TAMPA BAY-APRIL 2, 2006                                  Story and Pictures by AL JACOBSON


“The history of the SS American Victory is a long and storied one, despite the fact that she spent much of her life in mothballs. She has sailed the Seven Seas and was involved in World War II and the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam war. Immediately following World War II, the SS American Victory served as a sea going “good will ambassador” for the United States, supplying foodstuffs, vehicles and manufacturing machinery to the war torn countries of Europe and Near East, under the auspices of the Marshall Plan. 

The SS American Victory, as her name implies, was one of 534 Victory ships built between mid-1944 and mid-1946 to replace the venerable Liberty class of merchant vessel." 

TODAY  — A distinguished group of individuals, mostly volunteers devoted years to restoring this living piece of history to authentic historical and seaworthy condition. And a many of us who own personal water craft will tell you, if you own a boat, you are never finished.  Something this photographer learned early and took up flying.

PORT TAMPA - April 2006   —  The “ American Victory" calls Tampa Bay, Florida home now. She is located just aft of the Aquarium on the ship canal, near the new downtown and entertainment center near and close to YBOR city. Plenty of things to do and see and participate  —  

This is an all volunteer operation to restore the vessel with as much accuracy and preservation in mind combined with the safety and modern rules and the myriad of regulations effecting a venue of this sort. 

Just as she traveled the seven seas, the diversification and usefulness of the American Victory is unlimited.  Many of those like Virgil served on these vessels during and after the war.  To do maintenance on the American Victory one must have the proper licensing as per the Coast Guard.  

GOALS  —  Here are some of the goals the organization hopes to attain in the future.  They wish to create a floating Memorial in tribute to the Men and Women of the Merchant Marine by establishing the American Victory Merchant Marine Museum. 

She also serves as a Training Vessel: The American Victory is also used by many Police SWAT, SCUBA, Marine and Fire departments to train their teams for Homeland Security and Port Protection. 

Positive integration as hands on live learning for the school systems of the state. -THIS IS LIVING HISTORY-expanding this theme as plans are underway for the ship to be made "child friendly as an Explorer project for learning". It is a Work In Progress:  

ALL VOLUNTEER CREW  —  This project requires as a many volunteers that can be gathered. Those who own boats can attest to that. For every hour on the water you need five on land we used to say. Multiply that by 455 feet of solid welded steel and 60 years of age. 

Needed are some with, but not limited to those with licensed seagoing skills such as carpenters, pipe fitters, engineers, welders. There's always the mundane routine aboard a steel ship in salt water such as painting, rust removal, galley help (got to feed the workers) and a little deck swabbing and broom usage on occasion. 

I have to admit after several days aboard the American Victory, she is well named, she could of been called "the American Spirit" as with this team the spirit is alive and well.  His name is Virgil, he served and continues to maintain the American Victory. His job is the deck during sea trials and cruises.

PREPARATION FOR THE CRUISE  —  The day started early after weeks of fitting, fixing, fine adjustments, storing provisions and making her seaworthy for the cruise.   Passengers were arriving  (embarking  in Naval terms) at 7:00 AM and were greeted by a Color Guard composed of re-enactors dressed in the appropriate uniforms of the era. 

You could feel after 36 hours of preparation for “ making steam” and the boilers heated up to burn the Sludge that when heated became what they call “  Bunker fuel”.  She wanted to be free of the lines holding her to the dock. If you noticed at the stern the prop was making slow rotations from either the tide or engine bleed. A good sign. You felt life breathing into pipes and arteries that have laid dormant for the past several months.  

After all were aboard, the gangways retracted, two large harbor tugs from Marine Towing came alongside and the command was given to “ Single the docking lines". 

This is marine parlance for removing the doubled and triple lines at each bollard on the dock down to the bare single minimum.

Upon signals from the bridge, the final dock lines were released and the tugs gently pulled the "American Victory" from her berth behind the Tampa Aquarium into the channel. 

We were freed from the dock. We were off.
With her Captain and the required Tampa Harbor Pilot aboard coordinating movement via VHF with the tugs and dock crew, a traditional and brief ceremony was held for the shifting of the 
colors, the ensign at the bow was lowered and the Flag raised. 

We edged into the ships channel. Coupled with two Tugs guiding her through the narrow confines and escorted by the Tampa Bay Sheriff's Department, the American Victory worked her way out of the ships channel. 

At the outer marker, the Captain and Harbor Pilot released the tugs at the main channel and we were off.   

MORE PICTURES AVAILABLE  —  Note: There are some 155 plus Photos of the American Victory. Most of those have now been converted to high resolution so you may acquire them from me simply by contacting Al Jacobson from this website. He'll make you a compilation of the photos.

