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Wartime Shipbuilding

Even as the U.S. Maritime Commission’s Liberty shipbuilding program got into full swing, the agency was also designing and building more types of ships as part of the emergency program. Many of these ships were built for wartime use, designed with materials shortages in mind.  The Commission was competing with not only the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding program, but also with other wartime industries and was often unable to secure the necessary plate steel and turbine reduction gears necessary for its pre-war designs.  Instead, the Commission often turned to unique designs and materials in order to fulfill its obligations.

Despite its expanding portfolio of vessel designs, and even as it was launching dozens of Liberty ships per month, by late 1942 the Commission had begun to plan a successor to the Liberty ship. Complaints about the design, and especially its slow operational speed of 11 knots, were mounting; Liberty ships could not outrun enemy submarines and also slowed down faster ships in convoys.

In 1943, the U.S. Maritime Commission began designing a faster and slightly larger replacement for the Liberty ship; a standardized vessel that could not only perform better in wartime conditions, but could also be commercially useful after the war. Those vessels, later christened Victory ships, were completed by Commission-contracted shipyards by early 1944 and slowly eclipsed Liberty ships in the shipbuilding slipways.  The Victory ships were so successful that the Maritime Commission continued to build them through the end of the war and the Alcoa Steamship Company even bought and constructed three unfinished Victories in 1946.