Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Victory Ship

When it comes to historic ships, one of the best is open to the public at the new Rosie the Riveter National Park in Richmond California. The USS Red Oak is the last of the famous Victory Ships produced during World War Two. If you live in the San Francisco Bay area or are planning a San Francisco vacation, this is one stop you want to add to your trip planner.

red oak victory ship
USS Red Oak Victory
The Victory Ship class of military vessels was derived from the Liberty Ship design. The major differences were that the Victory Ships were a bit larger and the hulls were a bit thicker than those of Liberty Ships. The new hull thickness was a result of what was learned from some Liberty Ship losses.

These Victory Ship vessels as well as the Liberty Ships before them were turned out in record time due to their being built by sections. The sections were prefabricated and hoisted into place at the Kaiser Shipyards. This allowed for rapid construction. By the end of World War Two, 531 had been built. This large number were produced from six separate shipyards in a very short length of time, from February 1944 through November 1945. Ninety-seven Victory Ships were employed as troop carriers and the others carried food, fuel, material, ammunition and general supplies.

The Victory Ships were 455 feet long and 62 feet wide and had a faster speed than the Liberty Ships. The Victory Ships averaged between 15 and 17 knots. The engines produced between 5,500 to 8,500 horsepower. Each ship had five cargo holds. Each Victory Ship usually carried a crew of 62 civilian merchant sailors and 28 naval personnel. The naval personnel were required to operate the guns and communications equipment.

victory ship gun
Stern gun showing padded gunner harness
The USS Red Oak was constructed at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond California and was launched on November 9, 1944. The USS Red Oak was assigned to be an ammunition carrier during the war.

The USS Red Oak saw service after the World War Two years. The ship was used as a cargo carrier during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. When World War Two ended, there was an obvious oversupply of these vessels and many were offered for sale to commercial concerns. It's estimated that 170 of the Victory Ships were sold. Some others were loaned to the U.S. Army and the remainder were put into the reserve fleet. The USS Red Oak Victory ended up in the "moth ball fleet" moored in Suisun Bay near Martinez California in the Sacramento River. In 1968, the USS Red Oak Victory was towed from Suisun Bay to Richmond. Currently, the ship is berthed at Yard #3 at Richmond Point on San Francisco Bay.

victory ship bow
Bow view of Red Oak Victory Ship
Interestingly enough, out of the 747 ships built at the Kaiser Shipyard, the USS Red Oak Victory is the only surviving vessel which makes her even more of an historical treasure. Her name is significant as well. The vessel was named after the town, Red Oak Iowa which suffered the most per capita loss of it's citizens during World War Two. Historical statistics show that at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in February 1943, forty-five U.S. soldiers killed there were from Red Oak Iowa.

The USS Red Oak Victory is now a floating museum. This is one of the best historic ship tours you can make. The tour leads you throughout the vessel from the crew quarters to the kitchen and eating areas to the communication rooms, the captains quarters, engine room and massive cargo holds. The tour of the ships bridge is another very interesting part of the Red Oak Victory Ship tour. The bridge and the navigation room directly behind it is filled with navigation equipment of the era including a MacKay Radio direction finder. MacKay Radio was involved in the telegraphic traffic business across the Pacific at the outbreak of the war and had established radio stations on islands thus providing a signal for ship navigation.

We have three additional articles which highlight nearby San Francisco Bay maritime exhibits. They are Mare Island, the first naval installation on the Pacific coast and the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, a floating Liberty Ship museum at San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf and the Last Salt Water Steam Tugboat

It's really a terrific tour. If you have the opportunity of vacationing or visiting the San Francisco Bay area, adding a tour of the USS Red Oak Victory to your trip planner is a good idea. Also a fun and educational stop for the entire family. The SS Red oak Victory is open for visitors Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Hours are 10A-3P. The ship is berthed at 1337 Canal Blvd., Richmond, CA.

(Photos are from author's private collection)


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