Concrete Ships in World War I and II

In order to win a war, it is important to have the necessary materials and vehicles to continue fighting. This includes aircraft, trucks, tanks, and ships. However, during World War I and II, steel became scarce due to the military requisitioning it all for vital weapons, munitions, and vehicles needed on the front lines. To counter this, the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson approved the construction of 24 concrete ships.

The World War I Emergency Fleet

The construction of 24 concrete ships began in late 1917 with a budget of $50m. However, by the time the war had ended, only 12 of the total 24 had been built. The 12 were sold into civilian service and lived out relatively uneventful lives. One, the oil-tanker S.S. Palo Alto, was even turned into a dance club and restaurant in Seacliff Beach, California. Another, the steamer S.S. Sapona, was used as a floating liquor warehouse during Prohibition.

The McCloskey Ships Of World War II

During World War II, steel once again became scarce. In 1942, the U.S. Maritime Commission contracted McCloskey and Company to build a fleet of 24 new concrete ships. These were lighter, stronger, and faster than their World War I predecessors thanks to 20 years of breakthroughs in concrete technology. Built in Tampa, Florida, the ships were launched in late 1943-1944 and each was named after pioneers in the development and science of concrete. Two of the ships were purposely sunk to act as blockships during the Allied invasion of Normandy, while two are currently used as wharves in Yaquina Bay at Newport in Oregon and seven are still afloat to this day in a giant breakwater on Canada’s Powell River.


1. What are concrete ships and why were they used during World War I and II?

Concrete ships are vessels constructed with steel and reinforced with concrete. They were used during World War I and II because of the steel shortage caused by war efforts. Concrete was a cheaper and more readily available material, making it the ideal alternative for ship construction. These ships were primarily used for non-combat purposes such as cargo transport and as floating docks for military operations.

2. What were some of the challenges faced during the construction of concrete ships?

The construction of concrete ships posed several challenges, such as the difficulty in finding skilled workers who were familiar with the techniques of concrete construction. Additionally, the concrete mix had to be carefully controlled to ensure that it was strong and durable enough to withstand the harsh ocean environment. The weight of the concrete also posed problems as it made the ships heavy and slow to maneuver. Finally, the lack of flexibility of the material meant that concrete ships were more susceptible to cracking and damage than traditional steel vessels.

3. What happened to the concrete ships after the war ended?

After the end of World War I and II, many of the concrete ships were decommissioned and abandoned. Some were sunk as artificial reefs or used for target practice by the military. Others were used for civilian purposes such as storage facilities or as breakwaters. A few concrete ships still remain in use today, such as the SS Palo Alto which now serves as a pier in California.

4. Are there any concrete ships that achieved notable accomplishments during the war?

Yes, there were a few concrete ships that achieved notable accomplishments during the war. The SS Atlantus, one of the first concrete ships ever built, was used as a ferry in the Chesapeake Bay area. The SS Selma was used in the Pacific theater to transport fuel and ammunition to American troops. The SS Empire Gull, a British-built concrete ship, was used to transport cargo between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. While the concrete ships did not play a major role in the war effort, they did provide a unique solution to the steel shortage and helped to transport supplies and troops across the ocean.

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