking for any indications of previous
large scale excavation and buried structures. At this time the ground surface across the
excavation area consisted of deeply rutted, sun baked alluvial soil, with very coarse grasses.
The excavation area was bounded to the north by the drainage ditch of the airport perimeter
road, a compacted dirt track known to the team as the Red Road on account of its colour.
This road is crossed at intervals by modern drainage culverts lined with concrete slabs and
has drainage ditches running along its length to both north and south. The southern
boundary of the research area was the main runway of the airport. However, a 20m safety
cordon was in place between the runway and the boundary of the potential working area.
The general trend in the landscape is for the ground to rise towards the west of the site.
There is additional evidence for buildings and surviving roads and elements of the early
1940s RAF period taxi way on the north-west quadrant of the airfield, to the north of the
modern perimeter fence. This area is clearly visible in period air photographs but lies
beyond the area surveyed and sampled in the 2013 field work. There are strong indications
that extensive survey of this area would reveal further archaeological evidence of activity on
RAF Mingaladon during its use by both the RAF and the Japanese occupiers.
The conclusions drawn are as follows.
1. Visible elements of the 1945 layout of RAF Mingaladon remain in situ and visible on the
surface of the modern site. These include the stub of a runway leading to the modern,
military cantonment to the south west of the airport, the stub of the Old Prome No 1 Road,
and sections of the 1945-1947 runway and taxiways. These extant remains suggest that
there has been relatively little build-up of the ground level since the end of British Military
occupation in January 1948.This area remains under the control of the Myanmar military and
was inaccessible for security reasons.
2. There is a low bank to the north of the modern perimeter fence. This appears to be an
earthen bund of unknown origin and may be related to either airport security or landscaping
or earthmoving associated with the perimeter road. There appeared to be no visible
evidence of previous, historical, large-scale excavations such as the creation of a large scale
buried feature. In the observable archaeological record these are considered likely to take

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the form of either positive features, such as spoil mounds, the erosion of the overburden
around a solid underground structure, or negative features such as depressions caused by
the subsidence of the overburden into collapsed underground structures.
9.2 Trench Locations
It was considered essential that all the members of the Burma Spitfires Project, plus the
Airport Authorities at Yangon International Airport, agreed the positions for trenches
collaboratively (Figure 9.1). This was decided in order not only to maximise effective use of
time in country to test the stories but to ensure safe working in a potentially hazardous
environment. The Principal Field Archaeologist was involved in these discussions as a person
used to working in such environments and, as such, liaised closely with U Pe Win of STP, the
Site Manager.
As discussed above, the team also undertook a walkover survey to understand the trench
locations indicated by Mr Cundall and to place them in the landscape context of RAF
Mingaladon during the period 1945-1948.

Figure 9.2. Schematic of trenches described in this chapter, with respect to the position of the EM survey grid, PAPI
lights and landing light 46N.

9.2.1 Area One/Trench One


Area 1 was proposed by David Cundall to test geophysical survey results from 2004 and
2014. It sought to investigate the T shaped anomaly identified by geophysics in 2004. The
area was machine-stripped of topsoil under archaeological supervision. Thereafter selected
areas were cleaned by hand. The principle feature noted was an area of good quality black
top Tarmac some 2cm thick overlying a layer of compacted ironstone some 8cm thick
which in turn overlay an area of clean, natural sand (Figure 9.2).
This feature is interpreted as a surviving area of post war tarmac surfaced runway/taxiway
and demonstrates that the surface of the site had not been disturbed post-war in this area.

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An additional trench was sunk into Area One at a location indicated by Mr Cundall as being
the likely location of buried Spitfires, which is described here as Trench One.

Figure 9.3. A surviving area of Post World War Two Tarmac in Area One, probably part of the post 1945 taxi way.

Trench One
Stratigraphy: The stratigraphy of Trench one was tested by machine working under close
archaeological supervision.
Layer (001), a loosely compacted, yellow-brown, silty sand. Within this deposit were
moderate inclusions of both fragmentary and complete brick/ceramic building material
[CBM], occasional substantial structural timbers, a 40cm long fragment of ferrous Pierced
Steel Plank [PSP] and occasional plastic sheathed electrical cable. Layer (001) also included
occasional lumps of Blue Clay. Layer (001) was immediately below the topsoil and above
(002), natural undisturbed Blue Clay, which was located at a depth of 2.4m (002).
The loosely compacted nature of deposit (001) and the mixed inclusions of redeposited
natural (002) from the lower deposits, as well as the CBM, structural timbers and other
material inclusions suggest that this layer was likely to be disturbed natural of relatively
recent date. However, the presence of plastics indicates a definitely post-war and probably
recent date.

154

Figure 9.4. YAN13 Trench 1 section of Sondage showing lenses of redeposited soil, blue clay and brick fragments
above the natural Blue Clay.

9.2.2 The excavation of Trenches 2, 3 and 4

Following delays caused by issues around permission to excavate permission was given by
the airport authorities to excavate a further group of trenches provided it was done
overnight when flight operations were not scheduled.
After some debate over the ethics and efficacy of this procedure the wider project team,
while not in favour of night working, reluctantly decided that the least worst option in
terms of answering the research questions was to open a group of trenches as a sample
with the opportunity for subsequent archaeological cleaning and recording to be
undertaken, by hand, during daylight.
Thus Trench 2 was excavated by machine overnight on the night of 19/20 January 2013
with the 360 Tracked JCB Excavator operated by Manny Machado and with safety
supervision by Rod Scott purely in his role as UXO safety officer, not as Field Archaeologist.
That works were undertaken in the hours of darkness, with minimal lighting meant that
archaeological monitoring would not be effective, so professional archaeological support

155

was not offered until the morning, when the effects of excavation were to be mitigated, as
circumstances allowed.
9.2.2.1 Trench 2

Figure 9.5. YAN13 Trench 2: Shot along the Approximately W to E Axis showing waterlogging

Trench two was intended to transect a geophysical anomaly identified during the 2014
survey, and to test landscape observations that suggested that this trench should cross the
projected line of the Old Prome Number One Road at approximately 90.
This was considered important because the Old Prome Road is a fixed point in the landscape
during the Second World War and because Mr Stanely Coombe had reported seeing
excavation activity in the Spring of 1946 while using this road in the vicinity of the works on
the new runway.
Trench 2 also provided a useful illustration of the high water table at the Yangon
International Airport site, even during the dry season.

156

Figure 9.6. Yan13 Trench 2: the compacted red earth road or track which may be identified with the line of the Old
Prome No 1 Road

The same Blue Clay as was evident elsewhere on the site was observed in the base of this
trench at c. 1.6m. Excavation had not proceeded once this natural subsoil had been
identified.
At the north west end of this trench a layer of compacted red earth, some 30-40cm thick,
consistent with a road or track was located [Fig 9.6].

It was not possible to determine if

this was originally a dirt road, or whether it had formed the base of a metaled road where
the top layers and metaling had been removed during subsequent landscaping and levelling
activity in that area of the airfield.

157

Figure 9.7. Overlays of archive and modern imagery of RAF Mingaladon / Mingaladon Airport, and evidence of the
Prome Road. a) 1947 air photo (red enclosure) overlain with 2015 satellite image (green enclosure). The Prome
Road and it's 1947 diversion are highlighted, together with the line of the modern runway (dark blue). b) As (a),
but with location of geophysical survey grid (cyan) and test trenches (green). The dashed red line shows the
interpolated route of the Prome Road, pre-1947. Note that (a) and (b) share the same scale. Orange enclosure
shows the range of the enlarged section in (c). c) The interpolated route of the Prome Road (dashed, red) passes
through Trench 2, very close to the position in this trench where it was identified (red spot).

158

Immediately to the west of the Dirt Track was a possible drainage ditch c1m wide and 1.25m
deep filled with brick rubble and grey sandy patches c0.50cm long and o.30cm thick. These
sandy patches are consistent with decayed sand bags which have been observed on other
sites, including on the Western Front of World War One. In the Western Front context such
deposits are usually considered to be either evidence of trenches left to decay and infill
naturally, or where they have been deliberately in-filled and the sandbags have been rolled
back into the trench [Fig 9.8].

Figure 9.8. YAN13 Trench 2: Rubble filled Trench with possible Sandbags deposits

9.2.2.2 Trench 3
Trench 3 consisted of a slot 4m long on the E/W axis and 1.5m wide on the N/S axis. The
trench was 1.0m deep [Fig 9.8].
An area of Tarmac consistent with the post World War Two Runway was overlain by
laminations of water laid sand some 0.20m thick. Overlying this was a 0.5m layer of brick
rubble which lay directly below the topsoil.

