The Emergency Building Program and the Development of the T2-SE-A1 Tanker
By the winter of 1940-41, the Nazis controlled all of the coast of Europe from Lapland to the Pyrenees. German aircraft and submarines seemed likely to strangle Britain by destroying its shipping. Though U.S. ships were forbidden to enter the combat area by the Neutrality Act that had been passed in November 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to aid Britain while simultaneously strengthening the defense of the Western Hemisphere.1 It came as no surprise then, when Roosevelt announced his intention to create an emergency shipbuilding program to construct two hundred standard-type cargo ships--later known as the "Liberty Ships." Funding for the program was assured when Congress created the $350 million Emergency Ship Construction Fund on 8 February 1941.2 Although this was a minimal amount compared to the five billion dollars that the navy was spending on new construction, it further strained the American shipbuilding industry, which was already filled to capacity. Sixty-eight yards were engaged in building ships for the navy and every available slipway in the United States was occupied, as were the shops that manufactured gears, turbines, and all the other machinery necessary to complete a ship.3
At the time the Emergency Ship Construction Fund was passed, merchant ship construction was already being delayed by navy priorities.4 Adm. Emory S. Land, who had taken over chairmanship of the commission in February 1938, thought no further expansion was possible "unless some of the brains and machinery pre-empted by the Navy" were assigned to the commission's program.5 The issue of construction priorities was quickly resolved by President Roosevelt who directed the Office of Production Management to correct the situation. Instructions were subsequently issued to the Priorities Committee of the Army and Navy Munitions Board to treat merchant ships on the same basis as ships for the army or navy. Shortly thereafter, it was decided that the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company Yard at Chester, Pennsylvania, should concentrate on the construction of merchant types
and that the navy should refrain from placing orders at the Sun yard.6In return, the maritime commission was to place no contracts with Newport News, New York Shipbuilding, the Bethlehem yards at Fore River, San Francisco, and Staten Island. Assigning Sun Ship to the maritime commission formed the basis for the commission's wartime tanker program.
At the time, Sun's eight shipbuilding ways were fully occupied constructing private tankers. Admiral Land realized the company had the staff to manage a larger yard, however, and a twelve-way addition, paid for and owned by the government, was built along the Delaware River to handle government contracts. In March 1942, three additional yards were turned over to the exclusive construction of tankers. These were the new Kaiser Company ship yard at Swan Island, Oregon; the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding yard at Mobile; and the Marinship yard in Marin, California.
Funding for still more ships was provided by the Defense Aid Supplemental Appropriation Act, better known as the "Lend Lease Act."7 Approved by Congress on 27 March 1941, the act provided Roosevelt with a legal way to aid Britain by allocating another $550 million to the maritime commission for the construction of large numbers of merchant ships that could be transferred to Great Britain in return for territory leased to the United States. After the act was passed, Roosevelt called upon Admiral Land to advise him as to how funds for yet another two hundred ships should be allocated.8 Land, who had never favored the slower Liberty design, successfully urged that at least half of the vessels be the faster C-types originally developed for the commission's long-range program. The construction of tankers had not been contemplated in the original plans, but heavy losses in this type (twenty-two British tankers were sunk during the period January-March 1941) convinced Roosevelt to add a large number of tankers to the list of ships needed. These were included in the emergency shipbuilding program formally announced by the president on 19 April. Thus, when the president's lend-lease program of emergency shipbuilding was formally announced on 19 April 1942, it included seventy-two tankers, which were allocated to Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company as part of a total program that now numbered 306 vessels.
