The Spoils of War – One generation’s junk is another generation’s treasure

The Spoils of War – One generation’s junk is another generation’s treasure

If, in 1945, some farsighted investor had suggested purchasing and hoarding war surplus aircraft as a guaranteed way to make your fortune, you would have considered him a crackpot of the first order. Now, advance yourself to the 21st century: next to gold bullion (1945 price: $35/ounce), you might have been wise indeed to collect, scavenge, and hoard all the spoils of WW II. No one could have realistically imagined the future interest and marketability of what seemed, at the time, to be aviation junk. Nor could the intense recovery and restoration activities centered on WW II aircraft have been imagined.

Just look at the number of celebrity and entrepreneurs today who have embraced investing, owning, and operating classic warbirds. This market has been so strong that new manufacture of high-performance classic designs has included Me 262s, Oscars, Zeros, Fw 190s, new to-the-blueprints Mustangs, and on and on.

The general public seems drawn to the subject of lost WW II aircraft in the same way the 19th century gold, silver, and diamond rushes made headlines. Aircraft wrecks are publicly seen as lost treasures. Witness the worldwide news coverage of the discovery of a belly-landed P-40 in the Sahara, the finding of and recovery of the icebound P-38, Glacier Girl, and the reported finding of 20-plus Griffon-powered Spitfire Mk XIVs buried in their packing crates in Burma circa 1945. Despite the skepticism of many, negotiations for their return have spiraled up to the level of the UK’s Prime Minister.

Just imagine the value, both financial and historical, of the abandoned Japanese aircraft in this image on today’s market. Front to back, we see a Zeke 52, a Mitsubishi J2M “Jack,” another Zero, a Nakajima J2N “Irving” night fighter, and what could be one of the six prototype Nakajima J5Ns. With the exception of the Zero, none of these aircraft exist today in flying condition, and some don’t exist at all. It’s hard to estimate their value on the collector market. Within limits, the seller could set his own price, especially if in the condition of the aircraft in the photo. They may look beat up, but compared to aircraft being restored today, they are practically showroom new.

There seems to be no end to the phenomenon of warbird retrieval and restoration, so it appears that as long as there is the will, and the money to back it up, we will continue to enjoy the preservation of these honored treasures. So for the crystal ball gazers of the present: look into the future and tell us what will be considered of historical value 50 years hence, so we can all start saving and investing.

By Stan Piet

Updated: June 4, 2024 — 4:59 PM

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