Donald Wilson: Ulithi Lagoon

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.

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US Navy 1944 berthing chart for the Northern Anchorage of the Ulithi Lagoon, Caroline Islands

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.

Donald

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 the USS Mississinewa after 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: Japanese Kaiten type 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.

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Ships of the 3rd Fleet, Ulithi Lagoon, Caroline Islands, December 1944
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Photo #: 80-G-294131 Murderers’ Row Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown(CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV14).  WaspYorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Photographed from a USS Ticonderoga plane. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

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.

 

 

 

15 comments

    • That’s how I originally “met” Larry Hickey. We were both researching bomb squadrons at Port Moresby, New Guinea. That was before either of us became ill. I think he had quite a time of it, so I’m glad to see he’s back researching and publishing. It has been good to be able to “compare notes” with you.

      • I even corresponded with Bruce Hoy for a while. A team of divers with a film crew went to Moresby some years ago, with the plan to go on to Wewak/Boram to attempt to find Dale Wilson’s B-25. The main diver, whom I’d sent all the numbers and markings and names I had, had a heart attack, was taken back to Australia, where he died. They planned to go back to try again, but never did.

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