The T2-SE-A1 Tanker Design
The tankers awarded to Sun were based on a standard commercial design that Sun had developed for a series of three ships ordered by Standard Oil Company of New Jersey for its Petroleum Shipping Company subsidiary in February 1940.9 All three vessels were still under construction with the first, Stanvac Melbourne (Sun hull number 208), scheduled for delivery in June. In line with the maritime commission's general policy for greater ship speeds, the horsepower
for the proposed ships was increased from 4,000 to 6,000 s.h.p, providing an increase in speed from 13 to 141/2 knots. Because of a projected shortage in reduction gears, turboelectric drive was selected by the maritime commission to replace the steam turbines that would normally have been supplied.10 Reduction gears were a critical item of equipment, which reduced the output speed generated by a steam turbine (at several thousand rpm) so that it could be used to turn the propeller at a suitable speed (less than 100 rpm) in the water.11
Although turboelectric drive was a new development, Sun was familiar with it, having previously built the electric-drive tankers J. W. Van Dyke and Robert H. Colley for the Atlantic Refining Company.12The decision to employ turboelectric drive was forced upon the maritime commission as a result of the tremendous increase in shipbuilding, which occurred as both the navy and the maritime commission awarded hundreds of contracts for new ships. By the spring of 1941 the industry was filled to capacity with back orders and further expansion was proving difficult due to a growing shortage of machine tools. Substitution of turboelectric drive solved the potential delay in engine deliveries by circumventing the need for the reduction gears--then the tightest bottleneck in engine production.13 The foresight demonstrated by the commission in this regard was to provide important dividends for the navy when the commission's tankers were needed on an emergency basis to fill the shortage in fleet oilers that arose in the first months of World War II.
One other change was made to the original design: the traditional parabolic sheer of the upper deck was eliminated in favor of an increase in the molded depth.14 This change simplified construction and was another feature adopted from the design of the Atlantic Refining vessels.
Plans for the new ship were immediately drawn up by the commission's technical staff so that construction contracts could be issued quickly. The design was designated as the maritime commission T2-SE-Al-type tanker (see table 13). Orders for the first seventy-two ships were formally placed on 27 May 1941.15 Two additional changes would be made before the T2-SE-A1 design was finalized. One involved the elimination of the so-called clipper bow, a highly visible feature characteristic of the antecedents built by Sun. Straightening the bow was most likely done to facilitate fabrication, especially in light of the large number of ships that the maritime commission planned to construct. The second extended the engine room--the hull--by three feet to accommodate the turboelectric plant. Both revisions were made on 19 June 1941.16
Sun's past experience and preference for welding led to a design for the T2-SE-A1 based entirely on welded construction. Although the technique of joining metal by welding had been developed by the
The J. W. Van Dyke, built for the Atlantic Refining Company by the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, was the first large vessel fabricated in the United States using welding as the primary means for joining metal. She was also one of the first ships powered with turboelectric drive. (Steamship Historical Society Collection)
early 1930s, it was slow to be adopted by the shipbuilding industry and had never been used for 100 percent of a ship's construction. Though welding was more economical than riveting--it was faster and saved steel--the industry was slow to adopt its use. Sun, an early sponsor of welding for shipbuilding, was in the forefront of its development having pioneered the use of this technique in the White Flash, a tanker it constructed for the Atlantic Refining Company in 1931.17 Sun's J. W. Van Dyke was the first large vessel fabricated in the United States using welding as the primary joining means throughout.18 Sun's decision to use welding throughout the construction of the T2-SE-A1 proved invaluable in producing a vessel that could be easily copied by other yards and produced in record-breaking numbers. By war's end, a total of 481 T2-SE-Als, 43 T2-SE-A2s, and
Principal Dimensions of the T2-SE-A1 Design
Length, overall 523' 6" Length, between perpendiculars 503' 0" Beam, molded 68' 0" Depth, molded to upper deck at side 37' 0" Draft, molded design 29' 113/8" Total displacement 21,880 tons Total deadweight capacity 16,770 tons Tank capacity, barrels 141,158 (42s) Shaft horsepower, max. (@ 93 rpm) 6,600 Shaft horsepower, normal (@ 90 rpm) 6,000 Sea speed 141/2 knots
Suamico (AO-49), shown here in October 1942, was one of the first T2-SE-A1 tankers built at the Sun Shipbuilding yard in Chester, Pa. Christened the Harlem Heights when launched on 5 May 1942, she was quickly acquired by the navy to meet the dire shortage of fleet oilers and renamed Suamico. The parabolic sheer and straight bow are visual clues that distinguish the T2-SE-Al-type from their progenitors. (National Archives)
1 T2-SE-A3 had been delivered making the T2 the largest single class of tankers ever built. Welding permitted them to be built in the shortest possible amount of time--so fast that the world's record for tanker construction is still held by the Marinship Yard for a T2-SE-A1, Huntington Hills, which was constructed in just twenty-eight days (on the ways)!
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