Liberty Ship SS Cornelius Harnett

By 1941 Liberty ships were being built in the United States in response to the sinking of  American and British Ships by the Germans.  The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company in Wilmington and other companies were called upon on or after 1941 to provide a response.

The Liberty Ship SS Cornelius Harnett was one of 240 such ships built in Wilmington, North Carolina.  Most Liberty ships took the names of eminent people, including North Carolina patriot Cornelius Harnett, or of cities that had bought a large number of war bonds.  Cornelius Harnett (1723-1781) is the person for whom the County of Harnett was named when it was created from the County of Cumberland in 1855.

The first Liberty ship produced in North Carolina was named for Governor Zebulon B. Vance.  Another North Carolinian for whom a Liberty ship was named was Alexander Lillington, famous for his role in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, and  the person for whom the town of Lillington, the County Seat of Harnett, is named.

“Liberty Ship” was the name given to the EC2 type ship designed for “Emergency” construction by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II.

The first of the 2,751 Liberty ships produced by ship building companies in the United States was the SS Patrick Henry, launched on September 27, 1941, and built to a standardized, mass produced design.  The 250,000 parts were prefabricated throughout the country in 250-ton sections and welded together in about 70 days.  A Liberty ship cost under $2,000,000.

The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide.  Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots.  Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck.  A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.

The first Web reference cited below had a listing of all the Liberty ships built in the US during WW II.  The Liberty Ship SS Cornelius Harnett had the following designation:  “0861 – Cornelius Harnett – WSAT (550) USAT.”  The legend indicated that the number 861 meant that SS Cornelius Harnett carried Maritime Commission Hull Number 861 of the 2751 built in various shipyards; WSAT stood for “War Shipping Administration Transport.”  The number 550  meant that it could hold that many troops; USAT stands for “Army Transportation Service”, and indicates the ship was chartered or operated by the Army Transportation Service.  Those commissioned for use by the Navy carried designations of AT, AK, AP and other similar designations.

The above information was summarized from the following Web sites:;

Shown below is a copy of an admission ticket to the launching stand for the launching of the SS Cornelius Harnett and possessed by Sam Hummel, a sponsor of this Web site.  It indicates that the ship was launched on Friday, November 6, 1942 at 9:00 A.M.  The notice warned:  “No Cameras Allowed”.

The SS Cornelius Harnett left for duty in less than two months after it was launched in Wilmington. A few days before Christmas 1942, SS Cornelius Harnett cast off from a naval port in New York and headed for Murmansk, Russia.  It was an exciting first run as part of a 15 ship convoy escorted by four battleships described as one destroyer and three corvettees.  The storms at sea along the way and the action in which it was involved while under deadly German attacks is described in an excellent article entitled “SS Cornelius Harnett: A happy ship on the Murmansk Run” . The Web site reference to this article was discovered through research by a sponsor of this Web site, Sam Hummel.

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