Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part I

The Heifer Project, today’s Heifer International, made six shipments of dairy cattle to Italy between December 1947 and October 1948 on the S. S. Humanitas. The vessel was a renamed Liberty ship sold to Italy after World War II and put into service transporting coal to Italy in its lower holds and dairy cattle quartered on the top deck. The livestock trips of the Humanitas had two major havoc-causing events in common. Today, we’ll look at the havoc caused by the weather on three of the trips.

Photo courtesy of Willard Rush.

On the Humanitas’ first trip, 17-year-old seagoing cowboy Charles Cutting set out from California for an adventurous time in Europe. He writes a delightful account of his experience in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffel Bag, available for purchase online for anyone interested in reading his full story.

The Humanitas departed from Baltimore December 3, 1947, with six seagoing cowboys, 160 head of cattle, and 10,000 tons of coal, causing the vessel to ride low in the water. “Our hope for fair weather was soon just a memory,” Cutting says. Under a heavy cloud cover, the wind whipped up waves that swamped the deck on the third day out and flooded the cowboys’ sleeping quarters through the air supply vents.

“Three a.m.!”, Cutting says. “There was a terrible shudder and crash….A pyramid wave had crashed down on the ship.” The cowboys were sent out to help rescue the cattle from the havoc and debris surrounding them until the ship’s officers ordered them back inside. They were entering a hurricane. The ship emitted frightening sounds as it slapped down into the waves’ troughs and back out again. Then came the calm of the hurricane’s eye, only to be bashed again on the other side of it. When deemed safe, the captain sent the cowboys back out to free the cattle. Only two had been injured, with broken legs. They were shot and became a bonus for the cooks.

The next trip left Baltimore January 30, 1948, with 18-year-old Byron Frantz on board. The Humanitas had to cut through six inches of ice in the Chesapeake Bay to get into open waters. Once it hit the warmer Gulf Stream, the ship again ran into a storm. With the weight of the coal, Frantz says, “mid-ship was only 10 feet above water. The storm caused a wave of water to come over the mid-ship and collapse a part of the ‘heifers’ home.” These cowboys, too, had a rescue job on their hands once it was safe to do so.

The Humanitas’ fourth trip left Baltimore June 9 and didn’t hit foul weather until it reached the Mediterranean Sea. “Once we were through the Straits of Gibralter, the weather drastically changed,” says cowboy David Harner. “The seas began to get rougher, and suddenly we were in a full blown storm. I was a little concerned because as a child my parents took me on a trip that included a visit to Puget Sound near Seattle. Lying at anchor in the Sound was a Liberty ship, actually half a Liberty ship, the forward half missing. When we asked a local sailor, he explained that these ships were so hurriedly made for the war effort that they often broke in two.”

“The blur on the right was seawater blowing up on the bridge’s windshield,” says Harner. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

“At the height of the storm, the deck plates between the No. 2 hold and the superstructure began to buckle, making a horrible screeching sound, then a dull BOOM as the bow dropped back into a wave trough. Señor Cortali, the radio officer, explained how and why this was happening. When I asked him if we were in danger of breaking up, he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. The next morning the sea was calm. A check of all the cattle revealed that they were all OK, unfazed by the storm. We put dry bedding over the soggy mess and completed our chores.”

Charles Cutting’s voyage also hit foul weather again in the Mediterranean Sea until nearing its destination of Naples, Italy. The ship unexpectedly reduced its speed “to a gentle crawl.” Cutting says, “We inquired, but the captain was evasive and would not tell us why. We sensed something unusual was involved.”

(to be continued)

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!

Swimming

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