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Buried Spitfires?


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I've seen variations on this story over the years and done a bit of reading up, purely for interests sake you understand - there is even a website dedicated to this and details of excavations and what was found. Makes a hell of a story though and begs the question, what if?003_cheezy_grin.gif.c5a94fc2937f61b556d8146a1bc97ef8.gif


Fact or fable: hunt is on for buried Spitfires


  • Ted Strugnell
  • From: The Australian
  • January 28, 2011 12:00AM






IT'S the Lasseter's Reef of warbirds -- a rumoured stash of mint-condition Spitfires hidden underground in rural Queensland.


Many have searched for the legendary British fighters, reportedly still in their crates and hidden since the end of the World War II around the Queensland town of Oakey, but so far nobody has been able to lay claim to what would be a multi-million-dollar find.


They are the remnants of 656 Mark V and Mark VIII Spitfires that were delivered to the RAAF during the war.


RAAF records show that 544 aircraft -- 232 of them Spitfires -- were flown to Oakey to be sold to a scrap metal dealer.


That should have been the ignominious end of arguably the greatest single-place fighter ever built, certainly the most legendary and romanticised. But was it?


Opinions vary on the mystery and stories range from a high-level defence conspiracy among RAAF officers to a single leading aircraftman who hid or buried aircraft because he couldn't bear to see the magnificent machines destroyed.


If hidden aircraft do exist, there are three main possibilities: they are buried; stored in a hidden underground hangar; or secreted in a coalmine.


Not everyone believes they are there.


Toowoomba resident Laurie Wenham, who was employed in breaking down the aircraft prior to melting in 1948, is sceptical there are any planes.


"I do not believe there are any hidden aircraft and various 'sightings' over the years were probably parts or partial aircraft pilfered or purchased as scrap," he said.


But a lifetime Oakey resident, who did not wish to be named, claims to be a reliable witness to the burial site of five aircraft in what may have been a trial disposal near the old Federal Mine.


He did not see aircraft going into the ground, but he saw contractors digging a trench, and a large crate in it.


The contractors claimed a quarter of a century later to have buried the aircraft but could not be contacted for this story.


However, this was enough to prompt Bungunya farmer and pilot David Mulckey to launch an excavation in 2001.


This was the best search undertaken.


It included aerial photographic surveys retrieved from the archives for the years before and after the alleged burial, which indicated substantial digging.


Late access to the eyewitness and misreading of aerial surveys were blamed for the venture's failure.


"As soon as I arrived I realised that we were in the paddock adjacent to, not on, the correct site," said Mr Mulckey, who did not have council approval to investigate the adjoining property.


That property still contained evidence of digging and heavy lifting, even after 60 years, he said, and his aim was to return to at least eliminate this site as a possibility. More recently, another ex-World War II airman has claimed that during an exchange of confidences during an Anzac Day in the 1950s another airman, and lifelong friend, told him he and others had hidden aircraft in a hole in the side of a hill near Oakey.


The underground hangar story centres on reports of a squadron of 16 to 18 Spitfires, supposedly Mk XIVs in crates, hidden in underground storage, with spares and fuel, to be used in retaking Queensland in the event of a Japanese invasion forcing a retreat to the infamous Brisbane Line.


Believers of this theory say the Mk XIVs never saw service with the RAAF because they were specially imported to be hidden.


This version of the story appeared in the Royal Air Force News in the 1980s and British authorities thought it had sufficient substance to send an RAF group captain, wing commander and a technical NCO to Oakey to investigate.


A more likely possibility is that the underground hanger theory developed in the telling and retelling of rumours that a few aircraft had been buried, hidden or dumped in a disused coalmine.


There were plenty of opportunities to do this, because there are numerous abandoned mines within minutes of the airfield.


The number of aircraft and the persistence of the stories from disparate sources suggest it is likely that some aircraft remain.


Private pilot and vintage aircraft restorer Bill Martin, who has possibly done more research on this subject than anyone alive, believes some aircraft exist in some form somewhere in the area.