159

Figure 9.9. YAN13 Trench 3

9.2.2.3 Trench 4
Trench 4 was a machine cut transect extending a test trench to the east; hand-digging was
undertaken by STP and under U Pe Wins authority because of the suggestion of extant
cabling in this area. The final dimensions of the trench were 50m x 1.3m x 1m deep.
Natural sands were overlain by a deposit of mixed sands and brick fragments which were
cut by a cable trench cut for an armoured cable, part of which was recovered. The fill of the
cable trench was heavily compacted to cover the cable. Post war RAF documents refer to a
system of runway lighting being installed supplied by electrical cable and this cable may
relate to that system [Fig 9.10] .

160

Figure 9.10. YAN 13 Trench 4 showing relic cable

9.3 Discussion
Trench One contained a some 2.40m of disturbed earth (001), coming down onto a Blue
Clay (002 ) which was identified as undisturbed, natural geology.
Archaeological material was present within (002) and included significant structural timbers.
There were also fragments of brick and small fragments of pierced steel plate. These items
are consistent with post World War Two, demolition, reconstruction and clearance.
The presence of an only partially degraded modern plastic carrier bag and modern plastic
sheathed electrical cable demonstrates that, archaeologically at least, the disturbance
continued until relatively shortly before the January 2013 Excavation. Indeed, as discussed
previously, subsequent to the January 2013 expedition, it was discovered that Mr Cundall
had excavated in that area in 2004 with Australian Treasure Hunter, Michael Hatcher for a
television documentary which was never completed.
The firm conclusion of the Burma Spitfires Research Team is that Trench One effectively
consisted of an archaeological examination of at least one previous, recent attempt to
excavate in that area and the material culture and structural timbers which the trench
contained were in all probability the results of destruction and redeposition related to those
previous excavations on the site and, perhaps, that of others.
Subsequent to the January 2013 fieldwork this assessment was confirmed by Mr Malcolm
Weale, who had been present on the site during the 2004 excavations. Mr Weale also

161

stated, and provided photographic evidence to prove that Mr Cundalls excavation located,
and probably heavily damaged or destroyed, and then back filled at least one underground
brick built structure with a concrete roof. This structure is considered likely to have been a
WW2 period air raid shelter or storage facility [Malcolm Weale Personal Communication and
interview recorded by Room 608 Productions]. Copies of photographs seen by the
archaeological team support this interpretation, as the construction appears consistent with
similar structures on other RAF sites of this period. It is to be regretted that this structure
was not recorded in any formal way as it may well represent the first subterranean, wartime
structure relating to the 1940s that has been located on former RAF Mingaladon. Even the
most basic archaeological recording of this structure would have recorded important
information relating to the site. Unfortunately, such remains and the contribution they make
to the story of the men and landscape of RAF Mingaladon do not seem to have been
regarded as worthy of report.
It should be noted that none of Mr Weales photographs show a construction using timbers
of the type located in 2013, although such timbers are described and depicted in
photographs from the 2004 digging campaigns [Dr Adam Booth and David Cundall: Personal
Communications]. Thus it is a reasonable assumption that they were also found during the
2004 excavation and it is possible that they represent the remains of a wooden structure
damaged or destroyed during that excavation, again without recording. Timber was readily
available and heavily used in Burma for all types of building and historical documentation
and photographs both indicate the Japanese armed forces in particular were adept in its use.
Trench 1 was as an interesting exercise in the forensic examination of a site to assess the
extent of previous work, the destruction of the archaeology, and in all probability the
destruction of the feature which caused the T-shaped anomaly in the 2004 geophysics
identified by Dr Booth. However, the 2013 Expedition was also able to examine some intact
archaeology in the other trenches and record fragments of the post-war runway and taxi
way in Area 1.
In environmental terms the layer of undisturbed blue clay which was present across much of
the site highlights the issue of the water table also seen in Trench 2. In the case of Trench 2
the lowest end of the trench rapidly filled from three sides. Thus there is an element of
environmental determinism against the idea of burying artefacts in this area of the hill top
at Mingaladon with the intention of digging them up at a later date. Any excavation would
be rapidly flooded, even during dry periods of the year and the introduction of water-borne
oxygen would start, or accelerate the decay process.

162

The most significant feature of Trench 2 was undoubtedly the presence of what is identified
as a dirt road and an associated roadside ditch which was almost certainly reinforced with
sand bags, which were subsequently used to back-fill the trench. As such, the ditch may
have been altered by the use of the sandbags to either create ad hoc airfield defences, or
air-raid shelter trenches available to troops caught on the road by an opportunist raider
seeking to beat up the airfield. While no dating material was found in the ditch, the
sandbags suggest this may be evidence of RAF Mingaladon being turned into a landscape of
conflict at some point between late 1941 and June 1945. Certainly the Royal Air Force and
British Army made preparations to defend the airfield in late 1941 into 1942 and the RAF
Reconnaissance photographs indicate defensive measures and changes to the airfield
facilities made under the Japanese occupation and a structure such as a sand bagged trench
shelter or defensive position could be common to both periods.

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9.4 Finds report


The second part of this account of the January 2013 field work at Yangon International
Airport relates to finds of material culture.
Finds of material culture, essentially objects made or adapted by the action of people, were
relatively sparse in the four trenches excavated in January 2013. Therefore these finds will
be depicted as groups specific to each Trench, subdivided by material. They will then be
assessed as a total assemblage.
9.4.1 Trench 1
Metal Objects (Figures 9.11-9.13).

Figure 9.11. YAN13 Trench 1: Cut Down Section of Pierced Steel Plank [PSP]

Figure 9.12. YAN13 Trench 1: Two examples of forged ferrous staple of the type used in military and civilian
constriction to create rapidly constructed functional joints.

164

Figure 9.13. YAN13 Trench 1: Mass produced, ferrous, industrial sized bolt.

Ceramic Building Materials (Figures 9.14-9.15).

Figure 9.14. YAN13 Trench 1 Brick 1: Highly fired, unfrogged brick of orange/red fabric, with occasional large
inclusions and air holes. Parallel scribed lines on one face of the long axis.

Figure 9.15. YAN13 Trench 1 Brick 2: Building brick of stock brick type, with a red fabric and stamped makers
mark reading BIIS.

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Construction Timber (Figure 9.16-9.19)

Figure 9.16. Trench 1 Timber 1

Timber 1 from Trench 1 was a substantial, roughly squared off timber with three mortice
holes extant on one surface.

Figure 9.17. YAN13 Trench 1 Timber 2 showing Mortice Holes

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Indeed, of the four timbers recovered from Trench 1 three were large roughly squared
timbers with mortice holes indicating their use in a substantial structure.

Figure 9.18. Yan13 Trench 1 Timber 3

Timber 3 was the exception to this, being an unfinished log with the bark and side branches
removed but no other form of finishing. No diagnostic features could be observed.

167

Figure 9.19. YAN13 Trench 1 Timber 4

Timber 4 consisted of a fragment of a rough-hewn squared timber. This timber retained


three deliberately bent over ferrous nails of unknown function.

9.4.1 Discussion
All bar one of the finds from Trench 1 consisted of metal, wooden or ceramic construction
materials. The exception was a ferrous industrial bolt. This was the only item which could
conceivably relate to aircraft construction of maintenance. However, it was not possible to
recover any markings or stamps and as a generic object it does not offer any further
information.
Given the plentiful deposits of clay and relative lack of easily available, good quality building
stone, the use of brick in Myanmar has a history dating back at least 2500 years (Figure
9.20).

168

Figure 9.20. Locally made bricks of various types on display at the museum in the Shwemawdaw Pagoda Bago,
north east of Yangon. Note the three examples of similar shape to Trench 1, Brick 2 left of frame.

As a result during the Colonial Period a number of significant local buildings were
constructed in European style, but with locally made bricks of various types including James
Ransomes Rangoon High Court building of 1914, the 1896 Yangon Railway building and
perhaps most famously Holy Trinity Cathedral, Rangoon designed by Robert Fellowes
Chisholm. Brick also found more utilitarian uses, including in military structures such as
that seen below (Figure 9.21).

Figure 9.21. Brick built, loopholed defensive wall and guard tower Yangon.

The presence of only a single piece of PSP [Pierced Steel Plank] might seem odd when the
site was an active airfield with damaged runways and taxiways operating in muddy monsoon
conditions, requiring the laying of substantial amounts of precisely this material as the

169

extensive documentary record discussed in chapter 3 of this report confirms. However a


glance at the garden fences of most of modern Yangon might explain why PSP is now so
scarce on the airfield.
In an example of recycling, which is implicitly also another argument against the burial of
Spitfires, the alloys they are made up of is far too useful to bury, PSP can be seen almost
everywhere in the greater Yangon area, including within a few meters of the 2013
excavations and opposite the Teams hotel [Figure 9.22].

