Above The USS Alstead
Get to Know an Old Liberty Ship
There are ships that having been retired (decommissioned) that are now serving as living history museums. Ships like the aircraft carrier Intrepid a Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City and a number of battleships like the North Carolina and Missouri. There are also a few less glamours ships that are now being restored and they represent the real ships that won WWII – The Liberty Ships. These ships carried millions of tons of supplies and troops across the Atlantic to England, organized into convoys, they were torpedoed and sunk by the hundreds.
I admit I have a strong attraction to this type of ship that has almost vanished from the planet. Currently there are very few of these historic ships still in existence. My fondness for this ship is because I spent a little over two years serving on one in them in the 1960’s while in the Navy.
Before the United States entered World War II, England was fighting for its very survival. England is an island nation and depends on its merchant ships to keep its industries supplied with raw materials along with its people fed and their gas tanks full. Nobody knew this better than Germany and they had a plan to choke off England.
At the outbreak of war German U-boats spread out over the North Atlantic with orders to sink any merchant ship flying British flags. As the war advanced Germany launched more of these submarines with more range and munitions and eliminated over a third of British merchants.
Even before the entry of the U.S. into the war England placed emergency orders for ships to be made in American shipyards using a British design. The class was developed to meet British needs for transports to replace ships that were being torpedoed by German U-boats. These ships became known as Liberty ships.
The Liberty ship featured a simple design and low-cost construction and soon were being mass-produced on an unprecedented scale and the ship came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial might.
In the 1950’s the U.S. Navy upgraded and converted a number of these Liberty ships to serve as support ships in the active fleet. Some were configured as ammunition supply ships designated AE, others as refrigerated supply ships designated AF and a few like the USS Liberty (AGTR-5) were used as technical research ships (electronic spy ship). The USS Liberty was attacked by Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six-Day War. She was built and served in World War II as SS Simmons. By the 1960’s the Navy was fazing out these ships for modern, specially designed ships called “fast fleet support ships”. By early in the 1970’s all of these WWII work horses were retired.
Only three operational Liberty (Victory) ships still exist and they are museums, the SS John W. Brown in Baltimore, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, home ported in San Francisco and SS American Victory in Tampa.
We have visited the O’Brien some years back and she is well preserved and actually still makes cruises. We also found out that the engine room scenes from Cameron’s movie The Titanic were filmed on board.
we’ve visited the American Victory in Tampa and have to admit that she is a work in progress and could really use donations and volunteers. She is docked right next to the Florida Aquarium with a modest admission fee and free parking (which is worth its weight in gold in that area). While, as I said, I have a soft spot for these old ships it is a good opportunity to introduce yourself and children to this often overlooked piece of American history.
Note: The American Victory is now sea worthy and has a number of sailings scheduled around Tampa Bay each year.