Using Paypal and/or other means 8x10's may be sent directly to a Sam's near you. All funds collected by Al will be donated to the ship's general fund or used when she is in scheduled dry dock.


CONVOY DUTY  —  We slowly edged our way through the main ships channel escorted by the Hillsboro County Sheriff's Department and a smaller Tug provided by Marine Towing just in case. The two big guys had plenty of work to do that day in the busy port.

The HCSD and the tug stayed with us throughout the voyage to insure a backup in case of anything happening. With time and a few miles under her belt, the engines finally coming out of  a deep sleep and the bunker fuel heated up she felt almost relaxed, easily settling into a steady rhythm. She seemed more like long distance runner than a 100 yard sprinter. 

The engine gently pushing her with more and more confidence and additional knots as the pressure built and the literal arteries and veins of propulsion came to peak.  That was the best way I could describe it.  Four or five long months of sleep and she was awakened.   And running on steam takes a day and a half alone to build usable pressure.  During the war rarely did the engines and system get shut down, for some load, deliver, unload, load, deliver, unload, repeated 24/7 was the drill during the war —  

Soon we were making about 82 shaft revolutions per minute or 12-13 knots. At 100% RPM she'll make an honest 17 knots. The longer she ran, the smoother she sounded. With enough Bunker fuel on board to go 25,000 miles we were secure we’d make the Sunshine Skyway Bridge about eight miles away...

Lightly loaded and shallow drafted hopefully the wind will let us turn around.  This ship was designed to do one thing.  Fill her up with seven decks of tanks, parts, guns, airplanes,  jeeps and anything else associated with war. Then she would sit low in the water and the prop would be submerged.   On these day trips the prop was only about 60% effective and wind becomes a factor.

On one trip they had to anchor and get some assistance from a tug to turn about.   These were cargo ships and do better loaded deeper in the water so the prop gets a full bite. In the dock picture you can actually see how the propeller is not submerged enough.

CREWING  —  During this week I received excellent briefings from the engineers, some engineering students and some who actually served on the vessel. They say men love their toys, this is a much higher level. 

They do the actual licensed work on the sixty-three year old engine, boilers, and gearboxes with big reductions. With the engine assembly mid ships, the power to the prop comes by way of the 166 foot shaft which sits on seven pedestal's. 

They all remarked what fine shape the vessels is in, spoken with pride from those who put some of the 80,000 hours into her ongoing refurbishment.  

It was estimated we were cruising close to 13.5 knots. With cargo aboard, the Victory class merchant ship was sometimes capable of 17-18 knots.  We only had about 3/4 of our prop in the water because we were light, so “ pouring on the coals" extra fuel might not of improved our speed since we were so high in the water. 

A vessel of this size is not the same thing as maneuvering or captaining, a 20-25 foot out drive pleasure craft. This is real Maritime and a whole new ballgame for this sailor to fathom. (pun intended).  This meant some research. From websites, the library, and mariners I interviewed about this class of vessel.

HISTORY  — The America Victory is a Victory ship, think of it as a second generation Liberty Ship.  Liberty ships were the workhorses of World War II. They are the largest class of civilian-made warships ever built. Simple square-hulled vessels.   All welded and pounded into shape by huge presses with thousands of pounds of pressure and then rivets and welding.

NUMBERS WON THE WAR  — The average one was built in 50-60 days. With as many as 16 ports contributing to building Liberty ships, there were launches almost every few days. Sixteen American shipyards built 2,751 Liberties between 1941 and 1945, easily the largest number of ships produced 

They were standard simple utilitarian vessels, no frills, no pools, rock climbing walls, social directors. On board entertainment possibly consisted of card games and maybe a guitar.  As the picture shows the galley was both a place to eat, the entertainment center and planning station. 

Their sole purpose was to get needed war supplies of almost every size and nature from the production here in the United States to the front lines. They carried diversified cargo in their decked holds of guns, grain, mail, ore and ammo, trucks and troops in huge convoys that crossed the Atlantic to the front. 

PART OF HISTORY  —  They were part of Roosevelt’s famous ''Bridge of ships'' from the New World to the Old.  Strictly used for moving cargo and men across the Atlantic and Pacific.  They were only armed to defend themselves.

One is actually credited with a "kill". The Liberty ship SS Stephen Hopkins, which sank a German commerce raider in a ship-to-ship gun battle in 1942 and became the first American ship to sink a German surface combatant. 

