Marinship on the Fast Track

By Eric Torney and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society    

Historian and filmmaker Eric Torney has produced a book for the Arcadia Images of America series that tells the Marinship story using images and captions along with an overall Introduction and four Chapter Introductions. Here’s an excerpt describing how quickly the shipyard was conceived and constructed:

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  This photograph, donated to the Historical Society by Steve Bechtel, shows the shipyard in full production. Bechtel proudly displayed the image in his office for many years.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

This photograph, donated to the Historical Society by Steve Bechtel, shows the shipyard in full production. Bechtel proudly displayed the image in his office for many years.

The Marinship shipyard existed in Sausalito during World War II with a specific purpose to build badly needed cargo ships to support the war defense effort. It was an Emergency shipyard, built very quickly during the opening days of United States involvement in the War to build ships to replace those then being very efficiently sunk by German and Japanese submarines. The shipyard began operation in 1942 and was closed down after Japanese surrender in September, 1945.

Shipyard construction was begun promptly after a telegram from the United States Maritime Commission was received by the W. A. Bechtel Company. The telegram was received on 2 March, 1942, the Sausalito site selected on 3 March, and a proposal to build the shipyard presented in Washington DC was made on 9 March. Ten minutes into the presentation U. S. Maritime Commission administrators told the W.A. Bechtel Company to build the shipyard. Physical construction began on 28 March. Construction start was delayed two weeks to allow the 42 families living on Pine Point, which was scheduled to be demolished to build the shipyard, to move.

Three months after construction began the keel for the first Marinship vessel, the Liberty Ship William A. Richardson, was laid on an unfinished shipway. Three months after laying the keel the William A. Richardson was launched. AMAZING! A shipyard is urgently requested by the U.S. Maritime Commission in early March and a ship is launched in September from the shipyard built on what had been tidewater and mudflats only several months before.

During three years of launching ships, ending with the launch of the Tanker SS Mission San Francisco on 18 September, 1945 Marinship sent a ship down the shipways approximately every eleven days. A total of 93 ships were launched, including 15 Liberty Ships and 78 Tankers.

Marinship proved itself to be among the most efficient shipyards during the early days of its construction and operation. This was noted by the U.S. Maritime Commission and several days before the William A. Richardson was launched Marinship was directed to cease production of Liberty Ships and to convert all production to Tankers. The conversion was painful. The shipyard had learned to efficiently build Liberty Ships and had to change to building the far more complex and larger Tankers. The first Tanker took 139 days on the shipway and 66 days at the Outfitting Docks, a total of 205 days. The first Liberty Ship took 126 days and the last Liberty Ship took 60 days. Marinship holds the still standing record for shortest time to build and deliver a Tanker, 33 Days for the Huntington Hills. Comparable Tanker building records are 60 days for Swan Island, 79 days for Alabama, and 90 days for Sun Ship.

A typical day at Marinship during peak of operations had about 20,000 workers on three shifts. Skilled shipyard workers were in drastically short supply due to the Draft taking men to be soldiers and sailors. Local resources, including women and minorities, were inadequate. A recruitment effort brought labor from the Midwest and the Deep South. The recruited workers needed to be trained to be shipyard workers, many of the recruits never even dreaming that they would one day be building a ship. Marinship developed a training program to teach the recruits how to build ships assembly line style. Each worker was trained in a specialty task by a master shipyard worker. Women were noted as being most efficient welders, their welds being more precise and smoother than a man's weld.

Marin City was built by the Federal Government to provide desperately needed housing for shipyard workers. Operated by local administrators Marin City was available to any Marinship worker regardless of race or gender. But, when it was first opened to renters mostly white, skilled workers were here to take residence. After the War ended skilled workers went home. Minorities, having no place they wanted to return to, who had lived elsewhere during the war, particularly in the Fillmore district which had vacancies created by Japanese Internment, moved into vacant and affordable Marin City housing.

Labor problems were a result of the integrated workforce developed at Marinship. But, skilled and fair management successfully overcame these problems. Marinship became known as the most effectively integrated and efficient workforce among all WWII Emergency Shipyards. The integrated workforce we have today, men and women and minorities efficiently working together in relative harmony, can find first precedent in the workforce developed at Marinship.

Marinship' success can be traced to the efficiency and skill of the W. A. Bechtel Company. Ken Bechtel, originally a W. A. Bechtel Vice President became President of Marinship Corporation. It was Ken Bechtel whose administrative skills allowed Marinship to become the most efficient shipyard of all those Emergency Shipyards built and operated during WWII. Ken Bechtel was a family man, a philanthropist, and Commissioner of Boy Scouts in Marin County. Without Ken it is doubtful that Marinship would have been able to distinguish itself as admirably as it did.

Eric’s book is available at Costco, Mollie Stone’s, Book Passage by the Bay, the Ice House, Driver’s Market and Water Street Hardware.