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