Mission and History
n 1944, 531 ships were built and of those, 414 were cargo ships and the remainder were transports. 272 were 6000 HP engines and the balance boasted 8000 HP. 150 were named after schools and universities, 20 were named after countries and the rest reflected geographic names. On January 12, 1944, the very first Victory Ship, named the United Victory, was launched.
The world-class SS American Victory was built in 55 days and was delivered to the U.S. War Shipping Administration by the California Shipbuilding Yard on May 24, 1945. After serving in WWII, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the ship went through a $2.5 million restoration in June 1985. In October, 1996, Captain John C. Timmel learned the SS American Victory was earmarked for scrap if not acquired for memorial purposes. Feeling that a museum would be feasible in Tampa, FL and that it would act as a purveyor or maritime memories, the ship was towed from Virginia to its permanent location in the Channelside District in downtown Tampa. Currently, the SS American Victory is only one of 3 fully-functioning ships in the country.
Aboard the American Victory Ship and Museum, visitors can come aboard a fully-functioning 1940s era steamship. They experience an unforgettable voyage of discovery and relive history by visiting cavernous three level cargo holds, radio and gyro rooms, hospital, galley, weaponry, steering stations, flying bridge, signaling equipment, wheelhouse, mess halls, engine room, crew cabins, lifeboats and cargo equipment, then gaze upon photographs, uniforms, medals, documents and naval equipment.
The SS American Victory was delivered to the U.S. War Shipping Administration (WSA) by the California Shipbuilding (Calship) Yard at Los Angeles, California on May 24, 1945, at 1:30 PM, the 442nd ship constructed, by the shipyard, with WSA-hull designation No. 792. She was named after American University in Washington, DC, to honor the school’s contributions to war training and weapons research during both World War I and World War II.
At scores of shipyards on the east and west coasts, America’s industrial machine was in full gear in the early and mid-1940s, churning out Liberty and Victory merchant ships at a record pace to supply the war effort.
May 24, 1945, 1:30 PM– the SS American Victory is side launched at California Shipbuilding in Wilmington, CA, the 442nd vessel launched by the shipyard.
Shortly after launching, the SS American Victory is fitted out at California Shipbuilding. Note the crane on the ship’s port side.
Shortly after launching, the SS American Victory was assigned to the U.S. Army at Fort Mason, California and sent to Los Angeles and other West Coast cities to load military cargo. She departed the states for her inaugural trip, which took her to Manila in the Philippines and Shanghai, China to discharge her cargo. In November 1945, she sailed to Calcutta and Port Said, Egypt to load military cargo, returning to New York in January 1946 to discharge the cargo.
In early February 1946, the SS American Victory underwent a guarantee survey in Stapleton, New Jersey and went into dry-dock at Todd Shipyards in Hoboken, New Jersey. Following her dry-dock period, she loaded military cargo in New York, making port calls in the Caribbean and South America, including Trinidad, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She returned to New York in June 1946 and after undergoing an annual survey, was chartered by American Export Lines until November 1947.
Under the American Export Lines flag, the SS American Victory carried foodstuffs and machinery to Europe, Russia and the Near East under the auspices of the Marshall Plan. Ports of call included: Trieste (Italy), Constanza (Romania), Piraeus (Greece), Odessa (Ukraine), Antwerp (Belgium), and other mid-and eastern European ports. Following her trip from Odessa, in ballast through rough winter waters of the Black Sea and North Atlantic, she was laid up in dry-dock in Boston for hull repairs.
On the outbound trip from Odessa to Boston in January 1947, the captain of the Soviet icebreaker Turgenev ordered the SS American Victory Captain, A. D. Cushman, to delay his departure by a week because the Black Sea was icebound and the icebreaker needed time to clear the ice. With classic American pluck, Captain Cushman refused the request, advising that he could not afford to wait. He then set sail, using the SS American Victory as an icebreaker, much to the chagrin of the Soviet captain. She led several other ships out of the harbor and into the ice, including the Turgenev. This portion of the trip lasted about 36 hours, and severely taxed the SS American Victory’s engines because of the frequent need to reverse engines to get through the ice. While under the American Export Lines flag, she sailed mainly from New York, and made several coastwise trips with port calls in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
The SS American Victory leads two ships out of the ice-choked harbor at Odessa Ukraine in early 1947. The Turgenev is the ship making smoke.
