Buried teasure ... experts remain divided over whether Spitfires are buried in Burma. Photo: Peter Morris
A £1 MILLION ($1.5 million) expedition to find Spitfires allegedly buried in Burma at the end of World War II has ended in embarrassment, disappointment and recrimination.
A British team of archaeologists and documentary makers, sponsored by the computer company Wargaming, set off for Burma in the new year.
The team hoped to recover Spitfires at Mingaladon, a Royal Air Force airfield that now serves as the airport for the former Burmese capital Rangoon.
It was using information supplied by David Cundall, a Lincolnshire farmer and aviation enthusiast who has spent 15 years searching for as many as 120 Spitfires he believes are buried in Burma.
The team was preparing to pack up Friday, with the sponsors claiming no Spitfires were buried at Mingaladon and hinting at frustration with Mr Cundall, who was helping to supervise the dig. The farmer refused to comment on the failure of an expedition that has attracted publicity around the world.
His friends accused Wargaming of being more interested in publicity than aviation archaeology.
''It was our dream, David's dream, everyone's dream,'' said Frazer Nash, a spokesman for Wargaming. ''But we haven't been able to find anything. David is tired and frustrated. He's called the tune and we have followed.''
After investing £1 million, all the computer company had to show was a metal plate from the wartime runway. The excavation was said to have been hampered by the dig team hitting power cables feeding the airport.
There are understood to have been tensions at the highest levels in Burma over allowing a Western team access to a restricted area.
However, the decision to end the dig was taken on Thursday, as the airfield refused to yield even a rivet of a Spitfire.
Andy Brockman, the project's lead archaeologist, refused from the start to be swayed by Mr Cundall's optimism. Before the dig, he said there was no evidence to support the theory. ''It's the buried treasure thing, the kind of story in which people chance it,'' he said.
Simon Parry, an aviation archaeologist for more than 30 years, who has recovered five crashed Spitfires, said he was sceptical when he heard the theory.
''The story makes little sense,'' he said. ''The practicality of burying crates weighing six tonnes or so would be considerable today, but 65 years ago in Burma without modern excavators?
''If you simply wanted to dispose of them, why not just burn them or blow them up? I believe the scrap value of a Spitfire was about £45 in the late 1940s.''
However, the mission had some supporters. Peter Arnold, one of the foremost authorities on the history of the Spitfire, believes the aircraft may have been buried as a precaution.
By refusing to destroy the planes, the British could quickly re-establish a fighter force in Burma, should action be taken against the government of the country following its independence from Britain.
''The failure of this expedition does not invalidate the theory that there are Spitfires buried in Burma,'' Mr Arnold said.