It was one of the largest operations undertaken by the US military in all of the Second World War, and remains one of the least known. Operation Magic Carpet was the effort to return American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to their homes in the United States. It involved all of the branches of the armed services, and at its peak nearly four hundred ships were involved, carrying the men and women who served in the various theaters of operations home. In many instances, spouses met and married while overseas were brought to the United States as well. The operation began in June, 1945 and was declared complete eleven months later in September 1946.
The ships involved were not limited to troop transports and the converted ocean liners which had delivered the troops to their assignments overseas. Aircraft carriers, their military missions complete, were rushed to shipyards and converted to carry the maximum number of troops possible. Battleships and heavy cruisers, scheduled for decommissioning, returned home carrying men packed in their holds and on their decks. Wounded were brought to military and VA hospitals on the Navy’s hospital ships, and the assault transports which had delivered so many men to beaches around the world carried many of them home.
Here is the story of Operation Magic Carpet, undoubtedly the happiest military exercise of the Second World War.
1. Planning for the repatriation of Americans began in 1943
In the summer of 1943 General George C. Marshall ordered the establishment of planning committees to address the problem of getting American troops home at the end of the war. After reviewing the work of the planning committees the War Shipping Administration (WSA) was assigned to oversee the operation. One of the critical phases of planning was the establishment of a means of prioritizing the men to be returned, in other words, who would get to go home first, and on what basis. The Advance Service Rating Score (ASRS) was created to establish priorities, under the auspices of the War Department.
As it was initially issued in September 1944, and revised in both February and March of 1945, the ASRS prepared by the Army would have removed far too many of the experienced officers and non-commissioned officers too quickly to maintain efficiency and discipline among the deployed troops. Repatriation from Europe began in the summer of 1945 while it was still unknown how many troops would be needed for the occupation of Europe and the impending invasion of Japan. By the end of the summer of 1945 the War Department issued changes to address the issues arising from the inadequacies of the ASRS, and the howls of outrage being heard from the troops in Europe and their families at home.