During World War II, 534 "Victory ships" were built to transport materials to support United States military efforts in theaters of operation across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Victory ship (officially called VC2) was 455 feet long and 62 feet wide. A cross-compound steam turbine with double reduction gears developed 6,000 or 8,500 horsepower. The first of 534 Victory ships, the S.S. United Victory, was launched on February 28, 1944. The next 34 Victory ships were named for each of the Allied nations; the subsequent 218 were named after American cities (one of them named for Hannibal, Missouri in recognition of successful war bond sales), the next 150 ships were named after educational institutions, and the rest received miscellaneous names.
The 10,000 ton S.S. Hannibal Victory, hull number 579 was built by Permanente Metals Corporation's shipbuilding division in Yard No. 2 at Richmond, California in January 1945. Since her retirement the Hannibal was last reported as being "In reserve" in Suisun Bay near San Franciso, California. The following is a transcript of the narration of the motion picture produced by the U.S. Maritime Commission in 1945 which documented the maiden voyage of the Hannibal Victory across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines. Some of her cargo included one of six locomotives and railroad car wheels manufactured at the Hannibal Car Wheel and Foundry at 1200 Collier Street. in Hannibal. The half hour color film was photographed on location in Hannibal and aboard the ship as she crossed the Pacific from San Francisco to the Philippines.
After the war in September, 1946 Vice-Admiral William Ward Smith of the the U.S. Maritime Commission came to Hannibal to present the 8 by 18 foot battle flag of the Hannibal Victory to the city and the documentary film was also premiered on that occasion. Taking part in the flag presentation ceremony were Governor Phil Donnelly; Mayor W. J. Schneider; William C. Garnett, president of the Chamber of Commerce; Floyd Shoemaker of the State Historical Society, Fred Hibbard, sculptor of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn statues; and two attorneys who had just returned from the war, Elgin Fuller and Branham Rendlen. Fifty copies of the film were given to various agencies nationwide.
Right here on this peaceful river is where the story starts of a sea voyage that took us halfway around the world. A wartime sea voyage. Yep, it's the Mississippi. Old man river himself. Sort of makes you homesick, doesn't it? Homesick for when you were a kid in the good old summertime, when you listened for the steamboat blowing in the bend.
Remember your first ride on a sternwheeler, with her paddles biting into Mississippi water? And thinking maybe how you'd like to run away down the river on one of them to St. Louis or Memphis or maybe New Orleans. Then aboard a big ship out to sea. Well that happened to me.
It's a long jump from the middle of America to the deck of a seagoing freighter. But that's how I happened to know about this voyage that started right here in the town of Hannibal, Missouri. The hometown that Mark Twain made famous. It would have tickled old Mark, I bet, to have been with us. He liked to tell about big things happening. And they happened big to us all right. He was a great traveler too, and wherever he went he brought his America, the real America of Hannibal, Missouri along with him. And we did too.
We had the kinds of adventures Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer dreamt about. There they are, looking out across the big river. Real American kids. The town of Hannibal has changed since those days, I guess. Paved streets and automobiles and so forth. The people haven't changed. When war came they pitched in to work and fight so that the American brand of freedom and liberty could survive. Like every other American town, Hannibal had sent its boys to the battlefronts and her men and women were helping to win the toughest war America had ever been in.
Now when I said the town of Hannibal was a starting point of a wartime sea voyage, here's what I meant. Somewhere in one of the battle zones the United States army needed a railroad. Railroads need freight cars, and freight cars need wheels. Now railroad people everywhere will tell you Hannibal is famous for making car wheels. So Hannibal's car wheels went to war. And the first lap of their journey was from here in Missouri to the shores of California.
Here's what happened to Hannibal's wheels. Now if the army wanted a railroad, there was only one place for it to come from. The good old U.S.A. And only one way to get it overseas; on ships of the United States Merchant Marine. So out here on the docks of San Francisco, we began to take aboard out ship car wheels for a railroad somewhere, we guessed, across the Pacific Ocean.
