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The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O’Brien

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The Liberty Ships of World War II: A Record of the 2,710 Vessels and Their Builders, Operators and Namesakes, with a History of the Jeremiah O’Brien

By Greg H. Williams
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland $ Company, 2014
6-3/4” x 10”, softcover, 364 pages
Photographs, glossary, bibliography, index. $75.00
ISBN: 9780786479450

 

 

Although these vessels lacked any of the glamor of the fighting warships, tanks, and warplanes mass-produced in World War II, without the Liberty ships, arguably, the Allies could never have won. Yards on all coasts of the United States built these 2,710 ships faster than German U-boats could sink Allied merchant shipping, thus maintaining the oceanic pipelines of supply and enabling offensive operations in Europe and the Pacific.

 

Despite their importance, not much has been written about these ships. Frederic Chapin Lane’s 1951 Ships for Victory covers the entire story of the Maritime Commission’s production program and Peter Elphick’s 2006 Liberty: The Ships That Won the War is full of first-hand accounts. The “bible” on the subject since its publication in1970 has been The Liberty Ships, by L.A. Sawyer and W.H. Mitchell. This listed all the ships by the yards that produced them, briefly described the shipyards, and provided short accounts of each vessel’s career.

 

Greg Williams’s new book succeeds in improving upon The Liberty Ships. The first three of its six parts contain essentially the same information as the 1970 book brought up-to-date to incorporate new information and research over the past forty-five years. In particular, it includes much more complete information on the ships’ post-war
careers—large numbers were still in service in 1970 but now there are none still working (three are museum ships).
The book’s other three parts provide substantial new information. Parts V and VI are devoted to the surviving Liberty ship Jeremiah O’Brien, which is preserved as a museum ship based in San Francisco. These sections cover the ship’s career in detail and provide a detailed account of its restoration and subsequent voyages as a museum ship.

 

Part IV will probably be of most interest to researchers, historians, and students of the Merchant Marine, since it lists all the general agents that operated the Liberty ships on behalf of the Maritime Commission during World War II. Williams provides short “biographies” of each of these agents, some of which had been in business since the early 1800s.
Overall, the 364 pages of The Liberty Ships of World War II are packed with information, much of it new. Williams (and his publisher) waste little space on literary flourishes; this is a solid reference book and well worth its price.

 

Michael O’Brien
Tampa, Florida

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