Liberty Ships

During the course of World War II, in particular from 1941 to 1945, some 2,711 cargo ships with a carrying capacity of about 10,000 dw tons each, were rapidly built en masse by 18 shipyards in the United States of America. These vessels became widely known as the Liberty-type ships. Construction cost for each ship ranged from $1,550,000 to 2,100,000, depending on the shipyard where the ship was built.

The decision taken for their construction was a result of the on-going losses of Allied Forces’ ships operating in the Atlantic convoys, carrying the valuable supplies needed for the successful outcome of the war. The need for the rapid replacement of the lost ships led to the adoption of the welding process in their construction. Welding was not employed on any scale until then with the majority of ships built using the traditional riveting.

As a result, many people were quick to brand the ships “disposable”. In other words, ships whose role was strictly limited for the duration of the war. However, the course of events turned out to be very different. The Liberty ships not only survived the war, they played a key role in world seaborne trade for another quarter of a century.

The first Liberty ship was launched on 27 September 1941, just 10 weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. It was christened PATRICK HENRY in honor of an American citizen, who became part of history for his declaration in 1775: “Give me liberty or give me death”.

Some of the Liberty ships were placed on their delivery from the shipbuilder under the management of various Allied Forces. In particular, during the war, 182 ships sailed under British ensign, 38 under the Russian flag, and 15 under the Greek flag. About 200 Liberty ships did not survive the war, including 50 lost on their maiden voyage, among them the Greek-flag ELEFTHERIA, commissioned in March, 1945.

After the end of the war, the US government decided to keep a significant number of the remaining Liberty ships in reserve. It was reasoned that in this way there would always be an adequate number of vessels ready to serve the needs of the US in case of another war, and thus avoid the need to resume an extensive and costly shipbuilding programme.

Still, with the creation of the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946, the sale of US vessels to foreign countries was allowed in order to facilitate these countries in the reconstruction of their maritime industry. In total, 682 Liberty ships, including those already placed under the management of Allied Forces during the war, were acquired by foreign interests and used for commercial trade. In this context, 182 ships were sold to British interests, 98 to Greek interests, 94 to Italians, 76 to French, 47 to Norwegians, 38 to Russians, 28 to Dutch, 12 to Chinese, nine to Danish, seven to Belgians, two each to Argentines, Swedish and Finnish, and one to each of Spanish and Polish interests. At the same time, a significant number of the ships acquired by foreign interests were placed under flags of convenience which had begun to make a strong presence in the international maritime arena. In all, 60 ships were placed under the Panamanian flag and 23 under Honduras flag, many of which were controlled by Greek owners. A further 261 Liberty ships were sold to US-based owners and continued trading under the US flag.

The majority of the 943 Liberty ships offered invaluable service to world seaborne trade until the late 1960s, often changing ownership and flag. It is worth noting that over 600 of these ships, or two-thirds of all Liberty ships sailing in peacetime, came under the control of Greek owners at some time during their trading careers, further tying their era to the postwar evolution of Greece’s merchant marine.

 

 

 

The First Greek Liberty Ships

 

Shortly after the end of World War II, 98 Liberty-type merchant ships were registered, almost en masse, under the Greek flag. These ships were sold by the United States government to Greek shipowners under the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946. Established a year after the end of the war, the act allowed the sale of US-flag ships to foreign countries in order to facilitate their maritime postwar reconstruction.

 

1b ALFA Vatis 2 

Greek-owned Liberty Ships

 

Nearly 2/3 of the total Liberty ships that traded commercially after the end of WWII, sailed under Greek ownership at a certain stage of their operating life. This section refers to Greek-owned Liberty ships excluding 98 acquired and placed under Greek flag between December 1946 and April 1947.

 

 

 

 

 

The Hellas Liberty Museum

 

Apart from the important role played during World War II and the services rendered to the global economy for nearly 25 years, Liberty ships are strongly linked to the post-war reconstruction and evolution of Greek shipping. The United States, the country which built a huge number of Liberty-type vessels in record time during the War, has preserved two units in their original, wartime appearance, turning them into floating museums.

Ships Built for Greeks - Tankers (1948-2000) »
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