Ulithi atoll in the Caroline Islands, one of the largest lagoons in the world, was the perfect size and location for a staging area for the US Navy for Pacific operations during the last year of World War II.
The lagoon is 22 miles long and 15 miles wide, surrounded by 40 small islands (four of them inhabited), a coral reef, white sand beaches, and pine trees.
The 81st Division of the US Army landed on it September 23, 1944, followed by Seabees. With a capacity greater than that of Pearl Harbor, it could hold 700 vessels. The Ulithi became the perfect place to fit, repair, and resupply the fleet.
After three weeks of liberty and operational exercises in Hawaii, the USS Hancock (CV-19) moved on to Ulithi to join Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet, arriving there October 5. Donald Wilson was a Chief Electrician’s Mate on the crew of this new aircraft carrier.
The first sortie was in early October, as part of Task Unit 38.2.1 under Rear Adm. Bogan, in combat in and around the Philippines in preparation for landings at Leyte.
A runway on the island of Talalop was expanded and resurfaced. The Seabees built a recreation area on the island of MogMog. And the fleet even had an ice cream barge, which could make 10 gallons of ice cream every seven minutes.
Between operations, the carrier returned to Ulithi time and time again, where the crew could relax and receive mail while the ship was being reprovisioned. The base at Ulithi was kept secret as long as possible, but was a valuable resource throughout the end of the war.
They weren’t safe from attack even while out of action. See below:
First photo: Burning oil tanker, believed to be theafter it was hit by a Japanese suicide submarine (kaiten) in Ulithi lagoon, 20 November 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Second picture: Japanesetype 2, on display at the Washington Navy Yard, DC 1974. These were small, one-man suicide submarines. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 81940.
While resting at Ulithi, Donald Wilson would open his glass bottle of ink, refill his fountain pen, and write a terse letter home. Terse because he couldn’t write about any of their combat actions. Even the word “Ulithi” was never mentioned.
Source: The “Fighting Hannah”: A War History of the U.S.S. Hancock CV-19 by E. G. Hines, USNR, Sterline Engraving Co., Seattle, WA, 1946; reprinted by The Batter Press, Inc., Nashville, TN.