photo courtesy of Ralph Nilsen
Christmas 1946 dinner aboard the SS American Victory en route to Odessa, Ukraine. First Assistant Engineer, Ralph Nilsen is fourth from the left, in the foreground. Captain A.D. Cushman is sitting against the bulkhead, second from the left.
photo courtesy of Ralph Nilsen
The U.S. Navigation Company chartered the SS American Victory on February 15, 1951, under a general agency agreement charter. This charter was changed to a bareboat arrangement one month later, on March 19, 1951, the quick change in charter status likely covering the time necessary to break her out of the Hudson River Reserve Fleet and readied for sea. She was again chartered to U.S. Navigation on February 21, 1952, and from then until December 1952, the SS American Victory supplied American and United Nations troops during the Korean War from ports in the United States and Japan.
On December 30, 1952, the SS American Victory was chartered under a government agency agreement to Dichmann, Wright, & Pugh, Inc. This firm is believed to have been a vessel-operating agency, sailing the SS American Victory for the government, carrying military cargo, vehicles, and equipment during and after the Korean War, which ended on July 27, 1953.
In March 1953, the SS American Victory was assigned to the grim task of returning the bodies of 370 GIs who lost their lives defending freedom in Korea, and on January 6, 1954, the SS American Victory was de-activated and entered the Sabine River Reserve Fleet near Orange, Texas.
Following the Korean War, the SS American Victory was assigned to the Sabine River Reserve Fleet near Orange, Texas, where she stayed until her reactivation for the Vietnam War in 1966
The SS American Victory at anchor in Sasebo, Japan in mid-1951, unloading supplies during the Korean War. Note the crow’s nest at the top of the foremast, long ago removed. Photo Courtesy of Joe Sinopoli
In 1963, The U.S. Navy developed a plan to acquire 15 Victory ships for use as “special project” vessels, among them the SS American Victory. The plan called for conversion of the selected vessels for use as ”Forward Depot” ships, which would be loaded with cargo, ammunition and other military supplies. The ships would then be anchored near potential “flash points” around the world to supply American troops if needed.
As a likely result of growing political and military unrest in Southeast Asia from 1963 onward, the Navy canceled the conversion plan in February 1966, after only three of the 15 ships had been refitted. Had the Navy plan fully materialized, the SS American Victory, then still anchored in the Sabine River Reserve Fleet, would have been renamed the USNS Carthage (AG 185).
After eight years in the Sabine Reserve Fleet, the SS American Victory was “broken out” on July 19, 1966, and chartered to the Hudson Waterways Corporation under a general agency agreement to support American troops in Vietnam. Under control of the Military Sealift Transportation Service Authority, she operated between the U.S., Europe and the Far East carrying military supplies to South Vietnam. She sailed the 250 miles from Orange, Texas to New Orleans under the Hudson Waterways flag, which operated the SS American Victory for more than three years, sailing on several occasions to South Vietnam and Southeast Asia carrying ammunition, military equipment and supplies.
One such trip began in August 1966, sailing from Mobile, Alabama to take on a cargo of 6 x 6 military trucks bound for Vietnam. The SS American Victory left Mobile on September 14 for New Orleans and a day later set sail for South Vietnam, via San Pedro, California. She made two ports of call in South Vietnam, at Cam Ranh Bay and Qui Nhon, to discharge her load of vehicles and returned to the U.S. at Los Angeles on December 20, 1966.
In September 1967, the SS American Victory set sail for Qui Nhon, South Vietnam from Yokohama, Japan with a load of 400 tons of creosoted telephone poles, military vehicles, and Conex boxes loaded with ammunition. About a day out of Yokohama and sailing through the Philippine Sea, the ship was severely battered by Typhoon Diana.
The late Captain Emil J. Siwiec, master of the SS American Victory on the ship’s bridge September of 1969.
The SS American Victory off the coast of Thailand in 1968, awaiting sailing orders for Vietnam.
