RAF Benevolent Fund supporter Jonny McNee is currently undertaking the first licensed excavation of a World War Two RAF aircraft from within the Republic of Ireland. The project is being filmed as part of a forthcoming three part BBC series – Dig WWI. Jonny tells us more.
Our aircraft is a Spitfire MkIIA, serial number P8074. The pilot was a member of 133 Eagle Squadron, one of three RAF squadrons comprised of American pilots who had volunteered to fly with the RAF before the USA officially entered the war.
The squadron were at the time based in the newly opened RAF Eglinton airfield near Derry in Northern Ireland.
While out on convoy patrol the aircraft developed an engine coolant leak and Pilot Officer Roland ‘Bud‘ Wolfe from Nebraska decided to head for home.
Unfortunately while flying over Donegal on his way home, Bud quickly realised his rapidly overheating engine was taking him no further and he baled out. “I’m going over the side” were his last reported words received at Eglinton.
He parachuted to safety and was captured and interned by Irish authorities. However, he escaped 12 days later and made it back to RAF Eglinton, causing something of an international incident.
It might seem amazing but he was actually sent back to Ireland in order to preserve relations between the UK and Ireland. Ireland was officially neutral during the WW2, and both sides were acutely aware that the handling of this escape could antagonise this sensitive relationship both between the UK and Ireland.
Bud Wolfe was finally released in 1943. He flew with the USAAF for the rest of the war, ending the war with four kills to his name. Wolfe went on to fly F86 Sabres in Korea and F100 Supersabres in Vietnam, sadly passing away in 1994. One of his daughters carried on in his footsteps and joined the USAAF.
In researching the story for the BBC series, I have learnt that Bud Wolfe was quite a character. He was a very experienced civilian pilot before volunteering his services with the RAF. His family tell me he talked little about his time during the war and his internment in Ireland.
It’s going to be quite a dig as the aircraft remains are currently buried 30feet under a peat bog. Small fragments that we have recovered are in an excellent state of preservation.
We’re confident of success and looking forward to recovering the remains of possibly one of the best preserved Spitfires in Europe.
When the significant pieces are washed and preserved, they will be put on display in the City Council Museum in Derry as a tribute to Bud Wolfe and his fellow 133 Squadron Eagles for all they did during WW2.
By Jonny McNee
Historian Dan Snow has also written about the Dig on the BBC website.