Friday, January 1, 2010



The story actually begins in 1936.  National policy in Germany and Japan clearly pointed towards war.  Remembering the bitter lessons from the Great War, not even twenty years past, the United States knew it must be better prepared for the next one.  The American merchant fleet and the shipbuilding industry were in a slump.  Fed by a huge construction program that began very late in WW I and continued for several years after the war ended, the ports, harbors and rivers of the country were plugged with unneeded obsolete ships.

By 1936 some ninety-one percent of the American merchant fleet was at or near the twenty-year mark, most of them capable of doing 10 to 11 knots at best.  The need was for dry cargo ships and tankers - fast ships that in an emergency could be used as naval auxiliaries.  With President Franklin Roosevelt's strong support, Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.

Creating the United States Maritime Commission, the main thrust of the Act was to develop overseas trade and serve it with a new, modern, efficient merchant marine.  The Maritime Commission started building cargo ships in 1937.  The long-range plan was for 500 ships with a total tonnage of four million, to be built over a ten-year period.  The new ships were to be fast tankers and three standard designs of high-speed cargo ships known as the "C" types.  These were the C1, C2 and C3 designs.[ The letter "C" represents "cargo" while the number refers to the length of the hull.  [ 1= up to 399-ft; 2= 400-449-ft; 3=450-499-ft] At the time, the design speed of 15 knots was noteworthy. (The modern standard is 20-25 knots)  The Challenge, one of the first C2s, reached a speed of 17 knots on her trials.  Her design speed was 15.5.  Most remarkable was the fact that new "C" type ships had the same fuel consumption as the 10-knot ships they replaced.

By 1939 it was clear that constructing fifty ships a year was not enough; the Maritime Commission doubled the scheduled to 100 ships a year, then to 200 a year in 1940.

In Europe, Germany was ruthlessly over-running country after country, while on the Atlantic her U-boats preyed on shipping without hindrance.  During the first nine months of the war, English losses totaled 150 ships, more than one million tons.  By the end of 1941, losses had reached a staggering 750 ships and three million tons.

In this crisis, the United States changed her shipbuilding policy from quality - well constructed, fast "C" ships - to quantity, producing ships as quickly as possible.   There was no time to design a new ship, but, providentially, an English design, which evolved out of a tramp ship design first conceived in England in 1879 and later modified, was available.  Initially dubbed the "Ocean" class, the ships were rated at 10,000 deadweight tons with a 2,500 horsepower engine that produced a speed of 10 knots.  The design was slow but it had the great advantage of relatively simple construction for both engine and hull.  Driven by a reciprocating engine with coal-burning fire tube boilers, it had already proven itself for decades in worldwide tramp service when speed was second to reliability.

The design was quickly modified for accelerated production and President Roosevelt announced construction of the new emergency class in February 1941 for a "bridge of ships" across the Atlantic.  This was the Liberty ship.  "Quantity" shipbuilding became an even more desperate necessity when, in the first half of 1942, more than six million tons of Allied shipping was lost.  Some 1,200 ship went to the bottom.  Old, established shipyards and new, emergency facilities worked on round-the-clock schedules.  Steel was turned into ships so quickly that ship years often outran their sources of supply.

Thus, "built by the mile and chopped off by the yard," over 2,700 Liberty ships were built from 1941 to 1944 in shipyards across the country, which tuned out nineteen million tons of ships.  Never in history had such a monumental construction effort been undertaken but the strategy of building ships faster than they could be sunk was an enormous success and 1943 was the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic.
With the production corner turned, shipbuilding policy changed again.  There was still a need for a fast cargo ship, both as part of the war effort, and as a key to a strong merchant fleet after the war.  This need would be filled by the Victory ship.

As the nation began to plan for the coming peace, it had to decide how best to use the available resources.  There was concern about a possible shortage of steel.  The Liberty ships had served magnificently, but the need now was for ships that could operated faster and more efficiently.  Commercial ship operators wanted a ship that could compete in world markets.  The military services wanted fast, commercial-type ships for use as auxiliaries when needed.  Faster ships were less vulnerable to attack; they could elude submarines and convoys would no longer be necessary, so fewer ship would be needed.

It was clear from the start that the boxy hull and square lines of the Liberty wouldn't do for the new speedster.  In early 1942 an entirely new design, known as the AP1, was created.  Calling for a length of 445 feet and a beam of sixty-three feet, the guidelines for the nw ship required that it have about the same deadweight capacity as the Liberty and that the minimum speed be fifteen knots.  In these early stages of the Victory ship concept, the Maritime Commission planned on building 1,600 ships.  Bethlehem Steel of Quincy, Massachusetts was assigned the task of creating working drawings.  The Maritime Commission concentrated on stability calculations and other characteristics.

