By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos © www.ww2wrecks.com
One of the four still existing Liberty ships in the world is “Hellas Liberty”, formerly named “SS Arthur M. Huddell”, located in Piraeus harbour, Greece, serving as a floating museum.
Overall, 2,710 Liberty ships were built between 1941 and 1945, an average of three ships every two days.
More than 2,400 Liberty ships survived the war. Of these, 835 made up the postwar cargo fleet. Greek entrepreneurs bought 526 ships and Italians bought 98.
Some Liberty ships were lost after the war to naval mines that were inadequately cleared. The “Pierre Gibault” was scrapped after hitting a mine in a previously cleared area off the Greek island of Kythira in June 1945.
There are four surviving Liberty Ships.
SS John W. Brown – operational and in use as a museum ship in Baltimore Harbor, Maryland
SS Jeremiah O’Brien – operational and in use as a museum ship, docked at Pier 45, San Francisco, California
SS Arthur M. Huddell – transferred to Greece in 2008 and renamed Hellas Liberty. Restored for use as a maritime museum in Piraeus harbour, Greece.
SS Albert M. Boe – The last Liberty ship built, sold to private ownership in 1964 and renamed Star of Kodiak. Used as a fish cannery ship. She is currently landlocked but remains the headquarters of Trident Seafoods in Kodiak, Alaska.
Of the 1,272 ships operating under the Greek flag at the start of World War II, 914 were lost during the course of the war.
Following the end of the war all of the undamaged Allied shipyards were operating at full capacity, building replacement ships for their own fleets.
Greece was among a number of countries wanting to rebuild their fleets.
In response the United States passed a law in March 1946 allowing the sale of American vessels to foreign nationals.
In July of that same year the US Maritime Commission decided to sell ships for cash or on credit to allied governments or individuals from allied powers who could produce a letter of guarantee from the state.
As a result a number of Greeks shipowners who had dollars in American banks bought Liberty ships, with many registering them in Honduras, Panama and the United States.
Those shipowners without this source of funds asked the Greek state to provide them with a letter of guarantee which on 6 April 1946, the Greek government issued for the purchase of up to 100 Liberty ships.
Backed by this financial guarantee Greek shipowners were able to purchase 98 Liberty ships from the US Government between December 1946 and April 1947
Further Greek purchases of Liberty ships continued through the 1950s, with the peak occurring in 1963 before the number in the Greek fleet began declining in 1964. Of the 722 Liberties in service in 1966, 603 were owned by Greeks.
By the early 1970s, Greeks controlled the biggest commercial fleet in the world.
As the Liberty ships had formed the foundations on which their post-war merchant fleet was built, the Greek shipping community refer to the Liberties as the “blessed ships”.
To honor the service of the Liberties several members of the Greek shipping industry developed a vision of acquiring a Liberty-type ship for conversion into a floating museum in Greece.
While the Arthur M. Huddell was awaiting its turn to be scuttled as a fish reef, an exchange of communications between Greece and officials in the United States began in an effort to obtain the ship for Greece.
Shipowner Spyros M. Polemis played a significant role in activating members of the Greek Diaspora to assist in this effort.
As a result of the efforts of US politicians of Greek heritage headed by Rhode Island Senator Leonidas Raptakis and Connecticut congressman Dimitrios Yiannaros approval was given for the gifting of the Arthur M. Huddell to Greece with legislation being passed by the US Congress to allow the transfer of ownership.
The relative agreement was signed on between US Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton and Greek Minister of Merchant Marine, Georgios Voulgarakis on 30 June 2008.
The ship was subsequently towed in the next month to a repair facility in Norfolk, Virginia for the necessary inspections and preparations before on 6 December 2008 the ship left Norfolk under tow by the Polish tug Poseidon, and arrived at Piraeus on 11 January 2009.
The project, still without formal Greek government support, was largely financed by Greek shipowners.
In January 2009 Arthur M. Huddell was officially transferred to Greece after several years mitigating hazardous materials and negotiations and was renamed Hellas Liberty.
General repairs and conversions took place at Perama shipyard and Salamina island, during 2009 and 2010, including installation of a new rudder and propeller.
The rudder was fabricated new in Greece, but the propeller was donated by the United States government to the Greek government.
The propeller was a spare Victory ship propeller, which is the same diameter of 18 ft (5.5 m), as on a Liberty ship.
The difference is that the Liberty has an output of 2,500 hp (1,900 kW) while the Victory is 7,500 hp (5,600 kW).
They had a different pitch, but as it isn’t turning, it doesn’t make a difference.
In June 2010, she was presented to the public in her restored form in Piraeus harbor in Athens.
In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, the Greek Merchant Shipping was in ninth place worldwide, having in its possession 577 ships, with a total capacity of 1,666,859 tons, under the Greek flag.
In addition there were 124 foreign-flagged steamships with a total tonnage of 454,318 tons.
Although Greece remained neutral from the beginning – on September 1, 1939 – of the Second World War until the Italian attack on October 28, 1940, the then Greek government immediately placed the merchant fleet under the Greek flag at the disposal of the Allies, from the very first day of the war, while the Greek merchant navy continued to serve the Allied needs, not only until the liberation of Greece in October 1944, but also until the total collapse of the Axis in August 1945.
Greece participated in the war with approximately 600 ships of the merchant navy and 20,000 sailors. Of these ships, 320 were ocean liners with 10,000 sailors serving.
The price of World War 2 was heavy for the Hellenic Merchant Navy (HMN). In total, it is estimated that the number of ships recorded as lost reached 975 in number, of which 52 were passenger ships, 372 freighters and 551 sailing ships.
The greatest losses of the Greek Merchant Navy were due to the action of German submarines, mainly in the Atlantic Ocean.
During the early phase of WW2, only about six German U-boats operated on average, sinking more than 1,000 Allied cargo ships, carrying over 34 million tons of valuable cargo.
The percentage of losses of the Greek-owned merchant fleet on the whole amounted to 72%.
The day after the war, Greece found itself with 152 ships with a total tonnage of 530,000 tons, having lost 77% of its ships and 73% of its capacity.