April 1940 – Britain’s race to break shipbuilding records

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    Malcolm Lewis

    The London Daily Telegraph of 5 April 2010 reprinted an article from the paper published on 5 April 1940, reporting William Westwood, who was general secretary of the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights Association at the time, announcing in his annual report the race to break shipbuilding records, with the plan to produce cargo ships at a ‘speed never before known’.
    He stated that shipyards all over the country would build cargo ships faster than British vessels could be sunk. The ships were to be of one type and one that could be built the fastest and most economically. They were to be known as ‘emergency ships’, essentially ‘tramp vessels of a simple type’ and were to be the nearest thing to mass production that the shipbuilding industry had ever known.
    Is there much recorded about the success of both this shipbuilding programme and of the ships themselves? It would seem to be a concept taken up by the USA which introduced the highly successful Liberty Ship building programme in 1941, based upon a British WW1 tramp ship design.
    The Liberty ships were constructed using the latest welding methods. Would the ‘emergency ships’ mentioned in the Telegraph article have been welded or riveted, the latter presumably being a much slower process?

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