In view of Britain's war debts to the U.S. being paid off at the end of 2006 I thought
that the following article would be of interest to marine historians and ship lovers.
Of course, the U.S.A. had misgivings initially about her entry into the war and arrangements
orchestrated between Churchill and the U.S. Administration were not based on altruism but on the perceived global threat of
the Nazi regime at the time.
The ship building programme created at the outset of WW2 both in the U.S. and Canada
contributed immensely to the positive outcome of the war. 'Rosie the riveter' and the likes contributed greatly
in this endeavour.
In 1936 the United States Congress passed an Act which was to revolutionise merchant shipping for many years. One
of the results of the Act was the setting up of the Maritime Commission, which immediately set about the task of rebuilding
America's diminishing merchant fleet. The programme they put forward was designed to produce 500 ships at the rate of
50 vessels annually. This programme eventually became the nucleus around which the United States wartime production
was built with the result that nearly 6,000 vessels were sent down the ways before VJ day.
The Commission produced three standard designs of freighter designated 'C1', 'C2' and 'C3'. The 'C' stood for cargo
and the number indicated the waterline length of the vessel ('C1' - less than 400 ft., 'C2' - 400 to 450 ft. and 'C3' - 400
to 500 ft.) An explanation of the Maritime Commission system of classifying is given at the end of this article.
When war was declared in 1939 the Commission's programme was just under way. A little later more designs, such
as the 'T3' type tanker, were introduced. Although shipbuilding techniques and design were improving (the introduction
of all-welded ships etc.) the Americans could hardly be described as having a war programme and, in 1940, Britain
was facing the Germans alone.
British ships were being lost much faster than they could be replaced and the Government decided that it
would be impossible to base a new shipbuilding programme entirely in this country which was so vulnerable to sudden attack.
With this in mind, a British Merchant Shipbuilding Mission left for the USA in September of 1940, and the terms of their brief
were 'to endeavour to obtain, at the earliest possible moment, the delivery of merchant tonnage from USA shipyards at the
rate per annum of about 60 vessels of the tramp type and of about 10,000 tons deadweight'.
The leader of that Mission was R.C. Thompson of the shipbuilding firm J.L. Thompson & Sons, Sunderland,
and with them they took the plans of a vessel based on the 'DORRINGTON COURT' built by Thompson in 1939. This was a
typical tramp steamer of the thirties but the version taken to America was less complicated and also narrower.
The President of the Maritime Commission, Admiral Emery Scott Land, was at first doubtful of the wisdom
of building slow tramp steamers for a country in such immediate danger but eventually conceded that quantity must over-ride
quality in such a situation and so two contracts, each for thirty ships, were eventually drawn up. One was with the
Todd-Bath Iron Shipbuilding Corp. of Portland, Maine and the other with the Todd-California Shipbuilding Corp. of Richmond
California. This type of vessel became known as the 'Ocean' and the first example was named 'OCEAN VANGUARD' on the
15th October, 1941 - just two months before Pearl Harbour. This, however, was not the true prototype. That had
been launched 55 days earlier at Thompson's North Sands yard named (with American permission) 'EMPIRE LIBERTY'.
The three original Maritime Commission designs - C1, C2 and C3. These classifications
only indicate that they are cargo vessels of a certain length. There were many modifications to the original design
- particularly so with the C3 some of which had extensive passenger accommodation. The drawings show the basic size
and pattern of the vessels.
Above, the C1 - oa length 417 ft. 9 in; 9.047 dwt, turbine or diesel engines; 115 built
1939 - 45.
C2 - oa length 459 ft 2 in; 8,540 dwt; turbine or diesel engines; 262 built
C3 - oa length 492 ft; 12,109 dwt; turbine or diesel engines; 123 built 1939-45
After the 'Oceans' had been completed a firm of New York naval architects, Gibbs & Cox, improved the
basic design and produced the most famous standard ship of WW2, the ubiquitous 'Liberty' (EC2). The main difference
between the 'Liberty' and the 'Ocean' was the arrangement of the accommodation to house the whole crew amidships.
