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Liberty's Provenance (ePub)

The Evolution of the Liberty Ship from its Sunderland Origins

Maritime > Naval Maritime > Seaforth Publishing > Seaforth: Modern Naval WWII > Naval Warfare WWII

By John Henshaw
Seaforth Publishing
File Size: 7.9 MB (.epub)
Pages: 128
Illustrations: 120
ISBN: 9781526750648
Published: 7th May 2019


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The battle of the Atlantic, fought by the Allies to maintain lines of communication and vital trade routes for armaments, men and basic sustenance, could not have been won without the 2,710 Liberty ships that were designed and built for those critical one-way voyages to Europe – more than one voyage was considered a bonus.

The kudos for the Liberty’s construction is, rightfully, American for that is where they were built. Less well understood is that the groundwork for the shape of the hull and its basic hydrodynamics took place in the North Sands shipyard of Joseph Thompson & Sons Ltd on the banks on the River Wear in Sunderland. This new book follows the path of the critical designs that flowed from Thompson’s shipyard commencing with SS Embassage in 1935, SS Dorington Court in 1939, through the SS Empire Wind/Wave series for the Ministry of War Transport in 1940 to SS Empire Liberty in 1941. These led to the sixty Ocean Class vessels built by Henry J Kaiser and, from these, the Liberty ship was adapted by American naval architects Gibbs & Cox who, to this very day, still claim they designed the Liberty ship.

With the use of beautifully drawn ship profiles, starting with World War I designs, then the critical designs from Thompson’s shipyard, and particularly a drawing comparing the Liberty ship with its British progenitor, the author demonstrates just how much of the former was borrowed from the latter. While some credit has been given to Thompson’s designs this new book offers the first real proof as to the direct link between his work, the Empire Liberty/Ocean Class and the Liberty ship which followed. In addition, the book demonstrates the versatility of the Liberty ship and explores those that were developed for specialist use, from hospital ships and mule transports to nuclear-age missile range ships.

A fascinating and beautifully presented book for all those with an interest in the battle of the Atlantic and, more specifically, in one of the most important ship designs of the War.

Anyone with a serious interest in Naval Architecture will find this an interesting read.

Navy Net

This is a book for readers with a wide interest in ships as well as the Battle of the Atlantic and the war of logistics that underpinned the land campaigns of the Second World War. The author is clearly passionate about his subject.

Warship Annual 2021 Edition

Lavishly illustrated with photographs and the author’s own line drawings, this book is a long overdue tribute to this great naval architect.

John Clandillon-Baker

John Henshaw’s highly informative book is a seminal contribution to the maritime historiography of the Second World War.

The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, Vol. XXIX, Summer 2019 – reviewed by Louis Arthur Norton West Simsbury, Connecticut.

"This book is one of the most interesting I have reviewed and will make a welcome addition to anyone’s bookshelves."

Marine News

"The book is well-printed in landscape format on good quality paper and deserves consideration from anyone interested in how the ship design process is translated into actual product which in turn can win a war."

International Naval Research Organisation


Nautilus Telegraph, December 2019

"The book is crammed full of ideas drawing and photographs of this most remarkably adaptable ship."

Review by

Chris Roche, South West Maritime Society

This is a book for ship enthusiasts and those who enjoy reading finely argued technicalities. While over 70 years have passed since these events the record of the Liberties has been definitively corrected. Liberty’s Provenance does this exceptionally well.

Read the full review here

Australian Naval Institute

This very readable account sets out to dispel the many myths and false assumptions made about what the author admits was an unremarkable rather than revolutionary design which President Roosevelt dismissed as an ‘ugly duckling’. Henshaw’s research, his attention to detail and his technical authority are exemplary even if he is slightly over-zealous in his quest to prove the true provenance of the famous Liberty ship.

Warship World, January/February 2020 - reviewed by Jon Wise

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The Naval Review, November 2019

An interesting and very well documented book.

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Miniaturas JM

"This is a must read for ship enthusiasts but also for those who are interested in maritime projects."

Reviewed by Robert Bartlett

The Liberty Ship was one of a handful of war winning developments. This class of ship is often thought of as American but the author sets out her provenance – Very Highly Recommended

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Nautical Research Journal

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Model Boats, August 2019

A fascinating volume on what proves to be an unexpectedly complex and interesting subject - recommended.

Read the full review here

Damien Burke, author of TSR2 - Britain's Last Bomber

The book, made with great care and passion, full of profiles and photos, pays tribute to the unknown creator Robert Cyril Thompson and to these ships that although built all in the US yards owe their conception to a British designer.

Read the full Italian review here

Old Barbed Wire Blog

Add 7 Appendices, full of supporting detail, this is a book packed with interesting detail about the Liberty ship and how it owes some clear origins in the basic hull design from the British shipbuilding firm. Without the success and sheer numbers of Liberty ships produced by US mass production methods it could have meant a different result to the Battle of the Atlantic. The supplies were kept on flowing. Modellers and naval historians will find this a fascinating read I am sure.

Read the full review here

Military Model Scene, Robin Buckland

There are plenty of photographs, liberally sprinkled throughout, many of which are great. There are also a good number of relatively poor quality. But as Henshaw explains, they're as good as he could find, and illustrate important points. Using such surprisingly scant reference material - scant when you consider over 2,700 of Liberty ships were built - Henshaw has produced what is probably the most attractive aspect of this book, the numerous line drawings.

Some of these are quite accurate, where plentiful reference such as other detailed drawings could be sourced, whilst others, as Henshaw is at pains to point out, are educated guesses based on the available evidence. I love them, and hope they might one day help me build models.

A fascinating book, well worth having/reading.

Read the full review here

A Question Of Scale, Seb Palmer

About John Henshaw

JOHN HENSHAW is a retired chartered surveyor, educated at Wesley College and Melbourne University. He spent most of his working career designing and constructing buildings of all types from domstic houses to office buildings. He has always had a love of the sea and owned several yachts, cruising Australia’s North East Coast extensively. He is also an accomplished marine watercolour painter and ship modeller and a fine technical draughtsman. His beautiful linework is a highlight of this book.

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