Historical “Murderer’s Row” Photograph at Ulithi Update

We have received some updates from a blog post written in July 2012. The original article, “Looking for Assistance on WWII Ship Recognition at Ulithi Atoll,” caught the eye of David Stubblebine, a contributor to the World War II Database. According to Stubblebine, he cross examined several war diaries with a berthing chart of the Ulithi Lagoon in order to get an accurate reading on the hull numbers of those ships berthed at Ulitihi.

The original caption of the photo from the Naval History and Heritage Command website is as follows:

80-G-294131Photo #: 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 (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown 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.

The picture provided by Stubblebine appears to be wider than the one currently on the NHHC website. Looking at the image, you can see a small caption that reads that this is “actually not Photo 80-G-294131, but one taken just a moment later that shows the ‘Row’ at a slight angle.” Indeed, the image provided by Stubblebine gave a better perspective for photographic researchers.

“I think a couple of evenings comparing Task Force 38 ship rosters with their War Diaries would likely resolve most of this question,” he said in his email to NHF. Thankfully, his diligent work provided some interesting results. Several days later, he provided us with this helpful information that just may have solved the question.


The following is taken straight from the document provided by Mr. Stubblebine. For queries, please email David at david.stubblebine@WW2db.com.

Other Shipping in the Famous “Murderers’ Row” Photograph

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.32.45 PMBy David Stubblebine
September 2015

This question was raised by model makers wanting to build a diorama of the scene depicted in the famous photo of the mighty US fleet taken in Ulithi Lagoon in December 1944. As such, it is not a vital question by any means but it still struck me as an interesting project, a challenging puzzle, so I thought I would give it a lash.

The first question to be resolved was the question of the photo date. The photo was long dated 2 Dec 1944 but has since been officially revised to 8 Dec 1944.
8 Dec 1944 is a pretty good date but the matter still needs some attention. Certainly the photo could not have been taken any earlier than the 8th since the Lexington (CV-16) is seen in the image and she did not arrive until the morning of the 8th. The main body of Essex-class carriers all pulled out early on the 10th so the possibility remains that this photo could have been taken on the 9th. In the big picture [SORRY], a couple of days either way would not matter but in checking the records of ship movements, this day-and-a-half variance was important to keep in mind [SEE BELOW].

I began by taking the 1944 Ulithi Mooring Plan and plotted the positions of the ships known to be in the photograph, the five Essex-class carriers in a row. This allowed me to get a sense of what other berths are visible. Then I built a partial roster of Third Fleet ships from December 1944 and checked their War Diaries, one by one, for their berthing locations on 8 Dec 1944. That allowed me to build up my plot of the berthing positions and the answers began to reveal themselves. In the end,

I think I have a very good handle on about 18 of the ships and a pretty good idea about 2 others.

Actually not Photo 80-G-294131 but one taken just a moment later that shows the “Row” at a slight angle and also shows more of the surrounding shipping

Thus I modified the photo from the previous page into a Legend of the scene:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.33.14 PM

  • The numbers in the ovals are the Berth numbers according to the Mooring Plan.
  • The letters in the squares identify ships that are not in regular berths.

The main row of carriers:
20. USS Wasp (CV-18)
21. USS Yorktown (CV-10) 22. USS Hornet (CV-12)
23. USS Hancock (CV-19) 24. USS Ticonderoga (CV-14)

Behind the main row [LEFT]: 28. USS Langley (CVL-27) 29. USS Lexington (CV-16) 30. USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)

Across the back are the Battleships:
4. USS Washington (BB-56)
5. USS Iowa (BB-61)
6. USS South Dakota (BB-57)
7. USS New Jersey (BB-62)

Beyond the main row of carrier and to the right are the cruisers:
25. USS Santa Fe (CL-60)
13. USS Mobile (CL-63)

14. USS Biloxi (CL-80)
15. USS New Orleans (CA-32)

The Letters:
A. [80% sure] USS Healy (DD-672) This is a Fletcher-class destroyer painted in MS31/21D. There were three in Ulithi at the time, USS Twining (DD-540), USS Stockham (DD-683), and Healy. Healy’s precise location is least certain. Smaller ships shifted berths commonly and without always recording the movements in the War Diaries.
B. [90% sure] USS Cahaba (AO-82) fueled the carriers on 8 Dec 1944.
C. [100% sure] Hospital ship USS Solace (AH-5) anchored at the SW corner of the Seaplane Area
D. [100% sure] Hospital ship USS Samaritan (AH-10) anchored at the SE corner of the Seaplane Area

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.41.17 PM

Excerpt of the Mooring Plan showing the approximate footprint of the photograph.

The absence of the USS Oakland (CL-95) in the photograph anchored in the fairway between
USS Mobile and USS Santa Fe really helps lock down the time of the photo fairly precisely. Oakland would be prominently visible in the photo except on 8 Dec 1944 between 1235 and 1445 hours when she was fueling from the USS Merrimack (AO-37) just out of frame to the south.

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One Response to Historical “Murderer’s Row” Photograph at Ulithi Update

  1. Alfred P.White says:

    OnSept.23rd 1944,the Kitkun Bay and others anchored in the vicinity of Pig Island and the crew went swimming from the ship.On the 24th and 25th of Sept.we were anchored in Ulithi Atoll. A month later we were fighting the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf as part of “Taffy Three”. Alfred P.White,U.S.S.Kitkun Bay,C.V.E.-71.

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