During the typhoon, a non-watertight door to the emergency generating room on the aft end of the boat deck sprung open. Seawater flooded into the room, shorting out the emergency switchboard which caused a fire and loss of the main electric plant for several hours. The fire was extinguished with baking soda and electrical service was eventually restored. To repair deck damage caused by the telephone poles and to repair the electric generating system. the SS American Victory put into Buckner Bay in the Okinawa Islands and four days later resumed her journey to Qui Nhon.
The following year, still involved with supplying American troops in Vietnam, the SS American Victory circumnavigated the world, making port calls in Capetown, South Africa and other ports.
Under steam and with a full load, the SS American Victory in Capetown South Africa, circa 1968.
In June 1969, still under charter to Hudson Waterways, the SS American Victory took on a full load of bombs at a port in North Carolina and sailed for Sattahip, Thailand. The original plan was to discharge cargo at an American air base in South Vietnam, but the SS American Victory was instructed to anchor off Sattahip until a bombing halt over North Vietnam ended and the bombs in her holds were needed.
On her return trip, she sailed to Battaan in the Philippines to take on fuel, and then embarked for the U.S., via Pearl Harbor, where an injured crewman was discharged. The SS American Victory then sailed through the Panama Canal to Norfolk, Virginia, where the voyage ended.
Following service during the Vietnam War, she was de-activated on October 24, 1969 and placed in the James River Reserve Fleet (JRRF), located on the James River near Norfolk. During her time in the JRRF, the SS American Victory was protected from the elements by a series of innovative techniques. Her hull was protected from salt water corrosion by means of a cathodic protection system, and her interior spaces were sealed tight and dehumidified.
The SS American Victory was withdrawn from the JRRF on March 13, 1985 to participate in a government-sponsored Victory Ship Validation Program. The program was designed to gauge the time and expense necessary to activate mothballed Victory ships. She was brought to full operational status and performed sea trials, but returned to in-active status in the James River Reserve Fleet on June 24, 1985, where she has remained since that time. Records indicate that in June 1985, after a $2.5 million restoration, the SS American Victory sailed for 26 hours before returning to her anchorage in the James River Reserve Fleet.
The SS American Victory in a row of mothballed ships in the James River Reserve Fleet.
From 1969 until 1999, the James River Reserve Fleet was the SS American Victory’s homeport. She was anchored in “rafts” of up to 8 mothballed ships, lashed together bow to stern. For a period of time, the SS American Victory was anchored next to the SS Wayne Victory, shown above Coincidently, the SS Wayne Victory immediately followed the SS American Victory down the ways at California Shipbuilding.
1970 thru 1980's
The SS American Victory was withdrawn from the James River Reserve Fleet on March 13, 1985, to participate in a government-sponsored Victory Ship Validation Program. The program was designed to gauge the time and expense necessary to activate mothballed Victory ships. She was brought to full operational status and performed sea trials, but returned to in-active status in the James River Reserve Fleet on June 24, 1985, where she has remained since that time. Records indicate that in June 1985, after a $2.5 million restoration, the SS American Victory sailed for 26 hours before returning to her anchorage in the James River Reserve Fleet.
After going into the James River Reserve Fleet in late 1969, the SS American Victory participated in a U.S. Maritime Administration “Victory Ship Validation Program” from March until June 1985. After a $2 million restoration and overhaul, she steamed for 26 hours in the Atlantic Ocean and was returned to the Reserve Fleet.
Still in mothballs in the James River Reserve Fleet in March 1988, the SS American Victory’s readiness status was downgraded, no longer on rapid (30-day) readiness status. This change reduced the amount of regular maintenance she received.
In October 1996, Captain John C. Timmel, a State University of New York Maritime School at Fort Schuyler graduate and Tampa Bay harbor pilot, attended a Propeller Club convention in Baltimore, Maryland. He participated in one of the convention activities, an evening cruise aboard the SS John W. Brown, a reconditioned Liberty ship and began thinking about the potential for bringing a similar ship to Tampa.
In February 1998, Captain Timmel learned through Captain Brian Basel, then the United States Coast Guard Captain of the Port of Tampa, that several Victory ships in MARAD reserve fleets were earmarked for scarp if not acquired for memorial purposes. Timmel further considered the possibility of bringing a Liberty or Victory ship to Tampa for use as a museum and conducted an informal study of the idea. He determined that a memorial ship/museum would be feasible in Tampa.
