Stop 7: Cargo Hold Information

This is Hold number 2, one of the five Holds on a Victory Ship. There are three levels in Hold number 2, separated by movable metal beams, called strongbacks, that are covered with wooden hatch boards. Cargo, such as food, medical supplies, ammunition, and petroleum, is loaded from the bottom up through the upper hatch above you. As each level is filled, the strongbacks are inserted and covered with hatch boards creating the next level for cargo. When all levels are filled, the upper hatch is installed and the crew “battens down the hatch.” Unloading cargo, starts from the top level and a level at a time. With almost 500,000 cubic feet of cargo space, the American Victory Ship could carry over 7,500 tons of cargo.

Hold Facts

Cargo Hold #1: Length 57 feet 6 inches, Grain capacity of 81,715 cu ft

Cargo Hold #2: Length of 45 feet capacity of 89,370 cu feet

Cargo Hold #3: Length 78 feet held 158,000 cu feet --- Largest Capacity

Cargo Hold #4: Length 81 feet carried 113,080 cu feet

Cargo Hold #5: Length 75 feet capacity of 81,575 cu feet (Double Bottom and Deep Tanks)


Cargo holds #1, #2, #3 have steel pontoon covers at deck level and wooden covers below decks.

Cargo holds #4, #5 have wooden hatch covers. 


A Cargo holds #1, #2, #3 have three levels, i.e., lower hold, t’ween deck and platform deck.

A Cargo holds #4, #5 have two levels, i.e., lower hold, t’ween deck.


Cargo carried in the period from Jul 15th, 1966 to December 20th, 1966, during the Vietnam War is listed following.


1.511 Million tons of cargo, the equivalent of 87 truck trailers of freight


  • 103 Trucks
  • 53 Trailers
  • 33 Conex Boxes (8x8x8 steel containers)
  • 2 Air Force propellers
  • 30 Bundles of Steel Rebar
  • 67 Skids of Bed Frames
  • 890 Bundles of General Cargo, including Canteens, Field Kitchen Ovens, Boots, Tents, Tent Poles, Air Conditioning Units, Lube Oil Drums, and Gas Masks.


During the first voyage (June 20th, 1945 to February 15th, 1946) while in Shanghai, inexperienced Chinese stevedores damaged one of the forward booms while unloading navy barges. Shore personnel repaired the boom after which the remainder of the heavy lift cargo was discharged by ship’s crew.

Life Boat & Survival Supplies

Life Boat Description

The life boats carried on the American Victory are typical of those used aboard all Liberty’s and Victory’s of wartime construction. They were also used on board British “Ocean” and other class merchant ships made for Britain in the United States in the same time period.


Generically, these boats were double-ended whale boats of metal construction designed to carry thirty-eight, or forty people. There were four boats to a ship, configured much as they appear on the American Victory. Three of the boats could accommodate forty people while the fourth, which was equipped with a small engine, could accommodate no more than thirty eight. The life boat with the engine was used as a ship’s launch and, after abandoning ship, to tow the other boats out of the immediate area of the sinking ship. All of the boats were equipped with oars and three rowlocks to a side so that the boats could be rowed. In addition, they were all equipped with a mast and a sail which made it possible for the boat to move ahead at about two, to five knots, depending on the wind and currents. The boat was steered by a rudder mounted on pintles and gudgeons and a tiller to move the rudder. Along the outside on each side of the boat lifelines in bights of about three feet each hung over the side. A wooden float was at the center of each bight. These were to support men in the water if they were injured, etc., or to support them if there was no room in the boat. On the inside of the boat, there were five thwarts, or benches, for the men to sit on. In addition, there was a bench that ran around the interior of the boat.[1]


On the outside bottom of the boat, at the turn of the bilges, there are two long bars (called bilge rails) one bar on each side.[2] They served two purposes. First, they provided a handhold when handling the boat on deck. Second, and most important, if a boat had capsized, the bilge rails provided a handhold for any survivors in the water. The rails were also used, if there were enough men in the water, to attempt to right the boat. The boat itself was unsinkable, although it might fill with water and provide significantly reduced flotation capacity.


Every life boat was required to carry water in beakers, or sealed cans, and food, such as biscuits and pemmican, a concentrated mixture of dried beef, flour and molasses. Some boats carried dried milk and chocolate. When there was time, before the ship sank, the crew would augment the food supplies in the boat with bread and canned fruit from the galley. In addition, useful boat equipment such as flares, signal mirrors, a fishing kit, compass, matches, knife, bucket for bailing and a sea anchor were also provided. [3]


A lifeboat with thirty-eight, or forty people on board was full. At times, when there were only two surviving boats, or less, everyone would try to get into the available boat, or boats making for a horrific situation when men died in the water because they could not get aboard the life boat or a life raft.


Abandoning ship and getting into the boats was a deadly serious business. Up to about 1942, there were no provisions for rescue ships in a convoy. Escort ships and ships of the convoy were forbidden to stop to pick up survivors of torpedoed ships lest they, themselves, become victims. Many merchant seamen and Armed Guards were left to their certain deaths as they saw their only salvation steam away over the horizon abandoning them.[4] Launching a life boat into a sea of burning oil was often the lot of tanker men who had a slim chance of getting through the inferno. And, in still other cases, the lifeboats had been holed by bullets, or shrapnel making it necessary to stuff clothing, bits of life jackets, etc., into the holes to avoid having the boat sink to the point that it was no longer useful. The call to “Abandon Ship” was an order to be dreaded.


[1] Austin M. Knight, RAdm., USN, Modern seamanship, Van Nostrand, New York, New York, 1943, pp. 201 –203.

2 See Lifeboats on board SS American Victory.

3 John Bunker, Heroes in Dungarees: The Story of the American Merchant Marine in World War II, U.S. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1995, p. 162


[4] Justin F. Gleichauf, Unsung Sailors: The Naval Armed Guard in World War II, U.S. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1990, p.40.

Universal Atomic 4

There were many engines available for small boats from the early 1900 time period until now. Car engines could be converted to marine engines, but the marine engines had to operate at higher power output (60 to 80% maximum power) than car engines. There were other design requirements also.  These engines were used by the Military for small boats. 

Life boat supplies

Equipment and Supplies Carried in the Lifeboats

  • Waters in beakers, or sealed cans (Rationed on abandoning ship.)
  • Food, e.g., Biscuits and Pemmican (Concentrated dried beef, flour and molasses), dried milk and chocolate plus what ever could be gotten from the galley before the ship sank. (Rationed on abandoning ship)
  • Flares, signaling mirrors, fishing kit, magnetic compass, matches, knife, bailing bucket, and a sea anchor.
  • First aid kit.
  • If the navigator had time, he would bring his charts, sextant and a time piece. The radio officer would bring a small radio powered by hand crank. He was usually in the captain’s boat, the motor, launch. Each mate was responsible for a boat.