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Friday, November 23, 2018

"The Magic Carpet Ride"

Returning the troops home after WWII was a daunting task
 The Magic Carpet that flew everyone home.
 The U.S. military experienced an unimaginable increase during World War II.
 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.
 The problem didn’t come as a surprise, as Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall had already established committees to address the issue in 1943.

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

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

The job of transporting 3 million men home 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 ramped this up to 435,000 a month over 14 months.


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

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 onboard 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

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
months on slower vessels.

                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.

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 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.
H/T to Rusty @ Lakeshore


  1. My dad came home from Europe on the Queen Mary. Also on board was a whole lot of ordinance that the Army wanted to dispose of. All of the soldiers got to try their hand at shooting mortars and 45's out of Thompson's into the Atlantic-Oh, BAR's too (a follow up to one of your previous posts-a very good one)

  2. I traveled to Viet Nam on an old liberty ship in 1964. I just thought we were crowded with bunks three and four deep,but five stacked that close together, wow just wow. I guess they were just glad to be going home. I know I would have been after 4 or 5 years of war. My goodness that must have been some trip for the guy on the bottom or the middle bunk.

  3. My Granddaddy went over on the Queen Mary. I'm not sure on which ship he returned. He told me and I have heard other veterans say that much equipment was destroyed or sank in the channel to allow more space for returning veterans. Like a lot of things told to soldiers this could have been scuttlebut, but it may been true too.

  4. Had the war gone one and we invaded Japan and liberated China, all but 6 divisions of the Army would have been in the Far East. One thing that helped Magic Carpet was a lot of guys were either in transit to the Pacific or were being mustered out because they had enough points.

  5. Sirs,
    I'd like permission to copy and post into our ships newsletter in an upcoming issue. Full credit will be given to original composer. Thank you,
    Keith Seckel
    Editor, Hector Harald

  6. Would like permission to copy/paste the above article to use in our ships newsletter. Thank you, Keith Seckel, Editor Hector Herald.

    1. Keith as far as us here at The Feral Irishman, please feel free.


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