“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” – The Ships That Saved Britain


As Great Britain faced war in Europe in 1939, it looked across the ocean to seek material help from its ally, the United States.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to deliver, but once an assessment was made, it became obvious that the U.S. fleet had to enhance its capacities if they were going to provide Churchill the help he most desperately needed in order to turn back the tide of war.

What the Navy needed was a cheap, easy-to-make vessel which could be mass-produced in a short period of time, but also of good enough quality to be reliable for continuous transatlantic voyages while under heavy loads.

This was how the emergency fleet program was initiated, along with a new assembly line tasked with the production of standardized ships in unprecedented numbers.

Construction of a Liberty ship at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards Inc., Baltimore, Maryland (USA) in March/April 1943. Day 24 : Ship ready for launching.

As the situation deteriorated in Continental Europe after the fall of France and Great Britain became exposed to constant bombing raids in 1940, the necessity for huge amounts of equipment and raw materials became of highest priority.

Coventry city centre following 14/15 November 1940 bomb raid.

In addition to the raids, Hitler’s naval blockade of Great Britain was taking its toll. German U-boats were sinking merchant ships by the hundreds, and each ship had to be replaced in order to keep the Allied war effort going.

The first ship to come off the assembly line in 1941 was named SS Patrick Henry after the American Revolutionary War patriot, whose famous words “Give me liberty, or give me death” inspired the nickname which stuck―Liberty ships.

On 27 September 1941, SS Patrick Henry, the first U.S. Liberty ship, was launched at Baltimore, Maryland. Numerous other vessels were launched on that day, known as “Liberty Fleet Day.” Surviving World War II, Patrick Henry was scrapped in 1960.

For the duration of the war, Liberty ships would bear the weight of transport across the Atlantic Ocean, making a colossal contribution to the struggle.

While the design was provided by the British, Liberty ships were the pride of the American naval industry. More than 3,000 units were built, each of them with the capacity to carry 4,380 net tons of cargo.

The first Liberty ship SS Patrick Henry shortly after its launch in September 1941.

This high level of production led to significant breakthroughs in shipbuilding, such as improvement of welding technology and the development of the steel cold-rolling process.

While the British received the most help, they weren’t the only ones. Liberty ships were used to transport weaponry, supplies and other equipment to United States’ eastern ally as well.

In fact, all the material help the Soviet Union received during the war was via these hero-ships that dared to cross the ocean in time of peril.


SS A. B. Hammond


The SS John W. Brown is one of only two surviving operational Liberty ships. The SS Abner Doubleday was identical.


USS Zaniah (AG-70)


View of the USAS American Mariner at Clarence Bay, Ascension Island, in 1962.


Broadside view of USS Deimos (AK-78) underway off San Francisco, 26 January 1943.


Port stern view of USS Mindanao (ARG-3), 23 November 1943, at Hampton Roads, Virginia.


USS Dionysus (AR-21) underway.


USS Cebu (ARG-6) in Chesapeake Bay off the Bethlehem Steel Key Highway Yard, Baltimore, 18 April 1944, one day after completing her conversion to an Internal Combustion Engine Repair Ship.


Starboard broadside view of USS Seginus (AK-133) in Mobile Bay, 22 June 1944.


Minesweeper, Special MSS-1 pierside at American Shipbuilding, Lorraine, Ohio


SS George Washington Carver slides down the shipway after launching on 7 May 1943


USS George Eastman (YAG-39)


Broadside view of USS Ascella (AK-137) off San Francisco, CA., 13 January 1944.


USS Cetus (AK-77), at anchor in San Francisco Bay, 25 August 1945.


USS Megrez (AK-126), after conversion to US Naval service at Oakland, California, 2 November 1943.


USS Adhara (AK-71) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, 20 August 1943


USS Kenmore (AK-221), in San Francisco Bay, California, in late 1945 or early 1946.


Broadside view of USS Allioth (AK-109), off San Francisco, 19 November 1943.


USS Ganymede (AK-104) (broadside plan view) in San Francisco Bay, 16 August 1943.


Broadside view of USS Albireo (AK-90) off San Francisco, 30 March 1943.


USS Culebra Island (ARG-7) at anchor.

Read another story from us: How the Tanker USS Neosho Helped Save U.S. Carriers in Battle of Coral Sea

Alnitah (AK-127) under way
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