United States Maritime Commission

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The United States Maritime Commission ( MARCOM ) was an independent executive agency of the US federal government. In the course of the Merchant Marine Act (1936) passed by the US Congress on June 29, 1936, she took over the duties of the United States Shipping Board , which had been active since the First World War .

Structure of the Commission

Emory S. Land (left) hosting a United States Maritime Commission dinner aboard the Brazil

The numerous tasks of the United States Maritime Commission resulted from the Merchant Marine Act's Declaration of Policy . The main task of MARCOM was therefore to carry out a construction program initially designed for ten years for around 500 contemporary merchant ships in order to replace the merchant ship tonnage of the US merchant fleet, which was mainly created at the time of the First World War. The ships were to be chartered out to US shipping companies in the leasing process in order to enable them to operate competitive overseas services. At the same time, MARCOM administered a subsidy program approved by the Merchant Marine Act, which was intended to offset the higher costs of building the ships at US shipyards and operating them under the American flag. In return for the aid, the ships were also intended to be used as support ships for the US Navy in the event of an armed conflict. A task that in the years leading up to World War II was becoming more and more likely.

Until the beginning of the Second World War, the commission consisted of five members, which consisted of retired naval officers, lawyers and business people. President Roosevelt named Joseph P. Kennedy as its first chairman. Kennedy held this position until he was transferred to Great Britain as the United States Ambassador in February 1938. His position was taken by the retired Rear Admiral Emory S. Land , who previously headed the construction and repair department of the US Navy. The US Navy Commander Howard L. Vickery , who, like Land, was very familiar with the construction of Navy ships, was particularly influential . Vickery oversaw the shipbuilding program of the Maritime Commission including the tasks of ship design and construction, the development of the shipyards, as well as the companies of the ship's machinery to be installed. Against the background of the foreseeable outbreak of war, Vickery also promoted the emergence of the Emergency Shipbuilding Program , which was later put into practice by business figures such as Henry J. Kaiser .


The first ship, which was begun as part of the new construction program of the Merchant Marine Act, was that of Eleanor Roosevelt dubbed America , the United States Lines . In the years before the outbreak of war, however, only relatively few cargo ships were built in the Long Range Shipbuilding Program, which was originally designed for five hundred ships . But as early as the autumn of 1940, the crucial importance of shipbuilding for the defense of Great Britain became clear, which led to the British Merchant Shipbuilding Mission ordering 60 tramp ships of the type Ocean and then, within a short time, to the start of the Emergency Shipbuilding Program . The overall task of the US Maritime Commission became known as " Ships for Victory ".

A T2 tanker

Between 1939 and the end of World War II, the Maritime Commission carried out the largest shipbuilding program of all time. In addition to the well-known cargo ship series of Liberty freighters and Victory ships , the list of built ship types also included C1 ships , C2 ships , C3 ships and T2 tankers . The commission was also responsible for the construction of hundreds of military ships such as landing craft , troop transports and frigates . The last major shipbuilding project of the US Maritime Commission was the management of the design and construction of the passenger ship United States , which could be converted into the world's fastest troop transport within a short time. A total of 5777 seagoing ships were built under the aegis of the Maritime Commission by the end of the war.

After the end of the war, both the Emergency and Long Range Shipbuilding Programs ended, as the number of ships produced far exceeded the tonnage requirements in peacetime. The Merchant Ship Sales Act , passed in 1946, regulated the sale of some of the war ships to shipping companies in the US and abroad. Although some of the simply constructed war structures were only designed for very short periods of use, most of the ships sold remained in service well into the 1960s. In the second half of the 1960s, shipyards around the world offered more economical Liberty replacement ship types with diesel engines. By the early 1980s, the last series-produced buildings of the Maritime Commission era disappeared.

The unsold ships of the Maritime Commission formed the backbone of the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), which are held ready for use at several locations in the USA. The last major mobilization of the NDRF took place in the course of the Vietnam War . Even within the NDRF there are hardly any ships left from the time of the Maritime Commission.

The US Maritime Commission's ship type system

MARCOM introduced a system for identifying the series and individual ships designed and built under its supervision. The system consisted of a combination of letters and numbers divided into three blocks, which basically provides information about the type and size of the designated type of ship. A T2-SE-A1, for example, is a tanker with a water length of 400 to 450 feet, a steamship with a turbo-electric drive and single propeller, and the original design of its series.

The first group identifies the basic type and size of the ship. The first letter stands for the type of ship. The appended number indicates the length of the waterline.

  • "C" - Cargo (cargo ship)
  • "T" - tanker (tanker)
  • "P" - Passenger (passenger ship)


  • 1 - less than 400 feet
  • 2 - 400 to 450 feet
  • 3 - 450 to 500 feet
  • 4 - over 500 feet

The second group identifies the type of machinery and the number of propellers.

  • "S" - single-screw steamship (steamship with single propeller)
  • "ST" - steamship, twin-screw (steamship with double screw)
  • "SE" - single screw steamship, electric propulsion (steamship with turbo-electric drive and single propeller)


The third group describes the individual ship design. The individual types are arranged alphabetically from "A" to "AZ", then continued with "B" and so on. An attached number provides information about the particular design, with the "1" representing the original design. In addition, the two largest construction programs of the Second World War, the Liberty freighter and the Victory ship, each received a prefix in front of the first group of digits, "E" for Emergency (Liberty) and "V" for Victory.

After the continuation of the tasks of MARCOM by the United States Maritime Administration in 1950, the system was changed. This was followed by the now somewhat more arbitrary preceding designation of the basic design (1, 2, 3, etc.) in the third group of digits an appended small letter to identify the individual design (example: C4-S-1a).


War Shipping Administration advertising poster

In order to be able to ensure the availability of a sufficient number of ship officers for the ships to be built, MARCOM founded the United States Maritime Service , which took over the training of seafarers. The issue of maritime patents and other working papers remained with the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation.

In the spring of 1942, the administration of training and the granting of patents were transferred to the United States Coast Guard , but the War Shipping Administration (WSA) was founded in the fall of 1942 , whose country also became chairman. The WSA took over the maritime service to monitor the operation of the merchant fleet of the US Armed Services that was being built as part of the Emergency Program.

On May 24, 1950, the Maritime Commission was dissolved and its functions between the United States Federal Maritime Commission , which took over the use of the merchant ships, and the United States Maritime Administration , which was responsible for the construction, aid programs, and maintenance of the National Defense Reserve Fleet Operation of the United States Merchant Marine Academy transferred.


See also

The following authorities have been responsible for the US merchant fleet since 1917:


  • Frederic Chapin Lane: Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding under the US Maritime Commission in World War II . Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore 2001, ISBN 0-8018-6752-5 .
  • LA Sawyer, WH Mitchell: From America to United States. The History of the long-range Merchant Shipbuilding Program of the United States Maritime Commission . World Ship Society, London 1981 (in four parts).
    • Part 1: SS America, the C1, C1-M and P types. 1979, ISBN 0-905617-08-8 .
    • Part 2: C2, R, C4 and C5 types. 1979, ISBN 0-905617-12-6 .
    • Part 3: C3, V and L6 types, plus the wood and concrete ships. 1984, ISBN 0-905617-31-2 .
    • Part 4: N5 and S types, post-war liners, the C3-S-DX1 prototype, miscellaneous ships and the numerical list of all USMC hull Nos with the appropriate Yard Nos and ship types. 1986, ISBN 0-905617-38-X .

Web links

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