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Sealift Capability: WWII Liberty Ships to Today’s State-of-the-Art

SS Patrick Henry, the first of more than 2,700 Liberty Ships, shortly after her launch Sept. 27, 1941 at Baltimore, Md. It took 244 days to build the first Liberty Ship, but that was later reduced to 42 days per ship by the middle of World War II. Photo courtesy of Archives.gov
SS Patrick Henry, the first of more than 2,700 Liberty Ships, shortly after her launch Sept. 27, 1941 at Baltimore, Md. It took 244 days to build the first Liberty Ship, but that was later reduced to 42 days per ship by the middle of World War II. Photo courtesy of Archives.gov

 

By Jeff Connolly, Sealift Director, Military Sealift Command

 On this day in 1941, SS Patrick Henry – the first U.S. Liberty ship – was launched at Baltimore, Md. Ultimately, the United States built more than 2,700 of these cargo ships between 1941 and 1945 to carry critical materiel during World War II. It is no exaggeration to say that this ship class and its merchant mariner crews literally carried America’s wartime fortunes to distant shores.

 Liberty ships like Patrick Henry represent a proud tradition of maritime delivery, and that tradition of timely sealift is alive and well today.

 The current Sealift Program – managed by Military Sealift Command – includes a mix of 23 government-owned and long-term-chartered dry cargo ships and tankers, as well as short-term or voyage-chartered ships that are contracted for specific missions.

 Sealift missions carry cargo and fuel all over the globe year round. By DOD policy, Military Sealift Command must charter U.S.-flagged merchant ships first, using Navy ships only when necessary. A chartered dry cargo ship and tanker, for example, keep remote outposts in Antarctica and Greenland fully stocked every year during Operation Deep Freeze and Pacer Goose.

 Sealift ships are also immensely useful platforms for training exercises that prepare our nation for a variety of contingencies. Earlier this year, USNS Mendonca served as a key platform during U.S. Transportation Command’s Turbo Challenge 14 exercise in Alaska. The exercise helped local authorities, Alaska’s National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency practice for an earthquake disaster scenario. 

 In time of hostilities, of course, the Sealift Program truly shows its mettle and capabilities for our military and our nation – platforms truly do matter.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, for example, MSC transported more than 50 million barrels of petroleum products and more than 16 million metric tons of equipment.

 Just last fiscal year, Sealift ships delivered more than 1.5 million square feet of cargo and nearly 31 million barrels of petroleum products worldwide. Much like SS Patrick Henry and the World War II Liberty ships, modern sealift vessels are the steel bridge providing the cargo and equipment our military needs to maintain its global presence and fulfill its mission.