Liberty ships after the war

Ion Livas expands on the history

Authored by: Ion Livas B.Sc., Naval Architect & Marine Engineer, M.SNAME., 2008

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Open letter to Gus Bourneuf Jr., author of the: "Workhorse of the Fleet" a History of the Liberty Ship.

Dear Gus,

I enjoyed reading the "Workhorse of the Fleet", as I was very closely related to the Liberty Ship in the 50's and the 60's.

There is still an untold story though about the Liberty Ship, that should not be forgotten. Of the 1,200 or so Liberties sold to the Merchant Marine, there were 54 that were lengthened by 55 feet, in the 1950s and 1960s, by the addition of a fourth hold forward of the Bridge. Of these, 24 were under US Flag and the remaining 30, mostly Greek owned, under Liberian and Panamanian Flags.

The Liberty ship was built as a flush-decker, without a Fo'csle, an enclosed Bridge or an enclosed Poop, thus 'living' with the flush-decker freeboard penalty even after she was lengthened. This very closely guarded 'secret' was kept until 1963. It was only revealed when Des Mann thought of putting a Fo'csle on a Lengthened Liberty Ship. This would remove the flush-decker freeboard penalty and allow the ship to carry 800 tons more cargo.

When Des Mann showed me the quotation he got from a Japanese Yard, for my comments, it came to me like a flash. Why put an expensive Fo'csle on the ship, with all that that entailed; relocating the windlass, extending the piping, raising the chain locker etc? Why not enclose the Bridge instead?

According to the Load Line Regulations, as the Bridge was in excess of 15% of the LBP of the ship, there would be no flush-decker freeboard penalty with an enclosed Bridge. There would also be a small but not insignificant Superstructure related freeboard reduction. The ship would now have an increased draft that would permit an additional 800 tons of cargo to be carried. Furthermore the cost would be minuscule compared to the $150,000 that had been quoted for the addition of a Fo'csle by the Japanese.

I walked over to ABS in New York and proposed my idea to Bannerman and Bill Hannan. They both confirmed that enclosing the Bridge of the Lengthened Liberty ship was acceptable. "Bring us a drawing showing your proposal and an I/Y calculation," they said. ABS gave the approval, the very same day I presented my plans and calculations.

Des Mann had five US Flag Lengthened Liberty ships. Their Bridge Enclosure work was awarded to Todd shipyards in Galveston Texas, where Ralph Anselmi, was the Manager at the time. The six watertight doors (four fore and aft and two for access to the Accommodation ladders), plus the ten brass 'port-holes' that were needed (5 either side), were salvaged from scrapped Liberty ships.

Liberty Ship without enclosed bridge

Liberty Ship with enclosed bridge drawn in

For only $25,000 each, the ships increased their Deadweight by 800 tons, to 12,400 tons! It is worthy of note, that the freight rate for grain to India – the main business for US flag ships at the time - was then $110 per ton. Enclosing the Bridge proved to be a very profitable and cheap conversion.

The grape vine did not take long to spread the good news and in less than three months, working out of Shipdesign Inc., my New York office, I had converted the other 19 US flag ships as well, mainly at Todd's, in Galveston Texas and Portland Oregon.

The cost of Enclosing the Bridge on foreign Flag ships outside the US, was about half of the cost in a US shipyard. Even here the result was equally profitable, as the corresponding freight rate for non US flag business was $25 per ton at the time. The Bridge enclosure cost was paid off here again, during the very first loaded voyage. Shipdesign Inc. was directly involved with enclosing the Bridge of each of the 29 of the 30 non-US flag Lengthened Liberty ships, by the middle of 1964.

The most noteworthy development of the Liberty Ship Bridge Enclosure, took place when I requested ABS to approve the enclosure of the Bridge of ordinary Liberty ships as well.

I am now quoting from paragraph 2, page 56 of your book : "Workhorse of the Fleet".

"After careful study, ABS discovered that the scantlings specified were more than adequate for the design draft, which in fact could have been deeper."

There was therefore, no technical reason for ABS to turn me down. But Bannerman did. It was because of 'economic politics', he told me. "Can you imagine the potential law suits that we might have thrown at ABS, for not coming up with your idea many years ago? Owners of more than one thousand Liberties, will claim monumental lost revenues, and throw the book at us," he said.

When I get an idea that is feasible, I do not give up easily. When the US Coast Guard Admiral in Washington, to whom I had gone to try to override Bannerman, turned me down as well, I went to Bureau Veritas and John Erbie. After a couple of days, John Erbie got the OK from Paris.

My first candidate was my old school mate, Nick Pateras. He had one Liberty ship, the 'Capetan Costas'. The Bridge Enclosure work was carried out in Rijeka, in the then Yugoslavia, in May 1964. Seven days after entering the shipyard and at a cost of only $12,000, the 'Capetan Costas', now re-classed with BV, would be the first standard Liberty ship ever to top 11,600 tons Deadweight. Incidentally this was the same Deadweight as the Lengthened Liberty ship, before the Bridge was enclosed.

Apart from being a useful conversion, enclosing the Bridge, now sporting brass 'port-holes' and the flared fore and aft fashion-plates, gave the "Ugly Duckling" a touch of beauty that 'she' never had before, as is shown in the attached 'photograph' and drawing. After enclosing the bridge of the 'Capetan Costas', I went back to Bannerman, with calculations, drawings, photographs and other information, to try to persuade him to let bygones be bygones and allow the enclosure of the Bridge of ordinary Liberty ships. If BV could do it, why not ABS? But to no avail. I had still not perceived at the time, that such approval would have shown up the original design flaw that was involved.

When one thinks of it seriously though, it is surprising that someone at ABS, Gibbs & Cox or the Maritime Commission, did not come up with the simple idea of having the Bridge enclosed in the original design of the Liberty ship. Enclosing the Bridge would have increased the carrying capacity of the 2,751 Liberty Ships built, by over 2,200,000 tons – equivalent to 200 more ships for the war effort, almost for free.

With best wishes,

Ion Livas B.Sc.

Naval Architect & Marine Engineer
Author of: "THE SHIPOWNER", Editor of "THE HISTORY OF MODERN SHIPPING" Mob.: +30-6941-58-65-52, 86 Filonos St., 18536 Piraeus, Greece
Ion Livas forecast the coming of the 500,000 ton Tanker - 'Financial Times' 1957.
Sponsored by Todd's Shipyards, Ion Livas researched the effect of the Bulbous Bow on Cargo ships, in Japan, at the Paris, Madrid and the Stephenson Ship Model Testing Tanks - 1964 onwards. There is hardly a ship built these days without a Bulbous Bow.



Mr. Livas has compiled two list of historical importance for Liberty Ship enthusiasts...

A complete list of Liberty Ships, and a list of ships that were modified (rebuilt, lengthened) Liberty Ships Rebuilt List.

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