This is early February 1945. Lots of things are happening out there west of the Golden Gate. On shore the newsboys are yelling that our troops our going into Manila. That our navy is plastering the Jap-held China coast. And our B-29s are stepping up fire aids on the Nip's home islands. So we were in a hurry to finish loading and get this cargo to where it was needed. The great port of San Francisco was naturally the jumping off place for most of the stuff moving west. We were just one of the hundreds of merchant ships taking war goods aboard.
They were mighty proud of our brand new ship the S.S. Hannibal Victory. She was one of 218 Victory ships named after American towns. Nobody aboard hailed from Hannibal itself but that didn't stop us from adopting Hannibal as our hometown. Now we began stacking our holds with freight car underframes. I guess you'd call them chassis. The stevedores and longshoremen wasted no time fitting them below deck. They're job was to speed up what they called, "turnaround time." In other words hustle each ship out of port as fast as possible. Because in war it's the ship at sea, not at the dock, that counts.
In the spaces between our bulky cargo we packed small but badly needed stuff such as K-rations, cots, hospital supplies like bandages and plasma and dozens of other valuable items the boys overseas were hollering for. But this was the payoff cargo. Nothing less than eight full-grown railroad engines complete with tenders. Each engine weighed 55 tons and its tender tip to beam at 20 tons complete with fuel oil. The idea was that these fellows will be ready to run as soon as we could set them down on rails, somewhere in the Pacific.
We were tied up to the dock where they had the biggest crane in the harbor. 100 ton job. And the way that crane operator handled those babies, you'd 'a thought they were toy electric trains but they weren't. If they had been dropped, well the Hannibal Victory would never have even sailed from Frisco.
One of our mates told me afterwards this voyage gave him a bad dream. He dreamed he was that old Greek king. What's his name? Damocles, that's it. But instead of a sword always dangling over his head, it was a locomotive. But one by one they were set into place on the deck on either side of each hatch. Four hatches, eight locomotives.
Easy. Easy does it. Now the last one's down. We laid regular road bits, you might say, out of big pine timbers to cushion the weights of the big locomotives on our steel deck plates. The wheel flangers spit those timbers just like rails. And to keep them from shifting in a heavy sea, we welded turn buckle and steel rod assemblies to the deck and clamped them tight and wedged, chained and bolted them down. We're getting near the end of the loading job now and all hands knew that sailing day was near.
You don't have any brass bands on the dock side when you sail in wartime. We practically sneaked away that cold, February morning. It takes awhile to get out San Francisco Bay. If you've never done it, that's an experience. You watch the other ships, the great city built on hills slip by like on a movie screen. With our cargo out on deck sticking up like a sore thumb, we had a feeling everybody on shore was looking at us. The Bay Bridge is ahead. There's a hospital ship in from the Pacific. And that's a P-2, a big new type passenger ship, converted to carry troops when war broke out. And those bridges.
We had two army corporals aboard. Nurse-maids for the locomotives. And Ed Sparks, our radio operator, with the army security officer. They've sited the Golden Gate Bridge ahead. Now we've been let through the submarine net, the Navy's seen our signals. The pilot's on the flying bridge with the skipper. The talker is checking his telephones. He's hooked up to each of the gun stations. That's peg leg and Joe on the engine. Funny how he got attached to those locos, the engines I mean, not the guys.
Now the Golden Gate's a stern and there's the pilot boat in lane two to pick up our pilot.
Now we know we're on our own. Dropping the pilot always makes you feel like you've cast-off your last line to shore. The engineer opens the main throttle, the turbines start turning smoothly. Starts spinning the big shaft which links up our 65 hundred horse-power turbines to the propelled. It's gaining speed.
