Northern Ireland

Spitfire treasure retrieved from Donegal bog

Bud Wolfe and Spitfires (Getty and USAAF Academy Colorado Eagle Archive)
Image caption Bud Wolfe joined the RAF and was based at Eglinton in 1941

The tail wheel of a WWII Spitfire has finally made it home to the runway it took off from 70 years ago.

In 1941 an American RAF pilot was returning to base after an afternoon sortie when he had to jettison from his Spitfire as its engines failed.

The pilot landed safely, just 13 miles from his intended destination - RAF Eglinton, now City of Derry airport.

His spitfire crashed into the peat bog of the Inishowen peninsula, County Donegal, and remained there until earlier this summer.

Rounded up by the Irish authorities, Roland "Bud" Wolfe, 23, an officer from 133 "Eagle" Squadron, a unit entirely composed of Americans, was sent to the Curragh internment camp in County Kildare.

Ireland remained neutral during WWII and its government decided to intern any servicemen who ended up on Irish soil.

However, eager to return to the front line Wolfe walked straight out of camp and headed into nearby Dublin and caught the train the next day to Belfast. Within hours he was back at RAF Eglinton where he had taken off two weeks earlier in his defective Spitfire.

Unfortunately, he didn't get the chance to fly again as the British government decided it would be unwise to upset a neutral nation and Wolfe was sent back to the internment camp.

Tail wheel

Jonny McNee, who organised the excavation, the first of a WWII aircraft in the Republic of Ireland, said the team has been stunned by the state of preservation of the wreck.

"The lack of oxygen in the 30ft of clay ensured many sensitive items survived - the first aid kit, the pilot's helmet and incredibly paperwork," he said.

"The machine guns, currently being cleaned by the Irish Defence Force's ordnance team, are immaculate and even large sections of the tail rudder still retain their original fabric covering.

"All the recovered remains have now been carefully cleaned, identified, preserved and catalogued."

Most of the finds are now making their way to a museum in Londonderry, but it was decided that part of the Spitfire should return to where it was originally bound.

The tail wheel of the Mark IIa Spitfire P8074 has been gifted to City of Derry airport were it will go on display later this year.

The excavation was captured on camera for a BBC documentary about the extraordinary war of Bud Wolfe.

It will be shown as part of Dig WWII a series for BBC Northern Ireland, to be presented by Dan Snow next year.

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