Mr Martin has photographs of aircraft in the disposal lines at Oakey around 1945 that look like Mk XIVs, and has spoken to witnesses who had seen evidence that Mk XIVs may have been at Oakey, possibly on loan from the RAF for trials.


The RAF had a squadron of Mk XIVs in Australia for the defence of Darwin and some of them could have been at Oakey for maintenance at war's end.


Other speculation includes the possibility that a small number of planes were fitted with classified equipment and could not be sold.


A common way of disposing of aircraft was to dump them at sea, but what if one of the drivers used his initiative to deposit his loads in a mine to spend a couple of hours in the local pub rather than on the round trip to the Brisbane wharves?


Lester Reisinger, who has conducted a number of searches, subscribed to the underground storage theory.


"They're there, all right, under the Oakey drive-in theatre," he said. An old mine, The Federal, passed under the now-disused drive-in and was the closest to the airfield. It closed in 1943 and two separate sources believed one driver was never away long enough to make the round trip to Brisbane.


It would not have been too difficult for one man to transfer a crated Spitfire from a truck to an old mine wagon, using the hand-operated gantry for transferring coal from mine carts to railway wagons.


Mr Martin and Mr Reisinger several times spoke to a man who swore he had been into an underground storage facility containing wooden crates on rail trolleys.


However, the witness could not tell whether the crates held complete aircraft, parts, or something else.


Both men believe the witness to be reliable, but because he was taken to the site at night by another man he was unable to pinpoint a location. However, it was only a short walk from the witness's house in Federal Street, near the mine of the same name.


Mr Martin also had an aerial photograph taken in 1945 clearly showing the portal to the Federal Mine still open, with rails, shiny from possible recent use, going into the tunnel.


The mine entrance was collapsed in the 1950s by the Jondaryan Shire Council, and the same aerial photograph clearly shows large crates sitting beside the nearby airfield.


Australian Army Intelligence judged these to be the size of Spitfire crates, but they were not there by 1948. The Spitfire was the only aircraft disposed of at Oakey that was shipped in a single crate.


Ultimately, there are several possible motives, official and unofficial, for hiding aircraft.


There were almost certainly numerous opportunities to do so.


There are a lot of old stories and rumours, a lot of circumstantial, anecdotal and highly speculative evidence, as well as a little physical evidence.


The living witness located so far is testing a memory almost 60 years old.


If the aircraft exist, sufficient resources and modern technology could locate them relatively cheaply and easily, or at least eliminate the most likely place -- the old Federal Mine.


It is also possible the planes have already been spirited out of Australia. Recently, another witness claimed to have seen a shipment from Sydney of three aircraft removed from a hole near Oakey in the 1980s and sold for big money in Britain.


Either way, and like Lasseter's elusive reef of gold, it remains a riddle waiting to be solved.


Ted Strugnell lives in Toowoomba, Queensland, and served 31 years in the RAAF, in Australia and abroad, and a further 21 years with the Department of Defence. Anybody who took part, or who has knowledge of, these or similar events is urged to contact him on [email protected]



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I don`t know anything about the burried aircraft story,it`s new to me, However!!!


As you enter Cairns,heading north on the Bruce Highway,there are a couple of hills close to the left hand side of the highway. On top of one of these hills was situated a very large house,called, "The House On The Hill", http://www.ozatwar.com/locations/zes.htm .During WW2 it was a base for millitary personal.


I`ve been told that when the millitary was leaving the area,all manner of hardware,from trucks to tanks, were burried under these hills?????????????


Are there Spitfires,trucks and tanks burried somewhere? :ne_nau: Seems very unlikely but anything is possible,I suppose!!!





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On a similar line ...


I've heard stories that the swimming pool at the Oakey base was reinforced with the frames of Harley-Davidson motorcycles straight out of the crates and still covered with preservative grease.


Perhaps these stories all have their origin in the astonishment of Australians, who had lacked all sort of materiel before and during the War, to the way the Yanks just dumped all sort of stuff into the sea instead of taking it back home with them. I reckon Aussies would have been disgusted with the waste.





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In some ways it seems criminal that someone didn't do it!


