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Book Review – Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft

By Nicholas A. Veronico; Zenth Press; 256 pages

The world of finding, restoring, and rebuilding lost World War II aircraft may seem like a niche market, and to some extent it is, but a new book by Nicholas A. Veronico makes the case that those who have worked tirelessly to rehabilitate World War II warbirds have played an important role in expanding the understanding of World War II aviation history. The tales of aircraft rescue and rehabilitation told in Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft demonstrate that many of the World War II aicraft we see today in aviation museums around the world exist solely due to the efforts of an array of eccentric collectors and aviation enthusiasts.

The tales of aircraft rescue and rehabilitation told in Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft demonstrate that many of the World War II aicraft we see today in aviation museums around the world exist solely due to the efforts of an array of eccentric collectors and aviation enthusiasts.

Although Hidden Warbirds highlights the importance and the lengths that have been gone to in order to find and restore rare World War II aircraft, the book’s narrative is disjointed. Veronico’s introduction does do a fine job of relaying the beginnings of the warbird movement as well as detailing the fascinating story of how several films have contributed to the restoration and rescue of World War II warbirds. Catch-22, a forgettable film adapted from an unforgettable book, was responsible for the preservation of some 16 flyable B-25 Mitchells. The absence of a narrative however, leaves it to the reader to figure out just how important or representative these various restoration stories are.

Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft

Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft, by Nicholas A. Veronico; Zenith Press; 256 pages

My take? Without the efforts of some of the aviation enthusiasts detailed in Hidden Warbirds, many iconic World War II aircraft would have only been viewable in photographs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that aircraft like the B-24 Liberator, B-17 Flying Fortress, P-36 Hawk, and P-38 Lightning were nearly extinct. The B-32 Dominator, which entered service toward the end of the war, was already extinct. By rescuing these iconic aircraft from the scrapyard, generations to come have been able to see and appreciate flyable versions of World War II aircraft.

Veronico’s book benefits from some great photography that shows the before and after of an array of rescued aircraft.

Veronico’s book benefits from some great photography that shows the before and after of an array of rescued aircraft. Especially impressive are the photos accompanying the story of a B-17E that had crash-landed in a field of kunai grass on Papua New Guinea and the photos of a B-18 Bolo that had crashed on the side of a slope on the island of Hawaii. Having lived in Hawaii for 6 years, I regret not taking the helicopter flight that provides the only way to view the B-18. Besides being one of the more memorable stories in the book, it’s easy to see why the B-17 in the kunai grass was selected to grace the cover.

SB2U Vindicator

The Vought SB2U Vindicator on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum was rescued from the depths of Lake Michigan. Its eight year restoration story is told in the pages of Hidden Warbirds. Greg Goebel photo

Also helpful to the reader are some accompanying lists that show where surviving aircraft of a certain type are located. The list for the B-24 for example, shows where survivors are located and if they are in flying condition, statically displayed, or in sections. Despite the efforts of warbird enthusiasts, out of the 18,500 B-24s built by Consolidated only three remain in flying condition. A debate has risen in recent years about whether flying these warbirds is a good idea or even safe, but that takes nothing away from the hard work put in to save these rare warbirds for future generations to enjoy. Many of the largest air museums, such as the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and National Naval Aviation Museum, owe parts of their collections to the work of these salvagers.

Hidden Warbirds is in many ways a thank you to those salvagers and restorers who are still hunting the jungles, oceans, and deserts in search of World War II aircraft.

Hidden Warbirds is in many ways a thank you to those salvagers and restorers who are still hunting the jungles, oceans, and deserts in search of World War II aircraft. They have done much to further the study and understanding of World War II aviation, and their work shouldn’t be forgotten or taken for granted.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...