The War Shipping Administration (WSA) was a World War II emergency war agency of the US government, tasked to purchase and operate the civilian shipping tonnage the United States needed for fighting the war. Both shipbuilding under the Maritime Commission and ship allocation under the WSA to Army, Navy or civilian needs were closely coordinated though Vice Admiral Emory S. Land who continued as head of the Maritime Commission while also heading the WSA.
A shortage of vessels further complicated by requirements to take vessels out of service for conversion and armament was of concern at the highest levels, including the President. Particular concern that available shipping would not be used effectively led to his establishment immediately on the nation's active entry into the war of the Strategic Shipping Board composed of the Chairman of the Maritime Commission, Army Chief of Staff, Chief of Naval Operations and Mr. Harry Hopkins reporting directly to the President. Differences between the organizations and lack of decisive authority short of the President limited the board's effectiveness. An additional need was an effective routine interaction with the British Ministry of War Transport, already given management of British merchant shipping, for coordination of all Allied merchant shipping. Upon establishment of the WSA the Strategic Shipping Board continued in existence in a much diminished role under the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On February 7, 1942, the WSA was established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Executive Order No. 9054. February 7, 1942 as the U.S. had entered the war. The WSA was administratively split off from the United States Maritime Commission, established in 1936, which oversaw design and construction of merchant type vessels. Those included the production of Liberty ships and Victory ships among other types. The U.S. fleet expanded to some 3,500 dry cargo vessels and over 900 high speed tankers.
On a practical level The Maritime Commission and the WSA worked closely together under the administration of Vice Admiral Emory S. Land at the head of each. Land described this relationship in his report to The President of WSA's progress through December 31, 1943:
Under the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, the United States Maritime Commission was established as an independent agency to direct and control all phases of overseas shipping and shipbuilding. It became apparent immediately when this Nation entered the war that a special agency to deal with the operational problems peculiar to war was necessary to supplement the Maritime Commission. That need brought about the creation of the War Shipping Administration on February 7, 1942, which took over from the Maritime Commission virtually all of the Commission's major statutory functions with the exception of shipbuilding. Thus WSA became the Government's ship operating agency and the Maritime Commission its shipbuilding agency.
The WSA authority was extensive. In the same report to the President, Land describes the responsibility:
The responsibility of the WSA under the Executive Order of February 7, 1942, extended to all phases of shipping including the purchase or requisition of vessels for its own use or the use of the Army, Navy, or other Government agencies; the repairing, arming, and degaussing of WSA controlled vessels and Allied vessels under lend-lease provision; conversion of vessels to troop transports, hospital ships, and for other special purposes; training and providing ship personnel, operating, loading, discharging and general control of the movement of these ships; administering and marine and war risk insurance laws and funds, and the control of terminal and port facilities, forwarding and related matters.
Under that authority cargo hulls were allocated to either commerce, Army or Navy. Many of the Army's ships and Naval transports were allocated by WSA. WSA, through its agents, directly operated ships in support of the services and civilian requirements.Among the more notable WSA operated ships were large and fast troop transports able to sail largely without escort with WSA operated Argentina, Brazil, John Ericsson, Lurline, Mariposa, Monterey, and Uruguay being among those ships.
In addition, the WSA worked closely with the British Ministry of War Transport through the Combined Shipping Adjustment Board in ensuring most efficient use of available ship hulls and cargo carrying capacity.
Under the "loading, discharging and general control of the movement of these ships" WSA developed and enforced improved methods of utilizing ship capacity and avoiding inefficient use of ships by commerce and the military services.
After the war, WSA vessels were used to carry home the huge number of armed personnel overseas, as part of Operation Magic Carpet. Over 3,500,000 men were brought home from overseas areas by December 1, 1945.
On September 1, 1946, the WSA functions were returned to the Maritime Commission.
