Belfast Telegraph

Spitfire pulled from Donegal bog 70 years after it crashed

By Donan Deeney

In a remote peat bog in Donegal a remarkable piece of local World War II history had rested undisturbed for 70 years.

But, yesterday, a painstaking archeological dig began to extract the remnants of a RAF MK II Spitfire from where it crashed in 1941.

The plane which was part of 133 Eagle Squadron based at RAF Eglinton, now City of Derry Airport, went down on a Sunday morning in November 1941 after developing engine trouble. The pilot, Roland 'Bud' Wolfe, an American Eagle pilot from Nebraska was able to parachute to safety.

With army technical officers from the Irish Army watching closely, the digger began slowly to scrape back the layers of moss and peat which had grown over the plane through the decades.

Hour by hour the peat bog began to give back pieces of the iconic aircraft. By early afternoon five Browning .303 machine guns and a case of ammunition were discovered.

By late evening a true picture of this magnificent plane that played such a key role in the war was starting to emerge as large sections of the plane were unearthed.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the dig came with the discovery of the pilot's helmet complete with oxygen mask. This was the evidence of the human side of the crash.

Historian Dan Snow said: "The plane itself is obviously kind of wreckage and the big pieces survived. It's just incredible because it's just so wet here that the ground just sucked it up and the plane was able to burrow into it and it's been preserved. It's in amazing condition.

The Irish Defence Forces said the six Browning .303 machine guns and approximately 1,000 rounds of ammunition were discovered by a team of archaeologists from Queens University buried up to 30 feet in the bog.

"The six machine guns and ammunition have been removed by the bomb disposal team to a secure military location where they will be decommissioned and cleaned before being handed over to the Derry Museum," a spokesman added.

Jonny McNee an aviation archaeologist enthusiast who discovered the find which sparked the dig said: "This day has gone so much better than we could have thought possible and we have made discoveries we never anticipated, things like the armour plating from the cockpit, the cushion the pilot would have sat on, even his first aid kit.

"I don't think any of the 30 odd members of the team slept a wink last night but this has been an amazing day and with each piece we discover we get to see exactly how well the peat has preserved the plane and its contents."

As the ATO team set to work each time a new piece of ammunition was retrieved they remarked on how well preserved each gun was, considering the plane crashed into the ground at over 350 miles per hour.

A large turnout of local people came to this isolated bog and among them was Mick Harkin, who was at the scene of the crash on the day it happened.

Mick, now 87, was 17 when he and his friends discovered the remains of the plane shortly after it was heard going down.

He said: "I clearly remember us coming here but by the time we arrived the guards were here too and we couldn't get too close to it but there were bits of the plane, here, there and everywhere.

"We managed to get our hands on loads of bits and cases of ammunition, we took cases of bullets and dismantled all kinds of stuff, we hadn't the sense to know what it was we were dismantling so maybe I'm lucky I'm here at all.

With the final piece of the engine unearthed, the team prepared to get ready for the next stage on this remarkable journey of a WWII Spitfire and its pilot.

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