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WWII Liberty Cargo Ship History

WWII Liberty Cargo Ship History

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Published by CAP History Library
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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: CAP History Library on Dec 26, 2010
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08/22/2013

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The operational history of the Liberty ship is a microcosm of the histories of all Allied merchant ships during World
War Two. Their tasks mirrored those of the merchant service as a whole, in many respects an 'average' ship doing
the normal tasks of merchant vessels in wartime. Therein lies their greatness however, as when you examine these
'normal' tasks you find a rich history of brave deeds, carried out by civilians in an environment which is hazardous in
peacetime and unimaginably more deadly in wartime.

Liberty ship in the North Atlantic.

The Liberty ship saw service all over the world: they were present in the Atlantic and Russian convoys; they
anchored off the beachheads in North Africa, Europe and in the Pacific islands; they carried food to civilians as well
as supplies and equipment to the armed forces; as hospital ships they treated the wounded; they transported prisoners
away from the fighting; they evacuated rescued Allied prisoners from Asia; in perhaps their most welcome role, they
brought the troops home again after the fighting was over.

Of the 2,710 ships completed, 253 were lost during the war, a loss rate of 9%. The wide cause of losses shows the
wide range of hazards that these ships were exposed to. Losses occurred due to kamikazes, torpedoes, surface raider
guns, aircraft bombs, collisions (made more likely with blacked-out ships travelling close together in convoy) and to
the weather (an ever-present hazard, even during wartime).

Even more striking is the loss rate for ships completed before the end of June 1942. The battle of the Atlantic
appeared to be in the balance until early 1943, when U-boat losses began to rise sharply, and ships completed up to
mid-1942 underwent one year of service during this hazardous time. Of the 153 ships completed before 1st

July
1942, a total of 34 were lost before the end of April 1943 (and 47 before the end of the war). At 22% loss for this
short period, and 31% before the end of the war, this was a loss rate significantly higher than the overall loss rate for
the class. Considering that these ships only served through part of one of the two U-boat ‘happy times’, it gives
some indication of the carnage that the U-boats were causing to merchant shipping in the early years of the war.

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© James Davies

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USA OTHER SHIPS
'Liberty' Cargo Ship
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May 2004
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