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Liberty ships were a class of cargo ship built in the United States during World War II. Though British in concept, the design was adopted by the United States for its simple, low-cost construction. Mass-produced on an unprecedented scale, the Liberty ship came to symbolize U.S. wartime industrial output.
USS Florence Nightingale (AP-70) was a Maritime Commission type C3-M cargo ship built as Mormacsun for Moore-McCormack Lines. Mormacsun operated for Moore-McCormack from May 1941 until December 1941 when she came under the War Shipping Administration (WSA) for the duration of World War II. The ship operated with Moore-McCormack as the WSA agent, playing an important role in early supply of the Southwest Pacific, until transfer to the United States Navy September 1942 and commissioning as Florence Nightingale whereupon she became an Elizabeth C. Stanton-class transport ship. She was named for Florence Nightingale (1820–1910), the nursing pioneer, and is one of the few United States Navy ships named after a woman. The ship was returned to WSA in 1946 and then to Moore-McCormack operating as Mormacsun until sold to operate as Japan Transport and lastly as Texas.
The United States Maritime Commission (MARCOM) was an independent executive agency of the U.S. federal government that was created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, which was passed by Congress on June 29, 1936, and was abolished on May 24, 1950. The commission replaced the United States Shipping Board which had existed since World War I. It was intended to formulate a merchant shipbuilding program to design and build five hundred modern merchant cargo ships to replace the World War I vintage vessels that comprised the bulk of the United States Merchant Marine, and to administer a subsidy system authorized by the Act to offset the cost differential between building in the U.S. and operating ships under the American flag. It also formed the United States Maritime Service for the training of seagoing ship's officers to man the new fleet.
Seatrain Lines, officially the Over-Seas Shipping Company, was a shipping and transportation company conducting operations in the Americas and trans-Pacific regions. Seatrain Lines began intermodal freight transport in December 1928 by transporting entire loaded railroad freight cars between the United States and Cuba. The specially designed ship Seatrain, built in England, was followed in 1932 by two larger ships built in the United States and in 1939 by two additional ships. By the outbreak of World War II the company was operating five ships that became important in the war effort and basis for the design of fifty new ships for military use. A series of business setbacks amid the rise of containerized shipping left the company in perilous financial condition in the 1970s. Seatrain Lines shut down in 1981 after filing for bankruptcy.
SS Munargo was a commercial cargo and passenger ship built for the Munson Steamship Line by New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, New Jersey launched 17 September 1921. Munargo operated for the line in the New York-Bahamas-Cuba-Miami service passenger cargo trade. In June 1930 the United States and Mexican soccer teams took passage aboard Munargo from New York to Uruguay for the 1930 FIFA World Cup. The ship was acquired by the War Shipping Administration and immediately purchased by the War Department for service as a troop carrier during World War II. Shortly after acquisition the War Department transferred the ship to the U.S. Navy which commissioned the ship USS Munargo (AP-20). She operated in the Atlantic Ocean for the Navy until returned to the War Department in 1943 for conversion into the Hospital ship USAHS Thistle.
USS Mizar (AF-12) was the United Fruit Company fruit, mail and passenger liner Quirigua that served as a United States Navy Mizar-class stores ship in World War II.
John L. Clem was built as the cargo and passenger liner Santa Ana for W. R. Grace and Company for service in Grace Line's South American service but was requisitioned before completion by the United States Shipping Board (USSB) in 1918 due to World War I. The ship was chartered back to Grace after completion until turned over to the United States Navy to be briefly commissioned as the troop transport USS Santa Ana (ID-2869) from 11 February 1919 to 21 July 1919.
The Type C4-class ship were the largest cargo ships built by the United States Maritime Commission (MARCOM) during World War II. The design was originally developed for the American-Hawaiian Lines in 1941, but in late 1941 the plans were taken over by the MARCOM.