Between 1941 and 1945 2,700 Liberty ships were built in the USA. Their basic dimensions were the same as the British
design and, like them, they had reciprocating machinery - the only difference being that it was oil-fired. The
Liberties were designed to have a working life of 5 years but, as we all know, they became the mainstay of the
world's tramp fleets after the war and well into the sixties.
The emergency yards the Americans set up to build the Liberties achieved some remarkable building times
(one particular vessel was assembled and launched only 4 and a half days after the keel was laid). The basic design
was modified for many different roles including tankers, troopships, colliers, training vessels and many
naval variants (including floating repair shops and aircraft transports). The original Maritime Commission 'C'
ships were meanwhile still being constructed in large numbers.
Above, a lengthened Liberty. The 'SEACORAL' was originally one of a batch converted to
boxed aircraft transports. Lenghthened to 511 feet in 1955, she became a total loss in 1960.
Below, a typical Liberty ship - principal particulars: 10,807 dwt; oa length 441
ft; speed 11 knots. The basic version was the EC-S-C1 of which 2,580 were built. Of the many variations
the only one which radically altered the design was the Liberty collier which had its engines aft. (Photo courtesy of
John G. Callis).
THE FORTS & PARKS :
Soon after Britain had placed the orders for the Oceans they put an order in Canadian yards for an initial
25 ships which were identical to the 'Empire Liberty' type. These became known as the 'Fort' type as their names all
had the prefix 'Fort' The first, 'FORT ST. JAMES' was launched on October 15th. 1941, from the Burrard Dry Dock
Company's shipyard. The British order was eventually increased to 354 ships of three major types, the later vessels
bearing the suffix 'Park'.
The Canadians gave their original vessels the design name of 'North Sands' type to distinguish them from
the 'Oceans' and to emphasize their conformity to the prototype 'Empire Liberty' design. Subsequent developments of
the 'North Sands' type with small modifications were named 'Victory' (not to be confused with the later American
design) and 'Canadian' types.
Above, the Canadian 'Park' type. The drawing shows one of the later 10,000 dwt tramps.
Completed in 1945, she has the typical features of the early wartime ships such as 'Ocean', 'Empire Liberty' and 'X'
and 'Y' types.
Above, the Turkish freighter 'M. NURFAN' was a typical example of the PF(C) type. These
differed from the earlier PF(B)s by having a composite superstructure and heavier capacity derricks. Built by
the Shipbuilding Corporation of Sunderland in 1946 as the 'EMPIRE KEDDAH', she became the 'M. NURFAN' in 1962 and was
broken up in 1969. The transom stern is a feature of this type. (Photo - Port of Bristol Authority.)
BRITISH STANDARD TRAMPS:
Although the British built versions of the 'Oceans', 'Forts' and 'Parks' are usually referred to as
the 'Empire' type, this is a misnomer, as all vessels which came under the control of the Ministry of Shipping during
WW2 were given the prefix 'Empire'. All British standard tramps were around the 10,000 dwt mark and the early
ones were the 'X' and 'Y' types.
As the war progressed it was decided that one design to cover all tramp ships would be the best policy and
a standard design called the 'PF' (Partly fabricated) type was evolved. There were three variants on this
design which will be described later. The PFs were around 10,000/10,500 dwt and 431 ft bp.
A few standard tramps of British design were also built in Hong Kong.
Below, a drawing of the PF(C) type. Note the absence of a hatch between bridge and funnel
as in the earlier types such as the 'X' and 'Y'.
VICTORIES SUCCEED LIBERTIES:
Meanwhile, back in America, a new design of standard cargo vessel had superceded the Liberties. This
was named the 'Victory' and it's designation 'VC-2' indicated that it was similar in size both to the Liberty and the C2 cargo
At 10,700 dwt they were not appreciably larger than the Liberties but their turbine engines gave them a
great speed advantage. In all, 534 'Victories' were built, the first the 'UNITED VICTORY' being delivered in February
1944, and the last, the 'BRAINERD VICTORY' in November 1945.