The similar five-inch gun shown in the photo was installed aft on the Victory class along with three inch anti-aircraft guns  and many OERLIKON 20 mm cannons with rail mounts surrounded the vessel.  She could pack a wallop if given a fair chance and the Navy crews assigned to gun work knew many lives were in their hands if they encountered a surface raider or surfaced submarine. 


JAN 1941 - President Roosevelt authorizes a $350 million shipbuilding program.

SEPT 1941 - The nation launched an emergency ship construction program. Targeting by 1944 not only the largest maritime merchant fleet but, at the same time building the finest fighting Navy in the world. 

The initial design for this merchant ship was British. Actually from Sunderland, England. This style of vessel had been produced until the mid-1930s, the last one being the DORRINGTON COURT. With upgrades, these vessels were to be designated as OCEAN Class ships. Sixty British Oceans were built in this country (30 each at Portland, Maine, and Richmond, California).

The U.S. Maritime Commission made a number of alterations to the British "OCEAN" design. Some alterations were made to conform to American manufacturing and shipbuilding standards.  They were designated Emergency ships. The formal name is EC2-S-C1. One of the more common nicknames was " Ugly Duckling ". There were a few others.

The first of the new ships, the SS PATRICK HENRY, was launched in 1941. It was launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who referred to Patrick Henry's speech of March 23, 1775, that ended with the phrase “ Give me Liberty, or give me death." The President told the country that these ships would bring liberty to Europe. From then on, they were known as “ Liberty Ships” .   There were some variants. a tanker version, a landing ship configuration, changes to power plants etc.

The IMPROVED VICTORY CLASS  —  The Victory class was larger, mostly turbine powered steam, and 4 knots faster than the Liberty ships.   In particular they had a higher cruise speed of 15 to 17 knots (28 to 31 km/h) and greater range. The Liberty Class's slower cruise speed (11 knots) left them vulnerable to the Nazi submarines who could overtake the fleets at night by riding on the surface.                                                                                                                    

 Faster meant survival. Her new “Raked bow and a cruiser overhang stern", was part of the faster speeds she attained. It also relates to 13 additional feet in length and allowed more angular range for the massive five inch gun placement on the stern. 

The speed allowed her to outrun the subs. And any sub that surfaced behind her found out what a scorpions stinger was like.

To help achieve the higher speed, the Victory's had quite a different appearance below compared to the Liberty ships. 

The additional speed came from improved engines over the Liberty's triple expansion steam engine — with Lenz type reciprocating steam engines, steam turbines and a few variants with diesel engines with a power output between 6000 and 8500 horsepower (4.5 and 6 MW). 

Again, It takes sometimes about two plus days to get “ full steam up”.  Cold weather takes time to heat the bunker fuel.  That means to an operational 440 pounds per square inch. (PSI) First, diesel fuel gets the boilers going as the Bunker C grade fuel is the consistency of molasses. 

Molasses doesn't flow so it is preheated through a system of pipes and it will then aspirate and become usable as fuel.  For the Saturday cruise they started making steam on Thursday. By Friday the darker plume coming from the stack was about to turn white meaning better combustion.

During the cruise we were entertained with music from that era by these gals. Nothing like this occurred during the war.  We had many volunteers and groups, re-enactors who lived for the minute and had as much fun as the passengers.  They were quite good.  

It also had electrically powered auxiliary equipment. The Victory class were oil fired, although some Canadian vessels were completed with both bunkers and oil tanks so that they could use coal or oil. 

Also the Victory class were a little stouter in the armament department which was comprised of one 5 inch naval gun (127 mm) mounted on the stern for anti-sub or surface attack use and one 3-inch AA gun forward.

On our destroyers today they use a more modern version of the five inch gun, automatic and capable of a higher rate of fire, digitally aimed and packing a wallop.  But a five inch gun is a devastating bit of gear and a hit on a conning tower or side hull at the waterline is all she needed and the Germans learned that quickly.  

The American Victory is accompanied by two 3-inch (76 mm) anti-aircraft guns mounted one in the foc'sle (that secure area raised in the bow which comes from the term “ Forward castle" and another in the stern just forward  of the 5-incher. Most had one 3-incher. The side decks could mount 20mm cannons if needed for aircraft or surface defense.  A surfaced sub could easily be raked by the OERLIKON cannons.

These weapons were manned by United States Naval Armed Guard personnel, members of the United States Navy. On the American Victory, the quarters for the NAG were aft right alongside the aft armament for easy access.

There were four stations the ship could be steered from. The picture shows the bridge. There was an additional wheel above the bridge deck. Two stations aft manually could steer the vessel. 

