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Operation Magic Carpet

by Nov 30, 2019

Left Image: USS Missouri underway with her escort, the destroyer USS Kimberly, September 1945

Right Image: More than 29,000 servicemen returned home aboard the USS Saratoga, more than any other ship.

On September 6, 1945, Battleship Missouri weighed anchor, departed Tokyo Bay and set her course for the island of Guam.

Shortly before 1300 hours, on 9 September, Missouri entered Apra Harbor. Over the next couple of days the crew took care of necessary upkeep and provisioning, and in “taking on passengers for further transfer to the United States” according the ship’s War Diary.

Underway on September 15th, Missouri rendezvoused with her escort, the destroyer USS Kimberly (DD 521). The destroyer came alongside to transfer mail, and additional passengers aboard, both retrieved from the US base on Eniwetok.

Those brief references to taking on “passengers” in Missouri’s War Diary are all that indicate Missouri’s participation in an amazing feat of planning, logistics and execution called “Operation Magic Carpet”.

Between the official 1939 start of World War II, and war’s formal ending aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, more than 12 million American men and women were serving in the Nation’s armed forces. Of those, nearly 9 million had been, and remained deployed overseas, where they had served for an average duration of 16 months.

While Missouri was in Apra Harbor, Missouri’s commanding officer, Captain Stuart “Sunshine” Murray, estimated they took aboard approximately 1500 passengers. Those 1500 had one thing in common. They were all happily, wonderfully, finally, homeward bound, as the War Shipping Administration’s Task Force 11 began the Asia and Pacific phase of Operation Magic Carpet.

Due to the urgency of the need and the shortage of available transport shipping, FADM Ernest King authorized use of combat ships to assist in the repatriation of the more than 8 million Americans from wartime theaters of operation in Europe, North Africa, Asia and the Pacific region.

The operation had already been underway in Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa since June 1945, where more than 3 million service men and women boarded hundreds of Victory and Liberty ship transports homeward bound.

By February 1946 the European phase of the operation had been completed while the Pacific phase continued in earnest, averaging more than 400,000 repatriated troops arriving home per month.

By October 1945, there were close to 400 navy ships involved, as well as Army troopships, all kinds of ships, battleships, aircraft carriers, troop transports, destroyers, cruisers, hospital ships, every kind of ship available.

The onboard accommodations were not luxurious, but aircraft carrier hangar decks were put to good use, and other ships found space and accommodations where they could; and the grumbling was good natured and all American.

At the operation’s height, it was worldwide, with all services pooling their resources as best they could. By December 1945, nearly 700,000 troops were returning home from the Pacific theater monthly. The final transports ferried troops home from the China-Burma-India theater of operation in April 1946; the last from the Pacific arrived home in September, a year after the formal ending of World War II.

For most, getting home couldn’t happen fast enough. Away from home and loved ones for “the duration” of the war in many cases, waiting another month or a week or even a day, was asking a lot.

Once home, the millions of troops had to hurry up and wait through their final out-processing from military service at various bases designated for that purpose.

And then, at last, like magic, they were home from the war!

Hangar deck of the USS Salamaua bringing servicemen home from the Pacific War.