Now you begin to feel the lift of the Pacific. This is what a ship is built for. I guess this is why a fella goes to sea. So we're headed west. Ten thousand tons of steel cargo in our holds and lashed to the deck, crossing the blue Pacific. The fast Victory ship was the answer out here all right. There's lots of ocean and time is short.
We tried out our guns right away so we could turn back if anything was wrong with them. We're out at sea now and anything can happen.
It's the first morning out, sun peeps through just enough for the skipper to get our position. You got to admire the Captain. He's already had two ships shot out from under him, but he's kept sailing, even though he wasn't getting any younger. Now he opened his sealed-orders and was plotting our course for the navigation officer to follow. We were headed for "Gaytay" which was an army code word for a certain point of longitude and latitude. As far as we were concerned, it was destination unknown.
We happened to be batting the breeze in the cruise mess when somebody says, "Hey we got eight iron mascots top-side. And the so-and-so's don't even have names." Chris says he's got an idea. "This ship is named for Mark Twain's hometown, right? And we've got a whole set of Mark Twain's books the people of Hannibal gave us right? All we got to do is look in there." "One's got to be Tom Sawyer," somebody says. "Yeah, and Huckleberry Finn."
So the christenings take place. I wonder what it is makes a bunch of American guys give names to such items as plains and tanks and even trucks and railroad engines.
Then somebody brought up a serious problem. What if some of these were lady engines? And somebody else yells, "Hannibella." So Hannibella it was.
Now the whole battle zone lay ahead. The word got around. One more stop maybe at an advance base and then the Philippines. We were pretty sure that was where we were headed. We realized we were in Indian territory how and like our forefathers in covered wagon days we had to keep our eyes peeled and our powder dry.
The tropic nights were beautiful and dangerous. We were blacked-out like the inside of a cat. Then one dawn we made landfall. It was late and the Jap defenses had broken during the landings of a few months ago. We exchanged blinker signals and were told to come to anchor.
The Japs still infested those darks hills. Underneath us they were lying dead on the bottom, because here they first used their Kamikaze planes against our cargo ships, while our soldiers hung on to the beach head. We weren't going to stay here long. The word was past, we were headed for Legayan Gulf. That's where they needed the railroad to connect up with Manila.
We've reached our destination. We got saluted too in away. That destroyer's throwing a salvo at the enemy back in the hill. We're at the head of Legayan Gulf where the Japs first invaded in 1941 and where we landed to drive down on Manila. The lads are wasting no time unbuttoning our locomotives. The enemy is shelling the anchorage with guns they took from Corregidor. Here comes a landing craft, they'll take the smaller stuff to shore. We need something bigger to handle this floating railroad yard on our decks. These fellows can handle the K-rations. But this baby can take 70 tons at a time. Cast it off Jack, this harbor's hot. And we don't want to get caught with this stuff on our decks. Here's the answer, an LCT (landing craft tank) which will ferry the locos from us to shore. A neat trick if they can swing it. Remember our lifting beam? We brought it along. And now the lieutenant in charge is showing them how to corral it and make it fast to the engine. He was an oil well rigger from Texas. Must have been a cowhand too.
And she moves. For the first time in a month now the rolling stock is split loose.
The locomotives leave us forever. But they don't get away in secret. We all turned out to watch them go. Getting the tenders off came next.
Plenty of room, had a full inch to spare on either side. Now in spite the fact that the Gulf was getting rougher, the word was to hurry up the job. The military situation at shore called for faster supply from the big base here at Lingayan along the road to Manila. So we worked late into the day taking chances we usually wouldn't, to get our rolling stock ashore. They needed these engines on the rails hauling men and supplies. We worked until darkness caught up with us.
With Japs all around us, we kept look-outs posted. But the night was inky-black.
He caught us flat-footed. A single solitary Jap bomber gliding in low, let loose one stick of bombs on the ammunition dump ashore. I feel like crying watching the sweat and labor of thousands of people in the factories back home go up in smoke and flame. Not to mention the guys aboard the ammo ships who risked their necks to get it here. All in one night's fireworks. A pretty rough lesson in what a terrible waste war is.
