Monday, September 26, 2016

The Liberty Ship, S.S. Charles D. McIver

On May 23, 1943, the North Carolina Ship Building Company, located in Wilmington, North Carolina, launched its 100th Liberty Ship, the S.S. Charles D. McIver. As founder and first president of the State Normal and Industrial School (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), and a fierce advocate of public education for women, McIver was a natural choice for a commemorative Liberty Ship. He was one of several North Carolina educators to have this honor. Initially named after notable deceased Americans, the ships names’ eventually included men and women, of all ranks, who were lost in the war. Naming opportunities came to those who raised two million dollars in war bonds.

The S.S. Charles Duncan McIver, 1943*

On the day that the S.S. Charles D. McIver was launched, high-ranking representatives of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, along with local dignitaries, gathered for the festivities in Wilmington, which was broadcasted on the radio. The shipyard band played as the newly christened ship slipped into the water. For glamor, Hollywood actress Constance Bennett was in attendance to present the shipyard with an award for its exceptional purchases of war bonds. Launching its first Liberty Ship only hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Wilmington shipyard was considered one of the best producers of these types of ships in the United States. The yard boasted over 20,000 employees and the ability to deliver up to ten ships per month.


Actress Constance Bennett attends the launching ceremony at the Wilmington Shipyard, May 25, 1943**

Based on a British design, Liberty Ships were basic cargo vessels built by the United States Maritime Commission during World War II. The first of these “Emergency Cargo” ships was launched on September 27, 1941, with President Franklin Roosevelt in attendance. Named the S.S. Patrick Henry, who is well remembered for his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, the president expected these ships to bring liberty to Europe and they were dubbed accordingly. Liberty Ships were meant to be quickly and economically mass-produced, with parts manufactured throughout the country and then assembled at shipyards on the east and west coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Eighteen shipyards built over 2700 ships during the years between 1941 and 1945. Considered the “ugly ducklings” of the naval fleet, the Liberty Ships averaged 441 feet long with a crew of forty-four, holding almost 10,000 tons of cargo in addition to tanks, planes, and ammunition. Built to last only through the war, many of these ships survived, with over 800 incorporated into the United States cargo fleet, and others sold to Italy and Greece. Several ships continued to serve into the 1970s, and currently, two are used as museums. Sadly, the S.S. Charles D. McIver did not fare as well. On March 22, 1945, it sank after striking a mine as it left Antwerp, Belgium. A full rescue was made by a British motor minesweeper and a motor torpedo boat, which rescued the Merchant Marine crew and the armed guard also on board. The S.S. Charles D. McIver was later written off as a total loss.

*Image from the Charles D. McIver (Liberty Ship) subject file
** Image from The North Carolina Shipbuilder, June 1, 1943

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