Production on the new ships should have started immediately.  But there were too many bureaucracies involved.  The Maritime Commission wanted to proceed with the new Victory-type ship.  The War Production Board (WPB), an agency set up to regulate and consolidate American shipbuilding, was against it.

The first difficulty was that many shipyards could not build a ship with a sixty-three foot beam. Their ways were too narrow.  But a sixty-two foot beam would just make it, so the design was changed.  Of course, with a change in beam design came a change in stability.  The ends of the waterline were "filled" to correct for the change.  There was an advantabe.  In the right weather conditions a fuller forebody created a drier ship.

Other improvements to the design plans included searchlights, gyro-compasses, larger cargo booms and more efficient winches (electric instead of steam) and davits. The latter were needed to handle landing craft for the military.

By March 1943 the drawings were complete.  The new ship type was given the designator EC2-S-AP1: "E" for emergency, "C" for cargo and "2" for waterline length (between 400 - 449 feet).  The letter "S" indicated a steam engine and the fact that there are no numbers with it meant the ship was single screw.  "AP1" referred to design and modification numbers.

The Maritime Commission thought the ship was ready to build.  In a speech a few weeks later, Admiral Emory Land, the chairman of that agency, first referred to the new ship as a Victory.

We have developed a new emergency ship - the Victory ship - to replace the Libertys.  The new ship is designed to permit use of the Lentz engine, turbines or diesels.  Its expected speed is fifteen to seventeen knots as against the Libertys' eleven knots, and it will be a good competition sip in post-war - which we cannot claim for the Liberty ship.
A problem with some early Liberty ships was hull fractures.  This design flaw as corrected and modification were made in teh Victory to prevent this.  Internal frames were spaced at thirty-six inches, rather than thirty inches, as in the Libertys.  This made the ship more flexible, allowing it to "give" in heavy seas.  The No. 1 hold deep tank was eliminated.  Its capacity was included in two deep tanks at No. 4 hatch.  These had the added versatility of being usable for fuel, water ballast or dry cargo.  In addition there were deep tanks in No. 5 hold which were used for fuel or water only.  The design enabled the ship to remain stable  even after damage or fartial flooding.  Unline the Liberty, the three forward holds of the Victorys were fitted with 'tween decks.  This feature gave the ship more versatility in cargo stowage.  Much of the auxiliary equipment such as pumps, steering gear and the anchor windlass was electric instead of steam.

Armament consisted of a 3-inch gun forward, a 5-inch aft, four 20mm mounts amidships, two 20mms on the forecastle and two 20mms on the poop deck house.

There was still one major problem. No one had an engine capable of producing fifteen knots in that type of hull.  Steam turbines were the obvious choice but there weren't enough available.  The new turbine facories set up by the Maritime Commission in 1941 were working full time to produce engines for the "C" type ships and some of the tankers.  There simply weren't enough extras to power a new class of 500 ships.  Even when design studies showed that only 5,600 horsepower was needed, it didn't help.  The only available choice was the steam reciprocating engine (the workhorse that powered the Liberty).

The concept of using a steam reciprocationg engine brought its own problems.  A test engine had to be designed and built before production could start.  This would take valuable time.  There was on the market the Skinner Uniflow single expansion steam reciprocating engine.  It had the right horsepower but turned at 160 RPM, much too fast for a single propeller.  Another alternative suggested was the Sun-Doxford diesel which was used with some success on the C-2s.  But this idea was dropped for a number of reasons, among them the lack of trained diesel engineers in the U.S. Merchant Marine.

Finally, the decision was made to use a German diesel engine [think about this for a minute...they actually thought of using an engine that was designed and built from the very enemy that we had been fighting in the war], the Lentz referred to by Admiral Land.  There was one difficulty.  No Lentz engine that size had ever been built in the United States.  The American Shipbuilding Company of Cleveland was the only company licensed to produce such an engine.  By November 1942 it was agreed that the new EC2-S-AP1 diesel engine would be rated at 5,500 horsepower and turn at 85 RPM with a 59-inch stroke.  A special company was created to do the drawings and in December the U.S. Navy agreed to test the first engine.

The AP3-type Victory ship would have 8,500 horsepower and be capable of a speed of 18 knots.  The Jefferson City Victory is recognizable as an AP3 by the protruding whistle housing on the stack---the only external difference between the AP3 and the AP2.

Other designers produced new plans, based on the Victory concept.  The designation EC2-S-AP2 was given to a variation of the basic design which used the 6,000 horsepower turbine from the C-2s.  When equipped with the turbine used on C-3s which was rated at 8,500 shaft horsepower, the designator became EC2-S-AP3.  AP4 was used to indicate diesel propulsion, but only one such ship was ever built.

