In 1940 Great Britain were losing transport ships in vast quantities to the German U boats and Wolf Packs roaming the seas in search for prey. Next to the German Kriegsmarine the Italian and Japanese submarines torpedoed the British Merchant fleet in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. To fill the gap the British ordered 60 of the EC2-S-C1, or Emergency Cargo ship – Steam- C1 version. Original it was of British design created by J.L. Thompson and Sons of Sunderland in 1879. The design was used in the United States of America for its simplicity, short construction time and its relative large capacity.
The First ship was the SS Patrick Henry, Launched on 27 September 1941. The construction of a Liberty Ship took about 240 days, later on, when the construction yards specialised and employees had more experience, the construction of the ships only went down to an average of 42 days. The 18 shipyards on the produced 3 ships a day in 1943.
The short construction time had a drawback, the quality of the ships was lower than usual, the constructors preferred quantity over quality. There were nearly 1500 reports of brittle fractures. More than 10 ships broke in half and sank without warning.
The liberty Ship was 135 meter long and 17,3 meter wide and had a speed of 11 – 11,5 knots which stand for 20 – 21 km/h and had a reach of 23.000 miles – 37.000 km. It could carry 2840 jeeps, 440 tanks, 230 million rounds of riffle ammo or were converted for troop transport. The ships had some anti aircraft guns and a 102mm deck gun, or other type, as armament against enemy submarines.
A handful liberty ships survive today, few are converted to a museum. One of these ships is the SS Jeremiah O’Brien in San Francisco in California. The SS Jeremiah O’Brien was built in June 1943 in South Portland. She made seven World War Two voyages to India, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland and she crossed the English Channel 11 times during the assault on Normandy in support for D-Day on the 6th of June 1944.
Just in Front of the Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’ Brien lies the USS Pampanito the SS-383 a Balao class submarine. She is named after the Pompano fish. The Balao class is with 120 submarines the most successful design of the United States Navy durin World War Two. The class was in production from 1942 until 1945. The USS Pampanito laid down her keel on November the 6th in 1943 and sailed off to Pearl Harbor. She sailed six war patrols in the Pacific on which she sank 6 ships and damaged 4. On her third war patrol she unknowingly sank the Kachidoki which was transporting 900 British prisoners of war. Pampanito picked up 73 surviors and called in three other vessels to assist.
After World War Two she returned to San Francisco were she was off and on in service until December 1971.
Like the SS Jeremiah O’Brien she is a museum ship to be seen on Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf.