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useful facts + excellent stories about Liberty ship Convoy

Liberty ship class, a fine maritime painting showing the various types.

Liberty Ship paintings
Liberty Ship Convoy

Standard size print of “Liberty ship Convoy
image size: 52 x 35 cm (20½” x 14″)

Liberty ships confounded the critics, served successfully in all theatres of the war and world wide long after, exceeding all expectations, a rare achievement and certainly helped defeat the Axis powers.

Many distinguished people and renowned companies chose Frickers paintings as you can discover by reading my illustrated résumée.

Liberty ship painting.

Having read extensively about Liberty ships and become fascinated while working on “Liberty ship, North Atlantic Winter” , and having at that time a request from another client to paint “his” PQ convoy under attack Gordon Frickers conceived the idea of showing an all Liberty Ship Convoy.

At that time I lived very near Mount Batten, Plymouth. A chilly winter walk on the Quays there and a beer in the quayside pub reminded me of the flying boats that used to operate from Mount Battern in particular the Catalina’ and Sunderland’ flying boats. Viola! Inspiration for this painting and the research already completed.

Later, this painting Liberty Ship Convoy with many of my other marine pictures were exhibited at the Mount Batten Centre where most of them quickly sold.

Liberty Ship Convoy was very appropriately purchased for Western Marine Power who occupy part of one of the enormous hangers in which the Sunderland and Catalinas’ used to re fit.

Liberty Ships

In 1940, Britain was suffering heavy losses in her merchant fleet mostly from U boats. Ships were being sunk faster than they could be replaced; to survive the British Isles needed more ships not less.

Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill said the U boat was the weapon he most feared could win Germany the war.

A Merchant Shipbuilding Mission lead by Mr. R.C. Thompson of the Sunderland shipbuilders, J.L. Thompson & Co. Ltd., was invited by the Merchant Shipbuilding Control of the Admiralty, to visit America. The objective was the delivery of merchant ships. from United States shipyards, as many and as quickly as possible.

In 1940 German U-boats were winning the Battle of the Atlantic.
They were sinking Allied ships considerably faster than British shipyards could build them.

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As with so many new ships, many considered the Liberty ship when new, bulky, ponderous, ugly. To others they were modern and compared to British tramp steamers, smart well equipped, comfortable.

Liberty ships were popular with crews providing more spacious, safer accommodation, proved to be versatile and good sea boats, swimming well in all conditions.

As far as I know, the first was the “PATRICK HENRY”. Literally thousands more Liberty ships followed, justifying the fondest hopes of those who designed, built and operated them.

The Liberty ship was distinctively an improvement on the original British prototypes.

The Liberty ship design was soon modified, to facilitate faster construction, including easier welding, also to eliminate as far as possible the costly need for hull plates to be pre shaped.

As more experience and understanding was gained of the stresses placed upon a welded vessel under wartime conditions, others changes were made in the working plans.

The Liberty ship was basic; an 11-knot single-screw steamer, of a standard 7176 gross registered tons, although this varied with later changes in design. Her classification was Emergency Cargo 2(indication of size) -Steam -C1 (design).
The ships carried 9,146 tons of cargo which in time probably included anything and everything you can think of including large deadweight cargo on deck !

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The Liberty ship was produced to be expendable. The United States had wanted a better quality ship class but recognized urgent and practical requirements of war time needs.

Liberty ship evolution

Contrary to popular belief the Liberty ship was not entirely of American origin.
They were British, evolved and developed from the tramp steamers “EMBASSAGE” and “DORINGTON COURT”, at the Sunderland shipyard of J.L. Thompson & Co. Ltd.
A report to the House Committee, United States Congress in January 1941, as to the estimated life of a LIBERTY ship as “a five-year vessel …”
It was said that if one survived one voyage, she had paid for herself.
A few were still trading 40 + years later, truly remarkable ships.

In 1939 Robert Thompson’s yard had built the “DORINGTON COURT” evolved from the “EMBASSAGE” (GRT4954) built on speculation during the depression of the 1930’s.
“Embasage” and her 4 sisters were at the time of building among the most advanced “tramp” ships of their day, tough versatile ships which could trade from open beaches and river banks almost as easily as from a quayside.
The Admiralty were impressed by her speed and economy, 11 knots from a 2500 I.H.P.
However, with the experience of Embassage and Dortington Court the plan was for an improved variant not so beamy, less sophisticated and with improved hull lines, 10,000 GRT and still capable of 11 knots. These ships were in turn destined to inspire the “Liberty” Ship.

