The history of the Liberty Ships

Its entry into what was a truly worldwide conflict, plus the continuing need to keep the Allied supply lines open, forced the United States to dramatically increase its shipping capacity.

This massive drive to build more ships began in early 1941. Over the next four years, a total of 2,751 so-called "Liberty ships" were commissioned and went on to serve on every ocean.

These cargo vessels owed their name to the American President Franklin Roosevelt, who wanted to emphasise that their mission was to help restore freedom in Europe.

Liberty ships had an average length of 135 metres and a capacity of around 10,000 dwt. Their simplified design meant they could be built by small teams of men within extremely short timescales. Thus, while it took 70 days on average to construct a normal ship, some Liberty ships were built in less than five days1!

These short building times allowed the Allies to turn out ships faster than the German fleet of submarines, or U-boats, could sink them.

The Battle of the Atlantic took a heavy toll on Liberty ships, with around 300 being destroyed, fifty of them during their maiden voyage.

The Liberty ships were a vital link in the logistics chain and ensured a constant flow of supplies to the front. As Churchill wrote,

"Without the supply column of Liberty Ships that endlessly plowed the seas between America and England, the war would have been lost."

Although the Liberty ships had a five-year life expectancy, many of them remained in service until the 1970s.

Based in San Francisco, where it is now open to the public, the SS Jeremiah O'Brien is still perfectly seaworthy. Along with many others, it took part in Operation Neptune on June 6th 1944, and the D-Day Museum in Arromanches is one of the proud partners of the National Liberty Ship Memorial (visit the SS Jeremiah O'Brien website).

1) " The SS Robert E. Peary was built in exactly 4 days, 15 hours and 29 minutes after the keel was laid down.