On April 28, 1943 the ship's designator was officially changed from EC2 to VC2.  The Victory ship was born.  That same month, the first Victory contracts were give to the Oregon Ship Building Company in Portland, Oregon and the California Shipbuilding Company (CalShip) in Los Angeles.  They were to build the AP3 type with the 8,500 horsepower engine.  Contracts also went to Bethlehem-Fairfield in Baltimore, Maryland; Richmond (Permanente) Yards No.1 and No.2 in California; Delta Shipbuilding Company in New Orleans, Louisiana; the Houston Shipbuilding Corporation of Savannah, Georgia.  Each of these companies was to buile the AP1 powered by the Lentz engine.  

Meanwhile, production of the Lentz engine met one delay after another.  There were legal problems in producing an engine licensed by a company located in an enemy country.  The patents were under the control of the Allied Property Custodian.  The test engine didn't reach the Naval Boiler adn Turbine Laboratory at Philadelphia until September 1943.  After eighty-five hours of testing one of the castings failed.

Complicating the situation was the ongoing battle between the War Production Board and the Maritime Commission.  The War Production Board wanted fewer new types of ships.  It also wanted more standardization with the C2 serving as the model.  It advocated building more Liberty ships.  The Maritime Commission wanted to keep the number of designs at a minimum but at the same time build a variety of newer and faster ships.

In an attempt to end the conflict, the Combined Shipbuilding Committee (Standardization of Design) was set up in March of 1943.  Representatives of both groups were on the committee.  Teh dispute focused on two issues 1) Whether Victory ships should be built instead of more Libertys, and 2) Waht engines should be used for Victorys and /or C2s.

The Maritime Commission wanted to produce 524 Victorys during 1944, the first year of production; 347 AP1s and 177 AP3s.  The AP3s were planned because, suddenly, turbine manufacturers had more engiens than hulls to put them in.  They, too, had turned the corner of "building them faster than they could be sunk."  Production levels on the C2 engine were designed so as to create a surplus for AP2 construction.  It was thought the Lentz engine would produce 15.5 knots, the C2 turbine 16 knots and the C3 turbine 17 knots.

Meanwhile, the Combined Shipbuilding Committee continued its squabbling.  The Maritime Commission gave Victory ship parts its highest priority only to have the War Production Board refuse to authorize facilities or materials.

The situation eased somewhat when turbine builders agreed on mass production of a standard turbine.  With this development, the Commission agreed in June 1943 to forego the Lentz engine...[thank goodness!] providing enough turbines were available.  At the same time, the War Production Board agred to allow the Lentz engine if not enough turbines were produced.....[this group must of had a screw loose].  There was further agreement when the Maritime Commission agreed to drop C1 cargo ship constructiion in exchange for authorization for Victory construction.

The common-sense approach was not to last.  The question became how many shipyards should build Victorys and at what rate.  The real issue was which agency had the greater authority - the War Production Board or the Maritime Commission.  The WPB decided to stop production of C2 turbines with the idea of using Victory ship turbines on C2s.  They argued that vuilding two similar turbines in war time when one was far cheaper couldn't be justified.  They issues orders canceling turbine production.  The Maritime Commission issued counter-orders calling for not only production, but increase production.

Finally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff stepped in and forced a settlement.  The battle between the two groups was detrimental to the war effort.  Their finding were that there would not be a bottleneck in shipping in the near future because of the urgent need for the production of other types of war material.  Building large numbers of Liberty ships was no longer necessary and the Commission's program of a great number of faster ships would better meet the strategic requirements for 1944 than would any of the alternatives offered by the WPB.

The overall effect of the long feud between the Maritime Commission and the War Production Board was that fewer Victorys were built than intended. The contracts to the Southern states were canceled.  The yards on the West Coast that were building Libertys didn't launch their first Victory until January of 1944.  The Spare turbines for the C3 program (for use on the AP3) were finished before the ships were ready and had to be stored.

On January 12, 1944 the first of the new ships, the United Victory, was launched by the Oregon Ship Building Corporation.  She made her inaugural voyage the following month.  While it was a beginning, production was slow.  By May of 1944 only fifteen ships were ready, eleven from Oregon Ship Building and four from CalShip.  Gradually, other shipbuilders eased out of Liberty ship construction and into Victory ships.  Eventually, Victory ships were built by Bethlehem-Fairfield in Baltimore, Permanente Metals Corporation in Richmond, California and Kaiser in Vancouver, Washington.  All the Kaiser ships were modified to attack transports.

A total of 531 Victory ships were built during WW II.  Of these 414 were cargo ships and 117 were transports.  The cargo ships included 272 of the AP2 type.  The attack transports were designated AP5s.  Three ships were redesigned and delivered in 1947 to the Alcoa Steamship Company, Inc. of New York.  Bearing the modification number AP7, they brought the total number of Victory hulls produced to 534.