Above, the Victory type. Principal particulars: 10,734 dwt; oa length 455 ft;
steam turbines - speed 16.5 knots. The original Victory was classified VC-S-AP2 of which 272 were built. This
was followed by VC-S-AP3 of which 141 were built.
OTHER MARITIME COMMISSION DESIGNS:
Cargo vessels of around 10,000 dwt made up the bulk of the American wartime programme but the smaller coastal
cargo ships must also be mentioned. In 1943 the Maritime Commission embarked upon a programme to build a new type of
coastal motor ship designated 'C1-M-AV1'. Of the 270 originally planned, 208 vessels of this design and it's later improvements,
were completed. These vessels were of some 5,000 dwt and 320 ft bp. Seventeen of these vessels were completed as refrigerated
store ships for the U.S. Navy and designated 'R1-M-AV3'.
Another significant US design ws the'N3' type cargo vessel of which more than 100 examples in three versions
were built between 1943 and 1945. The design of these 2,700 dwt ships was like that of the familiar 'Baltic' type timber
carrier and, in America, they were nicknamed 'Jeeps'.
A need for a purpose built troop transport resulted in teh 'C4' design of 14,600 dwt. Although they
appeared late in the war, 59 of these vessels were completed as troopers before the end of 1945 and six as cargo ships.
Above, a T2 tanker. Principal particulars: 16,613 dwt; oa length 523 ft 6 in;
turbo-electric machinery. After the war many T2s were lenghthened or coverted to bulk or bulk/oil carriers. There
were, in the sixties and early seventies probably more T2s operating than anhy other wartime standard type.
U.S. TANKER DESIGNS:
Tankers were, of course, one of the mainstays of the war effort and the Americans produced two major, sea-going
Numerically, the most important of these was the 'T2' type of which 525 were delivered in several forms,
the principal one being the 'T2-SE-A1'. Their building programme extended between 1942 and 1945. Next in importance
was the 'T3' type which were built for both naval and civilian use. Fifty-eight of these vessels were produced between
1939 and 1945 and some were still in commission wiht the US navy until the late seventies.
Among the smaller tankers the coastal gasoline tankers of the 'T1' type, built for naval and
civilian use, should be mentioned. A later, slightly larger, version of 3,933 dwt is often referred to as the
'BT' tanker, because of it's designation 'T1-M-BT1/2'.
Other numerically-important US standard typers include the 64 transports of the 'S4' type and the 10 'P2'
type transports. All the types mentioned have been Maritime Commission designs and although ships of private design
were built during the War the Commission bore the major part of the effort.
Above: A British 'Ocean' class tanker of 12,000 dwt disguised as a tramp ship with
a dummy funnel amidships and extra masts and derrick posts.
OTHER BRITISH DESIGNS:
The tramp ships built in British, American and Canadian yards have already been mentioned but the British
merchant fleet was also supplemented by Liberty ships which America offered to us on lend-lease terms. Altogether,
from December 1942 to Spring 1945, 177 were turned over to Britain at the charter rate of $1 a year. Their names
were prefixed 'Sam' (SAMOVAR, SAMLOUIS, SAMVALE etc.) but the notion that this was a tribute to our western allies
is not entirely correct. The Ministry of War Tranport gave them this nomenclature which apparently stood
for 'Superstructure Aft of Midships' (very inspiring!)
The vessels were all returned to the USA after the war but the British Government was allowed to bid for
some. The Russians also received Liberties under lease-lend but only managed to return one half of one ship (the other
half was lost!).
Britain produced a number of standard tanker designs throughout the war. In the early years it was
the 12,000 dwt 'Ocean' type based on a pre-war 'Shell' design - 34 were built between 1941 and 1942. These were superceded
by the slightly larger (14,550 dwt) 'Norwegian' type and 39 of these delivered between 1941 and the end of the war.
A common British practice was to disguise tankers as tramps by placing a dummy funnel amidships and erecting extra masts and
The most significent of the smaller British tankers were the famous 'Chants' (Channel Tankers) which were
designed to assist in the build-up of forces for the Normandy Invasion - 43 were built and were based on the 'Empire F' type
Above, the German 'Hansa' type had a variety of arrangements but this is a typical example.
