World War II Ships Re-purposed as Livestock Carriers

When the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) decided to include live cargo in their relief shipments after World War II, they had to scramble to find ships. A number of ships had been fitted to carry mules used for pack animals during the war. After much negotiation with the U. S. War Shipping Administration, UNRRA was able to procure six of these ships, followed by nine more.

WWII mule carrier Zona Gale

The S.S. Zona Gale was one of the first Army mule carriers to serve UNRRA, June 1945. Photo courtesy of Lowell Hoover.

The need for a large number of dairy cows and draft animals in Europe soon became apparent, however; and UNRRA pressed the War Shipping Administration for the conversion of Liberty and Victory ships that transported troops and supplies during the war into additional livestock carriers.

Stalls for Rockland Victory.

Stalls are being built on a New York City pier for the Rockland Victory, November 1945. Photo courtesy of Paul Springer.

Throughout the livestock shipping program, UNNRA had 73 ships in service with the following breakdown:

3 Army cattle ships (S.S. F. J. Luckenbach, S.S. Mexican, S.S. Virginian) (capacity 650-700)

12 Liberty ships (capacity 335-360)

11 Liberty ZEC-2 ships, built with large holds to transport tanks during the war (capacity 800-850)

41 Victory ships, full load (capacity 785-840)

5 Victory ships, deck load (animals on top deck only) (capacity 200)

1 C-4 (S.S. Mt. Whitney) (capacity 1,500)

Henry Dearborn

Liberty ships, like the S.S. Henry Dearborn here, were usually named for a person. Photo courtesy of Arthur Lewis.

Battle Creek Victory

Victory ships, like the Battle Creek Victory, were usually named after a place. Photo courtesy of Wayne Silvius.

The Liberty and Victory ships were built in mass during the war – first the smaller, slower Liberties; then the larger, faster Victories. With good sailing, the Liberty ships required about two months for a livestock trip and carried about 15 seagoing cowboys, the Victory ships took six weeks and required 32 cowboys, and the C-4 Mt. Whitney was over and back in one month with about 80 cowboys on board. So college-age cowboys who wanted to make more than one trip during summer break hoped and prayed to be assigned to a Victory ship, or better yet, the Mt. Whitney.

SS Mt. Whitney

The S.S. Mt. Whitney, the newest and largest of the livestock ships, made her maiden voyage July 28, 1946, from Newport News, VA. Photo courtesy of James Brunk.

The ships used during the war were outfitted with gun decks fore, aft, and at midships. On some of the first livestock trips, the guns were still attached and some cowboys got to help shoot some of the leftover ammunition to dispense of it. Once removed of the guns, the gun decks made a nice observation or meeting area. . .

Coming into Greece.

Cowboys aboard the S.S. Park Victory watch the shores of Greece come closer in March 1946. Photo courtesy of Robert Frantz.

or in the case of a creative cowboy crew, the aft gun deck became a swimming pool on their return trip when they had nothing better to do with their time!


Cowboys enjoy a swim returning from Greece on the Jefferson City Victory, summer 1946. Photo courtesy of Roger Ingold.

19 thoughts on “World War II Ships Re-purposed as Livestock Carriers

  1. Hello my father, Ted L Klepinger (John), tended horses on the Zona Gale. He was severely injured during a storm en route to Bremen, and spent six months in southern England, maybe Plymouth, recovering. I remember part of the story was; his bunkmate was washed overboard, I’m not sure how true that is. My father passed in the May 1994. I’m not sure if he was related to Wayne Klepinger. My father was from KC Mo, and fought in Italy with the US Army.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, do you have crew lists? I’m told my uncle Dale Landis took horses to Poland — is there a way to verify that (ship and dates)?


    • Hi, Norm! Yes, I have a database of cowboys. Your uncle Dale was on the same ship as my grandfather, Abe Reiff, as it turns out. That is the S. S. Pierre Victory that left Newport News, Virginia, September 30, 1946, with a load of horses for Poland.


      • Awesome site…great posting as usual;. For crew lists, try immigration and travel. One must be a member, but the cost is worth it if one is doing genealogy research.