Figure 9.22. Sections of PSP on top of a garden wall opposite the Park Royal Hotel Yangon January 2013

Such observations demonstrate that far from being invisible, the genuine conflict
archaeology of Burma remains visible even in the streets and garden fences of Yangon. This
fact, and the excavations which the team was able to monitor, also showed that the
archaeology of the Second World War and its aftermath is indisputably present. This
enduring record remains very close to the surface, even in the modern and extensively

170

landscaped Yangon International Airport. In addition, conversations with STP partners and
other local people indicate the persistence of the conflict of now seventy or more years ago
in inherited memory and tradition.
This exercise in the monitoring of the search for the Spitfires managed to reveal such
information about the conflict, despite obvious restrictions. These limited results clearly
demonstrate that there is great potential for formal, directed studies of conflict archaeology
in Burma/Myanmar which relate to British Rule, the Second World War and the immediate
post-colonial renegotiation of power with the various ethnic and political groups within
Myanmar/Burma. Such study can only complement the historical narratives and bring
forward different manifestations of past human activity.

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10: Printing the Legend: Memory, Myth and the Lost Spitfires of Burma
Andy Brockman: and the Burma Spitfires Project Team
In assessing the likelihood of Spitfire Aircraft being buried at RAF Mingaladon in the manner
alleged by Mr Cundall and proponents of the buried Spitfires legend it is helpful to adopt a
Police Procedural approach. This reflects the public position adopted by the investigation
team during and after the Press Conference which launched the project at the Imperial War
Museum in November 2012.
In those terms and treating this issue as if it were in front of a jury, it is necessary to
demonstrate that those burying the Spitfires had
1. the MOTIVE to undertake such a burial,
2. the MEANS to undertake such a burial and finally
3. the OPPORTUNITY to undertake such a burial.
It is the conclusion of the Wargaming.net Conflict Archaeology Team that while the Means to
bury crated aircraft can be said to have existed in abstract terms. At the very least it would
be possible to employ a lot of local labour [who were already working on the runway
extension works] with picks and shovels to bury Spitfires in crates, or to use the bulldozer
and scraper round trip method described by Major Browning. However, there is no credible
evidence of any kind that such means were ever employed to that end. Indeed, as Major
Browning, a Royal Engineers Officer who was on the spot in Rangoon at the time the burials
were said to have taken place, serving with the very unit which documents show was
working on the airfield at Mingaladon, says, no such burial took place to his knowledge.
While the War Dairy of another of the Royal Engineers units directly involved on works on the
runway makes no reference to anything other than routine airfield engineering.
Even more damning of the legend, there is no evidence that new crated Spitfires were ever
even delivered to RAF Mingaladon because there is no evidence that crated Spitfires were
ever delivered to Rangoon during 1945 and 1946 at all, or that aircraft were ever dismantled
and crated up on the site. With no new/crated aircraft to bury the Opportunity to fulfil this
element of the legend never even existed.
Most fundamental even than this, there was no Motive for the RAF to bury crated Spitfires.
There is no conceivable reason, let alone one which is supported by any shred of evidence in
the any of the copious documentary, film, photographic and oral history records in the UK,
USA and Australia, that anyone in the British Government, or South East Asia Command ever
even contemplated such an action, let alone set in motion the mechanics of deliberately
burying aircraft for later recovery by the Karen or anybody else.

172

Consequently, we believe that the alleged burial of crated Spitfires at RAF Mingaladon, or
anywhere else in Burma in the months following the end of World War Two is a captivating
Urban Myth.
We can draw this conclusion based on the complete lack of documentary evidence for the
burials as traditionally described anywhere in the Burma Theatre of Operations and the
copious contemporary documentary evidence which shows the circumstances for a burial of
aircraft in the terms envisaged by the legend just did not exist at RAF Mingaladon in the
period between August 1945 and the late Summer of 1946.
Given that, the complete failure of the field investigation to discover any evidence that
aircraft are buried in the locations suggested by Mr Cundall and his supporters simply reenforces the point that the traditional version of the legend of buried Spitfires at RAF
Mingaladon is now all but impossible to sustain.
We accept we cannot state beyond reasonable doubt that there are no elements of buried
Spitfire aircraft at former RAF Mingaladon, or indeed anywhere else where Spitfires were
operated, serviced, upgraded and ultimately even perhaps scrapped in the Burma Theatre of
Operations. Indeed, given the photographic evidence of the partial burial of the derelict RAF
Douglas DC3 Dakota KN594 at Mingaladon, we strongly suspect that a full, research
focussed, archaeologically controlled excavation of the former engineering and dispersal
areas of Mingaladon and other airfields in the Burma Theatre, as well as the sites of known
incidents would probably reveal buried material, almost certainly including aircraft parts and
perhaps even including parts of Spitfires.
However, we believe we can show that the legend of buried crated Spitfires has its origins in
the genuine activities of RAF Mingaladon during the sometimes chaotic draw down of the
RAF in the Far East at the conclusion of World War Two.

We suggest that the routine

disposal of aircraft and other war material became filtered through the bottom of a beer
glass and NAAFI tea mug in the bars and service canteens of south east Asia in 1945 and
1946, as tens of thousands of young, bored servicemen waited to be de-mobilised and
repatriated against a background of guerrilla insurgencies and political ferment as the
former colonial powers disposed of the tens of thousands of tons of surplus materials of
war and positioned themselves for the post war settlement among peoples who believed
that the War had earned them the right to political freedom.
We believe we have also demonstrated that the service rumour mill, spiced by a joke or wind
up inspired by a little inter service rivalry between the Royal Air Force and the British Army,
led to the undoubted mass scrapping of aircraft and other surplus war material and the
delivery of around 37 crated Auster communications aircraft to Rangoon and probably to
RAF Mingaladon between December 1945 and April 1946, becoming linked with the
extensive runway works which are attested in contemporary paintings and contemporary
documents relating to the Airfield at RAF Mingaladon.

173

People who did not know what was actually going on, or who wished to mislead or wind up
people who did not know, or did not need to know, what was actually going on RAF
Mingaladon, may have then invented the story, or joke, that the crates were Spitfires waiting
to be buried and the regular runway works were part of the burial process.
We can also show there is a rationale for the growth of rumours relating to the politics of
the alleged burial. The tense political situation in Burma would have been a fact of life for
everyone serving in the Burma theatre at the time. Indeed, the documents, including unit
Operations Record Books, attest to the enhanced security measures put in place by the
British military authorities in the Rangoon area and in particularly on RAF Mingaladon during
1946-1947.

This everyday exposure to the volatile politics of a nation rapidly approaching

independence was coupled with the presence on RAF Mingaladon of British political and
military special operations operatives in the shape of the Force 136 of the British Special
Operations Executive.
Thus both the general political situation which was known to be unstable and the presence
of Special Forces, such as Force 136 and 357 SD Squadron, could easily give rise to, and
would certainly give credibility to, the rumour that Lord Louis Mountbatten might be
engaged in some secret planning on behalf of the British Government.
The evidence of these perceptions gives us a window into the service culture and political
awareness among at least some RAF Servicemen in 1945 and 1946. The longevity of the
myth they created was assured once those service people returned home and began to talk
to families and to comrades at veterans gatherings. This kind of rumour, or scuttlebutt, is
a staple of military and veteran culture and latterly perhaps of gossip over a beer at a unit
re-union. To the outsider such talk might easily appear credible; these are after all veterans
who were there.
In researching this story Mr Cundall and his various collaborators, then made the basic error
of basing their research on an assumption that the story was true, rather than setting out to
test the story to destruction.
They then compounded the error by apparently believing almost everything they were told
rather than testing witness statements objectively, again, if necessary to destruction.
There appears to be two reasons for this.

Firstly a simple lack of experience in handling witness statements as potential


historical evidence.

Secondly there is an apparent cultural reason for the failure to properly interrogate
witness evidence in that Mr Cundall and his associates placed too much reliance on
the word of veterans simply because they were veterans and were presumed to be
reliable out of an understandable respect for that status.

174

Convinced of the truth of the stories they were hearing from the eye witnesses Mr Cundall
and his associates then set out to find documentary evidence which proved what they
wanted to prove.
It is the use of documentary evidence which is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this
story and the way this story was sold to the worlds media.
As demonstrated above, there is evidence that documentary evidence from the RAF Records
in Burma has been used selectively with lines quoted which taken in isolation appeared to
support the burial story, while lines from the same document which, for example, gave an
explanation for the scrapping of aircraft in accordance with standard Royal Air Force
procedure were omitted.

