The Liberty Ship and
the T-2 Tanker (1941)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt called September 27, 1941, "a memorable day in the history of American shipbuilding." And why not? "Liberty Fleet Day" set in motion the American shipbuilding juggernaut. That day, 14 ships were launched from dawn until dusk at U.S. shipyards from coast to coast as part of the President's $350 million emergency ship construction program. The program demanded a herculean effort: to construct the equivalent of roughly more than half of the pre-war merchant shipping of the world. This came at a time when U.S. shipyards were scratching to meet the requirements of a huge naval build-up.


Among the ships was the Patrick Henry, the first of the new Liberty Ship Class. These "ugly ducklings," based on the earlier Ocean Class design, were conceived with three things in mind: "minimum cost, rapidity of construction, and simplicity of operation." And those goals were certainly achieved.

The price tag for a 441 ft 6 in x 57 ft Liberty Ship (EC2-S-C1) was $1.6 million. Construction time for the 10,500 dwt ship at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard in Baltimore, Md., was some seven and one-half months. The facility would eventually slice production time for one Liberty Ship to 28 days.

New shipyards, created by a syndicate formed by Todd Shipyards Inc., and the Henry J. Kaiser group, produced the ships like sausages.

Astoundingly, the Kaiser shipyard in Oakland, built the Liberty Ship S.S. Robert Peary, from keel laying to launching, in 4 days 15 hours and 30 minutes. It was then outfitted, painted, taken on sea trials, the crew was trained and the vessel fully loaded with 10,000 tons of cargo. The Peary sailed 7 days after the keel was laid.

In all, more than 2,700 Liberty Ships were built for the war effort.
About half the surviving fleet was sold at the war's end, and some of those ships were still operating in the early 1970's. Two have been restored as floating museums, the S.S. John Brown and the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien. According to Project Liberty Ship's Carolyn Sullivan, the Brown will steaming to Toledo Shipyard in May 2000 for some riveting repairs. The Liberty Ship will then spend some time on at cities on the Great Lakes "strutting its stuff."


Another design from the war was the T-2 tanker. One of the first of these was the 501 ft Corsicana. It was the first of six 16,000 dwt tankers built by the Bethlehem Steel, Sparrows Point yard, for Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. Based on a commercial design, the Corsicana incorporated many national defense modifications.

The most popular T-2 variant was the T2-SE-A1. Almost 500 of these 16,613 dwt ships were built during the war. Many of these vessels were later sold in the international market and operated commercially for decades. For years, the T-2 was the standard by which other tankers were measured.

The World's Largest Tanker (1979)

Staying on the theme of tankers, there are many claimants for the title of the world's first supertanker. Germany's HDW claims it for a 1914 ship, the Jupiter, but we've been able to dig up no information on that vessel. What seems clear is that until the 1956 Suez War, Suez Canal limitations had effectively limited the size of tankers. Closure of the Suez Canal led tanker owners to look for ships that could go around the Cape and still make a profit--and from then on tankers didn't really stop growing, until delivery of the 483,000 dwt Globtik Tokyo from IHI in 1972 was followed in 1973 by the first oil crisis and , in 1975, by the delivery of the 484,000 Nissei Maru. The largest tanker ever, the 564,763 dwt Jahre Viking was built in 1979 at Sumitomo as the Seawise Giant for legendary Hong Kong shipping magnate C.Y. Tung, father of C.H. Tung (Tung Chee-hwa), Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR. The Jahre Viking is an astonishing 35.3 "T-2 equivalents," on a rough calculation!