Liberty Ship


The Atlantic Bridge of Steel

Written by Scott Messmore

The S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien is one of the few remaining ships that took part in the D-Day landings in 1944. Only two of its class, Liberty Ships, remain afloat in the United States today. Only the O'Brien is restored to its wartime condition and she lays at anchor at San Francisco's Pier 32.

Hours of Operation and Location

Nearly 5,000 ships sailed across the English Channel to invade Hitler's Fortress Europe on June 6, 1944. Among the hundreds of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carriers, were Liberty Ships crammed full of combat troops. In 1941-42, the Nazis were sinking so many supply ships Allied victory was in doubt. The Allies (mainly the United States, Great Britain, Russia and France) decided that ship production would simply have to outpace the number of vessels sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Enter the Liberty Ship. Liberty ships were American-made cargo ships that were designed to make only one solitary ocean voyage. The O'Brien in fact made four convoy trips across the treacherous North Atlantic. The O'Brien made 11 voyages across the English Channel in support of the D-Day landings. From the invasion beaches of Normandy the O'Brien also sailed as far as Calcutta, the Philippines and Australia before returning to San Francisco in 1946. Liberty Ships were designed to be built quickly in 18 stateside ship yards. Named after a Revolutionary war hero, Jeremiah O'Brien was built in Portland, Maine, in 56 days and launched on June 19, 1943. Hardly a record, the Kaiser Ship Yard built a Liberty Ship in only four days. Economical and easy to construct, Allied war leaders wanted a veritable bridge of steel to ship supplies from America to England. The Jeremiah O'Brien is 441 feet long, 57 feet wide, displaces 14,245 tons and carries a wartime crew of 58 sailors. To protect itself from enemy aircraft and ships, the O'Brien carried two five-inch guns and eight 20-millimeter antiaircraft guns. Placed into mothballs by the Navy, the O'Brien was saved from the scrap heap in 1966 to be restored to it's original wartime fighting condition. Years of restoration work resulted in the O'Brien being opened to the public in 1980. In 1994, the O'Brien was the only ship that had taken part in D-Day that made the trip to Normandy, France for the 50th anniversary of the invasion. In late 1995, the O'Brien was honored with an award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for its ongoing maritime history programs. The O'Brien has even made it to the silver screen, with the engine room sequences of the monster hit Titanic being filmed onboard the Liberty Ship. In May and October of each year, volunteers take the old Liberty Ship out to sea for a day of 1940s music, ship tours and plenty of sea stories from visiting veterans. For O'Brien bay cruise information call 415-441-3101.

The S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. One-and-a-half hour guided tours are possible on weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and until 3 p.m. on the weekends. Regular tours of the ship cost $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and military, $3 for children under 18. Children under six years old are admitted to the ship for free. Guided tours are the same price but should be arranged in advance of your visit. Call 415-441-3101 for guided tour reservations. A ship's store is onboard with ship's bells, wool watch caps, Rosie the Riveter magnets and wooden models of the Jeremiah O'Brien. For more information about the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien call 415-441-3101.

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