American Revolution was an experienced merchant
mariner. The merchant marines were volunteers at that
time, as you are today. When it first came into being, the
U.S. Navy converted merchant ships into fighting ships
by adding cannons to the decks. Through determination
and the skills these merchant mariners had learned on
the high seas, we won a great war. Congress authorized
the first six frigates of the Continental Navy on 27
March 1794. Ex-merchant mariners commanded and
manned these frigates. Until World War II, the officers
and personnel trained in the merchant marine formed
the most important manpower reserve for the Navy.
With the threat of World War II in Europe and Asia,
Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.
That act provided for a strong merchant marine to
service the fleet as a naval auxiliary during times of war
and national emergency.
When World War II started, merchant ships were
scarce. Since the United States needed to get ships
quickly to supply the war effort, we seized the ships of
the enemy in our ports. We also took possession of ships
from foreign private operators in both domestic and
foreign trade. We bought foreign ships and redoubled
our U.S. shipbuilding efforts.
Within a year and a half after we entered the war in
1941, shipyards produced ships faster than the enemy
could sink them. By mass-producing ships for the war
effort, the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company produced a
ship a day. Most shipyards built liberty ships that made
only one trip to the war zone. If ships did come back, the
Navy loaded them and sent them out again. Shipyards
also mass-produced larger and faster shipsvictory
ships and tankers. Many of them were still in service 20
years later. We produced more than 6,000 merchant
ships during World War II and somehow found and
trained the crews to sail them.
The Army and Navy used many merchant ships as
auxiliaries. We used them as hospital ships, repair ships,
airplane carriers, and for other special uses. We devised
and used new methods of loading and replenishment.
Every inch of the ships cargo holds and topside areas
was loaded for increased carrying capacity.
The U.S. merchant marine plays an important part
in the sea power of this country. Besides importing
essential raw materials for defense of the free world, the
merchant marine transports Army and Air Force
personnel during times of war or national emergency. It
a l s o t r a n s p o r t s l a rg e a m o u n t s o f e q u i p m e n t ,
ammunition, fuel, and other supplies that must follow
our forces. In previous wars, we moved most of our
troops to the war zone by ship. Although we airlifted
most of our forces to the war zone during the Vietnam
conflict, the merchant marine transported about 97
percent of needed supplies. We must supply about 5 tons
of supplies to take care of each person at the front during
war. Getting those vital supplies to the right place is a
major task. The experience gained from two World
Wars and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts taught us
how important the merchant marine is.
The merchant marine today consists of all
commercial oceangoing vessels flying the U.S. flag.
Although the U.S. merchant marine is not part of the
armed forces, it serves with them in wartime. It is
subject to unified control under the Maritime
Administration during times of war. The merchant
marine includes all waterborne transportation
combination cargo-passenger ships, tankers, dry-cargo
vessels, river barges, and harbor tugs. We have
restricted our discussion of the merchant marine in this
chapter to oceangoing ships of 1,000 gross tons and
over. Ships of that group include the liner fleet (ships
operating on regular schedules). They also include ships
contracted to carry cargo to all areas of the world and
ships in domestic and foreign trade. The term merchant
marine refers to all these ships and their crews.
In a war, the mission of the U.S. merchant marine
includes the following:
Transport essential materials and cargo needed
for the U.S. economy and needed to aid in
supplying the economic needs of overseas allies
Resupply American and allied military forces
Provide underway replenishment for wet or dry
cargo and other direct services to Navy ships at