Earlier this year the Telegraph ran a story on a British man's 15 year quest to recover Spitfires buried in Burma at the end of World War 2. Farmer, David Cundall, started the search when his friend Jim Pearce, an aviation archaeologist, met a group of US veterans who listed burying Spitfires in Burma as one of the silliest jobs they'd ever done.
The Spitfire parts were tarred and waxed, bundled into boxes and buried to stop enemy forces from finding them. Two weeks after burying the parts, the atom bomb hit Hiroshima, the Japanese surrendered and the Spitfires were abandoned and forgotten, until now.
Cundall earned the trust of the military Junta in Rangoon and used ground radar imaging and boreholes to search for the stash. It's an an expensive project, but Cundall has received backing from an unexpected source. The Telegraph report that World of Tanks creators, Wargaming.net, are funding the dig.
CEO Victor Kislyi estimates that the first phase of the excavation, which involves using massive electrical shocks to scan at great depth, will cost around $250,000. If the Spitfires are found, the cost of recovering them will rise to $1m. The dig can only happen between monsoons, and must proceed slowly to avoid damaging the crates.
Kislyi told the Telegraph why Wargaming.net decided to fund the project. “For our most loyal players, who are so evangelical about the game and who spread the word, historical accuracy is all-important. This way, the guys can see that we don't just talk about historical accuracy, we act on it.”
There are thought to be as many as twenty Spitfires buried in Burma. If they can be restored to working order, the find will almost double the number of operational Spitfires. There's no way of knowing what condition the parts are in without recovering the boxes and opening them.
If the planes are found, the final say as to where they'll end up lies with the Burmese government. David Cameron discussed the dig with President Thein Sein of Burma earlier this year, seeking permission for the excavation. International sanctions that prohibit the transport of military materials in or out of Burma could also prove problematic, but Wargaming.net were too taken with the romance of the dig to let that put them off.
"When the shovel hits that wooden box, when you go to open in it, in a land of jungles and temples, and you wonder 'What's in there?' – it's an Indiana Jones adventure," Kislyi explained.
“It's about legends, rumours, fragments of recollections. It tickled our nerves a little bit.”
The success of World of Tanks has enabled Wargaming.net to pursue historical projects around the world, and they're currently working on polishing up World of Warplanes. Read all about the studio's 12 year battle for success in our piece on the rise of Wargaming.net .