Shipping Them Home at the End of WWII

Like to dream, yes, yes
Right between the sound machine
On a cloud of sound, I drift in the night
Any place it goes is right
Goes far, flies near
To the stars away from here
Well, you don’t know what
We can find
Why don’t you come with me little girl
On a magic carpet ride
Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf

From a forwarded email:

Can you imagine the logistical and administrative challenges involved in this operation?!! And, all before any computers! Staggering! AND, once they were in the US, getting them to out-processing stations and eventually home!

Remember what Eisenhower said at the end of the war, “Take pictures of the dead Holocaust Jewish people, a generation or two will never believe it happened”!!!

 Returning the troops home after WWII was a daunting task….

The Magic Carpet that brought everyone home.

  In 1939, there were 334,000 servicemen, not counting the Coast Guard.

  In 1945, there were over 12 million, including the Coast Guard.

At the end of the war, over 8 million of these men and women were scattered overseas in Europe, the Pacific and Asia.

   Shipping them out wasn’t a particular problem but getting them home was a massive logistical headache.

  Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall had already established committees to address the issue in 1943.

Soldier returning home on the USS General Harry Taylpor in August 1945


Soldiers returning home on the USS General Harry Taylor in August 1945.

  When Germany fell in May 1945, the US. Navy was still busy fighting in the Pacific and couldn’t assist.

  The job of transporting 3 million men home from Europe fell to the Army and the Merchant Marine.

  300 Victory and Liberty cargo ships were converted to troop transports for the task.

  During the war, 148,000 troops crossed the Atlantic west to east each month; the rush home (east to west) ramped this up to 435,000 a month over 14 months.

Hammocks crammed into available spaces aboard t he USS Intrepid

 Hammocks crammed into available spaces aboard the USS Intrepid

 In October 1945, with the war in Asia also over, the Navy started chipping in, converting all available vessels to transport duty.

 On smaller ships like destroyers, capable of carrying perhaps 300 men, soldiers were told to hang their hammocks in whatever nook and cranny they could find.

 Carriers were particularly useful, as their large open hangar decks could house 3,000 or more troops in relative comfort, with bunks, sometimes in stacks of five welded or bolted in place.

Bunks aboard the Army transport SS Pennant

Bunks aboard the Army transport SS Pennant

 The Navy wasn’t picky, though: cruisers, battleships, hospital ships, even LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) were packed full of men yearning for home.

 Two British ocean liners under American control, the RMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, had already served as troop transports before and continued to do so during the operation, each capable of carrying up to 15,000 people at a time, though their normal, peacetime capacity was less than 2,200.

 Twenty-nine ships were dedicated to transporting war brides: women married to American soldiers during the war.

Troops performing a lifeboat drill on board the Queen Mary in December 1944 before Magic Carpet Ride.

Troops performing a lifeboat drill on board the Queen Mary in December 1944, before Operation Magic Carpet

  The Japanese surrender in August 1945 came none too soon, but it put an extra burden on Operation Magic Carpet.

The war in Asia had been expected to go well into 1946 and the Navy and the War Shipping Administration were hard-pressed to bring home all the soldiers who now had to get home earlier than anticipated.

  The transports carrying them also had to collect numerous POWs from recently liberated Japanese camps, many of whom suffered from malnutrition and illness.

 US soldiers recently liberated from Japanese POW camps

U.S. soldiers recently liberated from Japanese POW camps

 The time to get home depended a lot on the circumstances. USS Lake Champlain, a brand new Essex-class carrier that arrived too late for the war, could cross the Atlantic and take 3,300 troops home a little under 4 days and 8 hours.

  Meanwhile, troops going home from Australia or India would sometimes spend weeks on slower vessels.

Hangar of the USS Wasp during the operation
Hangar of the USS Wasp during the operation

 There was enormous pressure on the operation to bring home as many men as possible by Christmas 1945.

Therefore, a sub-operation, Operation Santa Claus, was dedicated to the purpose.

Due to storms at sea and an overabundance of soldiers eligible for return home, however, Santa Claus could only return a fraction in time and still not quite home but at least to American soil.

 The nation’s transportation network was overloaded, trains heading west from the East Coast were on average 6 hours behind schedule and trains heading east from the West Coast were twice that late.

Crowded flight deck of the USS Saratoga

The crowded flight deck of the USS Saratoga.

The USS Saratoga transported home a total of 29,204 servicemen during Operation Magic Carpet, more than any other ship. Many freshly discharged men found themselves stuck in separation centers but faced an outpouring of love and friendliness from the locals. Many townsfolk took in freshly arrived troops and invited them to Christmas dinner in their homes.

 Still others gave their train tickets to soldiers and still others organized quick parties at local train stations for men on layover.

A Los Angeles taxi driver took six soldiers all the way to Chicago; another took another carload of men to Manhattan, the Bronx, Pittsburgh, Long Island, Buffalo and New Hampshire.  Neither of the drivers accepted a fare beyond the cost of gas.

Overjoyed troops returning home on the USS Texas

Overjoyed troops returning home on the battleship USS Texas

All in all, though, the Christmas deadline proved untenable. The last 29 troop transports, carrying some 200,000 men from the China-India-Burma theater, arrived to America in April 1946, bringing Operation Magic Carpet to an end, though an additional 127,000 soldiers still took until September to return home and finally lay down the burden of war.

  Father GOD, BLESS THE GREATEST GENERATION (Above) and the Generations that have served this Great Nation since WW II !

  A Veteran-whether active duty, retired, served one hitch, or reservist is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The Government of the United States of America”, for an amount of “up to and including their life.” That is honor, and there are too many people in this country who no longer understand it -Author unknown.


53 thoughts on “Shipping Them Home at the End of WWII”

  1. It’s rather scary. But we did just launch two men to the International Space Station from American soil for the first time in almost a decade. Not the same scale of planning, and better than our COVID-19 response with ventilators and testing capability. I’m sure you heard FUBAR and SNAFU in your military career. (You can make it PG by using Fouled for the F word.) 🙂


  2. Love this – incredible! Those pictures – wow – the POW’s broke my heart. What an undertaking and the families that ‘adopted’ the ones that couldn’t get home for Christmas… Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My husband was on a ship in the late 70s that spent one Christmas in Australia. They had more people inviting the crew for Christmas dinner than they had sailors to send. Of course, Australia still had a warm spot in her heart for the American help during WWII. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Those ships were certainly crowded but I’m sure the men didn’t mind as they were coming home. I never imagined so many traveling on one ship and then finding their way home after landing. Great pictures and story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much. I guess you want to get home badly enough, a crowded transport is better than none. I wouldn’t want to be the next guy in line and told no more room.


  4. I dread to think what the toilet arrangements were like! Can you think of how you would feel if you got on a cruise ship and got this? I haven’t ever slept in a hammock. Do you sleep okay or do you fall out a lot?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Toilet arrangements were probably not good. Maybe the men just peed over the side of the ship. I’ve sat and laid on a hammock tied to a stand or to a tree but never tried to sleep on a hammock on a rolling ship.


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