Another area of improvement was the hull itself. Many Liberty ships had suffered fractured hulls. They were strengthened. Victory ships measured 455 feet long, 62 feet wide with a 25 foot draft. They were about 109 feet in height.


CRUISING —  The live band played on with familiar music of the times, the guests had a fine continental breakfast, as the ship worked its way free to the turning channel and then the larger channel to Tampa Bay. 

Many of those taking the six hour cruise had a chance to tour the vessel and with six decks of accessible levels and 455 feet of length there was plenty to see. 

Just the line handling and tug exit from the dock were interesting and went off without a hitch. As we headed out of port, you started looking deeper into the vessel. 

The living conditions, the bunks, the galley, the Captains quarters, the wheelhouse, chartroom, the various compartments for small and large maintenance, and the communications room where Sparks was to be found. 

During the voyage the "sparks team from the local HAM club sent messages around the world and some were received back from as far as Afghanistan, and Egypt. 


PURE BUSINESS  — The first impression is one of “ pure business", the myriad of fifteen ton booms and the single massive fifty ton boom near the mizzenmast attest to that.  The “ Fifty" easily took Sherman tanks on board and for the cruise “ The fifteen boom " lifted the JEEP without a hitch.  

The winches and block and tackle were for loading and off loading thousand of tons of cargo to support the troops in the war.  Their placement and various combinations allowed dockside or sea off-loading to accommodate any kind of cargo including landing craft, vehicles, palleted and sling cargo.    


THE BRITS HAD A GOOD IDEA  — The boom design additionally allowed for the portable floating docks the British used especially after the invasion. This unique floating dock allowed beaches to be used a docks and played an important roll after the invasion for the needed supplies to keep the Allies supplied and the Axis off guard.

The five independent holds of the ship were sealed, no internal doors to the holds thus if the ship received a direct hit, she might still function and not sink.

The U-Boats many times had to surface and try to finish the Liberty/Victory ships off  but the Victory class could actually outrun or escape a submerged sub thus the main gun was aft mounted and the larger fantail gave the gun better range of motion.

Access to the cargo was from the top via the winches, booms and some really claustrophobic ladders.   I followed one seaman up that tube about 70 feet to the deck and  it was quite an adventure.  As all cargo was chained or tied down in an intricate set of layers or floors, there was really no need to go into the cargo except for routine cargo and hull inspection checks.

Again, the closed cell hold design made sense for strength, seaworthiness, cargo protection, and to ward off extending damage from enemy torpedo or surface action attacks.  

As part of the modernization as a museum, during the refurbishment sea doors were added between holds, there are five holds, allowing easy access for the visitors. The cargo holds offer a unique and clever layout for its time. You don’t have to climb that tube.

In today's world we either use drive on- drive off ramping or use containers with computer driven cranes and flatbed trailers. None of which was available back in the forties. Cargo was loaded in the holds in the lowest level of the ship. 

When that deck space filled, steel cross members were placed and cross-filled with a wood plates and this created another deck. Think of it as building a tiered cake. Then the hold was sealed with   “ Batten down the hatches". 

Battens stretched across the top of the hold, sealed the ships cargo for the rough seas to be encountered. Large triangular wedges locked and secured the top in place. This is what this vessel was born and lived for... 

There were many events scheduled during the cruise. Continuous live music, guest appearances and demonstrations by the re-enactors, and look-alikes Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth spent a lot of time mingling with the passengers. 

There were live gun demonstrations by the re-enactors of the troop weaponry used in those days, followed by a solemn wreath ceremony near the Skyway Bridge in memory of those who gave the ultimate price for freedom. 

The ceremony included a 21 gun salute by the re-enactors, a beautiful poem and invocation read by the ships Chaplain, and the placement of the wreath in the sea.


Diving out of the sun came two aircraft from Albert Whitted airport making sustained low passes in formation about as close as one can to the ship.   The vintage correct and immaculate T-6 (Texan) built by North American is one of the most important aircraft of all time in continual production for nearly 10 years and in active use for more than five decades primarily as a trainer. 

The markings red-yellow-red I believe are Spain. The other war bird, the T-28 (Trojan) was originally designed to replace the T-6 trainer. It was first flown on September 24, 1949, and entered production in 1950.            

When production ended in 1957, a total of 1,948 of these aircraft had been built. These volunteers put on an exciting show well appreciated by the passengers and crew alike.   

Being built in the forties kept the authenticity of the entire show.  We managed to get some nice photos literally from stem to stern, from port to starboard and from the bilge to the deckhouse. About 90% of the text is supported by almost 150 photos available for a donation to the ship.  Please contact me at  






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