The Ordeal of Lifeboat No. 3 by Gary D. Crawford
Seventy years ago, there was a war on. It was being fought on the land and in the air, and upon all the oceans of the world. We Americans came in more than two years after Germany’s invasion of Poland, but by 1943 we were in the thick of it. Our industry had been redirected to turn out the weapons and supplies needed to carry on the war, and by January of 1943 a massive effort was underway throughout the land. Shipbuilding was a high priority, not only of warships but also the all-important cargo vessels. Thousands of transports were needed to move everything into the various theaters of the war. The new “Liberty” ships were being mass-produced at everincreasing rates. They were 441 feet long with a beam of 56 feet, carried 9,000 tons of cargo at 10 knots for up to 21,000 miles. Built in sections all over the country and quickly welded together in the shipyard, Liberty ships were the mainstay of the trans-Atlantic transportation highway. It was estimated that 590,000 man-hours were needed to manufacture and assemble the quartermillion parts that went into a Lib-
erty ship. Since manpower was in mighty short supply in 1943, women were recruited from cities and farms to fill in. One shipyard reported that one-eighth of its workforce were women ~ and not just in the offices.
By war’s end, 2,751 Liberty ships would be built. This story concerns just one of them, No. 949. Her keel was laid down at the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore on January 20, 1943, and just five weeks later the James W. Denver was launched. In two more weeks, she was completely fitted out and turned over to the Army Transportation Service for immediate duty. Building a large vessel in just 53 days was terrifically fast for shipyards in the pre-computerized 1940s, but construction speeds would pick up. In California, one Liber t y