Lost Treasures: The Sunken WW2 Warplanes of Lake Michigan


Beneath the serene surface of Lake Michigan, just off the Chicago shoreline, lies a hidden treasure trove: more than a hundred WW2 aircraft resting silently on the lakebed. Each plane holds a story of its own, recounting the trials and triumphs of a bygone era. This is the remarkable tale of how these warbirds came to rest at the bottom of the lake and the extraordinary training program that forever altered the course of World War II in the Pacific.

The Training Grounds: USS Wolverine and USS Sable

During World War II, the United States Navy faced a pressing need for trained carrier pilots to support its operations in the Pacific theater. To meet this demand, an innovative solution was devised: the conversion of two coal-fired, side-wheel passenger steamers into makeshift aircraft carriers. These vessels, known as the USS Wolverine and USS Sable, became the unlikely training grounds for over 15,000 carrier pilots.

Amidst the waves of Lake Michigan, aspiring naval aviators honed their skills, practicing takeoffs, landings, and aerial maneuvers on the pitching decks of these makeshift flattops. However, not every landing ended smoothly, and many aircraft found themselves plunging into the depths below.

The Sunken Warbirds: Lost and Found

As the war raged on, the sunken aircraft of Lake Michigan lay forgotten, resting undisturbed on the lakebed for decades. Yet, in the 1990s, a concerted effort was launched to recover these lost treasures and preserve them for future generations.

Underwater archaeologists and aviation enthusiasts joined forces, employing cutting-edge technology to locate and salvage the sunken warplanes. Each recovery mission was fraught with challenges, from navigating the murky depths to delicately extracting fragile artifacts from their watery graves.

Despite the obstacles, the efforts proved fruitful, with more than a hundred WW2 aircraft ultimately brought to the surface. These meticulously restored warbirds serve as tangible reminders of the sacrifices made by the men and women who served during the war, as well as testaments to the ingenuity and perseverance of those involved in their recovery.

The Ingenious Training Program

The recovery of the sunken warplanes of Lake Michigan sheds light on an often-overlooked aspect of World War II history: the vital role played by training programs in shaping the outcome of the conflict. The USS Wolverine and USS Sable may have been unconventional aircraft carriers, but they played a crucial role in preparing carrier pilots for the rigors of combat.

The intense training regime imposed by these makeshift flattops ensured that naval aviators were well-equipped to navigate the challenges of carrier-based operations in the Pacific. From mastering the intricacies of carrier landings to honing their aerial combat skills, pilots emerged from their training on Lake Michigan ready to take on the enemy in the skies above the Pacific islands.

Changing the Course of the War

The impact of the training program conducted on Lake Michigan extended far beyond the shores of the Great Lakes. The skills acquired by carrier pilots during their time on the USS Wolverine and USS Sable would prove instrumental in turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.

From the decisive battles of Midway and Guadalcanal to the relentless island-hopping campaign across the Pacific theater, carrier-based aircraft played a pivotal role in securing victory for the Allies. The training program on Lake Michigan ensured that America’s carrier pilots were among the best in the world, capable of facing the challenges of aerial combat with courage and skill.

The Future of the Sunken Warplanes

As custodians of history, it is incumbent upon us to ensure the preservation of these sunken warplanes for future generations. Through ongoing conservation efforts and educational initiatives, we can ensure that the legacy of these aircraft endures, serving as tangible reminders of the bravery and sacrifice of those who served during World War II.

By sharing their stories and showcasing their restored beauty, we honor the memory of the pilots who trained on Lake Michigan and the countless others who fought and died in the skies above the Pacific. In doing so, we pay tribute to their enduring legacy and reaffirm our commitment to preserving the lessons of the past for the benefit of generations yet to come.


The sunken warplanes of Lake Michigan serve as poignant reminders of a pivotal chapter in World War II history. Each aircraft tells a story of courage, sacrifice, and resilience, embodying the spirit of those who served during the conflict.

Through the efforts of dedicated individuals and organizations, these lost treasures have been brought back from the depths of the lake, allowing future generations to glimpse the past and pay tribute to those who fought and died for freedom. As we marvel at the recovered warbirds and reflect on their significance, let us never forget the sacrifices made by the men and women of the Greatest Generation.

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