World War Two Liberty Ships
When you step on to the deck of the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien you are stepping into history. The Jeremiah O’Brien will take you back to the era of World War Two. These were the times of Rosie The Riveter, bell-bottomed trousers, rationing and military mobilization in the scale the world had never seen before. It was a time when military ships were built along the west coast in a matter of a month.
The 441 foot long S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien is one of only two surviving Liberty Ships of the 2,700 which were built during World War Two. This historic ship now is permanently berthed at San Francisco’s Fishermans Wharf and is open to the public. Visitors can tour the entire interior of the vessel including the engine room area. If you have the opportunity to visit San Francisco I would highly recommend you add it to your San Francisco vacation itinerary. It’s a fun side trip for the entire family. This ship now constitutes a national treasure and we’re fortunate it’s been saved. It serves as a living memorial to all who built, supplied and served on these Liberty Ships. Many were constructed at the old Kaiser Shipyard just across the bay in Richmond California.
The successor to the Liberty Ships were the Victory Ships. Many of those were also produced at the Kaiser Richmond Shipyards. Another good stop on your San Francisco Bay vacation is the Rosie the Riveter Memorial Park in Richmond where the SS Red Oak Victory Ship is open for self guided tours. The Red Oak ship actually stayed in service through the Vietnam War and is now a permanent exhibit at the Rosie the Riveter Park. Richmond is located on San Francisco Bay northeast of San Francisco and north of Berkeley.
There are some truly amazing facts about the O’Brien. The ship itself was built in only 56 days in South Portland Maine. She was launched on June 19, 1943 and made seven voyages during World War Two. From July 1943 to October 1944 the O’Brien made four sailings between the U.S. and England. In addition to that, the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien was a veteran of both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war.The O’Brien also took part in our D-Day operations which we all know was critical to winning the war.
The Liberty Ships were essential to our war effort. German U-Boats were sinking merchant vessels in the Atlantic. England was under siege and the Japanese were making large advances in the Pacific theater. There was a huge need to transport both troops and supplies to the war zones including Great Britain which was chronically short of supplies because of the German U-Boat stranglehold. The Liberty Ships seemed to be the answer for transporting crucial supplies both of a military nature and a humanitarian nature.
The crew of a Liberty Ship such as the Jeremiah O’Brien was about 43 civilians. During the war years there was also a military guard contingent assigned to the ships. If military supplies were carried, the military assigned a cargo officer to accompany the crew.
When the war ended,the Jeremiah O’Brien joined the mothball fleet of spare vessels grouped on the Sacramento River just east of San Francisco Bay. Some of these spare ships were sold off to foreign nations. Others were refitted into commercial use and still others just stayed moored in the river.
During the 1960’s various groups decided to try and save one Liberty Ship for posterity and historical purposes so that future generations would be able to learn about these ships. In 1978 the National Liberty Ship Memorial non-profit association was started . Their purpose was to raise funds to restore and maintain an unaltered Liberty Ship. The group decided to choose the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien for their project. The O’Brien was in generally excellent condition and after much volunteer work and a good deal of money the O’Brien returned to service in 1979.
The O’Brien is now a living museum moored at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco California and is open for self-guided tours. I have been on the ship several times and I would highly recommend it for any family looking for a low cost way to enjoy fun and education at the same time. The Jeremiah O’Brien also schedules several San Francisco Bay area day cruises during the year which is always a fun excursion and the proceeds help the association cover the costs of maintenance. The O’Brien is truly a gift for those wishing to explore the World War Two era.
You can visit the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45 at San Francisco’s Fishermans Wharf. Hours are daily 9A-4P. Closed January 1st and Thanksgiving Day. For more information on the ship and for a schedule of events and sailings please see www.ssjeremiahobrien.org.
(Photos are from author’s private collection)