Mothball Fleets and the SS Red Oak Victory

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By Jonathan H

SS Red Oak Victory
The SS Red Oak Victory via the sky, thanks to MSN’s Virtual Earth

The NDRF Reserve Fleet at Suisun BayToday, I visited the SS Red Oak Victory. Dad was visiting from Oregon, and I knew he would be interested, because my grandfather served on a similar ship (not a Victory ship, but a Liberty ship). The only difference between the two is the fact that the Victory is a newer design that could travel 1.5 times as fast (17 knots compared to 11 knots). The ‘upgrade’ was inspired partly by the speed of German U-Boats. The Victories could out-run a U-Boat; however, the Liberties could not.

These were cargo ships, about 455 feet long (with 3-5 cargo holds). As a point of comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet tall (including its 154-foot base). The shaft for the propeller was enormous. And it was simply amazing the techniques they used to keep this ship running.

My father was a machinist, so he enjoyed the machine shop. Overall, it was an incredible day trip. For five dollars, we got a one-hour tour of the ship, complete with original artifacts found in the ship after it was hauled away from the mothball fleet at Suisun Bay.

As a Geographer/History Buff, I would give a pound of my flesh to explore the entire mothball fleet. In all, there are 274 vessels in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF). Many get turned into reef sites and are intentionally sunk by British, American, and French Navy in their training exercises. Some are sold to local museums (such is the case with the USS Red Oak Victory to the Richmond Museum); and others are sold to companies or foreign governments.

You wouldn’t believe the map rooms in these places… enough to make even the most blas? and disenchanted geographer salivate. We were shown one in particular that showed anchor locations in a small atoll, where the whole fleet would hang out to support operations Japan during WWII.

In the coming weeks, I’ll bring you photos of the dry docks at Berth 1 in Richmond (the Kaiser Ship Yards), I’ll cover the effects of the end of war-time ship production, and bring you pictures from the Kaiser site itself.

5 comments on “Mothball Fleets and the SS Red Oak Victory

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  2. Jason on said:

    It’s not accurate to say that the ‘only’ difference between a Victory and Liberty is that the Victory is faster. The Victory was superior in nearly every way. One of the big improvements, was that the all of the deck equipment aboard Victory ships were powered by electricity, rather than steam, as on the Liberty Ships. This decreased the amount of maintenance necessary, and increased the productivity of cargo-handling operations. Their hulls were stronger than Liberty Ships’ hulls (achieved by actually making them more flexible). Victory Ships were also designed to be flexible with regards to their propulsion systems. Some were built with 6000 HP engines, some with 8000 HP engines. One was even built with a Diesel engine, and it was planned to have many more with Diesels, but wartime shortages prompted them to stick to steam-turbine engines almost exclusively.

  3. Jonathan Haeber on said:

    Thanks Jason. I appreciate the extra information. I hope I didn’t imply that the only difference was their speed. I’ve been on both a liberty and victory, and I’ve seen very obvious differences between the two, most notably in their engine rooms.


  4. Jason on said:

    Victorys have a more elegant sheer, are more hydrodynamically streamlined, have a larger cargo capacity, and look a whole lot better than Libertys, in my humble opinion. I volunteer aboard the Red Oak, so I suppose I’m a little biased towards Victory ships.

    Forgot to mention, I have most of my pics from exploring the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet on my picasa account. The URL is:


  5. Pingback: You’re Invited: Mothball Fleet Revealed - Bearings

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