|Date(s):||January 3, 1941 to September 2, 1945|
|Tag(s):||Baltimore, shipyard, Bethlehem Fairfield, Steel and Iron Industry, World War II, Homefront|
|Course:||“Novelty and Nostalgia: The Rise of Modern America, 1877 to 1945,” University of Maryland, Baltimore County|
On January 3, 1941, the “Emergency Shipbuilding Program” was announced by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The task was simple: “rapidly build simple cargo ships to carry troops and material to allies during World War II.”
The demand for war ships came in response to the dominance of German U-boats during early part of World War II. In an effort to gain American support to join the war effort, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a radio announcement on May 27, 1941 about the danger of German domination. The President said, “there have been sinkings of merchant ships in alarming and increasing numbers by Nazi raiders or submarines.” Roosevelt said only two things had prevented Hitler from accomplishing world domination: “epic resistance” by Great Britain and the “magnificent defense of China”. He believed the Axis Powers could never achieve world domination without first gaining total control of the seas. Roosevelt argued that the United States could stop Hitler by working to protect the seas.
Before construction of warships could begin to move forward rapidly, new shipyards had to be built that could handle a large number of vessels. The Emergency Shipbuilding Program created 18 new shipyards. One of the first shipyards was the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland. Bethlhem-Fairfield proved to be one of the most important during the peak of World War II. It built "a basic, no-frills cargo ship designed for capacity and rapid construction as opposed to speed and grace.” These ships carried food, war materials, and other items to benefit the soldiers. They came to be known as the “Liberty Fleet”. Bethlehem Fairfield built 384 Liberty Ships, a feat that distinguished them as one of the most effective shipyards during the war.
Even though wartime merchant ships were constantly beseiged and destroyed during the war, they were replaced in total before the end of 1943 because of fast production by American shipbuilders. The best shipyards could build and deliver the 441 foot Liberty Ship vessels in just 16 days. Prior to the implementation of the Emergency Shipbuilding Program, production of a single vessel required 244 days. The fast and efficient production of Bethlehem Fairfield assisted the U.S. in gaining control of the seas and ultimately contributed in the victory of World War II for the Allies.