Seventy years after its gross violation of sovereign Irish airspace, Eire has decided to let bygones be bygones:
One morning last January, amateur aviation historian Jonny McNee embarked on what he suspected was a doomed mission: to find the wreckage of a Second World War Royal Air Force Spitfire that had crashed in the peat bogs of County Donegal in northwest Ireland in November, 1941.
For two decades, other historians had sought it – in vain.
“We weren’t terribly hopeful,” said Mr. McNee, in Toronto to attend the launch of Maple Leaf Empire – Canada, Britain, and Two World Wars, a book that chronicles the Spitfire story. “I’d say we were optimistically downbeat.”
Amazingly, five minutes after he stopped to seek information from knowledgeable locals, he found a man who knew the precise location of the crash.
In June, Mr. McNee, 43, and a team of aviation archaeologists from Queen’s University in Belfast returned to the site to excavate.
Buried nine metres down in the Glenshinney bog, near Moneydarragh, they found the plane’s remains – in pieces, but otherwise, he says, “remarkably well preserved.”
Well, it’s not like the Irish soil to vandalize someone else’s piece of kit.
An interesting tale too about both the aircraft’s provenance – a Canadian businessman underwrote the purchase – and the American pilot who was at her helm when she went down:
(Roland “Bud”) Wolfe, stripped of American citizenship for joining the British war effort – Washington did not enter the war until December, 1941 – was a member of 133 Eagle Squadron, a unit formed by American volunteers.
He’d been on convoy patrol over the Inishowen Peninsula when the Spitfire’s Rolls-Royce Merlin engine overheated, and then failed. Thirteen kilometres from his base at RAF Eglinton, he radioed his decision to jump.
He parachuted into neutral Irish territory, and was soon captured and detained at Curragh – what was surely the world’s most unusual prisoner-of-war camp. There, under loose security, Allied servicemen and captured Nazi U-boat sailors and Luftwaffe airmen were allowed to sign themselves out of the camp and spend the day as they pleased, as long as they returned at night.
Wolfe released himself on his own cognizance some ten days later, but spent 18 months in detention before joining the US Air Force. Never mind that whole “citizenship” thing.