Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hawks of the Desert

Official group insignia of the 79th FG USAAF that fought in North Africa
 My friend Mut over at the Temple of Mut is working on a post detailing the widespread devastation that is occurring throughout Upper and Lower Egypt.  So I will focus on a more recent occurrence of destruction.

In February of this year an oil exploration team operating in Egypt's Western Desert stumbled across an amazing find.  Pictures were quickly snapped and then posted to a Polish modeling magazine.

Curtis Kittyhawk I somewhere in the Western Desert of Egypt.
Lost for 70 years an RAF Kittyhawk was discovered in Egypt.  At this time the exact identity of the airframe and name of it's lost pilot is unknown.  The sand has scoured much of the paint away.  Some have played with the photographs posted searching for the plane's identity.  What is known is this airplane is a P-40E-CU-1.  Six wing guns.  Ring and post site.  No fin fillet.  Intake on top of cowling.  RAF roundel has a yellow outer circle.  And there is red paint still remaining on the propeller.  All the above tid-bits have lead some to speculate this is Kittyhawk I ET574 HS-B assigned to 260 Sqn and lost in 1942 while being ferried from one airbase to another for repair.  The pilot for this mission was Flt Sgt Dennis Copping.  This is all speculation but once the media found out about this lost warrior, well it was definitely Copping's airplane.  The UK Metro even wrote on how the brave pilot tried to get the plane working again ...  with the propeller and gear box wrenched off I wonder if they even looked at the photos.  Or the CBC calling it a WWII jet fighter.

So right now the British Ministry of Defense is trying to work with the Egyptian government to preserve this airplane and and find its pilot so the story can be finally told.  They better hurry before there is nothing left of the airplane.
Perfectly intact canopy after 70 years.

The canopy has now been shattered and someone has shot up the armoured windscreen.
Who knows what else is vanishing with every passing moment.  The survey crew has tried to protect the location, for example the original online photo album has now vanished, but the crew also had local guides.  And then had to report the plane to the Egyptian Army because ammo was still in the plane that the Army then went and removed.    So things have started to happen to the plane, it has suffered more damage in the past few months than the previous 70 years.  And with each piece that vanishes, perhaps the clues needed to find the lost pilot also disappears into the desert.

P-40F Warhark with Group CO Col. Earl E. Bates.  The Egyptian hieroglyphs are supposed to be the Group's number.

I will leave it to the readers to tell me if the insignia at the top or at the bottom has the hieroglyphs correct.  I wanted to include an American fighter unit in this post is to show how integral to the whole desert campaign were Curtiss' P-40s and to show the lasting impact ancient Egyptian culture has on our modern world.

Interesting footnote - The intelligence officer for 260 Sqn when Copping and his plane vanished was none other than Sir Christopher Lee who later gained fame as Dracula going against Peter Cushing as Dr. Helsing.  Or when he appeared in the Lord of the Rings.


nzgarry said...

Yes, not all that suffered a grim fate in that war got KIA. Those that did so with their folks never knowing what happened to them gives one pause for reflection. I hope that his remains are found and buried with honour.

By the way Anna, have the newly discovered buried Spitfires in Burma made the news in the US?, if not, a heads up to yourself and US readers on this.

Anna said...

I hope the identity and fate of the pilot is found to give that final closure. There is a report of SUVs showing up at the oasis 45 miles away with GPS coordinates for the crash.

I have heard about the buried Spitfires. Mk XIVs buried in a river gully still in crates. Number of airframes being 20, then 60, and as high as 120. Along with a feud between the researcher/farmer who found them and the real estate mogul that got PM Cameron to smooth things with the Burmese government. I will believe it when airframes are recovered.

Though what I find really galling is Birmingham's reaction to the Spitfire news. "Oh jolly good you found some of the kites we built in 1945. We want one back." They ignore its not the UK government recovering the planes, its private investors. But like typical socialists things like private ownership has never stopped them from trying to nick things. Someone needs to tell Birmingham to sod off unless they can pony up the money to buy the plane.

nzgarry said...

Indeed, and though the find seems for real, I too fear a perilous road between discovery and recovery.

Lets hope that one day you can entertain us on these pages with some tech details on these beasts.

Anna said...

I do hope there is a happy ending with the Kittyhawk I in Egypt. That the fate of the pilot is solved before the crash is reduced to bleached bones in the desert.

As for the Burmese Spitfires, time will also tell whether the story is true.

NZGarry, I am not sure what I can add to either story. There are people covering both stories who seem to know every rivet and fastener of both aircraft. But I shall strive to meet your request.