Monday, April 11, 2011

Work Begun On First Liberty Ship - 1941

April 1941 work begins on the First Liberty Ship; SS Patrick Henry

Sept 27th, 1941 the ship is launched at the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard near Baltimore, Maryland. The SS Patrick Henry was one of 14 Liberty Ships launched that day. September 27th, 1941 was designated "Liberty Fleet Day" because all 14 were launched the same day. In January, 1941, President Roosevelt announced a $350,000,000 shipbuilding program to help win World War II. By September an emergency shipbuilding program had been launched. Shipyards located in thirteen states were involved in a class of cargo ships called "liberty ships." They were called liberty ships because the first one launched was the SS Patrick Henry.

Other Liberty Ships launched that day in our region were;
SS Adabelle Lykes (Pusey and Jones – Wilmington DE)
SS James McKay (Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point – Baltimore, MD)
SS Louise Lykes (Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company – Kearny, NJ)

Originally referred to as "emergency vessels," these cargo ships were among the first to be mass-produced. Numbers were critical as the Allies hustled to recover from the staggering losses wrought by German submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic. These vessels became known as Liberty ships after President Roosevelt, christening the Patrick Henry, quoted the ship's namesake: "Give me liberty, or give me death."

Liberty ships represented the assembly line fully realized. The keel was laid in traditional fashion but the ship was then constructed from prefabricated sections welded together in the graving dock.

Although it took 244 days to build the Patrick Henry, the average dropped to a mere 42 days per ship by the middle of the war. One Liberty, the SS Robert E. Peary, was built in an astounding four days at the Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California. This was largely a publicity stunt, however, and the feat was not repeated.

Although the Patrick Henry slid down the ways nearly 10 weeks before the United States came fully into the war, the U.S. Navy was already engaged, helping to escort merchant convoys through the U-boat infested waters of the North Atlantic.

Around 2,700 Liberty ships were built during World War II and many survivors found their way into merchant fleets after the war. Two fully operational Liberty ships remain afloat: SS Jeremiah O'Brien is tied up in San Francisco and SS John W. Brown is home-ported in Baltimore. The O'Brien has the distinction of being the sole surviving merchant vessel of the vast armada that took part in the Normandy invasion.

She survived the war but was seriously damaged when she went aground on a reef off the coast of Florida in July 1946. She was scrapped at Baltimore in 1960.

Data picked up from an article by By Tony Long

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Howard, again you bring to us history that not many know about. My father and mother helped to restore the Liberty Ship SS John W. Brown for many many years. The crew of mostly WWII veterans volunteered their time several times per week to restore this ship to it's original state. Several times during the year, the Brown holds cruises up and down the Bay and they also have special reenactments on important holidays. The Brown was hoping to meet up with the Obrien to sail to Normandy for the reunion a few years back. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard would not declare the Brown safe to sail across the ocean. I believe the OBrien did sail to Normandy - she has been docked on the West Coast while the Brown has been in Baltimore. The last information I had on the ships (before my parents passed away) is that the Brown and the OBrien are the only two Liberty Ships that are currently restored and sailing. It is a shame to see that the WWII volunteers are leaving us far too quickly and the ship will have to depend on the legacy the volunteers which were mostly Armed Guard and Sailors in WWII have left behind.