Other sources, such as the Park Report which recorded the

routine, officially sanctioned scrapping of hundreds of aircraft, were not alluded to by


proponents of the legend at all.
There is also the case of the Photograph; published in the Daily Telegraph, the Birmingham
Mail and elsewhere and captioned A Spitfire being prepared for burial in Burma in what is
now known to be a clear misrepresentation of that photograph.
In fact, as described previously, the team now believes the aircraft shown in the Telegraph
article and elsewhere in the media was probably one of two, both sent to Gibraltar in 1942
as part of a routine consignment of aircraft for the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. As
such, the aircraft pictured either ended its life in Russia, or was written off in an accident in
Palestine.
This omission of basic journalistic questioning, let alone independent research to verify the
assertion as to the identity of the photograph, led the majority of the media to publish and
promote the story of the alleged Burma Spitfires in an uncritical way which was in no way
justified by the evidential truth both on the ground and in the archive. This uncritical hype
even took in the British Prime Minister, David Camerons personal office and the upper
reaches of the Government of Myanmar/Burma who for whatever reason accepted the story
without running their own due diligence.
However, it cannot be stated that the misrepresentations are malicious in intent. They may
as easily be the result of incomplete and sometimes incompetent research, whereby the
researchers, whoever they were, found an entry which suited their purpose and decided they
did not need to look any further.

It may even be the case that psychologically the believers

in the buried crated Spitfires of Burma may have no option but to continue their belief even
in the face of overwhelming evidence that the story is nothing more than a captivating myth.

10.1 Psychological Aspects of the Buried Spitfires Myth


In the perpetuation of the buried Spitfires legend by at least some of the protagonists and
proponents of the legend we believe we can detect the well-known psychological

175

phenomenon of Cognitive Dissonance, first described by the American Psychologist Leon


Festinger in his book When Prophecy Fails published in 1956.

That is the ability of the

human mind in some circumstances to reduce dissonance, that is reduce mental conflict,
to protect deeply held beliefs, even against widely accepted evidence that the belief is
wrong, because that belief is the more comfortable psychological state for that particular
individual.
As a practical example of Cognitive Dissonance Festinger quotes the example of the
smoker who persuades themselves that smoking is not actually bad for your health.
Related to this phenomenon is the phenomenon of Confirmation Bias related to personal
belief described thus by Lee Ross and Craig Anderson
"Beliefs can survive potent logical or empirical challenges. They can survive and even be bolstered by evidence that
most uncommitted observers would agree logically demands some weakening of such beliefs. They can even
survive the total destruction of their original evidential bases."
Lee Ross and Craig Anderson
"Shortcomings in the attribution process: On the origins and maintenance of erroneous social assessments", in
Kahneman, Daniel; Slovic, Paul; Tversky, Amos, Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases, Cambridge
University Press, pp. 129152, ISBN 978-0-521-28414-1, OCLC 7578020

Regardless of the witting or unwitting roles of individuals, the broadcast and print media
who took the Legend of the buried Spitfires on board in such an uncritical way are also
culpable in its perpetuation and it is certainly the case that the story of the buried Spitfires
of Burma was firmly established in the public consciousness well before Wargaming.net
came on the scene as sponsors of the Burma Spitfires Research Project in the Summer of
2012.
Once that media positioning had taken place no amount of cautions and caveats on the part
of the Research Team was going to prevent a media feeding frenzy when the predicted end
to the story came in Rangoon on 17/18 January 2013; especially when as recently as 9
January 2013 David Cundall had been allowed to continue to position his version of the
story as a story which was true rather than as a hypothesis which was to be tested.
Of course, there may also be a further and very simple reason for the story gaining such
international currency- enough people simply wanted it to be true to ensure a collective
suspension of all critical faculties.
It is appropriate to conclude with one of the earliest books about another Myth which has
captivated the World, the Legend of King Arthur.
In his Historia Brittonum, the 9th Century Welsh monk Nennius wrote of his account of the
evidence for the existence and exploits of the British hero
I have made a heap of all I found.

176

It can be argued that in Nenniuss methodology we see a parallel to what has occurred here
with the story of the buried Spitfires of Burma.

A heap of evidence, some good, much

bad, and some in between, has been taken at face value and perpetuated because people
wanted to believe such a wonderful story about another great historical hero, albeit a hero
formed of aluminium alloy and BAM 100 gasoline, rather than of flesh and blood.
We have even seen the historical and spiritual input of Brother Nenniuss equivalent in 21 st
Century Yangon; a Buddhist Monk, who also interceded to keep the snakes away from our
site. The snakes, we were told, are the earthly embodiment of the dragons who, in Buddhist
belief, are the spiritual protectors of the site.
[The Burma team is grateful as we only saw one snake in two weeks on site and he/she
made a rapid exit into an invitingly damp and shady perimeter ditch without bothering the
human interlopers at all]
The motivations of the people who originally promoted this story remain unclear. However,
this story has now been transformed into a fully-fledged Conspiracy Myth; a Conspiracy
Myth which has grown up because of the wish to perpetuate the life of a beautiful and iconic
machine, the Spitfire and the men and women who built, flew and maintained it.
Some of the proponents of the Myth have undergone a further psychological journey
whereby the failure to find buried Spitfires is as a result of a fresh conspiracy, whereby the
original conspiracy, the secret burial, has now been augmented by a fresh conspiracy to
keep the burial secret in order to protect the reputations of variously the British Government
and of Lord Louis Mountbatten. This development of the myth cites secret files in archives
of the Foreign Office, the CIA and the British Embassy in Yangon, and even encompasses
suggestions that the conclusions of the 2013 Burma Spitfires Research Team which you are
reading in this report, were controlled and directed by either Mr Cundall's commercial rivals,
Wargaming.net, the Ministry of Defence or some combination of all three [David Cundall,
Peter Arnold and others personal communications and internet forum posts].
With the legend of the buried Spitfires now fully established as a conspiracy myth there is
nothing to do except continue to observe and record the further development of the myth
and offer some perspective by remembering the result of another failure of the media to
look for the truth rather than the story it wanted to be the truth; this time fictional; the plot
of the famous John Ford Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
At the conclusion of the film the supposed victor of the climactic gunfight, played by former
USAAF Colonel James Stewart, goes on to a successful political career on the strength of his
supposed triumph.

Meanwhile the true slayer of the outlaw, played by John Wayne, has

returned to honest obscurity. Summing up the story the character of the newspaper editor
observes
This is the West. When the legend becomes the truth, print the legend.

177

That said we are realistic that whatever we, or other researchers say about the veracity of
the story, those who have chosen to believe, or say for whatever reason that they have
chosen to believe that crated Spitfires were buried at RAF Mingaladon, will continue to print
the legend.
In that case it is probably fortunate for all concerned in this particular conspiracy myth,
there are no grassy knolls, no lone gunman and nobody has died. The only casualties in
printing this particular legend are bank accounts all over the World and banking being what
it is, someone will have benefited from the whole episode.
We also doubt that even full publication of the story behind the legend of the buried
Spitfires of Mingaladon in this report will even kill this Myth for those who have invested so
much in its veracity.
Asked by Mark Mannucci of Room 608 Productions why he had returned to dig the same
spot on former RAF Mingaladon at least three times, in 1998-2000, in 2004 and in 2013,
David Cundall chose to discount the evidence of the archives, the majority of verifiable
witness statements and ultimately the 2013 excavations which showed that the blue clay
found across the site is generally agreed to represent undisturbed, natural subsoil and
replied simply,

Because we didnt dig deep enough. If you havent found anything there is only one way to
go and thats deeper.
[David Cundall 2013, interview on Camera with Room 608 Productions, used by permission].

Ultimately the future of such Myths, ancient like the Myth of King Arthur, or modern Myths
as we believe the story of the buried Spitfires of Burma to be, lie in the hands of those who
choose to perpetuate them and those who have the faith to believe in them.
It became apparent to the field team at Mingaladon, that in a culture where faith is at the
core of existence and everyday social interaction, the evidence-based voice is able to offer
input and comment, but different value may be afforded to those offerings than might be
expected in traditional academic discourse.

In those circumstances, the only defensible

option is to provide fact-based narratives out of respect for disciplines, the evidence, the
story we tell and the audiences we tell it to. As a result faith is respected where it meets the
fact-based narrative and is not cynically abused. Nevertheless, when it comes down to a
debate between faith and evidence, the historical and physical evidence, or lack thereof,
relating to the events, stories and legends of the Second World War must provide the
foundation on which narratives are based and tested.
With that thought we will leave the last word to someone who was present in Rangoon in
1945.

