The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island and Other Lesser-Known WWII Facts
The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island and Other Lesser-Known WWII Facts

The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island and Other Lesser-Known WWII Facts

Khalid Elhassan - July 6, 2020

The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island and Other Lesser-Known WWII Facts
Americans liberated from Japanese POW camps. Daily Mail

4. Rescuing American POWs

The Pacific portion of Magic Carpet entailed extra layers of complexity, and, especially at the beginning, required greater dispatch than had been necessary in Europe. Aside from the Pacific’s vast distances compared to the European theater, there was the urgent need to rescue American POWs from the scattered Japanese camps. There, American and Allied captives had languished for years, often starved, brutalized, and otherwise barbarically mistreated by their captors.

Once the ceasefire was declared in the Pacific on August 15th, 1945, aerial reconnaissance missions were flown from US aircraft carriers to try and pinpoint POW camps in Japanese territory. Once located, airdrops of supplies, especially food and medicine, sometimes accompanied by courageous medics and doctors who volunteered to parachute in, were conducted to succor the malnourished and ill captives. As soon as the Japanese surrender was officially signed, and sometimes even before, American POWs were retrieved from Japanese captivity and, given a high priority, started off on their long journey home.

The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island and Other Lesser-Known WWII Facts
American servicemen recently liberated from Japanese captivity. Flight Journal Blog

3. Operation Santa Claus

Magic Carpet in the Pacific Theater of Operation was concluded by September, 1946. The War Shipping Administration, created as an emergency measure during the crucible of WWII, was finally stood down, and its functions were returned to the civilian Maritime Commission. A subset of Magic Carpet, termed Operation Santa Claus, aimed to bring home as many eligible troops as possible in time for Christmas, 1945. December, 1945, was the peak month of the entire sealift, with the number of returning personnel spiking from the monthly average of 435,000 to 700,000 from just the Pacific alone.

Unfortunately, as many as 250,000 returning servicemen were stranded on the East and West Coasts, unable to reach their homes home due to the mother of all rail jams – back when railways were the primary mode of long-distance travel. Fortunately, thousands of civilians opened their hearts and homes, welcoming servicemen to join them for Christmas. They might not have enjoyed the warmth of their own families, but they enjoyed the warmth of strangers who made them a part of their family that day.

The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island and Other Lesser-Known WWII Facts
German POWs. History Net

2. Bringing Our Boys Home While Sending Their Boys Back

Examples of generosity at Christmastime, 1945, abounded, including a trucker who took 35 troops from Denver to Dallas and points between. A Los Angeles cabbie drove 6 servicemen all the way to Chicago, while another LA cabbie did him one better, and transported 6 returning heroes to New York City. Even for those who spent Christmas stranded in barracks, the reaction of one returning private best captured the mood, noting that simply touching America’s soil once again was: “the best Christmas present a man could have“.

The movement of personnel during Magic Carpet was bi-directional. Not only were Americans being shipped from around the world back to the US at the end of WWII, but German, Italian, and Japanese POWs were also being shipped back to their homes from captivity in the US. In one round trip, the USS Wasp transported 1200 Italian POWs from the US to Naples, and the following day sailed back to the US, carrying 4000 American servicemen.

The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island and Other Lesser-Known WWII Facts
A discharge center. America in WWII Magazine

1. A Stunning Success

American occupation forces were also ferried to Germany, Japan, Korea, and China. Simultaneously, Chinese troops were sealifted from southern to northern China to disarm the Japanese, as well as to oppose Chinese communists in the region. Simultaneously, hundreds of thousands of disarmed Japanese were shipped from all over eastern and southern Asia, as well as numerous Pacific islands, back to the Japanese home islands.

It had taken nearly four years for America to deploy over eight million servicemen overseas during WWII. It would take only 14 months to reverse the torrent, and return most of them back home. In short, Operation Magic Carpet was an enormous, and enormously successful, feat of logistics, planning, and execution – a fitting end to America’s experience in WWII.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Barrett, David P., and Shyu, Larry N. – Chinese Collaboration With Japan 1032-1945: The Limits of Accommodation (2001)

Chun, Clayton K.S. – The Doolittle Raid 1942: America’s First Strike Back at Japan (2006)

Dahl, Hans Frederik – Quisling: A Study in Treachery (1999)

Hoidal, Oddvar K. – Quisling: A Study in Treason (1989)

Lowry, Thomas, and Wellham, John W.G. – The Attack on Taranto: Blueprint For Pearl Harbor (1995)

National Naval Aviation Museum – Magic Carpet Ride

Naval History and Heritage Command – Doolittle Raid

New York Times, November 18th, 2003 – Mitchell Paige, 85, Guadalcanal Hero, Dies

Nelson, Craig – The First Heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid, America’s First World War II Victory (2002)

South China Morning Post, March 28th, 2010 – The Tragic Lives of a National Hero Turned Traitor, and the Wife Who Stayed Loyal

Universal Ship Cancellation Society – Operation Magic Carpet

US Naval Institute News – Camouflaged Ships: An Illustrated History

Warfare History Network – U.S. Involvement in WWII: How (and How Much) the Military Grew

War History Online – The Ship That Disguised Itself as an Island to Evade the Japanese in WWII

We Are the Mighty – That Time a Dutch Warship Pretended to be an Island to Evade the Enemy

We Are the Mighty – This Medal of Honor Recipient Walked 200 Miles to Serve in the Marines

Wikipedia – Battle of Taranto

Wikipedia – Vidkun Quisling

Wikipedia – Wang Jingwei