Liberty Ship
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"You came in that? You're braver than I thought!"
Princess Leia Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Basic Information

The Liberty Ships were a class of British designed merchant ships produced by American shipyards during WW2. The class was designed as a response to the massive losses of Allied shipping tonnage to German U boat attacks and was specifically optimised for mass production being assembled from pre-fabricated components allowing the vast capacity of US industry to be fully brought to bear1.

Due to a lack of preliminary testing, the early Liberty Ships suffered some metallurgical problems leading to sudden and alarming structural failures, up to and including complete disintegration - these were later rememdied by improvements to materials of construction and assembly techniques and the reinforcement of existing vessels.

As a result of their minimalistic design philosophy the Liberty Ships tended not to be selected for any of the more exciting wartime roles - although for much of the war crossing the Atlantic was more than enough excitement for most people. The most common conversion was to a tanker design (usually for hauling petrochemicals) although a few were converted to aircraft tenders. Armament, where fitted, was typically light - one 4" cannon was the usual scale, supplemented with an assortment of lighter guns or, more usually machine guns. This was mainly designed to deter U-boats from making surfaced attacks and to fend off opportunistic aircraft - but was still enough to allow the SS Stephen Hopkins to inflict mortal (and humiliating) wounds on the German Auxiliary Cruiser Stier.

Designs owed quite a bit to the similar but less radical "Hog Islander" ships from WW1 and the lessons learned from Liberty Ship construction were passed on to the suceeding class of Victory Ships.

Post war, these ships were sold at disposal prices by the Allied governments and ended up as the foundation of several modern shipping companies - a few are still in comission and many more continue to serve in various modified forms as floating docks and industrial units. At one stage a converted liberty ship served as a floating nuclear power station for the Panama Canal zone.


"The Other Wiki" on Liberty Ships.

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • As the flavour text hints, there's a lot of mileage in their post war role as cheap private tramp merchants - Firefly would, arguably, be a better inspiration than Star Wars, given that no Liberty ship would ever be modifiable to Millenium Falcon style performance.
  • There's probably a lot less mileage to be had during the war - in most cases these ships just sailed back and forth across the Atlantic or Pacific under close escort. Gruelling, but not great RPG material.
  • Fairly easily translated into sci-fi.
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