178

Major Roger Browning RE [Retd] was asked directly by Andy Brockman if he had any
knowledge of the burial of Spitfires in crates at RAF Mingaladon to which Major Browning
replied

We were the only people capable of digging holes and we werent asked to do anything like
that.

179

Appendix 1
A CASE STUDY IN THE GATHERING AND USE OF WITNESS TESTIMONY IN THE
SEARCH FOR THE BURMA SPITFIRES
The e-mail thread reproduced below is included as being typical of the nature of witness
testimony, its reporting and the critique of witness statements by Mr Cundall and his
supporters which we have observed in connection with the Burma Spitfires Legend.
The e-mail correspondence relating to the testimony of Bill a junior officer in 4/1 Gurkha
Rifles was generated in February 2013 after the team returned from Myanmar and it was
passed to Andy Brockman by Room 608 Productions for analysis and comment.
This thread of witness testimony has been chosen over the others which are available, such
as that given by Stanley Coombe and Group Captain Maurice Short, because it was entirely
generated after the professional research team joined the project and thus it was possible to
observe and comment upon the whole process of reporting and analysis in real time and
observe the impact of Media coverage on witnesses reporting the Burma Spitfires story.
The resulting report is reproduced in full below.
The only edits are the correction of certain grammatical errors which would hinder
understanding and the redaction of personal information such as names and e-mail
addresses to confirm with privacy and data protection legislation and convention.

STARTS
AN ANALYSIS OF THE NAME REDACTED TESTIMONTY REGARDING THE BURIAL OF SPITFIRES
IN THE BURMA THEATRE c 1945
Author Andy Brockman
Date: 26 February 2013
This paper represents an annotated commentary on a series of e-mails supplied by Anna
Bowers of Rom 608 Productions
The author has responded to the e-mail thread as is on the basis that it apparently
represents testimony recorded in 2013 which relates to events reported as taking place in
the Burma Theatre of Operations in 1945/1946.

180

The author has no evidence as to what circumstances brought about the recording of the
testimony of his father in law [the witness] reported by NAME REDACTED [the reporter].
The e-mails are commented on in chronological order
The Authors comments are given in RED

From: David Cundall [REDACTED]


Sent: 14 February 2013 00:15
To: 'NAME REDACTED
Subject: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi Ian.
I understand from Dr Adam Booth you posted a comment regarding buried Spitfires in
Burma. I am the team leader of this group currently looking for these aircraft and we are
very interested in knowing more about your Father in laws story. This is the second
comment on this area and last week I was taken to a site at Hmawbi and shown a site in a
deep valley area where the 93 year old eyewitness saw many large crates being buried. If
you could supply me with more information this it would save time and money surveying.
Regards
David Cundall.
The basic point here is that Mr Cundall is taking the testimony of a witness as both
automatically accurate and supporting his view as to the action and location.

From: David Cundall [REDACTED]


Sent: 15 February 2013 09:35
To: NAME REDACTED
Subject: FW: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Content Missing

Sent: 15 February 2013 17:59

181

To: David Cundall


Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi David
Thank you for your email and I am sorry I missed your call earlier today.
As mentioned in my email to Dr Adam Booth, I have been following your efforts in Burma via
the media in recent weeks with interest, and it was just in passing conversation with my
father in Law (Bill) when he mentioned (out of the blue) that he saw crates of Spitfires being
buried when he was in Burma during the war.
First warning signal- this has been prompted by the media coverage.
I spoke with him again last night and he recalls being laid up for several days at a temporary
runway approx 15-20 miles north of Rangoon At this time he was a 21 year old Captain in
the 4/1st Gurkhas and had been moving south after the battle of Kohima towards
Singapore. This activity was so unusual, was why it stirred so much interest with the troops
and so they went to see what was going on.
The first hint here about a long chronology being conflated. The mention of the battle of
Kohima and moving towards Singapore suggests the chronology of this report extends
from May 1944 when the siege of Kohima ended, to after August 1945 when the Japanese
surrendered. A period of over 18 months.
Apparently there were teams of American and Indian engineers dropping these crates into
the drainage ditches (Nullahs) which channelled the rains into the nearby stream/river
during the monsoon.
The use of the word apparently is a concern. It is unclear about whether this is reporting
the witness or information from a third party. That said, the idea of Indian Engineers or
logistics teams unloading crates at this stage of the war in the advance from Kohima is
credible. The reference to Americans may also be correct although it is perhaps an
unconscious addition and relates more to trying to make the story fit David Cundall's
published accounts.
This particular runway was very short in length just enough to land a Dakota on for
supplies and was located alongside a river/waterway which he believed was ultimately a
tributary into the Irrawaddy?
Just what you would expect in a jungle airstrip; to save time and resources you clear build
the minimum required.

182

He thinks that they buried around 12 or more crates over a period of approximately ten
days. These ditches were no more than 12 feet deep, but in very soft ground, so it is likely
once buried the crates would have sunk further and been subject to water ingress over the
last 70 years.
No crates are reported as being seen buried. They are simply alleged to have been placed in
ditches or not. The reporter then looks for a way to explain them being buried based on no
evidence at all.
The key section is the mention of the Irrawaddy River. 4/1 Gurkhas were involved in the
crossing of the Irrawaddy in early February 1945 and the RAF was involved in supplying the
advancing columns as Air Supply was the only means of fast re-supply and CASEVAC
[Casualty Evacuation]. Hence the engineers cutting a short airstrip would not be unusual.
Such sites would be covered with crates and stacks of crates and areas would be used for
the dispersal and stockpiling of material prior to it being distributed by lorry and mule train.
Since I sent my email to Adam Booth we have been trying to find a map of Rangoon circa
1944/1945 as Bill thinks that he would be able to recall better if he could refer to a map.
But he is thinks Mingaladon airport is wrong as it is too close to the centre of Rangoon, he
also believes that the burials and their locations were recorded and would therefore have
been lodged with the Air ministry or War office for the purposes of retrieval, therefore its
hard to believe that this information cannot be found in our records office (imperial war
museum maybe ?).
Two comments: The writer makes the assumption that the information relates to
Mingaladon as that is the location which was flagged up by the media and has begun by
trying to make the report fit Mingaladon. Obviously this kind of assumption is dangerous
and could skew any potential analysis.
Here the reporter is also clearly struggling with the idea that this activity did not leave a
paper record. As an Officer he would be well versed in military bureaucracy...
I have spoken with Bill again today and he is coming to stay with us for a few days next
week, (note: I live in Cornwall and Bill in Manchester) wherein I will try to build on the detail
and see if he can recall any more information. It will also allow me to show him Google Maps
and thus some of the modern geography to see if that strikes any chords. If however you
could provide any map or direct us to a reliable source then that could be useful.
This paragraph rings all sorts of alarm bells. Someone who is not familiar with the historical
background or geography, but is familiar with the TV and Press coverage is going to work

183

with a close relative to try and bottom out the information starting with pre-conceptions
about the location, date and nature of the event, a burial of Spitfires.
Even worse he asks Mr Cundall for help- we are now embarking on a process of reenforcement.
I hope this information may assist you a bit more, and hopefully we can provide more
information in the coming days.
Best Regards
NAME REDACTED

From: David Cundall [REDACTED]


Sent: 16 February 2013 04:09
To: NAME REDACTED
Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi NAME REDACTED.
Thanks for your email. The airfield that your father in law mentioned may be Hamby thats
15 miles north of Rangoon
Mr Cundall has apparently seen the railway line about 10-15 miles north of Rangoon and
has chosen a location to fit
And a second eyewitness took me to the place. The eyewitness told me they had to cross the
Pegu road and drive down into a area with small valleys about half a mile away from the
road. Did not see any small river. Hope this helps.
Mr Cundall is now trying to re-enforce his conception of place and action by inviting the
reporter/witness to agree with the description of the possible location.
Does Bill keep in touch with any friend who fought in Burma that may have more
information on this.
Here again is Mr Cundall's insistence the eyewitnesses trump everything else. This is an
assumption that no researcher should make. Witnesses do not prove a point. They supply
information which has to be verified in order to prove a point. Ask a Policeman!
David

