The SS Edward Bellamy was a Liberty ship that was launched on April 14, 1943. How was this type of vessel used to support the war effort?
During World War II, ships were the primary means of transporting military supplies and personnel around the world. As the United States’ involvement in the war increased, so, too, did the production of the ships needed to effectively move resources. The Maritime Commission was in charge of the program to build merchant ships, and emergency shipyards opened on both coasts to supplement the shipyards that were already in operation. Of the 5,570 ships that were built under this program between 1941 and 1945, just over 2,700 were Liberty ships.
Constructed from a British design, these ships were not exceptionally fast, and they had some structural weaknesses. However, they could be produced more quickly than other types of ships, making use of time-saving measures such as assembly lines, prefabricated parts, and welded rather than riveted seams. While the earliest Liberty ships took over 200 days to build, production became more efficient and by the end of 1943, the average time to complete a ship was down to 42 days. Despite this efficiency, however, as the war progressed, focus shifted toward the production of other types of ships that would better meet the needs of the U.S. military.
The ships were used to carry a variety of wartime cargo: troops, the sick and wounded, prisoners of war, tanks, airplanes, oil, and water. Some were also used as repair ships. As troop transports, some ships were set up to carry 350 to 550 passengers. 33 Liberty ships, which covered comparatively short routes to Alaska, Hawaii, and the Caribbean, were equipped to carry up to 1,600 men.1 Liberty ships were often named after individuals, such as historical figures, writers, politicians, and inventors. Most of these were white men, but there were also ships named after Julia Ward Howe, Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, and Booker T. Washington, among others.2
The SS Edward Bellamy was a dry cargo ship that was built quickly; its keel was laid by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation3 on March 26, 1943—what would have been Bellamy’s 93rd birthday—and it was launched 19 days later on April 14.4 The Bellamy family was initially unaware of this honor. In July of that year, Jewell R. Dean, a colleague of Edward’s son, Paul, at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, learned of ship’s existence. He wrote to the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation for more information, and in September he received photographs of the ship’s launch, along with information about the event’s participants.5
The fates of the Liberty ships were as varied as the cargo they carried. Of the ships that were built by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation, most survived the war, but some fell victim to torpedoes, mines, gunfire, and kamikaze attacks. Some ships were transferred to other countries after they were built, and others were sold to private entities when the war ended.6 The SS Edward Bellamy seems to have been relatively fortunate. Following its service in World War II, the ship was retained by what became the U.S. government’s Maritime Administration and used for grain storage. It was scrapped in 1970.7
- Chester Wardlow, The Transportation Corps: Responsibilities, Organization, and Operations, (Washington, D,C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1999) 154-156, 161, 300-301. https://history.army.mil/html/books/010/10-19/index.html (accessed April 23, 2022).
- “List of Liberty ships,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Liberty_ships (accessed April 24, 2022).
- Located in Portland, Oregon, this company was an emergency shipyard that was only in operation during World War II. “Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Shipbuilding_Corporation (accessed April 23, 2022).
- “Oregon Shipbuilding, Portland, OR,” Shipbuilding History, https://shipbuildinghistory.com/shipyards/emergencylarge/koregon.htm (accessed April 23, 2022).
- J.R. Dean to Mr. [Paul] Bellamy, July 27, ; Hal Babbitt, Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation to Jewell R. Dean, Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 6, 1943.
- “Oregon Shipbuilding, Portland, OR,” Shipbuilding History.
- “Edward Bellamy,” Maritime Administration, https://vesselhistory.marad.dot.gov/ShipHistory/Detail/1335 (accessed April 23, 2022).