The Liberty Ships and the Beginning of Post-War Greek Maritime Rule

After the end of World War II, a few far-sighted entrepreneurs took the first steps in making Greece the world’s leading maritime power, that it is today. All it took was about 100 U.S. Navy cargo ships the American government decided to sell after the war; the famous Liberty ships.

The Liberty ships were low-cost, mass-produced vessels based on a pre-war design developed by J.L. Thompson & Sons of Sunderland, England. Between 1941 and 1945, 2,710 of them were built. During the war they became emblems of U.S. Navy and most of them survived.

When the U.S. government put a number of them up for sale, Greek entrepreneurs bought 98 of them. Later ship magnets like John Theodoracopoulos, Aristotle Onassis, Stavros Niarchos, Stavros George Livanos, the Goulandris brothers and the Andreadis family bought dozens of them each, building a Greek fleet that soon ruled global waters.

Greeks called them “blessed ships”, because thanks to the American Liberty ships the Greek economy received a much-needed kiss of life. Along with the Greek-flagged ships, more Liberty ships were bought with the flags of Honduras, Panama and the United Kingdom, that were acquired by Onassis.

Marine historian and researcher Giorgos M. Foustanos; who has founded the online museum, is about to release a photography book with the title “Liberty Ships, Beyond the Myth”. According to Foustanos, a unique  relationship was formed between Greece and the United States, thanks to the acquisition of the Liberty ships.

Foustanos claims that the selling of the Liberty ships to Greece by the U.S. government at the specific time (1946), was for reasons of geopolitical balance. It was the time the Greek Civil War was about to erupt and no one knew what the outcome would be.

Beyond that, the author says, the relation between shipowners and the U.S. government was a two-way street, because the Greek shipowners contributed not only to the Greek but also to the American economy; since from 1948 until 1960 they made large tanker orders from U.S. shipyards. One of them cost the shipowner 20 million dollars, an amount almost equivalent to half of the total money the  Americans received for the sale of 98 Liberty ships.

Furthermore; Foustanos says, there is a great conclusion regarding the Liberty ships: While many of them were bought by French, Italian, British and the Norwegian shipowners, only the Greeks were able to build a fleet, that within a few decades, dominated and still dominates the seas, today.

Source: Margarita Pournara, Kathimerini


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