184

From: NAME REDACTED


Sent: 16 February 2013 11:41
To: David Cundall
Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi David
Passed on your info below, but Bill said there were no hills, not for maybe 4 or 5 miles, as
the Dakotas had to come in low to land, he knows the Pegu Road, and seems to have a
good recollection of the area and places. He recalls the Pegu Road continuation into Palel &
Ye-U.
Crunch! the witness refuses to be led by Mr Cundall. We see the same psychological
phenomenon at work in the Stanley Coombe interviews with Room 608 Productions.
He is adamant that the runway in question was in close proximity to a river, as he recalls the
river flowing and the ground being wet, although the monsoon had not yet broken, around
end of April early May 1945
Corroboration that this relates to the period soon after the crossing of the Irrawaddy in early
1945 and before the fall of Rangoon in early May.
He is trying to find some of his old diaries and records and is desperate to find an old Map
to assist, weve now got a 90 year old man very excited ! As for your question about old
friends, not many left and none that he speaks of.
I am scouring online war records and maps as Bill was in 4/1 Gurkhas, 33 brigade,14th
Army, and various records are available detailing the movements into Rangoon, so if we can
get a fix on something or give you a better guide then we will. Be in touch keep looking !
A simple comment- the reporter wants David to succeed and is thus disposed to try to
assist in the quest..
Regards
NAME REDACTED

From: David Cundall [REDACTED]


Sent: 17 February 2013 01:36
To: NAME REDACTED

185

Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma


Hi NAME REDACTED
Thanks for helping. I have found a map of the area around Hmawbi its close to a small river
leading into Hlaw ga lake, which is around 15 - 20 miles north of Rangoon. I am visiting this
area this morning hoping to take some photos to show to Bill.
Mr Cundall has completely failed to take the point about the witness not accepting the
location and goes on to show that he has also failed to spot the issue of chronology and the
actions the witness describing almost certainly taking place before the fall of Rangoon and
occupation of Hmawbi.
Kind Regards

David From: NAME REDACTED


Sent: 17 February 2013 22:09
To: David Cundall
Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
David
I have been looking at Google maps, and noticed the Hmawbi (Hmawby) Airbase just north
of Hlawga lake maybe 2-3 miles.
From google it appears that this is a dirt landing strip running East -West, and only apprx
1000m long, by its name I guess it is a military site, I appreciate this is a long shot !!
However, I am not 100% sure but there seems to be watercourses nearby, especially to the
North East, whilst it has a golf course running alongside on its southerly perimeter.
Is this the location that you referred to in your first email below ?
I cannot get Bill to view this until Wednesday night, but will keep talking to him and see if
this rings any bells
Regards
NAME REDACTED

186

Here the reporter is taking on board Davids view of the information and again trying to
make what he is hearing from the witness fit. We are now into a circularity of reenforcement because the other party has adopted the position.
Ps: seen the negative news stories in UK media today - keep going and good luck

From: David Cundall [mailto:cundall.david@sky.com]


Sent: 18 February 2013 00:08
To: NAME REDACTED
Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi NAME REDACTED.
Yes Hmawbi is the place. The other eyewitness claims he saw large boxes being buried in an
old river bed, gulley, or valley not sure which. If you can get old of a book called R A F
Squadrons that will show you all the airbases the British had in ww2.
Again David is convinced of his own argument and the reporter has re-enforced that
conviction- round and round we go in a circular pattern of re-enforcement.
David From: NAME REDACTED
Sent: 18 February 2013 09:35
To: David Cundall
Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi David
Thanks, I will look up the book.
However, from Bills accounts this was not an air base, just a temporary landing strip. He
describes the Dakotas landing and taxing to the end of the runway, wherein troops or
supplies were hastily removed whilst the plane turned around and then took off again. The
threat of Japanese artillery fire was still present.
Crunch! Again the witness does not accept David's truth. This is a very good description of
the kind of activity in the advance south and latterly into the Irrawaddy Delta

187

At this time Allied forces were pushing the Japanese back towards Rangoon, so the landing
strip in question may have been an original Burmese one, or created by the British or
Japanese in an earlier part of the war.
This again confirms the chronology- this took place before the fall of Rangoon in May 1945.
The rest is pure speculation by someone trying to be helpful.
However, the question is whether it is still there today or has overgrown with time.
A key piece of information is to clarify how old is Hmawbi airfield, if this pre dates the war
or is from the war then there is a possibility.
From what i can understand this action was taking place in April/May 1945, with Rangoon
falling to the allies on 3rd May, so it is plausible why Spitfires were being buried once
delivered into Burma as the freight ships were probably being used to move troops and
supplies onto Singapore and further East.
This paragraph is nonsense from a historical point of view [Singapore did not surrender until
the autumn of 1945] but Mr Cundall has picked up the importance of the chronology.
Of course we know that there is no evidence Spitfires were ever delivered by sea to
Rangoon.

NAME REDACTED From: David Cundall [REDACTED]


Sent: 18 February 2013 12:47
To: NAME REDACTED
Cc: REDACTED
Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi REDACTED
If these Spitfires were buried in April or May it may be so that these aircraft were
transported from India by rail and then buried. I cant find any reference at Kew for these
Spitfires arriving at Rangoon before the burials took place.
Mr Cundall has now recognised the April/May date, and now has to account for the fact
Rangoon has not yet fallen.
This leads to the conclusion we must have crated aircraft delivered in order to be buried
north of Rangoon in this time frame. How to do it? The Railway! There is one problem with

188

this. One of the reasons SEAC relied on Air Supply was there was no functioning Railway
infrastructure. That which there was came to be heavily bombed and disrupted by the allies
to prevent the Japanese using it.
He can carry on looking at Kew for Spitfires being delivered to the Port of Rangoon for as
long as he likes- he wont find it.
All the evidence is that until the first delivery of Austers in December 1945 all aircraft in the
Burma Theatre of Operations were delivered by air from the bases in north east India.

David.From: NAME REDACTED


Sent: 22 February 2013 20:19
To: David Cundall
Subject: RE: Buried Crated Spitfires Burma
Hi David
I have been reviewing Google maps with Bill over the last few days and we can report the
following:
1) Hmawbi air base does not seem to be the location.
Mr Cundall's location is finally rejected by the reporter. The witness has clearly not accepted
the steer.
2) The temporary runway Bill recalls was built by British/Indian engineers in advance of the
final assault on Rangoon, it was apprx 800/1000 yds long,
They are now described as British and Indian Engineers- right on the money for who would
have done this work in the field. The witness is consolidating his story.
3) The runway from memory was orientated North South the reason being that they still
had incoming Japanese artillery from the Eastern hills a couple of miles away whilst the west
was open plains, thus the Dakota pilots could approach safely from the North with reduced
threat from the enemy
4) The drainage ditches (nullahs) were at the southern end, and each was apprx 60 feet in
length, and were apprx 6 feet below the height of the runway and were like fingers
emanating from the end of the runway towards the river.

189

5) The crates Bill saw were apprx 25 feet long, (the length of a Spitfire) about 6 foot wide
(tail section of a Spit) by apprx 8-10 feet tall (max)
This is a suspiciously exact figure as the addition of the references to the dimensions of a
Spitfire suggests.
They were all covered in a dirty brown grease proof paper type wrapping
Crates were not covered like this. Some material [vehicles and aircraft] was covered for
transport in the open. However it is suspected that this is another unconscious attempt to
make the testimony conform with Mr Cundall's published accounts which make various
references to coverings.
6) They arrived on flat river barges pulled up the river and then a tributary (??) the barges
were possibly the ones used by the locals to float the teak logs downstream from the
jungle.
River transport was used and is attested in photographs.
7) The crates were then hauled ashore by the American troops (CBs ?) plus local labour
using ropes and rollers, with the aim probably to get them onto the runway.
It is attested in many sources, including contemporary film and photography, that local
labour would be used for any work like this. The reference to CBs is trying to make this fit
with Davids view the CB units were involved and can be discarded. Given the location and
probable date of this incident it is necessary to be sceptical about the involvement of any
American Units at all this far south in early 1945.
8) This did not occur, and Bill saw about 10-12 crates left in the (nullahs) these were
being covered over at the time Bill left and moved onto into Rangoon.
Again this places the event in the spring of 1945 prior to the fall of Rangoon.
We are still looking at other maps and trying to source other information which may help. I
spoke with NAME REDACTED on Friday and he advised he was hopeful of acquiring a map of
Rangoon circa 1944/45,
Obviously this may help. In addition I have also had an interesting email from an Anna
Bowers from a TV production company in New York called Room 608 asking to talk to Bill!
Regards
NAME REDACTED
ENDS

190

SUMMARY
Obviously any discussion of this issue must satisfy the Means, Motive and Opportunity
criteria and the British XIVth Army and Royal Air Force had even less means motive and
opportunity to bury crated Spitfires during the rapid advance on Rangoon in the Spring of
1945 than they had at Mingaladon after hostilities ended in August.
However, when you strip away the obvious additions placed to make the story conform to
the official Legend of Buried Spitfires as published by David Cundall, this account seems to
contain a strong kernel of information which relates to a junior infantry officers recollection
of seeing the military logistics tail in action to the north of Rangoon, after the crossing of
the Irrawaddy River, in the Spring of 1945. Indeed, the reported testimony is entirely
accurate when it discusses the building of temporary jungle airstrips which Major Browning
and the Field Manual of the Royal Engineers, confirm were built using just the kind of
Bulldozers and graders which are reported here as being used to bury Spitfires.
It is interesting to note how in spite of being offered direction by Mr Cundall's observations
and questions, the witness apparently refuses to follow Mr Cundall as regards the location
for this recollection. A phenomenon we have recorded in at least one other witness, Stanley
Coombe.
It is also interesting how Mr Cundall again demonstrates his inability to ask the necessary
background questions to establish the bona fides of a source and clearly sees the
information offered as re-enforcing his own views, some of which are being fed back to him
by the correspondent in reporting his father in laws testimony. The same circularity of reenforcement we have also observed elsewhere.

