Digital relief map of Ulithi

"Murderer's Row" at Ulithi

"Murderer's Row" at Ulithi

National Archives #80-G-2394131

(139.79E 10.015N) A large atoll at the western end of the Carolines, some 370 miles (600 km) northeast of the Palaus and a like distance southwest of Guam, Ulithi has a large anchorage, capable accomodating 700 ships. This is sheltered by a substantial ring of islets some 22 miles (35 km) long and 14 miles (23 km) wide. Nearby Ngulu could anchor another 300 ships. The climate is hot and humid with substantial rainfall, typical of the Caroline Islands.

The atoll was discovered by Europeans in 1526 and left undisturbed until 1731, when the native Micronesians drove off Spanish missionaries. The culture featured an elaborate tribal organization built around large communal houses build of driftwood and thatch. The Japanese had a weather and radio station here, and begun an airfield and seaplane base on Falalop, but these were abandoned by late 1944 and most of the natives evacuated to Yap.

Nimitz, who loved to peruse maps, noticed the atoll, realized its strategic potential, and arranged for it to be seized on 23 September 1944, during the Palaus campaign. At this point there was still unwarranted optimism about progress on Peleliu, and 323 Regimental Combat Team from 81 Division was detailed for the occupation. Cover was provided by Blandy's task group. There was no resistance, and unloading was completed in two days. A battalion of Seabees followed, and Ulithi became the forward fleet base for the remainder of the war. A 1200' (370 m) airstrip was constructed on Falalop islet and a hospital and fleet recreation center establish on other larger islets.

Because the base was not seen as permanent, no oil tank farm was constructed. Instead, the Navy maintained six to eight obsolete tankers at the anchorage, each with a capacity of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels (8000 to 11,000 tons) to serve as a floating tank farm. A fleet of 40 tankers shuttled the oil from Ulithi to the fighting fleet.

The base was attacked on 11 March 1945 by 24 P1Y "Frances" kamikaze aircraft guided close to their targets by four flying boats (Tan 2). Eleven of the bombers were forced back to base by mechanical problems, and the remainder encountered miserable  weather that forced course changes that depleted their fuel suppy. Four of the bombers diverted to Yap as their fuel ran low, and seven more bombers ran out of fuel and ditched at sea. The two remaining bombers arrived at Ulithi well after nightfall. However, they were aided in their attack by the failure of the base to black out all its lights, and carrier Randolph took a damaging hit that inflicted casualties of 25 dead and 106 wounded.  The other bomber crashed into an illuminated baseball diamond. For once, the Japanese underestimated the success of the raid, since a C6N "Myrt" saw no carriers with visible damage the next day. Randolph suffered sufficiently light structural damage that she could be repaired at Ulithi in less than a month.


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