Liberty Fleet Day

US #939 pictures a Liberty Ship unloading cargo. Click image to order.

On September 27, 1941, the first 14 “Emergency” Liberty Ships were launched in what was dubbed Liberty Fleet Day.

The American Merchant Marine Act was passed in 1936, granting funding for 50 commercial merchant vessels that could be used by the US Navy in the event of a war.  That number doubled in 1939 and again in 1940. 

US #939 – Plate Block First Day Cover. Click image to order.

In late 1940, the British Merchant Navy was suffering from the Battle of the Atlantic, in which German U-Boats were sinking their ships faster than they could be built.  The British then requested aid from the US, to build 60 Ocean-class freighters to replace the lost ships and help their merchant fleet.  Following the creation of the Lend-Lease program, the number of ships requested was raised to 306 in April 1941. 

US #4550 from the 2001 Merchant Marine issue. Click image to order. 

The ships were plain and unattractive, which made them unpopular with the public.  When he first announced the emergency shipbuilding program, President Franklin Roosevelt called the ship “a dreadful looking object,” and Time magazine called it an “Ugly Duckling.”  To help gain greater support for the ships, the Maritime Commission organized Liberty Fleet Day for September 27, 1941. 

US #4550 – Fleetwood First Day Cover. Click image to order.

On that day, the first 14 Liberty Ships were launched from shipyards around the country.  The first ship, the SS Patrick Henry, was launched from the Bethlehem Steel Yard, in Baltimore, Maryland.  President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a speech at the launch that stated, in part:

US #2559h – The Patrick Henry was launched on September 27, though the ship’s fitting wasn’t completed until December 30. Click image to order.

“The ship workers of America are doing a great job.  They have made a commendable record for efficiency and speed.  With every new ship, they are striking a telling blow at the menace to our nation and the liberty of the free peoples of the world.  They struck fourteen such blows today.  They have caught the true spirit with which all this nation must be imbued if Hitler and other aggressors of his ilk are to be prevented from crushing us.”

US #1052 from the Liberty Series. Click image to order.

“The Patrick Henry, as one of the Liberty ships launched today renews that great patriot’s stirring demand: ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’  There shall be no death for America, for democracy, for freedom!  There must be liberty, worldwide and eternal.  That is our prayer—our pledge to all mankind.”

The ships generally had five cargo holds, which could carry 10,200 tons.  Each ship had a crew of about 40 sailors and a 4-inch deck gun.  Later ships had additional anti-aircraft defenses added. 

Initially, these Liberty Ships were built to replace British transports and cargo ships.  A total of 18 American shipyards helped built 2,710 Liberty Ships between 1941 and 1945.  Altogether, they averaged three ships every two days, though each ship took about 42 days to build. 

US #2559 – Silk Cachet First Day Cover. Click image to order.

Liberty ships served with distinction throughout the war.  Many were manned by the US Merchant Marine and claimed several victories of German U-Boats.  Though the ships were only intended to last five years, some remained in use into the 1970s.  And many of the techniques used to build these ships are still used today.

Item #M10935 includes a stamp honoring Liberty Ships. Click image to order.

Click here to read FDRs full Liberty Fleet Day Speech

Click here for lots more neat info about Liberty Ships.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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6 responses to "Liberty Fleet Day"

6 thoughts on “Liberty Fleet Day”

  1. The Liberty ships were a welcome relief in 1941. Canada had done the job of supplying Britain at the outbreak of war in 1939 with food and supplies and after two years of dangerous often fatal missions, welcomed the help from America to keep Britain going. Nazi U boats were a menace to both Canada and USA. At one point Canada was losing one in three ships that fed Britain from Canada.

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  2. Another unbeknownst (to me) vital part of American History that shows the help USA gave its allies during trying times. Thank you Mystic Stamp for reminding me what the USA stood for in years past in these new trying times.

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  3. The Merchant Marine Liberty ships also supplied Stalin and the Soviet Union with many war supplies. In appreciation Stalin awarded medals to many of the American seamen. The Russian people made a huge sacrifice in defeating the Nazis. Unfortunately, their leader was a tyrant and many innocent Russians and others died in the Stalin gulags .

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  4. As a new Ensign USNR in WW2, I was assigned as Communications Officer on the SS Bernard Carter . I was part of the Navy Armed Guard which included 2 Navy Gunnery Officers and Navy enlisted men for the guns and signal & radio men for the communications.The rest of he ship was manned my Maritime officers and men. Our Liberty ship was also equipped to carry troops. On its last trip (in convoy) across the Atlantic in April 1945, we arrived in the English channel the day Germany surrendered. After several week delay without unloading the cargo (tanks, trucks, supplies) we crossed the channel to Le Havre and picked up several dozen former POWs who had the priority for getting home, and we (alone, no more convoys) ended up in Boston, where I was transferred to another Liberty ship in the Eniwetol Atoll in the Pacific, but this time an all Navy ship, USS Grumium (I’ve forgotten its Maretime name), a supp;y ship for our carriers. I arrived on board in July just as Japan surrendered. We later learned we had been scheduled to be part of the invasion of Japan itself that November 1945.

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