  3. Peggy – I served in the Army but not in this era. I met several Merchant Marines that told me about the incredible lack of farm animals in Europe following WW2 and the US ships that shipped large numbers of livestock to Europe. One man shared with me that the Europeans were shattered when they learned all the manure had been thrown overboard along the journey. The Europeans needed the mature as fertilizer.
    Do you have any idea what percentage of the livestock in Europe today came from the animals sent over from the US?


    • Hello, Phyllis,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I wish I could have spoken to some of those Merchant Marines! Yes, the manure was highly valued. Some captains ordered it thrown overboard, however; others let it accumulate to be offloaded in Europe. I have photos of train cars filled with manure in Poland.
      I have no idea what percentage of European livestock came from the animals shipped by UNRRA. As the organization only lasted about two active years, to my knowledge there was no follow up done to determine such outcomes.


      • Peggy – where are you located? Do you do public lectures?

        I would love to have you speak at an event about this fascinating topic!

        Phyllis Wilson CW5, U.S. Army (Retired) National Treasurer, U.S. Army Warrant Officer Association 813-758-9931


        Liked by 1 person

  4. I was a deckhand on the De Pau victory ship in 1945 when the deck and holds had stalls build for mules that we brought to Qinhuangdao, China. Anyone out there who was also on this ship at this time or who has knowledge of this event?


    • Oh, my goodness! How wonderful to hear from you Willard. My main focus of research has been on the seagoing cowboys, but I’m always highly interested in hearing from regular crew members on the livestock ships. There is record in the UNRRA livestock report of a shipment on the S. S. DePauw Victory to China that left from Hawaii on April 25, 1946, with 792 mules aboard. Would that have been the trip you were on? I’ve not heard from anyone on that voyage, as the cattle tenders for that trip were not recruited by the same office as the trips that left from the mainland. I would love it if your comment pulls some others out of the woodwork who were on that voyage. I’ll send you an email to continue our conversation. Peggy


  5. Dear Peggy, When I saw the picture of the Rockland Victory having stalls being built while in the NYC harbor, that brought back the memory that this was the ship that one month later was taking horses to Poland and I was on board that ship. That was December 1945. So that must have been the first shipment by UNNRA of the Rockland Victory. My second trip was on the DePau Victory with mules to Greece, one year later in 1946. February of the same winter Luke Bomberger was the leader of the cowboys going to China with cows on the Boulder Victory. That was 70 years ago in 1947! Blessings, Eugene K. Souder


    • Great to hear from you Eugene! Yes, that was the Rockland Victory’s first livestock trip. And the ship, obviously, wasn’t ready yet when some of the cowboys started to arrive. The need for livestock in Europe was so great, and the availability of ships limited; so there was a great push on at that time to get these shipments going in a much bigger way. Your participation in three of those trips was a great service to humanity. Thanks!


      • Hi…
        Just stumbled upon this excellent site. I am a U.S. historian, focusing on the WWII era and the merchant marine. This site adds a great deal to both maritime history and the follow up to WWII in Europe. It underlines that in Europe and the Soviet Union, the effects of the war were still strongly felt into the ’50s.

        In any case, can you tell me if there were any “singing cowboys” from NW Ohio: Bryan, West Unity (Williams and Fulton Counties)?


      • Hello, Theron! I’m so glad you found my site and are finding it useful. It’s an engaging story and important piece of our history that has kept me busy since 2002. Comments like yours make all the hours spent researching and processing it worth it. Thanks!

        I’m not sure what you mean by “singing cowboys.” There were often quartets, jam sessions, and even a choir or two put together among cowboy crews. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those were from NW Ohio, as there were many Brethren and Mennonite cowboys who came from that area. If you have something specific in mind, let me know and I can do some digging.


  6. Thanks Peggy, for the Cowboys news. I thoroughly enjoy your stories and photos. As I read your news report this morning, this quote came to my mind. Peggy,”Has the bull by the horns, and every thing is being covered and is in good hands.” Thank you again. Nelson Heatwole

    Liked by 1 person

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