Operation Magic Carpet

'Magic Carpet' was a US post-war programme to repatriate overseas forces for demobilisation (October 1945/September 1946).

The undertaking was supervised by the US War Shipping Administration to bring back to the USA more than eight million US military personnel from the European, Pacific and Asian theatres. Hundreds of Liberty ships, Victory ships and troop transports began the repatriation effort for soldiers from Europe in June 1945 and, beginning in October 1945, more than 370 US Navy ships were used for repatriation duties in the Pacific. Warships such as aircraft carriers, battleships, hospital ships, and large numbers of assault transports were used. The European phase of 'Magic Carpet' came to an end in February 1946, while the Pacific phase continued until September 1946.

As early as the middle of 1943, the US Army had recognized the fact that once the war was over the restoration of the troops to their homeland would be a latter of the highest priority. More than 16 million Americans were in uniform; and more than eight million of them were scattered across the worldwide theatres of war. The US Army chief-of-staff, General George C. Marshall, established committees to address the logistical problem, and in its basic organisation responsibility for the operation was allocated to the War Shipping Administration. Eligibility for repatriation was determined by the Adjusted Service Rating Score.

The US Navy was initially excluded from the first stages of he European sealift as the Pacific War was far from over, and the task of returning the troops was the sole responsibility of the Army and Merchant Marine. The War Shipping Administration ordered the immediate conversion of 300 Liberty and Victory cargo ships into transport vessels. Adequate port and docking facilities were also major considerations, along with the transportation necessary to carry the veterans to demobilisation camps after they had reached the USA.

There were 3.059 million service men and women in Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean on VE-Day. The first homeward-bound ships left Europe late in June 1945, and by November the sealift was at its height. Whereas US shipping had averaged the delivery of 148,000 soldiers per month to the European theatre during the wartime build-up, the homebound deliveries after VE-Day averaged more than 435,000 persons per month for the next 14 months.

In the middle of October 1945, the US Navy provided the newly commissioned 'Essex' class fleet carrier Lake Champlain outfitted with bunks for 3,300 troops, and during November she was joined by the 'North Carolina' class battleship Washington. The sealift from Europe now included more than 400 vessels, some of them carrying as few as 300 persons while the large ocean liners often carried 15,000 persons. The USA obtained the use of the British Queen Mary in exchange for 10 smaller US vessels. The War Shipping Administration and the US Army also converted 29 troopships into special carriers for the almost 500,000 European women who had married US servicemen. The 'Magic Carpet' fleet also included 48 hospital ships, which transported more than 500,000 wounded personnel.

This was not a one-way stream, however, for former Axis prisoners of war had to be repatriated from Europe and other nations, and occupation forces had to be delivered to Germany, China, Korea and Japan. The number of German prisoners returned to Europe was more than 450,000, and Italian prisoners added 53,000 to this figure. Between May and September 1945, 1.417850 million persons were repatriated.

Between October 1945 and April 1946, another 3.323395 million persons were repatriated, and by the end of February 1946 the European phase of 'Magic Carpet' was essentially complete.

With the surrender of Japan, the US Navy also began to bring home sailors and marines. The Pacific element of the operation started on 9 September 1945 with the creation of Rear Admiral R. S. Kendall’s Task Group 16.12, which initially comprised eight escort carriers. Vice Admiral Forrest Sherman’s Task Force 11 departed Tokyo Bay early in September 1945 with the battleships New Mexico, Idaho, Mississippi and North Carolina, as well as aircraft carriers and one squadron of destroyers filled with homeward-bound servicemen. Stopping at Okinawa, TF11 embarked thousands more men of the US 10th Army.

The US Navy swiftly adapted many of its warships into temporary transports, these warships including aircraft carriers, where three- to five-tiered bunks were installed on the hangar decks to provide accommodation for several thousand men in relative comfort. The force available for the repatriation task was swiftly enlarged, by December 1945 reaching 369 warships including six battleships, 18 cruisers, 11 fleet carriers, 46 escort carriers, 12 hospital ships and 222 assault transports.

By October 1945, 'Magic Carpet' was operating worldwide with the US Army, US Navy and War Shipping Administration pooling their resources to expedite their overall lift capability. December 1945 became the peak month, almost 700,000 personnel returning home from the Pacific theatre. With the final arrival of 29 troop transports carrying more than 200,000 soldiers and sailors from the China-Burma-India Theater during April 1946, 'Magic Carpet' came to its end. The last of the troops to return from the Pacific Theater, totalling 127,300 persons, arrived home in September 1946.

In some cases these ships made several trips, and by March 1946 some 1.308 million personnel had been delivered back to the USA. The greatest single number was 29,204 carried by the fleet carrier Saratoga. In the same period transports delivered another 1.8155 million personnel back to the USA.