American Victory is a Victory ship which saw brief service in
the Pacific Theater of Operations during the waning months of
World War II, Korean War from 1951-1954, and Vietnam War from
1967-1969. Built in June 1945, she carried ammunition and other
cargo from U.S. West Coast ports to Southeast Asia, then ferried
cargo, equipment and troops back to the U.S. after the war
ended. She survived two typhoons, and one hurricane. She sailed
across the world twice.
American Victory spent half of the period between 1946 and 1966
chartered to commercial carriers and the other half in two
stints in U.S. reserve fleets. From 1966 to 1969 she delivered
cargo to Southeast Asia in the Vietnam War, then three decades
again in reserve. In April 1999, she was turned over to a
preservation organization to serve as a museum ship. Today she
is the main feature of the American Victory Ship & Museum, also
known as the American Victory Mariners Memorial & Museum Ship in
Tampa, Florida's Channel District.
World War II era
Named after American University in Washington, D.C., the ship
was built at the California Shipbuilding Yard (Calship) in Los
Angeles, California in just 55 days and was delivered on 20 June
1945. SS American Victory was at first assigned to the U.S. Army
at Fort Mason, California. She was a United States Merchant
Marine ship operated by the American Export-Isbrandtsen Lines.
She loaded up cargo at a few west coast ports and streamed to
Manila in the Philippines. Manila had been liberated on March 3,
1945 and was in need of supplies. She took her remaining cargo
to Shanghai, China. In November 1945, she sailed to Calcutta and
Port Said, Egypt and load military cargo to be returned to the
USA. She arrived in New York in January 1946 and unloaded her
cargo, having completed her around the world trip. At the end of
the war she ferried more cargo, equipment and troops stateside.
Post-World War II
From June 1946 until November 1947, American Victory was
chartered by American Export Lines, carrying foodstuffs and
machinery exported from the United States to Europe, Russia and
the Near East under the Marshall Plan, the Post-War
reconstruction of the European Continent. Some of her Ports of
call were: Trieste in Italy, Constanza in Romania, Piraeus in
Greece, and Antwerp in Belgium. Departing Odessa, Ukraine to
Boston in January of the 1947, the Black Sea had already iced
up, not waiting for the Soviet icebreaker Turgenev to clear the
ice, Captain, A. D. Cushman, knowing the SS American Victory was
a well built ship, decided to use her as an icebreaker, backing
up and ramming the ice so both her and other ships could part
the Black Sea. She was then laid up in the Hudson River Reserve
Fleet until she was again chartered by commercial shipping
lines, U.S. Navigation Company, during the Korean War from 1951
until January 1954, when she entered the Sabine River Reserve
Fleet in Texas.
In 1963 plans were made to convert her and 14 other Victory
ships to "forward depot" vessels, to be loaded with materiel and
stationed near potential flashpoints to provide American forces
with pre-positioned supplies. This scheme was cancelled in
February 1966 after only three conversions had been carried out.
Had American Victory been converted, she would have been renamed
USNS Carthage and assigned pennant AG 185.
American Victory was removed from the reserve fleet in 1966 and
chartered to the Hudson Waterways Corporation, which used her to
ferry military equipment to American forces in South Vietnam.
She was deactivated again in October 1969 and placed in the
James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia where she remained until
1985. American Victory was then renovated as part of a program
to determine the efforts needed to reactivate mothballed Victory
ships. In June, after $2.5 million USD had been spent to bring
her up to fully operational condition, she sailed for just 26
hours before returning to the Naval Reserve Fleet.
One of several World War II Victory ships due to be scrapped in
the late 1990s, American Victory was rescued by preservation
efforts which began in October 1998. She arrived at Tampa,
Florida under tow to begin her new life as a museum ship and
memorial on 16 September 1999. Following extensive overhaul with
the ship brought to Fully Operational status in 2003, she is now
on display and included on the National Register of Historic
Places. Guided and self-guided tours of the ship are available,
though some areas are off limits for tours, such as the lower
areas of the engine room (but visible from a catwalk), and the
wheel house of the command bridge, as well as the Cargo Hold
next to the receptionist desk.Photos of her drydock restoration
are hanging in the mess hall. Several rooms, such as the
captain's quarters and galley cold storage, have been restored
and are decorated in original period memorabilia.
American Victory has been upgraded with modern VHF radio and
radar (visible on the command deck), and more modern electronics
have been added to the electricians' quarters and radio room,
but she is generally in her historic form. Her 3-inch bow
mounted deck gun is still in place, although demilitarized, as
well as the 5-inch stern gun and another 3-inch gun next to it
still in place. The mostly volunteer museum "crew" take pride in
the fact that she is a fully operational, seaworthy vessel. She
usually does about two cruises a year, however, none are
scheduled for 2015 due to costs, she is scheduled for a drydock
period. On 10 June 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard performed a safety
inspection of the ship.
Docked to starboard
In addition to her floating museum role, American Victory still
sails for "Living History Day Cruises".
Of the 534 Victory ships completed, only three remain working:
American Victory at Tampa, SS Lane Victory at Los Angeles, and
SS Red Oak Victory at Richmond, California. Until November 2012,
a fourth, USNS Range Sentinel, originally USS Sherburne, was in
storage, but she has been sold for scrapping.
The ship is also used as an operating base for a local United
States Naval Sea Cadet Corps unit.
The ship has many notable exhibits in the No.3 cargo hold, which
was converted to a museum exhibit area and receptionist desk. It
includes an original submarine propeller from the German U-boat
U-352 sunk in May 1942 by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC
Icarus, and recovered in 1979. It includes photos of the
shipwreck, a mannequin of a Kriegsmarine sailor in uniform, and
a diagram of the U-boat U-505. She also has numerous ship
models, including a Clemson-class destroyer, a Fletcher-class
destroyer, a German Type XXI U-boat, and SS United States. There
are also numerous vintage Merchant Marine recruiting posters,
and a collection of Victory and Liberty ship's plaques, all of
them sunk or scrapped. They date from 1844 to 1956. There is
also a mock-up of the ships wheelhouse, and a lifeboat and
Maritime Signal Flag exhibit.