Liberty Ship or Victory Ship?

Built through the Second World War (1941-45) in 18 different shipyards, the Liberty Ship was a quickly assembled, relatively cheap, austere cargo ship. At a top speed of 11 knots, they were slow running, with an obsolete 19th century vintage reciprocating triple expansion (3 cylinder) 2500 hp steam engine directly driving the sinle propeller shaft. Two watertube boilers supplied steam to the engines as well as steam powered cargo winches and steering apparatus.

Unfortunately, the ships had problems with hull fractures and welding cracks.

The need for a faster, safer transport vessel was onvious. Cargo ships with modern steam turbines that could outrun U-boats were designed but the first one was not completed until February 1944. This was the Victory Ship.

Here is how to tell the difference:

And here is a comparison of the ships' specifications:

Victory ships were built in five different basic configurations:

Cross section profile of Liberty Ship (EC2-C1) SS Jeremiah O'Brien.

Cross section of a typical Victory class (VC2-S-AP2 & VC2-S-AP3) cargo ship.

Liberty Ship SS John W. Brown (left) is a museum ship at Baltimore.
At right
SS American Victory at Tampa.

This short announcement in the December 1943 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine heralds the then new Victory class vessels about to begin mass production. As production increased at West Coast and Maryland shipyards construction time decreased to 5-8 weeks and dockside "fitting out" before delivery in 3-5 weeks per ship.

Two water tube boilers furnished steam to the high and low pressure propulsion turbines. These drove the propeller shaft through a double reduction gearbox. A pair of steam powered turbo generators furnished 120 and 240 volt ship's service DC power. Cargo and lifeboat winches were electrically powered. The hydraulic steering was similar to that on Liberty Ships, but utilized elecro-hydraulic rams to move the rudder rather than steam operated pistons.

Sea trials proved that the new class of cargo ships were faster than expected. Cruising at up to 17 knots, only two were lost to enemy submarines during WWII, partly because of the decrease in sub activity late in the war.

  • A list of all Liberty Ships built during World War II is available on the web.
  • Comprehensive records of Victory Ship construction, service history and final fate are also on the web.
  • Also, a sheer plan of a typical Victory hull can be seen here.

Today, just three Victory Ships remain afloat, all museum ships, open to the public.

The three survivors were probably the best cared for, surely the best preserved of the mothball fleet. All are VC2-S-AP2 (6000 hp) models, maintained since the 1990s by volunteers and sustained through public financial contributions. All were veterans of the last months of WW II as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars, operated by various US steamship companies.

The best known of these is Lane Victory, located at the port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California. Lane Victory, launched in 1945 by California Shipbuilding at Terminal Island. It has been maintained and operated by volunteers since 1990.

Also built at California Shipbuilding in 1945, American Victory now welcomes visitors at a pier in Tampa, Florida.

Red Oak Victory is located in Richmond, California near where it was built by in 1944 at the Permanente Metals (Kaiser) shipyard.

Many Victory ships went to war through the Korea and Vietnam years but became too expensive to operate in commercial (boom ship) service. Cargo containerization made them obsolete during the 1960s. Vessels that were not scrapped or sold went off to the "reserve fleet". Those that were converted for special missions by the US military survived for far longer than anyone might have suspected.

Some examples:

Michelson (TAGS-23) was taken out of service in 1975. Sister survey ships Bowditch (TAGS-21) and Dutton (TAGS-22), both Victory hulls, operated until 1987 and 1989 respectively. Dutton is reported to have steamed 2.4 million miles during its service life.

USNS Range Sentinel, a missle range tracking vessel, was originally USS Sherburne APA-205, built in 1944 as Victory class hull type VC2-S-AP5. It was in service until 1974.

USNS Kingsport, a satellite communications ship and later a survey vessel operated until 1984. It was originally SS Kingsport Victory, a VC2-S-AP3 vessel, launched in 1944.

Technical research ship USS Liberty was a modified Victory VC2-S-AP3 hull, originally built as SS Simmons Victory in 1945. This was the intelligence gathering ship attacked and nearly sunk by Israeli forces during the six day war in 1967, with 34 American sailors killed and 171 wounded.