Captain Timmel and Charles A. Harden, a Tampa-based marine surveyor, visited MARAD reserve fleets in the James River and the Beaumont River in Texas to survey available ships. Following the trip, Timmel and Harden selected the SS American Victory as the vessel to be acquired for memorial purposes. Soon afterward, they corralled significant local support in Tampa for turning the SS American Victory into a mariner’s memorial and museum vessel and formed the Victory Ship, Inc., in August 1998.
Less than three months later, in October 1998, Timmel and The Victory Ship, Inc. had received title conveyance legislation for the SS American Victory, the final legislative action of the 105th Congress. MARAD approved the title transfer in April 1999, almost six months after Congress had already legislated title conveyance. In September 1999, less than one year after title transfer, the SS American Victory made a triumphant arrival to Tampa Bay, her new homeport.
The daunting task of towing the SS American Victory from the James River Reserve Fleet to Tampa was smartly accomplished, despite two hurricanes and a tropical storm. Towed by the GulfCoast Transit tug Sharon DeHart, under the able command of Captain Mike Egan, the SS American Victory triumphantly arrived in her new homeport on Thursday, September 16, 1999, completing the first leg of her new life as a mariners memorial and museum. A flotilla of tugs, fireboats and pleasure craft and several of media helicopters, which recorded the event for posterity, accompanied the S/S American Victory. Seven hours after making the Tampa Bay Sea Buoy, she docked at her temporary berth at Tampa Bay Shipbuilding & Repair, where hundreds of supporters celebrated her arrival.
Journey to Tampa
The courageous mariners who sailed on the SS American Victory during the tow from the James River Reserve Fleet to Tampa take a moment on the bridge deck for a “family” portrait. From left, Capt. Roger Johnson, Capt. Art Whiting, Jim Schaut, Charles Harden, Charles’ son Chuck and Bob Greenbaum. The Riding Crew weathered two hurricanes and a tropical storm to get the SS American Victory safely to Tampa Bay, where she arrived on September 16, 1999. The Gulfcoast Transit ocean-going tug Sharon DeHart provided the towing services.
August 30, 1999
The tug Sharon DeHart is along the South Carolina / Florida border. She is proceeding north. We anticipate her arrival in Norfolk on Thursday, depending on Hurricane Dennis. The delivery crew was on the ship today, storing and making preparations for departure. We are hopeful that she will depart on Friday and be in Tampa on Sept 8. Stand by for more news.
August 31, 1999
Hurricane Dennis has won this round. The hurricane is moving very slowly and may turn west and hit Virginia in a couple of days. The Sharon DeHart’s arrival in Virginia has been delayed to September 2nd at the earliest. The delivery crew experienced 50 kt winds today at the ship. As a result of the hurricane, we have postponed the Arrival Event in Tampa Bay to the published hurricane date of September 14, 1999. Stand by.
September 9, 1999
The tug Sharon DeHart, with the SS American Victory in tow, reported her position as: Latitude: 34.8 North Longitude: 75.4 West, or 23 nautical miles south southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Wind is southerly and seas are running in a southeasterly direction with 3-5 foot swells in rain. The tug Sharon DeHart Captain reports that the SS American Victory is towing fine; the riding crew onboard the SS American Victory reports that all is well.
September 10, 1999
The Sharon DeHart, with the SS American Victory in tow, reported her position as: Latitude: 32.4 North Longitude: 78.2 West, or 70 nautical miles east northeast of Charleston, South Carolina. The Sharon DeHart is making 7.8 knots with winds westerly at 15 knots and seas running in a southerly direction with 3-5 foot swells. The tug and ship experienced 7-10 foot seas off of Cape Fear, North Carolina during the night. The Sharon DeHart captain reports that the SS American Victory is towing fine; the riding crew onboard the SS American Victory reports that all is well.
