Liberty Factory

...from Seaforth Publishing

Title: Liberty Factory
Author: Peter J Marsh
Publisher: Seaforth Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-5267-8305-9

Sub-titled 'The Untold Story of Henry Kaiser's Oregon shipyards', this new 256-page hardback book from Seaforth Publishing, part of Pen & Sword, is absolutely fascinating. The author was fortunate enough to be given the archive collection of photos and documents amassed by Larry Barber, the long-time marine editor of the local newspaper, 'the Oregonian'. Packed with detail, maps and all well illustrated with a great collection of good quality archive images.
I suspect many of us interested in the history of WW2 will be familiar with the Liberty Ship and of Henry Kaiser, but I for one did not know anything about the extra shipyards he set up on the Columbia River at Portland, Oregon, along with the town of Vancouver, Washington, on the opposite bank of the river. Around 100 miles inland, the story this book explains has just so much to it. There are the Liberty ships, along with the later Victory ships, assembled on multiple slipways. Many parts were prefabricated and then assembled once the keel was laid. That is all explained, including the daily breakdown, of once ship that took just 10 days from the laying of the keel until the ship was ready to be launched. That in itself is an amazing feat of production, while there is also the record of LST-475, a 328-foot long, 1500 ton vessel that took just 2 days 23hrs from laying the keel to be ready for launch. Not everything was built in these record times, but it does demonstrate the incredible industrial muscle of the USA in WW2. The shipyards in Portland/Vancouver built hundred of cargo ships, attack transports plus tankers and escort carriers, the sheer quantity of ships they built there is incredible. But that is far from the whole story. There is so much more that makes for interesting comparisons that many companies still only talk about today. The company encouraged workers to move to the area, and trained them in their new jobs. Then there was the provision of housing, the effort put into combatting discrimination, both racial and indeed sexual, as more and more women were recruited to do engineering jobs. Canteens fed the workforce and child care was provided so that mothers could come to work. The social side of the story is every bit as interesting as the stories of the physical ships that were being built. With the large workforce and new facilities in the area so other companies also made a base there. Some of these are detailed in the later chapters.
I discovered so much in this book, a story I really know essentially nothing about beforehand. Apparently there is little left in Portland these days to commemorate the important role the city played in the Liberty ship programme of WW2, and I think this book should go a long way in doing something to make more of a mark of the story. The social aspects of the revolutionary approach of the Kaiser companies should really be applauded. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Seaforth Publishing/Pen & Sword for our review copy.

Robin