The dawn was smoky over the anchorage. But by the time the LCT moved up to the dock, with their load, the breeze had swept the morning clear. This shore had taken a lot of beating, both from us and the Japs. But the army had rigged up a husky dock and laid rails on it so as to take the engines. Only the last lifting job now, and the transfer would be complete. The railroad to Manila would be ready to run. You couldn't help wondering how Mark Twain would have told the story of the locomotive that went to sea and flew through the air. As Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Hannibella and the others finally got their wheels on terra firma. Railroad engines with names many a Filipino would wonder about for years to come.
Touch down. All ready to run engines, we're going to get one more lift before they're under their own steam by one of the always present ducks, which work on land and water. It'll tow our locomotives onto solid ground, once again.
It's a strange setting to find our engines in. They'll carry the war goods first. We know that after this war is over they'll mean a lot in the rebuilding of the Philippines, helping our friends get on their feet again.
Maybe she'll have a better world to live in because of those engines. Right now, like kids everywhere in this war, it's "Hello Joe."
Now we've got news. While our railroad engines are ready to roll to Manila on their own power, we're told that Manila Bay is open. We're to take the rest of our cargo to Manila, where the railroad battalions have set-up a shop to put them together. So we steam out Lingayan Gulf, around the South China Sea into the harbor, our army and Navy has taken back from the Nips. There's Corregidor, the rock. And Bataan, of proud and sorrowful memories. They say they've begun to route other merchant ships into the anchorage already. And since the docks of Manila are smashed, we drop the hook off shore and this time unload our cargo into LCMs. (Landing Craft Mechanized) It's almost the end of the journey for the car wheels. And we've all heard of what has happened to Manila, so those of us that can, leave the ship, climb aboard the shuttling LCMs and head for shore. For some of us, this was the first time we'd be able to see the destruction left by modern warfare. We lay our course into the mouth of the passing river. First the Japs wrecked the waterfront and then we had to blast them out and we came back. It'll be many years before these scars are healed.
Our wheels are coming ashore. The Filipino stevedore's get busy. The wheel trucks have to be set on tracks and the car frames fastened to them. There's a Filipino Tom Sawyer to help. Our railroad men check the bearings, look over the blueprints. Then get busy, for the engines will soon be down from Lingayan to pull the freight cars.
This is where a wheel belongs, on a rail ready to roll. In the meantime, the chief mate is taking a look at what used to be familiar street scenes. Manila was once a peaceful, prosperous city.
Some others from the Hannibal Victory are ashore too. They've looked on ruined cities, from Mermansk to Malta, but this is the worst. You don't feel very kindly toward the Nips seeing something like this.
Now comes the job of putting the couplings on the car frames.
Next the frames are lowered onto the wheel trucks. After this they'll use them as flat cars and build box cars on the chassis. Job's nearly done. The mate told us afterwards, he couldn't help thinking of the difference in what he saw in the broken ruins on Manila and what we've done by bringing over a cargo that had helped rebuild this country. The merchant marine was a weapon of peace too. Our locomotives had pulled into Manila now ready to get their loads rolling to help finish the fight. We've left our name behind us here.The voyage of the Hannibal Victory is complete.
Engineer gets his orders. And the best of luck to you Hannibella.
So we upped the hook and headed home for more. It's been a victory for the town of Hannibal, for all the home towns of America.
Footnote to history: In August 2006, the Hannibal Victory sailed to a port in Texas to be scrapped. Before the ship was destroyed, the crew of the Red Oak Victory ship was allowed to salvage what parts were needed in order to restore the Red Oak. Parts of the old Hannibal Victory will survive in that vessel. For more on the Red Oak Victory, see the website at: http://www.ssredoakvictory.org/
Related link on Victory
Ships at http://www.lanevictory.org