Liberty's Provenance...


...the Evolution of the Liberty Ship from its Sunderland Origins, from Seaforth Publishing


Title: Liberty's Provenance

Author: John Henshaw

Publisher: Seaforth Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-5267-5063-1


This new landscape format hardback from Seaforth is an excellent addition to your bookshelf.  For anyone with an interest in the history of WW2, the Liberty Ship must be a familiar name.  It was built in answer to the need for providing merchant vessels to help the YUK in particular to survive the pressure of the U-Boat War, the 'Battle of the Atlantic', and to get supplies through to the UK while not just matching, but outpacing the losses caused by U-Boat attacks. It was the same problem that Britain had endured in WW1. The opening chapters provide the background of how standardised ships were developed in WW1, but not until quite late in the war. The USA had similar issues, in that the US merchant fleet at that time was relatively small. Times were set to change.  One of the chapters I found quite staggering was the development of Hog Island and the huge size of the shipyards that were built there.

When the same problem arose in WW2, a Merchant Shipping Commission was sent from the UK to the USA to look for someone who could build ships for Britain, and it included a representative from the Sunderland based ship building firm of Joseph I. Thompson & Sons Ltd, who had some existing ship designs they needed building.  Finding a builder which was not already tied up with US oders wasn't easy, but they finally got Henry J. Kaiser to build 60 'Ocean Class' vessels. It made good use of prefabricated parts, brought together in the slipways, when hulls were rivetted or welded together.

The book goes on to detail the development of the Liberty ship by Kaisers and a US design firm, but where the author clearly shows that despite many changes, the basic hull design clearly shows a heritage from the Thompson design. It goes on to detail the Forts, Parks and Victories. The Liberty ship was built in large numbers, over 2700, and was not only capable to work as a general cargo carrier, but also proved adaptable to many other roles, extending beyond WW2.  The author details the many variants, including Maintenance Ships, Tankers, Catapult Aircraft Merchant Ships, Aircraft Carriers, Hospital ships and more. As well as using many archive photos, where they are available, but most are accompanied by the first class profile drawings done by the author.

Add 7 Appendices, full of supporting detail, this is a book packed with interesting detail about the Liberty ship and how it owes some clear origins in the basic hull design from the British shipbuilding firm.  Without the success and sheer numbers of Liberty ships produced by US mass production methods it could have meant a different result to the Battle of the Atlantic. The supplies were kept on flowing.  Modellers and naval historians will find this a fascinating read I am sure.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.