Andy Brockman
27 February 2013

191

Appendix 2:
Protocols for the treatment of finds of ammunition, munitions or human
remains

A METHOD STATEMENT FOR THE POTENTIAL DISCOVERY OF HUMAN REMAINS AT THE


YANGON AIRPORT/former RAF MINGALADON

1. If human remains were noted in the spoil the excavation would be


immediately stopped and the Myanmar Authorities informed by the site
archaeologist. If the nationality of the individual could be ascertained this
information will also be passed on to the relevant Embassy in Yangon.
2. The remains would be photographed in situ and an immediate visual check
made to see if any other material was visible in the trench, however, no
further archaeological activity would be undertaken without the express
permission of the Myanmar Authorities.

3. If items such as, for example, uniform or other clothing, gloves or shoes were
located in situ during the recovery they would be excavated with extreme
care because of the possibility of human remains being found in association.

4. Any recovery of human remains which the team was requested to undertake
would be carried out to the same standard as a Police Forensic Recovery to
preserve evidence including potential DNA evidence.

The reporting and publication of potential human remains was also is discussed below.

In the event human remains are recovered, all publication relating to that subject will be
strictly embargoed, pending clearance by the Myanmar Authorities and National Authorities
of the deceased where they might become involved.

192

Initial reporting of any human remains will be in the form of an annex to the main
report which will have its circulation restricted to those deemed in the need to know
by the Myanmar Authorities and any National Authorities who might become
involved.

Regarding the full archaeological report in the event human remains were recovered,
the Myanmar Authorities and any National Authorities which might become involved
would be invited to place a defined time limit beyond which the full report would
also become public or specify a procedure under which full publication and archive
deposition becomes possible.

[The following section describes the procedure put in place in the event that unexploded
munitions were discovered]

EOD METHOD STATEMENT FOR YANGON AIRPORT/former RAF MINGALADON

EOD METHOD STATEMENT FOR YANGON AIRPORT/former RAF MINGALADON

Background
The archaeological excavation of areas around Mingaladon Airfield is being conducted as a
conflict archaeological project by a team of independent specialists working on behalf of
Room 608 Productions and Wargaming.net.

The site under investigation is the former RAF Mingaladon, now Yangon International
Airport, which was used as a military airfield throughout WWII and up until the handover of
Burma in 1948 when it became the principle civilian Airport for Rangoon while retaining a
dual function as a base for the Burmese Air Force.

193

The site was heavily fought over and captured by the Japanese in 1942, then bombed
repeatedly by the allies until its recapture on the fall of Burma in the early summer of 1945.
Thus it both received stored and deployed ammunition and was also the target of munitions
of various types.

EOD Risk Assessment


Given the history of the site and its use by the military the probability of encountering items
of ordnance is considered HIGH. These may range from Land service munitions, such as
artillery shells, grenades and mines, of British or Japanese origin used during the defence
and attack on the airfield in 1941/1942 and 1945, to Aircraft Bombs of any size used during
the Japanese attacks and later by the allies.
All items may range from inert munitions including dumped stock to live blind munitions
which failed to function at the time they were used but which must be assumed to remain
highly dangerous.

EOD Cover
Given the potential for encountering Ordnance EOD cover must be present at all times when
any intrusive work is being conducted.

This cover will consist of identification and expert advice should any item be

encountered.

Advice given will be in accordance with the normal EOD procedures conducted

during archaeological excavation.

The actual render safe or removal from site of any items will be conducted by the

local authorities only.

Individual Responsibilities

The site will maintain a strict NO TOUCH policy with regards items of ammunition.

The exception to this is Small Arms Ammunition, (SAA). SAA may be cleared by the

archaeological team with the approval of the EOD Operator.

194

All other items are not to be touched or moved, this includes items that are not

recognised as ammunition or are not positively identified and thus might be ammunition.
Any person deliberately ignoring this rule may be removed from the site.

Should anyone inadvertently pick up an item of ammunition they are to carefully

place it on the ground and move away and inform the EOD Operator immediately.

On finding an item of ammunition or suspected / un-identified item the person

finding the object(s) is to calmly inform all others in the trench and vicinity and everyone is
to vacate the area to the safe area that has been designated by the EOD Operator.

This should always be done in a calm manner walking away and ensuring that everyone has
been removed from the area.

No one is to remain in or return to the suspect location until the EOD Operator gives

permission.

The biggest saver of lives with all items of Ordnance is distance, get out and stay out!

Probable Outcomes
Any items found will fall into one of three categories:

Cat 1. Inert the item is either inert ammunition or a non-ammunition item.

Cat 2. Live Ordnance but safe to move. This is an item of ammunition that still contains
explosive of some description but can be safely removed from the area for disposal by the
local assets

195

Cat 3. Live Ordnance deemed NOT safe to move. Should an item in this category be located
then the trench will remain cleared until the local assets have cleared the item and returned
the situation to normal.

Chain of Command
The decision making on archaeological sites and film locations follows a set pattern that has
been developed over many years. EOD in modern conflict archaeology falls outside of this
usual pattern.

Any decision made by the EOD Operator is FINAL. Should any party wish to discuss

or question a particular decision then that may be done after the item has been dealt with!

NB: It is understood that the Film Crew might wish to record elements of any EOD Alert for
potential inclusion in any subsequent film.

The default position is that the film crew evacuate with everyone else.

Protocols for coverage must be discussed in advance with the EOD Safety Officer and
recorded in the Site Log.
Discussion is on the understanding that certain scenes might need to be re-created after the
site has been declared safe and other elements might be recorded from a safe distance as
determined by the EOD Safety Officer.

AS IN ALL EOD MATTERS THE EOD SAFETY OFFICERS DECISION IS FINAL

All items of Ordnance found will be recorded by the EOD Operator for entry into the

finds record but not retained for the finds assemblage unless they can be Certified Free
From Explosives (CFFE).

196

Conclusion
These rules and techniques have been developed over many excavations on some of the
most heavily EOD contaminated areas in the world, namely the WWI Battlefields of France
and Belgium.
A 100% safety record has been maintained, but can only be done so with the full cooperation of all persons concerned. Being EOD aware and following these basic rules will
eliminate most of the potential hazard from Ordnance on site.

REMEMBER:
IF IN DOUBT, GET OUT AND STAY OUT!!

197

Appendix 3
THE LOGISTICS OF BURYING CRATED SPITFIRES

In order for readers to assess for themselves the baseline logistical requirements involved in
burying crated Spitfires this appendix reproduces the Royal Engineers work tables used in
the Far East in 1945.
Thus for those with a mathematical brain and/or a pocket calculator it is possible to place
yourself in the position of a middle ranking Royal Engineers [or Seabee/CB] Officer who has
just been tasked with working out the time and equipment required to bury 12/24/36 or
more Spitfires in any soil condition which you might find in Burma.
You can also calculate how long it would take the Karen to dig them up again.
Just remember to burn any calculations after completion as this Operation is Top Secret.