When the mission arrived in New York, October 1940, America was still not at war. Many still thought Britain would be overwhelmed.
They met Rear Admiral Emory Scott Land, Chairman of the U.S. Maritime Commission who had the confidence of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Scott Land was striving to gear the country’s shipyards to dramatically expand the U S ship building programme.
The Admiralty required riveted vessels for proved strength, and Scotch boilers because they were easy to run and fuel.
There were no suitable yards available, the few being full with naval work and few skilled riveters in the U.S.A.
It was quickly realized the ships would be welded or there would be no ships at all. While there was an abundance of skill in Great Britain, there were far too few U.S traditional shipbuilders. It was easier and quicker to train welders, as it turned out, many were to be women.
Reluctantly the Admiralty agreed to take welded ships.

During a tour of the States, the Thompson team met Henry J. Kaiser, a civil construction expert, with no shipbuilding experience, but unafraid of a challenge. He liked the size of the British requirement. It represented one of the largest single orders ever placed with American shipbuilders to date, and the first time Britain had ordered ships in the United States since World War One.
Sites on which shipyards could be constructed to build cargo carriers for Britain were located and approved.
One in the West at Richmond, California and the other in the East at South Portland, Maine, both yards being affiliated with the Todd Shipbuilding Corp.

Contracts were approved and signed on the 20th December, 1940, for the construction of thirty ships at each yard.
The deal represented some $U.S. 96 million and was to be paid for in cash as the U.S still feared Great Britain might not survive the German onslaught.

Liberty ships introduced accommodation innovations that were quite radical at the time. Their accommodation which was luxurious compared with pre-war British and Greek tramps in particular whose accommodation was traditionally in the forecastle, or the stern area often without heating or fresh water.

The Liberty ship brought an immediate change to cargo ship design, with her heated enclosed wheelhouse, and midships cabins for master, officers and crew, together with galley and mess rooms with refrigerators, the days of square sail hardship were put far astern.

Liberty Ship mass production. 

The theories of Henry J. Kaiser on mass production of ships caused much amusement among traditional shipbuilders. It was said he produced rather than built ships and that being welded they would never last.

Henry J. Kaiser set himself on the pathway to become the undoubted leader of mass-production shipbuilding in United States. Unknown in shipbuilding, he was well known as the head of the construction group which amongst its credits was the building of the Boulder and Grand Coulee Dams, and the famous Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland.

Henry J. Kaiser had the last laugh. His people built ships efficiently, strongly, delivered on time or ahead, with the minimum wastage in time, materials and labour.

Early Liberty ships were built in as little as 260 days. More surprising was building times were steadily reduced. Very surprising was the record was held by Permanente Metals No.2 shipyard (“”ROBERT E. PEARY”) 4 days 15.5 hours from keel laying to ready for launching.

American practice was to launch vessels almost complete. 3.5 days were spent fitting out, and she was ready to sail.

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During the war, Liberty ships were given to many nations to man and operate including the Greeks and Russians. Others went to countries like Great Britain and operated under such famous names as Ocean Steamship (Blue Flue to those who knew).

Liberty ship variations included animal carries and hospital ships, tankers and troop ships.
After the war ships were transferred for about what they cost to build, to many nations.

The LAST LIBERTY Ship built

Opinions differ; which was the last Liberty ship built?

In 1945 the Maritime Commission issued a press release saying the “STANLEY R. FISHER” delivered on July 1st, 1945 was the last, however 16 more ships were laid down and completed the last of which was the “ALBERT M. BOE” delivered on 30th October, 1945 so she was probably the last of the largest class (numerically) of merchant ship ever built, ever ever!

Tough ships

With the dangers and demands of war adding to the usual and unusual marine risks, – torpedoes, mines, explosions, air attacks, fires plus snow, sleet and violent storms often scattered convoys; and there were increased risks of stranding, collision, and storms.
240 Liberty ships lost, less than 10% of the total built represents an achievement in its self.

Liberty ship names

The naming of U.S.-flag Liberty ships followed broad guidelines, the main one being that the name used had to be that of a deceased person.

Generally, they were named after Americans, who had made a notable contribution to history, or culture, and later, to members of the American Merchant Marine, and others, who had died in active service.

Other countries, Norway, Greece, and Russia etc tended to give their ships either patriots names or heroic names.

I’d like to have a copy of Liberty ship Convoy, please take me to the print order form.

I’d like to commission a similar painting, please take me to how to order

In 1939, the U.S. fleet represented only 14.2% of the world total.
By 1946 they had 56%, at a time when war losses had depleted the tonnage of the leading maritime nations.

The U.S.A. had become a maritime nation.

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Gordon Frickers is the only marine and maritime artist whose paintings have been honoured by a solo invitation to exhibit 35 paintings in the European Parliament (May 2011).

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