In last July’s column, I talked about the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. She’s a fully restored World War II Liberty ship berthed at Pier 45 in San Francisco. Liberty ships were designed at the beginning of World War II to serve as the tractor trailers of the sea.
The SS Red Oak Victory, named for Red Oak, Iowa in honor of the extraordinary sacrifice of this town in WWII, during her restoration in Richmond.
By CaptaIn Ray
Published: July, 2012
In last July’s column, I talked about the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. She’s a fully restored World War II Liberty ship berthed at Pier 45 in San Francisco. Liberty ships were designed at the beginning of World War II to serve as the tractor trailers of the sea. As the war progressed, the United States produced an updated and improved version of the Liberty ship. Called Victory ships, the first one was launched in January 1944 and by the end of the war, over 500 had been constructed.
Compared to Liberty ships, Victory ships were longer (455 feet vs. 441 feet), and had a greater beam (62 feet vs. 57 feet). While the draft was about the same (28 feet vs. 29 feet), there was a slight increase in displacement, from 14,245 tons to 15,200 tons. There were several different types of propulsion, including steam engines, steam turbines and diesel engines. These newer power plants (producing 6000-8500 horsepower instead of the 2500 horsepower of the Liberty ship), coupled with redesigned bows and sterns, resulted in cruising speeds increased from 11 knots to 15-17 knots. This made them a little less vulnerable to attack by submarines.
We’re fortunate to have not only a fully restored Liberty ship in San Francisco, but right across the Bay in Richmond there is also a Victory ship in the process of being restored. She’s the SS Red Oak Victory (AK-235). Painted U.S. Navy grey and berthed on the Richmond waterfront, she is easily visible from the Larkspur and Vallejo ferries as they pass Angel Island.
She’s named for the town of Red Oak, Iowa in honor of the extraordinary sacrifice of this town in the early days of U.S. involvement in World War II. During the Battle of Kasserine Pass, Tunisia in February 1943, 45 servicemen from this very small Iowa town were killed or captured.
The Permanente Metals Corporation built the Red Oak Victory. She was launched at their Richmond Yard Number 1 on November 9, 1944 and commissioned into the U.S.Navy on December 5, 1944. In just over one month after commissioning, she was fitted out, loaded and underway for the Hawaiian Islands. From there, she was sent to the Caroline and Marshall Islands, Enewetak, and Ulithi. For the rest of World War II, she served out of the Philippines, resupplying ships in the western Pacific.
Decommissioned in 1946, she spent the next 20 years in the merchant service, and was active in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In 1968, she was laid up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (the "Mothball Fleet") in Suisun Bay.
While waiting to be scrapped, the Richmond Museum Association became aware of her and began negotiations that resulted in Congress authorizing the transfer of ownership to the Museum Association. The Richmond Museum of History assumed ownership and in September 1998, the Red Oak Victory found a new home on the Richmond waterfront, not far from where she had been built more than 50 years before.
The Red Oak Victory is now a part of the Rosie the Riverter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, and is open for visiting on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. You can find all the details on her website, www.SSRedOakVictory.com.
Ray Wichmann, is a US SAILING-certified Ocean Passagemaking Instructor, a US SAILING Instructor Trainer, and a member of US SAILING’s National Faculty. He holds a 100-Ton Master’s License, was a charter skipper in Hawai’i for 15 years, and has sailed on both coasts of the United States, in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Greece. He is presently employed as the Master Instructor at OCSC Sailing in the Berkeley Marin..