Principal particulars; 3,000 dwt; oa length 301 ft; speed 10 knots. Many of these were captured by the British
and given 'Empire' names.
THE GERMAN HANSA:
It must not be forgotten that Germany produced standard ships. The best known of these was the 'Hansa'
type - a small cargo vessel of 3,000 dwt. Over 60 of these were built in Germany and some in occupied countries,
including Belgium, Denmark and Holland, although, as they weren't introduced until the later war years, many were left
uncompleted after the Armistice and remained like this for some years.
THE SCANDINAVIAN TYPE:
A three-island vessel of 4,700 dwt designed by Wm Gray & Co., Hartlepool who built
48, 1941-44. Other British yards built 14 and Canadian yards 43. Principal particulars - oa length 328 ft;
s/r engines. Note the clear wells - a feature of the 'Baltic' type timebr carrioer.
THE POST WAR SCENE:
The Allies had suffered great losses in their merchant fleets. America losta total of 570 vessels
(including 15 passenger liners, 165 Liberties and 105 tankers).
Great Britain's total was a staggering 2,426 with a total gross tonnage of 11,331,933.
Large numbers of standard ships were sold to private owners after the war. By far the largest group
was, of course, the Liberty ships which accounted for more than three quarters of the American wartime construction.
These formed the nucleus of the post-war tramping fleet of the world for more than twenty years - not bad, considering
that they were designed only to have a trading life of five years!
In the fifties many Liberties were converted in what was called a 'Liberty ship Conversion and Engine Improvement
Programme'. Many in commercial service were lengthened and had an extra hatch added forward making them far more useful.
The vessels that were completed as tankers during the war (ET-2) type were particularly suited to this.
A vast number of Maritime Commission vessels were put into the National Defense Reserve Fleet and,
in 1950, the functions of the Maritime Commission were assumed by the United States Department of Commerce. The
controlling body became known as the Maritime Administration. Even into the seventies the Dept. of Commerce still had
some wartime standards in reserve although the vast majority of them had been scrapped before then.
Above, the most numerous of the C1 variants - the C1-B. Sales of the C type ships after
the war were mainly restricted to U.S. owners. This is one of many operated by Lykes Lines until recent years.
U.S. MARITIME COMMISSION DESIGNATIONS:
Throughout this article the official Commission class names, such as 'C1', 'EC2',
'T2' etc. have been referred to. The system is based on three groups of letters and numbers which give an outline
of the characteristics of the vessel.
'C2-S-AJ1' is a typical example. The first group, 'C2' gives the basic type of vessel ('C' for cargo
in this case) and the figure indicates the waterline length ('1' - less than 400 ft, '2' - 400 to 450 ft, '3'
- 450 to 500 ft, '4' - over 500 ft).
The second group is the type of machinery and the number of screws. 'S' shows that it is a single-screw
steamship. A twin-screw steamship would be 'ST', and so on. As the first group only tells us the basic type
('C' - Cargo, 'T' - tanker, 'P' - passenger etc.) a third group is added which fixes it as a particular design.
This group has firstly a design letter (in an alphabetical system starting 'A', then 'B' and so on until 'AZ' after which
a 'B' series is started) and, secondly, a number which indicates the particular arrangement of that design.
In the above example 'AJ' is the actual design '1' shows that it is the original arrangement of that design.
In 1950 the system was changed and the basic designs became figures rather than numbers and the modifications
were indicated by a letter after the number, i.e. '1a', '1b' etc, as in C4-S-1a.
The two big building programmes of the War, the Liberties and Victories had the prefixes 'E' and 'V'
respectively ('E' for Emergency, 'V' for Victory) added to the first group.
Above, a C3 cargo liner in peacetime (despite military aircraft on deck). This
was one of the many taken over by the Istmian Lines and given names with the prefix 'Steel'.
The above article is courtesy of
SHIPS MONTHLY, June 1976 edition wherein David Greenman describes the Standard Design Merchant Ships of the Second World War.
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