SS Aquarama was built as Marine Star, one of five breakbulk cargo ships of the United States Maritime Commission (USMC) type C4-S-B5 having that C4 design variant. The ship was delivered to the War Shipping Administration (WSA) for operation in July 1945 just before the end of World War II and was operated until August 1946 by WSA's agent American Hawaiian SS Company. From September 1947 the ship was laid up except for brief periods in the James River.
SS Sea Marlin was a C3-S-A2 cargo ship operated for the War Shipping Administration (WSA) by Grace Lines during World War II. WSA allocated Sea Marlin to United States Army requirements. Sea Marlin was crewed by United States Merchant Marines, with a contingent of the US Naval Armed Guards for the guns and had a complement of the US Army Transportation Corps aboard for troop administration.
USAHS Marigold was a United States Army hospital ship during World War II. The ship was built as Old North State in 1920 for the United States Shipping Board as a civilian passenger/cargo liner. The ship changed ownership and operating companies several times with name changes to President Van Buren and President Fillmore before being acquired for military transport service in 1941. After government acquisition during World War II President Fillmore served as a War Shipping Administration troop transport before conversion to hospital ship service.
USAHS Acadia was the first United States Army Hospital Ship during World War II. Built in 1932 by Newport News Shipbuilding as a civilian passenger/cargo ocean liner for the Eastern Steamship Lines, the vessel was in US coastal and Caribbean service prior to its acquisition by the US Maritime Administration in 1941.
SS Mormachawk was a United States cargo vessel and troop ship during the Second World War operated by Moore-McCormack Lines as agents of the War Shipping Administration (WSA) from completion 14 December 1942 until placed in reserve after the war September 1946. The ship remained in the Columbia River reserve fleet at Astoria, Oregon until sold for scrapping in 1964.
MS Sea Witch was a United States Maritime Commission type C2 cargo ship, the first of four pre-war hulls, built by Tampa Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Tampa, Florida and delivered in July 1940. The ship was of the basic C2 design, rather than the more numerous C2-S, C2-S-A1, C2-S-B1 types and four C2-T hulls delivered December 1941 through March 1942. Sea Witch was one of the relatively few C2 types built with diesel engines.
SS Haiti was a passenger and freight ship built for the Colombian Mail Steamship Company built at Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Virginia and delivered 15 December 1932. The ship was renamed briefly Puerto Rico in 1938 and Monterey in 1939 to operate for the New York and Cuba Mail Steamship Company until requisitioned with transfer of title to the War Shipping Administration (WSA) on 25 September 1942. The ship was then allocated to the U.S. Army for operation under a bareboat agreement as USAT Monterey. In 1943 the ship was assigned to the command at Trinidad to supply bases in Brazil and Ascension Island. After layup in the reserve fleet the ship was sold to Turkey.
USAT Cuba was the passenger ship Cuba of the Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Company built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company, Philadelphia in 1920 and placed into operation in 1921 for scheduled passenger and freight service between Tampa, Key West and Havana.
Marine Robin was completed for the United States Maritime Commission (USMC) by Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company in 1944 for service in World War II. The ship was one of the C4 type ship variants built by the company completed as either troop transports for the War Shipping Administration (WSA) or to become Navy hospital ships. The troop transports were operated throughout the war by commercial shipping firms operating as agents for WSA.
MS Cape Flattery was a United States Maritime Commission type C1-B cargo ship built in 1940–41 by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding, Tacoma, Washington, for the commission to be assigned to the American Mail Line for transpacific service. After the United States entry into the war the ship was operated by the War Shipping Administration (WSA) through American Mail as agents. The ship, after about a year of operation, became a troop transport for the remainder of the war.
SS Rufus King was a standard Liberty ship built in the United States during World War II. She was named after Rufus King and was wrecked in July 1942, upon Amity Bar aouth of Moreton Island and north of North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia.
SS Lake Elsmere was an Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) Design 1074 cargo ship built for the United States Shipping Board (USSB) during the massive shipbuilding effort of World War I.