09 Oct New search for World War II aircraft wrecks to begin in India

Written by AFP Published in Regional Read 3454 times

NEW DELHI (AFP) - A search team is set to salvage the wrecks of Japanese and British military aircraft which crashed in a northeastern Indian lake during fierce fighting in World War II, an organiser said Wednesday.

Two Japanese fighter aircraft and a British bomber plane sank in 1944 in Loktaklake in the state of Manipur, home to one of the heaviest but largely unknown battles of World War II which pitted the two forces against each other.

The exact location of the wrecks had been uncertain for decades.

It was recently discovered after a war foundation in the Manipur state capital Imphal, called the "2nd World War Imphal Campaign", studied official records of the fighting.

"We have been gathering information about the crash from locals and eyewitnesses for about a year. We are ready for the real expedition now," the campaign's co-founder Mr Yumnam Rajeshwor Singh, told AFP by phone.

"We have been doing excavations like this for a long time. It is our passion and hobby."

The two Japanese planes, known as Oscar, were gunned down by British forces on June 17, 1944 but later on the same day, one of their own bomber jets called Wellington crashed too.

A team of 50 volunteers and members, led by some ten researchers, will begin excavating "as soon as possible" by going to the middle of the lake that spreads across 285 square kilometres (110 square miles) and using GPS and underwater equipment.

Singh said that, according to eyewitness accounts, locals of the area had sold off the planes' wings, tails and lighter aluminium chunks as scrap metal soon after the crash, leaving behind the heavy parts, including the 600-kilogram engines behind.

He plans to place the rusty wreckage on display in his foundation's war museum.

A quiet pocket of British India until then, northeastern Manipur was the scene of devastating fighting in the Battle of Imphal from March to July 1944 when the Japanese advanced westwards from captured Burma, backed by a rebel Indian force.

Tens of thousands of soldiers were killed in the fighting, with the Allied victory a major turning point in the Asia campaign that was voted as Britain's greatest battle by the National Army Museum of London in April last year.

In 1942, Japanese forces routed the British in Burma (now Myanmar), which brought them to India's eastern border from where the attack was launched.

More than 70 years after the end of the war, around 100 British and American aircraft wrecks are believed to be scattered across the jungles of India, Thailand and Malaysia, along with the remains of their crews.