There were similar, fairly well documented stories about Mustangs being dumped off the African Coast after Korea - they were offered to the SAAF, but they had caught the jet bug by then and didn't want them. It's possible that steeply rising losses from the by then elderly Spitfires also put them off accepting obsolete aircraft. I recall the stories about the Queensland Spitfires circulated in tandem with the above, common denominator was the number five and a disused mine. I know too that after the war Tiger Moths from the Empire Air training scheme were sold off for a few pounds each in SA, often the fuel in the tank was worth more than the whole aircraft and there was some horrific waste - more than one Gypsey engine ended up running machinery or a pump on the farms. An uncle of mine acquired one in the early 60's to build hours toward his commercial licence and often bemoaned the fact that he had sold it for next to nothing - he admitted that he fell out of love with it after the third engine failure in a year.



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I mentioned a similar story here a year or two ago.I heard whilst at Amberley about the spitfires at Oakey also I heard, still a rumour nothing in concrete.Well concrete is involved.I think it was Number 4 Stores depot at Toowoomba,in the early nineties they moved the depot to Amberley, when they hammered up the concrete floor, they found numerous 50 cal and 30 cal machine guns in the concrete floor, word has it that they threw them in when they poured it just after WW2. As I have mentioned, none off this is set in concrete so to speak lol.Just a rumour.The depot could still be there.



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Come to think of it these opportunities come around every once in a while, it is merely a matter of recognising them when they do. For example in the early '90s the SAAF disposed of their Harvards, being one of the last large scale operators in the world. I'm open to correction but I recall that some of them at least went for around R140,000 - about $20,000 at current exchange rates! I had recently bought a house and didn't have a hope in hell of affording one, but I recall my step father commenting a few years later that he wished I had tried a bit harder to interest him in a few. Locally modified Aermacchi AM 3's (Bosbok), and Lockheed Trojans went for around R45,000 ($6,000 odd) at the time, many of which languished in hangars for quite a few years, being expensive to run and the Trojan (Kudu) in particular, a bit of a beast to land I believe. Values have climbed steeply more recently, particularly as they are genuine warbirds, often with patched bullet holes.



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These stories have been around for years and remember similar stories about the same hidden aircraft so there must be some truth to it, surely. Wouldn't it be great if it ended up being true? A similar yarn was around about the waterhole opposite Archerfield having a similar cache (Mustangs etc) and I was there when they pumped it out when the water table got low, it was full of scrap and rubbish....what a let down that was.



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I also have heard rumours about a cache in the Mildura area with a similar horde for the defence of the Brisbane Line.


The American carriers dumped most of their aircraft off the side because their cargo was outdatedand the cost of the replacement was less than the fuel to ship them back.



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Aircraft were plentiful after war period, P51 were for sale at YTOC for 500 quid. Not flyable but recently had been, guns and sensitive gear removed


Mosquitos in YNRM were weighed and sold for value of fuel (in lb) in them, farmers cut wings off with saws and towed them home!!


I heard there was a requirement to do with purchasing that these wartime purchases never sold back (working) into general market when finished with.



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I heard there was a requirement to do with purchasing that these wartime purchases never sold back (working) into general market when finished with.

That requirement still stands especially with certain US aircraft and is apparently a source of great sorrow to warbird collectors as many classics must be disabled eg wing spar cut through before being sold. I believe this applies to some (but not all?) of the F-111s which are currently being disposed of by the RAAF.



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Guest basscheffers
I believe this applies to some (but not all?) of the F-111s which are currently being disposed of by the RAAF.

I heard one of the main reasons was that they use the same engines as the (now unserviceable) Iranian F-14s.

But that doesn't mean a few couldn't be sold in Australia and blocked from export...



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I heard one of the main reasons was that they use the same engines as the (now unserviceable) Iranian F-14s.But that doesn't mean a few couldn't be sold in Australia and blocked from export...

Yeh, The F111 and early F 14 Tomcats both used Pratt and Whitney TF 30 -107 engines



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Guest Mark Mac

I had a friend when I was a young lad near Crows Nest who swore black and blue that the old disused railway tunnel on their property was also a burial site for ex ww2 stock. there was even a reddish looking discharge on the inside of the wall that was claimed to be leaching from the items.



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