Ukraine finds British WW2 plane outside Kyiv – BBC News

  • By James Landale
  • Diplomatic correspondent, Kyiv

Caption,

Ukraine found the remains of a British World War Two Hurricane plane in the woods outside Kyiv

The rusty remains of eight British Hurricane fighter planes from the Second World War have been found buried in a forest in Ukraine.

The planes were sent to the Soviet Union by Britain after Nazi Germany invaded the country in 1941.

They were part of a package of allied military support for the Soviet Union, paid for by the United States under the so-called Lend-Lease scheme.

A similar law is being used by the US government today to send military aid to Ukraine as it seeks to expel Russian troops from the country.

Aviation experts say this is the first time the remains of so many Hurricanes have been found in Ukraine.

“It’s very rare to find this plane in Ukraine,” said Oleks Shtan, a former airline pilot who led the excavation. “This is very important for our aviation history because no Lend-Lease aircraft has ever been found here before.”

image source, State Aviation Museum, Kyiv

Caption,

Britain shipped around 3,000 Hurricanes to the Soviet Union during the war against Nazi Germany

The Hawker Hurricane was the workhorse of the Battle of Britain – the 1940 air campaign when the Royal Air Force (RAF) defeated a German attempt to invade Britain. Although her role was often overshadowed by the newer and more adaptable Spitfire aircraft, the Hurricane actually shot down more than half of all enemy aircraft during the battle.

“The Hurricane is a powerful machine and easy to fly,” said Shtan. “It is stable as a weapons platform and suitable for inexperienced pilots. Reliable aircraft.”

In total, some 3,000 Hurricanes were shipped to the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1944 to support the Soviet war effort. Most were destroyed in battle or later dismantled for parts.

But some of the Hurricanes were intentionally destroyed and buried after the war so the Soviets didn’t have to pay the United States back. Under the Lend-Lease law, the Soviet Union was required to pay for donated military equipment that remained intact after the end of hostilities.

This is the fate of eight Hurricanes who were found buried in a forest south of Kyiv – now the capital of Ukraine, but until 1991 part of the Soviet Union.

Caption,

Ukraine is now painstakingly cleaning and repairing the plane, so it can be put on display

They had been stripped of any useful instruments, radios, machine guns, and scrap metal. They were then dragged by tractors from a nearby airfield, broken up and dropped without ceremony into a shallow ravine. It is thought they were then covered with earth by bulldozers.

The remains were discovered recently after an unexploded bomb dating from the war was found nearby. The rest of the ravine was examined using a metal detector and Hurricane was found.

The National Aviation Museum of Ukraine is now in the process of painstakingly hand excavating the site. Staff there aim to identify as many of the planes as possible so they can be reassembled and put on display.

Valerii Romanenko, head of research at the museum, said the Hurricane played an important role in Ukrainian history.

“Hurricane was a symbol of British assistance during the Second World War years, just as we greatly appreciate British assistance today,” he said. “Britain is one of the largest suppliers of military equipment to our country now.”

“In 1941 Britain was the first to supply fighter aircraft to the Soviet Union on a large scale. Now the UK is the first country to provide the Storm Shadow cruise missile to our armed forces.”

It is estimated that there are only 14 restored flyable Hurricanes in the world today.

After the German invasion, the Soviet Union lost many fighter planes and was in dire need of fighter planes. Initially several RAF Storm squadrons were sent to the North Pole to assist.

But soon the British pilots left and the planes were overtaken by Soviet pilots. Records show that many disliked the Hurricane, considering it underpowered, underarmed, and underprotected.

At the end of the war it was rendered obsolete and was used primarily for air defense work. The Eight Hurricanes found south of Kyiv were used to defend major transportation hubs – especially the railway station and interchange.

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