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Army Transport Service

The U.S. Army had the largest fleet of vessels of any organization during World War II.

WWII - Transportation Crest - mariner's wheel superimposed by a red shield,superimposed with a winged wheel, resting on a black line representing a road. with

    Just prior to World War II and early in the war, the US Army's Quartermaster Corps vessels were organized into two different components.  The Army Transport Service (ATS) manned the ocean-going transports and cargo vessels.   The Harbor Boat Service (HBS) manned harbor tugs and other watercraft.

    After the Transportation Corps assumed the water transport role for the Army (31 July 1942), the ATS and HBS were absorbed into one organization - the Transportation Corps - Water Division.  However, the term "ATS" was used throughout the war years to refer to this new Water Division.

    With few exceptions, civilian mariners were contracted by the Army to man the larger tonnage ships.  Smaller craft were manned by Army and Coast Guard crews and a few civilian crews.

    The ATS operated the Army-owned vessels in close cooperation with the Navy and War Shipping Administration.

    Terminal watercraft included tugboats, launches, and barges, and supported the operation of military ports and terminals both in the U.S. and overseas - a responsibility not shared with the Navy.

The Liberty Ship

    With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the EC2 program (E for Emergency, C for Cargo, 2 for Large Capacity) was quickly implemented to expand the US merchant fleet to meet its many needs.

    The design for the EC2 was based on an 1879 British tramp steamer.   Critics called the EC2 the "ugly duckling."  President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to them as "dreadful looking objects."

    The reality of war meant that ships had to be built quickly, cheaply, and simply.  Much of the construction was pre-fabricated in large sections that were lifted into place.  The EC2's were considered expendable and not expected to last beyond five years.

      If one judges the Libertys by performance, rather than looks, the Liberty's design exceeded every expectation (not bad for an "emergency, temporary, expendable" fix).

    Over 2700 Liberty ships were constructed between 1941 - 1945.  During the war, the Libertys served in a number of capacities, under many different flags, and in all corners of the world.

    The Liberty ship, along with the smaller shallow draft FS ship (Freight Supply), the T-2 Tanker, and the later war Victory class ship, were key to the maritime supply effort for Allied forces during World War II.



hull of Liberty ship being lowered into position

Above, a hull is ready for it's first inner-floor section, which will carry heavy cargo into the hold.

stern being welded

Above, the stern of a Liberty ship is eased into place by cranes, to be welded to the
rest of the vessel.

one of first complete Liberty ships

    The "Liberty" ship was a nickname given to the EC2 ships by Admiral Emory Scott Land, head of the United States Maritime Commission.  The Commission's responsibility was to oversee the expansion of the merchant fleet. 

    The first 200 ships ordered were referred to as the "Liberty Fleet."   September 27, 1941, the day of the first launchings, was declared "Liberty Day."  The program was to be a cornerstone in President Roosevelt's "great bridge of ships."

launching of 150th Liberty ship

A photo just after launching the Liberty ship in the background, workers in Los Angeles clear the way for keel number 150.  Yards around the country competed to find ways to cut corners, with awards and bonuses given to workers for time-saving ideas.

liberty ship being loaded in Brooklyn, NY

 Above, the Liberty ship, Betty Zane, in Brooklyn, NY
being loaded by a commercial barge, 8 April 1943.

    To the right, loading even the decks of the Liberty ships was necessary in the great push to support the war on two fronts.  Brooklyn Army Base, New York, 1943.

showing decks on ships getting loaded

loading a liberty ship from dock and lighters

    Left, a Liberty ship loading cargo from the pier and from lighters alongside.


At yards all over the country, 1.5 million workers learned to rivet and weld prefabricated components.  The workday was divided up into three 8-hour shifts.

3 female welders, WWII
The Battle of the Atlantic,
World War II Time-Life Books, 1980

Above, two ex-waitresses and a former seamstress set a shipbuilding record.  They welded more plate steel than most of the men who worked at their California yard.

workers lining up to clock out

Above, workers at Kaiser's Oregon yard line up to punch out.


     The first two new shipyards established by the U.S. Maritime Commission in 1941 were the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation in Portland, Oregon, and Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, Incorporated in Baltimore, Maryland.

    The first ships were contracted on 14 March 1941, and by 1945, 3140 Libertys in five different versions had been ordered.  Eventually 18 shipyards completed construction on 2710 Libertys.

near completion of hull in Oregon yard

   Above, minus its bow, a hull nears completion in the Oregon yard.  The largest cranes ever built (background) hoisted the massive prefabricated units into place.

end of construciton -- it took 10 days to build  a ship


deckhouse sections

Above, one of four deckhouse sections, complete with wiring, furniture and fixtures arrive by rail.

Mass Production 

    Henry J. Kaiser of the Oregon yard, became a master of mass-production.  He had previously completed construction of Hoover, Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams ahead of schedule, but had never before built a ship.

    Kaiser's theories on mass-production created some mirth among conventional shipbuilders, but he continually reduced delivery times.  His 75th ship, the JOSEPH N. TEAL, was completed in 10 days after the keel laying.

floor sections in preparation for loading/welding

Above, prefabricated inner-floor sections to go into hull bottoms, are stacked four deep, ready to go.

bulkhead being lowered

Above, a massive bulkhead is lowered by a crane into a ribbed hull while welders wait in the bilges, ready to secure it.

using umbrellas to provide some shade

     Above, beach umbrellas shade welders on stove-hot steel decks on a Liberty ship in the summer.  In spite of occasional scorching days, most of the California shipyards offered balmy weather throughout most of the year.

jull ribs receive attention

Here, welders fix ribs of an inner-floor section before adding the steel sheathing.  These 40-ton sections were assembled only a few feet from the ways.


The most common limiting factor in U.S. Army logistics has always been

 transportation.  The Transportation Corps influenced the changing

character of war more than any other service branch.

During the world war, the Transportation Corps transported 7,290,000 passengers, of which 94% were Army personnel, to overseas destinations.  And it shipped 126,787,875 tons of cargo to some 330 destinations worldwide in 5,280 ocean-going vessels.


line drawing of lliberty ship


specifications on vessel


line diagram of decks


    The basic Liberty ship was originally intended to have a crew of 45, but this was later increased to include gun crews up to 36, making a crew total of 81.

    Later the figure was amended, increasing the ships crew to 52 and reducing the gun crews to 29.

    The cargo gear included 5-ton booms for each hold and a 50-ton boom at No. 2 hold and a 15 or 30-ton boom at No. 4. 

    Amidships on the boat deck, were four steel lifeboats each 24 ft long with a capacity of 25 persons.


color drawing of life below decks

Life in the Transport Hold, Nathan Glick, Ink and Watercolor, 1943

Center for Military History Army Art Collection

line drawing of decks


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