The Diary of an Unknown Aviator purported to be the diary of a young American pilot killed in World War I. Elliott White Springs presented the diary to a number of publishers but many found it unpatriotic. Finally the nearly moribund Liberty Magazine took a risk with the book and began publishing installments in late summer 1926. To give it more popular appeal, Liberty aded the title 'War Birds'.


The story of a doomed pilot living a riotous social life was an immediate popular success. Liberty Magazine began selling a million copies a week. Most portrayals of the war in the popular American press had treated the conflict with noble solemnity. War Birds by contrast was both ironic and salacious, portraying the American volunteers in England as hell raisers in the extreme. Springs’ father pleaded with his son not to allow the book's publication 'for the sake of your family and children.'


T.E. Lawrence, the famous 'Lawrence of Arabia,' called the book 'immortal.' To the London Observer, it was 'entirely a masterpiece.' 'So much of the ardor, the . . . idiocy, and the heartbreak of youth [in this book] . . . has captivated the American reading public,' wrote Mississippi poet William Alexander Percy in the Saturday Review of Literature. 'Its very verve and excess strike us as peculiarly American and our Puritan scruples are anesthetized because the gay and bawdy incidents recounted are danced against a crimson backdrop of terror and tragedy and death.' Major Sholto Douglas, a seasoned British pilot who had known Elliott White Springs in France (and later was Marshal of the Royal Air Force), wrote that 'War Birds will always be the great classic of flying. . . [The book's] great disdain for all forms of rank and class consciousness was nothing short of superb.'


Elliott Springs refused to reveal the author of the diary, but pilots who had known Springs in Europe immediately recognized the narrator of War Birds as John McGavock Grider. When Springs refused to acknowledge Grider's authorship, his sisters brought a legal action in Grider's name. Springs agreed to pay them $12,000 for the rights to the diary but only if the book could continue to remain anonymous. But newspapers had already picked up the story. Grider was presumed to be the author.


It was only after Springs' death that the truth became known. Springs himself had written War Birds as a novel based on Grider's unfinished diary and Springs' letters home, the unnamed central character an amalgam of the two men. Springs had in fact made a promise to Grider to tell Grider's story if he got killed; Grider made the same promise if Springs died first. Springs would write other novels after War Birds based on similar themes but none matched the power or popularity of the book for which he never publicly took credit. War Birds is still listed in many bibliographies as exclusively the work of John MacGavock Grider.