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The Victory Ships

A handful of the World War II successors to the Liberty ships survive today


The Liberty ships, 2,710 of which were built in a feat of mass production never equaled before or since, powered the Allied war effort during World War II, and gained rightful fame for their achievements.

Derived from an existing design and adapted for rapid, mass production, they were considered “good enough” for the massive task at hand. However, they were slow and subject to hull cracking and fractures, especially in the extreme cold of the North Atlantic.

Their successor was the Victory ship.


What is a Victory Ship?

A Victory ship is a specific type of merchant cargo ship built for the U.S. Maritime Commission (USMC) in World War II along with C-class vessels, N-3 concrete ships, tankers, and the ubiquitous Liberty ships. In mid-1942, the Maritime Commission realized that a faster, more modern cargo ship was needed to follow the slow (11 knots) Liberty ships that carried the lion’s share of World War II cargo.

Victory ships

Victory cargo ships are lined up at a U.S. west coast shipyard for final outfitting before they are loaded with wartime cargo. National Archives photo

The VC2-S-AP was the result (i.e. V=Victory; C=Cargo; 2=waterline length of 400-449 feet; S=Steam; and AP=hull design). The new Victory ship was a full-bodied, single-screw 15-knot vessel with a raised forecastle. It could be mass-produced in shipyards that were already building Liberty ships. Two west coast yards were laid out especially for Victory construction. There were a number of ship sub-groups numbered 1 to 7 after the AP designation. These numbers indicated the type of engine and the horsepower (hp). Most Victory ships were AP2s (6,000 hp) or AP3s (8,500 hp). Some were modified during construction as naval attack transports. Between 1944 and 1946, a total of 534 Victory ships was completed.

The first Victory ship was christened the United Victory. She was launched Feb. 28, 1944 by the Oregon Shipbuilding Company in Portland, Oregon. The next 34 hulls were named for Allied nations. Then came 218 Victory ships named for cities and town in the United States. The next 150 were named after U.S. colleges and universities. The remainder had miscellaneous names.

Victory ships were capable of transporting the same cargo loads as Liberty ships, but were 60 percent faster, with seven sets of cargo gear mounted on five hatches. Liberty ships had five sets of cargo gear mounted on five hatches. The Victories were built better than the 2,750 Liberties and had angle iron “crack arresters” in vital places to prevent the unfortunate fractures that sometimes occurred in Liberty ships in rough seas. The raised forecastle also made the Victories more seaworthy, and helped to keep large waves from breaking over the well deck. Victories were stronger and faster both in speed and ability to load and unload cargo.

USS Rockbridge (APA 228)

USS Rockbridge (APA 228), one of several Victory-class ships modified as attack transports for the U.S. Navy.

Victory ships were ideal for getting critical cargoes, especially ammunition, across the wide Pacific in the closing months of World War II. But they paid a price. Three ammunition-carrying Victory ships – the Logan, the Hobbs, and the Canada, were hit by kamikaze planes during the Okinawa campaign and were total losses, with no survivors.

Victory ships were also important to the United States in the post-war years. Many brought food and machinery to war-torn Europe, Russia and the Near East under the UNRRA and the Marshall Plan. Some were converted for special U.S. government use such as radar ships, missile trackers, ballistic missile transports, intelligence gatherers, satellite communication ships, etc. Some were sold to foreign countries and others were laid up in the reserve fleets.

Today only three Victory ships remain as museum ships. SS American Victory, berthed in Tampa, Florida, actually sets out on short cruises during the year. Visitors to the American Victory History Museum and Ship are able to board the fully-functioning 1940s era Victory ship and relive history by visiting the cavernous three level cargo holds, radio and gyro rooms, the ship’s hospital, galley, weaponry, steering stations, flying bridge, signaling equipment, wheelhouse, mess halls, engine room, crew cabins, lifeboats and cargo equipment, and see photographs, uniforms, medals, documents and naval equipment. The museum and ship operate as a non-profit 501(C)3 organization, and rely exclusively on outside funding for artifact procurement, exhibits, maintenance, youth educational programs, docent training and training for police officers, fire fighters, working dogs and the FBI. Managed by an all volunteer staff, donations keep this piece of American history alive. Your donation, no matter the size, is greatly appreciated and will be used effectively and appropriately. Click the “donate” button to help this marvelous ship achieve her next victory. If nothing else, be sure to follow the SS American Victory on Facebook to see where her latest journey takes her, and keep an eye out on our continuing series that will honor the Victory ships, Merchant Marine, and U.S. Naval Armed Guard.


Victory Ship Particulars

Length overall: 455 feet, 3 inches

Length between perpendiculars: 439 feet, 10 inches

Beam: 62 feet

Depth (between keel and main deck): 38 feet

Load draft – summer (hull underwater): 28 feet

Gross registered tons: 7,612 (Volume measure of all enclosed spaces: 100 cubic feet = 1 ton)

Net registered tons: 4,555 (Volume measure of all enclosed cargo spaces)

Deadweight tons: 10,750 (Cargo carrying capacity of the ship by weight)

Displacement tons: 15,200 (Total weight of the ship equal to weight of water displaced by hull)

Cruising range: 23,500 miles

Propeller diameter: 18 feet, 3 inches

Construction cost (1945 dollars): $2.5 million

Construction cost (Today’s dollars): $40 million

Armament (World War II): One 5-inch, 38-caliber gun aft; one 3-inch, 50-caliber gun forward; 8 20mm AA guns

Crew (World War II): 62 Merchant Mariners and U.S. Navy Armed Guard officers and men.

Crew (Post-war, Korea, Vietnam): Approximately 35.

This article was adapted from SS American Victory: Mariners Memorial & Museum Ship, by Charles M. Fuss, Jr., and is used by permission.