Digging up World War II aircraft in the British countryside

We have been following the story of one man’s quest to find dozens of buried and hopefully well preserved Spitfires in Myanmar (Burma) but a lengthy BBC News article has reported that there could be hundreds or even thousands of World War II aircraft still buried in the British countryside. More importantly, many of these aircraft are remarkably well-preserved while searching for and then digging them up is the hobby of hundreds of people across Britain – including Dave Stubley, the secretary and "general dogsbody" of the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group (LARG) as well as a self proclaimed "wreckologist."

GolfHotelWhiskey.com - Spitfire fuselage at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage CentreStubley estimates that a few thousand aircraft crashed in Lincolnshire because the area had enough airfields during the war to be nicknamed “bomber county.” And while many crashed aircraft were recovered or recycled, some would have hit the ground with such force that they buried themselves. In fact, Stubley believes that 10% of the crashed aircraft are still there in the ground being preserved by soil, oil and lack of air exposure.

The first step Stubley’s group takes to recover such an aircraft is to visit an area to talk to the older generation who might remember an aircraft crashing. Metal detectors are then used to narrow the search and then the  group must get permission from landowners along with a licence from the MoD before digging up any fields. However, the MoD will usually not give licences to dig up sites where there might be human remains but there was a LARG excavation involving a Mustang where the American records were wrong and a body  was found – bringing closure to the family.

GolfHotelWhiskey.com - Canadair Sabre recovery at AlgarkirkThe Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 also prevents recovery groups from contacting relatives of those killed but often its the families themselves who come forward seeking information. Moreover, the British Aviation Archaeological Council (BAAC) is now working on a database of crash sites which it will make available to the public to further help families piece together how their relatives died.

Unfortunately, souvenir hunting has become an issue with downed aircraft but LARG will display much of its recovered wreckage at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and the group has given additional pieces to other museums. The group has also recovered both US and German as many German bombers were downed on their way to attack the area. In other words, you don’t need to go all the way to Myanmar to dig up aviation history as there is still plenty buried right here in our own backyard.

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