September 13, 1999
The tug Sharon DeHart, with the SS American Victory in tow, reported her position as: Latitude: 24.3 North Longitude: 81.0 West, or 10 nautical miles south of Marathon, Florida abeam of the Florida Keys. The Sharon DeHart is making 8 knots with winds northeasterly at 15 knots and gusty and seas running in a northeasterly direction with 3-5 foot swells. Because of the potential threat posed by Hurricane Floyd on the west coast of Florida and the Tampa Bay area, the tug has changed direction and is heading on a westerly course from the Dry Tortugas to avoid the hurricane. Updated information about the arrival date in Tampa Bay will be forthcoming. The Sharon DeHart captain reports many radio contacts over the weekend with several commercial vessels requesting information about plans for the SS American Victory, her destination, etc. Several sport fishermen circled around the SS American Victory and spoke with the riding crew about the ship.
September 14, 1999
The tug Sharon DeHart report their position as 22-52n 84-16w or 21nm northwest of Santa Lucia, Cuba (100 nm west of Habana). Winds are 20 kts and gusty from the north northeast and seas are 5-8 feet. They are on a westerly course and reduced speed. The SS American Victory crew received fresh provisions by boat on 9/13/99 near Key West and report all is well. Should Hurricane Floyd worsen Capt. Egan plans to head south to the lee side of Cuba. Once Hurricane Floyd has turned north Capt Egan plans to head for Tampa Bay. (Friday is the target of the arrival).
September 15, 1999
The tug Sharon DeHart, with the SS American Victory in tow, reported her position as: Latitude: 24.1 North Longitude: 84.0 West, or 127 nautical miles west of Key West, Florida. The Sharon DeHart is making 6.5 knots in winds northerly at 25 knots and gusty. Seas are running in a northerly direction with 6-10 foot swells. Tug Captain Mike Egan reports that the SS American Victory and crew are doing well. The DeHart and the SS American Victory are on the final leg of their long and arduous journey from the James River Reserve Fleet, which began on September 8 and has involved dodging two hurricanes, Hurricane Dennis and Floyd. They are headed due north, next checkpoint — the entrance to Tampa Bay.
Given current speed and weather conditions, anticipated arrival at the entrance to Tampa Bay is 12 Noon on Thursday, September 16. This estimated arrival time puts the tug and ship at the Sunshine Skyway between 3 P.M. and 4 P.M. on Thursday. This information will be updated as the tug reports their progress.
September 16, 1999
Victory at Last!!! according to Capt. Egan the Captain of the Sharon DeHart. As of 0830 this morning, The tug and ship will be at the Tampa sea buoy at 1200. She will pass under the skyway bridge around 1500. She will be near the south side of Davis Islands around 1800 and she will be docking at Tampa Bay Ship Building and Repair around 1830-1900.
SS American Victory Sails for the First Time with Passengers
After four years and four days of restoration involving nearly 80,000 hours of donated volunteer time, the SS American Victory set sail on Saturday, September 20, 2003, with 497 passengers and crew for her Shakedown Cruise, sponsored by Maritrans, Inc., the Tampa-based petroleum carrier.
Highlights of the cruise included a roaring flyover by a World War II vintage Navy T-28 (Video), a touching wreath-laying ceremony honoring lost Merchant Mariners and Naval Armed Guard crews and an unscheduled passing with the USCGC Pea Island near the Sunshine Skyway.
Passengers enjoyed a continental breakfast, a hearty lunch, and an afternoon snack, along with tremendous vistas of Tampa Bay from the American Victory’s decks. The cruise included a narrated tour of the Port of Tampa and ship tours and activities for ‘junior mariners,’ such as marlinspike skill demonstrations, a shipboard safety challenge, and maritime history quizzes.
A number of traditions were begun during the Shakedown Cruise and will become part of every “Relive History” cruise, including “Shifting Colors” after the last mooring line is let go, piping aboard dignitaries, Merchant Marine and Armed Service veterans, “Setting the Watch” and weaponry demonstrations using the ship’s 3-inch gun.
Several World War II re-enactors were aboard for the cruise, some outfitted in full combat gear, bringing back wartime memories for many of the veterans on board, as did the swing music of The Treble Clefs Band, the Floyd Johnson Band and a group of energetic swing dancers.
The SS American Victory slides away from her berth on September 20, 2003, for the first time with passengers, after four years of restoration involving more than 80,000 volunteer hours.