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.

Spread the word. Share this post!


  1. Alfred P.White


    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.

  2. Reply
  3. Reply

    The locations of the two hospital ships in this photo, USS Samaritan and USS Solace, are reversed from what is described above (letters C and D in the above legend). Despite being “100% sure” in 2015, I was wrong.

    The War Diary for the Solace describes her location as “the southwest corner of the seaplane area.” The War Diary for the Samaritan only says she was at Ulithi with nothing more specific about where she was anchored. Several other Navy photos are captioned that the ship at the southwest corner of the seaplane area was the Solace. For these reasons, many authors (including myself) have found this pretty authoritative, but now I think this cannot be right. Navy Photo 80-G-294134, taken the same day as the photos above, shows the hospital ship in the southwest corner of the seaplane area well enough to say, by her profile, it is certainly not the Solace but the Samaritan. Some Yeoman got his southwest mixed up with his southeast, I think.

  4. Michael R Ratti


    Does anyone have any information on USS Jason ARH1 She was a repair ship my dad served on he was a SF3/c .
    He told me they were berthed next to a hospital ship.
    Thank you

  5. Michael R Ratti


    Does anyone have any information on USS Jason ARH1 She was a repair ship my dad served on he was a SF3/c .
    He told me they were berthed next to a hospital ship.
    Thank you….

  6. Rudy Berumen


    I have a question. I know I don’t have as clear a picture as you do but on the photo with the numbers and letters you have #15 as the USS New Orleans. From the silhouette (to me) it looks more like a Baltimore class CA. The bow and stern are more “square” shaped than that of a New Orleans. Also, there appears to be a crane at the back of the ship. All older CA’s had the cranes mid-ship. The Biloxi was a Cleveland class CL which was very similar to the Baltimore’s and is describe as being next to the New Orleans. Could #15 possibly be a Baltimore, or even a Cleveland class ship? The silhouette does support this but as stated I really don’t have a good picture of it. Your response would be much appreciated.

    • David Stubblebine


      Mr. Berumen:
      I only noticed your comment today but, of course, it sent me looking. I think you have this one right. #15 does not look at all like New Orleans but her War Diary said she was in Berth 15 so I went with it. Now I am thinking Berth 15 is out of frame. Baltimore was in Ulithi on this date but her War Diary does not list a berth number. Instead it says she was in the fairway with certain bearings to the beacons around the atoll. Plotting those bearings puts Baltimore in the fairway right next to Berth 23 and Hancock. This does not match the photo but this ship is sticking out into the fairway a little bit and is opposite Hancock, next to Berth 15, so I think Baltimore is a good assessment. Additionally, Baltimore’s paint scheme could be a match for what is seen in the photo but even the best photo is less than clear. That still leaves Biloxi and Mobile beyond and Oakland, which should be behind them, off for fuel as her log says.

    • David Stubblebine


      USS Vulcan was not in Ulithi on this date. On 8 Dec 1944, Vulcan was in the Atlantic about half way between New York and Bermuda.

  7. Rudy Berumen


    Thank you Mr Stubblebine for getting back to me. I thought you might be interested (forgive me if you’re not) in how I was able to tell the difference between the two ships. I have a big interest in WWII and have built over 74 (1:700 scale) various USN and IJN ships from the Pacific Theater. I recently assembled the USS New Orleans. Giving me two of this CA class. I also have two Baltimore class CA’s as well. With them being 1:700 scale, every time I look at them it always seems as if they’re at a distance which helped in seeing the “square” shape edges on the Baltimore’s that I described in my original message. When I first saw these pictures I wanted to see how many of the vessels I have. I have all four BB’s, three CV’s, two CVL’s and as mentioned, the New Orleans and now the Baltimore. Two of my CV’s are in the “Murderers’ Row.” I had contemplated recreating this picture but I went with 1942, measures 12 and 21, and 1945 measures 21 and 22. Thank you for sharing this site for I have always been curious as to what ships were in this picture and your info was very informative.

  8. Reply

    I remember seeing this great photo of the war ships anchored at Ulithi atoll in late 1944 in US Navy War Photographs, way back when I was a kid in the 1950s and I devoured anything and everything pertaining to World War II. My father bought a copy of USN War Photographs in a surplus shop and gave it to me and I looked at it repeatedly until all the pages were frayed and tattered. I do remember the caption to this photo, captioned “Murderers’ row” and it seemed an entirely fitting caption for the photo, recording the combat power of those 6 aircraft carriers (including the Lexington) all of them carrying about a hundred naval aircraft each. At the time, that’s as much as I thought about it.

    I am 71 now and to this day I am still connecting the dots of WWII facts.

    The other day I read a biography of Moe Greenburg, the baseball player who doubled as a spy for the OSS during WWII. In his biography it was mentioned that when Moe Greenburg played as a catcher for the White Sox in 1927, he played against “Murderers Row”, the starting line-up of batters who were the Yankees’ top hitters, including Babe Ruth. The phrase had been coined by a sports reporter in 1918 and it was used in baseball parlance for at least a decade after that. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moe_Berg) (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murderers%27_Row).

    So just now, about 77 years after the photograph at Ulithi Atoll was taken, I discovered where the phrase for the caption of this WWII photograph came from — baseball jargon of the 1920’s. The photograph of those aircraft carriers at Ulithi and the phrase used for the caption for that photo make a wonderful fusion of pieces of 20th century Americana; America at play in the 1920s and America at war in the 1940s.

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *