Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship

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.

ss Jeremiah O brien

SS Jeremiah O'Brien

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.

You will also want to see our articles and photos on our Western Trips website regarding the Rosie the Riveter Park and the Victory Ship SS Red Oak.

ss red oak victory ship

SS Red Oak Victory Ship

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.

liberty ship

O'Brien Liberty Ship, San Francisco

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.

rosie the riveter poster

Rosie the Riveter World War Two poster

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)

The Norden Bombsight and German Espionage

Trips Into History takes a look at the Norden Bombsight which enabled World War Two bombers to have as much precision as possible during the conflict. Known as the “Blue Ox“, the Norden Bombsight apparatus was used by the U.S. Navy during World War Two and by the Air Force during both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

B-17’s in Hawaii shown prior to December 7, 1941

Today, the Norden Bombsight can be viewed at several locations around the United States. One location is at the Childress County Heritage Museum in Childress Texas. Childress was the location during the Second World War of an Army Airfield training bomber crews. The Childress Municipal Airport today was originally built as an airfield dedicated to training bombardier crews named the Childress Army Airfield. The class of cadets went through a three month program. The U.S. had set up more than a dozen of these bombardier training schools and in Texas they were located at Big Spring, Houston, Midland, San Angelo and Childress. The first school in the U.S. was at Lowry Field in Colorado. There was also a lot of training going on in the desert southwest. The Army Airfield was also the site of a prisoner of war camp during the war. Prisoners at the camp were a combination of Germans and Italians. Texas as a whole had about twice as many POW camps than any other state.

Norden Bombsight apparatus

Another location in addition to the Childress Texas Museum where the Norden Bomb Sight can be viewed today is the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California south of San Francisco. Another venue where the Norden Bombsight is exhibited is the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton Ohio. Yet, another display of the Norden Bombsight can be found at the Armed Forces History Museum in Largo Florida.

 

The Norden Bombsight was a classified piece of equipment and as such was guarded. The bombsight was originally developed by Carl Norden in 1932, some ten years prior to the U.S. entering World War Two, and the U.S. military adopted it that year although it was so classified that not many people knew of it’s existence for well over ten years. As an example of it’s high secrecy status, at the Childress Army Airfield, the bombsites were actually locked away in a building when not in use. In fact, bombardiers had to take an oath that their knowledge of the apparatus would be kept a secret. When their training courses and/or missions were completed the device was placed in a bag and locked up in a vault. As far as the public was concerned, their knowledge of the Norden Bombsight didn’t occur until 1944. By that time it’s classified nature was downgraded.

Norden M1 Bombsight, Courtesy National Museum of the Air Force

The real fact of the matter was that the secrecy of theĀ  Norden Bombsight had been compromised years earlier by German spies in the United States. As a result, the Germans were aware of the device and it’s diagrams even prior to the start of the war. A German spy by the name of Herman Lang, employed by the Carl L. Norden Company passed on the information to the German military command in 1938. Lang reportedly passed on the details of the bombsight totally from memory. Lang was part of a wider German spy ring operating in the U.S. known as the Duquesne Spy Ring. It’s leader was Fritz Joubert Duquesne who had served in the Boer War and claimed to have sabotagedĀ  the British ship HMS Hampshire in 1916 in which Lord Kitchener lost his life. It wasn’t until 1941 that the FBI arrested the ring which included 32 others in addition to Lang. This stands as the single largest spy ring conviction in the history of the United States. As can be anticipated the equivalent to the Norden Bombsight under various names appeared aboard various Luftwaffe aircraft during the war.

The Norden Bombsight was a clever device. During World War One, the system used was referred to as vectoring. This was essentially using wind speed and direction coupled with an aircrafts speed to determine a suitable vector to the target. The Norden system utilized a computer within the bombsight. With input from the bombardier, the computer would automatically calculate the plane’s altitude, speed, wind direction and speed and come up with an aim point.

Beech AT-11 used for bombing training by the Army Air Force during World War Two

The computer would automatically update the calculations after data input and show through the crosshairs where the bomb needed to be released. When the Norden Bombsight was directly connected to a Sperry C-1 Autopilot, the system was extremely accurate. Essentially, the Norden Bombsight allowed for much greater accuracy along with automatic functioning. The Norden system let the device itself release the bomb at just the correct moment. The Norden was principally a high altitude bombing mechanism employing smaller angles. It was not as effective in lower altitude bombing runs where the angle would be much greater and changing much more rapidly. Of course, the accuracy of the Norden system was no match for present day bombing guidance which can place a bomb or missile within just a few feet of it’s intended target.

Two additional articles you’ll enjoy on our Western Trips site are the Galveston Texas World War Two Defenses and the Defenses of San Francisco during the war.

On our Trips Into History site see the article about Alberto Santos-Dumont / The Inventor of the Airplane?

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos are from the public domain)