198

199

Bibliography
Primary Sources
[All held at the UK National Archive at Kew unless stated]
Cabinet Records relating to Burma 1945-1947 including
CAB/66/65/40 White Paper on Burma Policy
CAB/129/4 Political Situation in Burma Telegrams
CAB/129/3 Developments in Burma
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Air 2/5498: Spitfires for India


Air 23/457 Target Maps, Reports and Photographs, Myitkina Burma
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Air 23.2350: Operations Zipper Mailfist Malaya
Air 23.2351: Operations Zipper Mailfist Malaya
Air 23.2352: Operations Zipper Mailfist
Air 23/3869: Interpretations and Bomb Damage Reports Mingaladon
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Air 23/3914: Interpretation and Bomb Damage Assessment Reports Myitkyina
Air 26/4351: Reports on the Defence of RAF Mingaladon 1942
Air 23/4375: Operations in support of Force 136
Avia 15/2139: Disposal of surplus aircraft situated outside UK
Avia 15/3660: Arrangements for handling surpluses overseas, machinery for disposal in India
FO371: Rebuilding of Rangoon Airport Terminal
FO643/18: Administration Governors Office Railway Board
FO/643/66/4: The future of the Karens Part I
FO/643/66/5: The future of the Karens Part II
FO643/78: Arms in possession of the Karens Ex Force 136

200

FO643/78: Outstanding claims for payments of arrears & compensation to personnel employed by Force 136
HSI/212: SOE Far East India/General
Prem 3 150/7: Spitfires for Australia
Prem 8 417: Military Settlement of Independent Burma
Research Aircraft 7231/01: Condition of aircraft on receipt by SE Asia Command
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273 Squadron, 1945
357 Special Duties Squadron 1945
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902 Wing SEAAF 1944-1945

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Burma Railways Evaluation Report August 1946

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Group Captain Maurice Short, Malcolm Weale and Keith Win.
Andy Brockman interviewed Major Roger Browning RE Retd.

Academic Articles
"Shortcomings in the attribution process: On the origins and maintenance of erroneous social assessments", in
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University Press, pp. 129152, ISBN 978-0-521-28414-1, OCLC 7578020

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Buried In Burma [Working Title] Room 608 Productions- in progress cut and unedited footage.
Imperial War Museum film ID: JIN 62 At Rangoon, the recently reoccupied capital of Burma, the first large merchant
ship is piloted into Rangoon's devastated docks by Lieutenant-Commander R A Dale of the Royal Indian Navy.
Forgotten Allies, BBC Timewatch 1997

Photographic and Visual Art Sources


RAF Museum Collections
Mingaladon aerodrome, Burma1945; Artist- Frank Anthony Albert Wootton PAINTING FA03182
Grounded Dakotas: From reception tent, Mingaladon Burma: Artist- Thomas Barclay Hennell:
FA03107

204

PAINTING

Rangoon: Aircraft taking-off from waterlogged runway: Artist- Frank Anthony Albert Wootton;

PAINTING

FA03179
Wrecked bamboo hangars built by Burmese for Japanese, Mingaladon, June, 1945; Artist- Thomas Barclay Hennell;
PAINTING FA03120
Control tower, Mingaladon, Burma; Artist- Frank Anthony Albert Wootton;
Dispersal, Mingaladon, Burma: Artist- Frank Anthony Albert Wootton:

PAINTING FA03181

PAINTING FA03178

Fires burning in Rangoon during bombing raid by 356 Squadron Liberators, 1 February, 1945: MONOCHROME
PRINT PC71/19/1669
SAW Marshal Schen and wife with Sqdn Ldr Turner and pilot, Mingaladon: MONOCHROME PRINT PC71/19/1867
Officer in charge of Force 136 and his assistant, Mingaladon:

MONOCHROME PRINT PC71/19/1869

Sqdn Ldr Turner and Lysander pilots in front of one of their aircraft, Mingladon, 1945:

MONOCHROME

PRINT

PC71/19/1854
Sqdn Ldr Turner (right) conferring with members of the Military Administration prior to their take-off for Bolo.
Lysander V928 (?) is in background: MONOCHROME PRINT PC71/19/1859
Loading supplies into a S.D. Lysander 'C', No 357 Squadron, Mingladon1945: MONOCHROME PRINT PC71/19/1861
Flying Officer Hallett, Adjutant of No. 357 Squadron Detachment, Mingladon, n.d. c1945: MONOCHROME

PRINT

PC71/19/1855
Close-up of long-range fuel tank fitted to S.D. Lysander, No. 357 Squadron? 1945:

MONOCHROME

PRINT

PC71/19/1862
Ground crew remove a wheel from undercarriage of a S.D. Lysander, 1945: MONOCHROME PRINT

PC71/19/1863

Group of Burmese and Chinese personnel of 136 Force, Mingladon, 1945: MONOCHROME PRINT

PC71/19/1874

Unloading a jeep from a S.D. Dakota at Mingaladon, 1945:

MONOCHROME PRINT PC71/19/1907

Hoppers clearing and levelling for extension to airfield Mingaladon:

Artist

Mr

Thomas

Barclay

Hennell

PAINTING FA03108
Fighter dispersal at Mingaladon, Artist- Mr Thomas Barclay Hennell PAINTING FA03106
Liberators and Dakotas, Pioneers Relaying the airstrip at Mingaladon June 7th 1945, Artist- Mr Thomas Barclay
Hennell PAINTING FAO3110

Imperial War Museum Collection

Art.IWM ART LD 5181 image: a view from a ship towards the quay side where civilians are gathering to welcome
the troops. Behind the crowds the twisted wreckage of some bombed buildings are just visible

205

Art.IWM ART LD 5529 image: a view of a merchant ship unloading her cargo onto a bomb-damaged jetty, on which
a Burmese girl sells eggs. The scene is viewed from on board a smaller boat, on which a man is standing in the
foreground, watching the proceedings.
CF660 Royal Air Force Operations: Airmen prepare a Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII of No 607 Squadron for a sortie
during moonsoon conditions at Mingaladon, Burma.
CI1567 A Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII of No. 607 Squadron RAF being serviced at Mingaladon, Burma, shortly
before the Squadron's disbandment.
CF663 Pilots of No. 607 Squadron RAF, returning from a sortie against Japanese troops attempting to cross the
Sittang river, (The Battle of Sittang Bend), walk past their Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIIIs at the monsoon-flooded
airfield at Mingaladon, Burma.
CI1458 Pilots of No. 607 Squadron RAF, leave their Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIIIs to cross the rain-soaked airfield
at Mingaladon, Burma, after returning from a sortie against Japanese troops and shipping on the Sittang river, (The
Battle of Sittang Bend). They are (left to right): Flight Lieutenant D A Pidgeon of Tadworth, Surrey; Warrant Officer W
G Yates of West Bridgford, Nottingham, and Flight Sergeant R H Whittle of Bracknell, Berkshire.
CI1565 Air Vice-Marshal C A Bouchier, Air Officer Commanding No. 221 Group RAF, greets Flight-Lieutenant D E
Nicholson of Harrow, Middlesex, on completing the last operational sortie by No. 607 Squadron RAF prior to its
disbandment at Mingaladon, Burma. Behind them, Nicholson's Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII, JG354 'AF-Z', receives
attention from ground crew.

Australian War Memorial


The famous "Japs Gone" message on the roof of Rangoon Prison
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14323/
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14339/

Major bomb damage to Rangoon Central Station


http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14336/

Aerial shot of bomb damage to the Rangoon waterfront


http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14337/

Here is an abandoned Japanese Anti Aircraft position in Rangoon


http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14338/
Tents on RAF Mingaladon
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.010

206

When the Japanese surrender negotiators arrived at Mingladon there was a commentary on this event undertaken
by "All India Radio"
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14673/

POW's Arrive Mingaladon on a DC3


http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14683/?image=2

Japanese liaison Officers ferried by the RAF to get remote groups of Japanese soldiers to surrender. The caption
mis identifies the aircraft behind- it is an Auster
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.014

Japanese and British Officers. Note the earth bank in the background. This is one of the large blast pens that were
built around the dispersal areas of the airfield including where the 2013 Team were digging.
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.015

Shots of a SD Squadron Lysander its crew and the Japanese.


http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.012
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.019

The control tower at Mingaladon with interpreter Flight Lieutenant W. W. Hassall RAF
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14674/

Indian Engineers laying PSP on the Cocos Islands during the advance on Burma, a Spitfire in the background
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14608/

Crated Spitfire on a low loader


http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/SUK14609/

Squadron Leader George Turner of 357 SD Squadron,

207

http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.023

Karen villagers who have just been supplied by 2x 357 SD Squadron Lysanders
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.021

357SD Sqd Lysander at a Karen controlled airstrip with villagers and European members of Force 136 in the field.
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.017
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02284.018

On Line Sources
http://forum.keypublishing.com/showthread.php?116104-Burma-Spitfires-Abandon-hopeall-ye-who-enter-here%E2%80%A6
http://www.spitfires.ukf.net/p014.htm
http://www.spitfiresociety.com/content/Airworthy_Spitfires/default.html
http://www.hse.gov.uk/radiation/rpnews/rpa21.htm#a12

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