On display during the Delaware River Day over Memorial Day Weekend was the S.S. John W. Brown. One of two surviving, fully operational Liberty ships preserved in the United States, the S.S. John W. Brown is the product of an emergency shipbuilding program of World War II that resulted in the construction of more than 2,700 Liberty ships.
Designed as cheap and quickly built cargo steamers, the Liberty ships formed the backbone of a massive sealift of troops, arms, material and ordnance to every theater of war. Two-thirds of all the cargo that left the United States during the war was shipped in Liberty ships. Two hundred of them were lost, either to enemy action or to a range of maritime mishaps such as collision, grounding or fire at sea, but there were simply so many of them that the enemy could never hope to sink enough Liberty ships to close the sea lanes, and the supplies got through.
Class: EC2-S-C1 Type Liberty Ship
Launched: September 7, 1942
At: Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, Baltimore, Maryland
Length: 441 feet, 6 inches
Draft: 27 feet, 9 inches
Displacement: 14,245 tons
Gross: 7,176 tons
Capacity: 8,500 long tons
Armament: Three 3-inch/50 caliber guns; one 5-inch/38 caliber gun; eight 20mm guns.
The S.S. John W. Brown looks now almost exactly as she did toward the endof World War II. Despite her grey paint and many guns, she is not a warship but rather a merchant ship.
The Brown was built by the government and was under the control of the War Shipping Administration. This ship and her many sisters were operated under what was known as a general agency agreement, by almost 90 different American steamship companies, which were paid by Uncle Sam to manage the ships. The cargo they carried and the ports they visited were entirely controlled by the government.
A Liberty ship can carry almost 9,000 tons of cargo, about the same as 300 railroad boxcars. Liberty ships carried every conceivable cargo during the war – from beans to bullets. Some, like the John W. Brown, were also fitted out to carry troops as well as cargo. Around 500 soldiers at a time could be carried aboard this ship. She saw duty in many Mediterranean ports during invasions and steamed in convoys that were attacked by enemy aircraft and submarines, but she was never seriously damaged by the enemy.
The Brown has now been rededicated as a memorial museum ship. She honors the memory of the shipyard workers, merchant seamen and Naval Armed Guard who built, sailed and defended the Liberty Fleet. The S.S. John W. Brown is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.