Heroes on Deck: WWII on Lake Michigan
About This Episode
Heroes on Deck: World War II on Lake Michigan sheds light on a little-known training operation conducted by the U.S. Navy on Lake Michigan during World War II. Between 1942 and 1945, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy trained nearly 15,000 pilots, including 41st President George H.W. Bush, to land and take off from two makeshift aircraft carriers in the safety of landlocked Lake Michigan.
These freshwater "flattops," converted from two vintage, side-wheeled, coal-fired passenger steamers, were unlike anything in the fleet and the training program was not without hazards. There were many crashes including some fatal accidents. As a result, more than 100 classic WWII fighters and dive bombers sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan, preserved in the lake's frigid, oxygen- deprived depths.
It wasn't until the late 1970s, that interest in resurrecting the WWII fighters surfaced, and with the approval of the U.S. Navy, a skilled team of professionals developed the tools and techniques to locate and recover the forgotten warplanes. Using deep-water divers, side-scan sonar, and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROV's), many of the planes have been recovered, raised and restored over the course of the past 30 years, and these efforts continue today.