Book Review Liberty Factory - Peter J Marsh

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by von Poop, Jul 7, 2021.

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Liberty Factory
    The Untold Story of Henry Kaiser’s Oregon Shipyards

    Screenshot 2021-07-07 142546.jpg

    By Peter J Marsh
    Seaforth Publishing
    Pages: 256
    Illustrations: 200 black and white illustrations
    ISBN: 9781526783059
    Published: 25th January 2021

    Good stuff.
    These days, you're not likely to catch me saying 'Untold story!' or 'Forgotten history!', so while it makes me cringe a little that the former cliche appears in this book's subtitle - I do think it's a significant part of WW2 history that maybe gets under-served.

    Mr Marsh (who I think writes like a higher end journalist, which is no bad thing here) befriended a retired local (Oregon) maritime journo, Larry Barber, and on his death inherited what appears to be a vast collection of stuff relating to local ship-building. The book springs from that archive, and it's quite a story.

    The Kaiser story could hardly be a better example of that 'Arsenal of Democracy' thing.
    A powerful, well-funded company & family, but with limited experience of ship-building, going from scratch to become one of the largest manufacturers of floating things in a timescale so short as to be mind-boggling.
    Liberty ships, Tankers, Victory ships, Attack transports, Troop ships, Lifeboats & Landing craft, even a few Escort carriers, all built on fresh-laid concrete in facilities covering acres.

    I learnt stuff relating to the actual design & selection of the ships, and thought the fairly bare-bones introduction to that interesting (though that might be just be my rather dim Naval knowledge), but the relentless tale of industrial & technological progress is the heart of things.
    Mr Ford might have pioneered production lines, but until this programme ship-building seems to have been a pretty bespoke affair. The forcing of similarly efficient processes & pre-fab onto such large products is remarkable.
    The figures that stood out for me & sort of grabbed my 'industrial heritage' attention were from the Naval Architects overseeing things, Gibbs & Cox; issuing c.10,000 blueprints a day at the peak, along with 6700 purchase orders totalling c.$1M dollars.
    A day.
    In the forties.
    Within a year of the thing starting.

    The statistics just pile up... 2774 135-ton marine engines built. Ten days to build one special effort ship. Thousands of homes for workers, hospitals, giant creches for the kids of 12,000 Women workers. The superlatives just pile up.

    Though I'm getting carried away :unsure: as I'm supposed to be reviewing the book rather than the actual effort, but it does an excellent job of telling the story. The influence of an archive that is presumably largely press stories/photos/diaries is plain, as Mr Marsh can lay out solid timelines of themes & specific events, but he also explains & interprets the source material where required.
    I don't believe he's a 'Historian' in the plain sense of the word, but he can definitely write, and has an interest in & grasp of his subject that makes the whole thing thoroughly engaging.
    It's also another book that doesn't have to be read in a conventional start-to-finish manner. Each chapter can stand on its own, almost as separate articles, which is how I read it - starting with the machinery that interests me most. Not the right way to read it, sloppy even, but it's also a part of doing that 'Coffee Table' thing well.

    And then there's the pictures... Just so many pictures.
    Even if you removed the text, the photographs & their captions alone are excellent.
    When the not-terribly-interested-in-WW2 other half is caught enjoying the things, then you know something's been done right. From the people, to the machinery, to the products; everything is shown in good quality, and at a size that detail can easily be extracted with a magnifying glass. Automated welding, (well... semi-automated) distracted for a while...

    So, it's another boringly positive review from me, I'm afraid.
    I like Industrial & technological history, so that's hardly surprising (With the caveat that I'm no sort of Naval history person, so lord knows what detailed points I probably missed) ; but he also never strays away from the human factor that got all that 'stuff' built.
    A good-quality worthwhile tome, well-illustrated on quality paper, and quite apparently a labour of love by the author. Can't say fairer, really.

    And a usable Index!
    And, yes, I know it's a Victory Ship on the cover. And?! Can't blame anyone for going with that photo...

    Cheers to Seaforth Publishing for the review copy.

    Contents page, as people sometimes ask:
    Tolbooth, stolpi, Roy Martin and 4 others like this.
  2. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Sad he doesn't seem to cover the British parentage of the Liberty - 'Workhorse of the Fleet, A History of the Liberty Ships' by Gus Bourheuf Jr published by the American Bureau of Shipping does a good job of that; it can be found on line.
  3. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    Kaiser built cars after the war too. Their smaller model, called the Henry J, used jeep engines supplied by Willys

    Independent Kaiser-Frazer went down swinging for the fences | Hagerty Media

    He also started one of the largest health insurance companies in the world. I worked on my company's Kaiser account for six years. When I mentioned Kaiser ship building to fellow employees they thought I was joking. I didn't bother to bring up Kaiser cars. They probably would have called the men with the butterfly nets if I did.

    Kaiser Permanente - Wikipedia
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  5. Ewen Scott

    Ewen Scott Well-Known Member

    Also "Liberty's Provenance",aps,177&sr=8-4

    NM&P also have "The Ocean Class of the Second World War" about one group of 60 ships of the Liberty's predecessors (See above for how they evolved).
    OCEAN CLASS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR - Naval & Military Press
    von Poop likes this.

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