I would like to know what kind of cargo ships supplied Britain during the early years of WW2, before Liberty Ships became available in huge numbers. The approximate timeframe I'm interested in is 1939 to 1941.

What kind of cargo ships supplied Britain during this time? How much cargo did they carry? How fast were they? How many people crewed each one?

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    You have missed the point of Liberty Ships - a single design, small enough to be fast to build and large enough to be useful - was needed because existing cargo ship designs were of all shapes and sizes. So there is no answer to this question. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 17 '18 at 5:51
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    October 1939: 2,200 ton Suzon (Belgium) sunk on 1st; 4,990 ton Diamantis (Greece), sunk on 3rd; 876 ton Glen Farg (Britain) sunk on 4th; 8,063 ton Marwari (Britain) sunk on 5th; 9,462 ton Lochgoil (Britain) sunk on 6th. All of these ships carried cargo, and floated. Not much else in common, and they varied in size by a factor of 11 times (876 tons v 9,462 tons). Search here by date – Pieter Geerkens Jul 17 '18 at 6:33
  • @PieterGeerkens Alright well now that I know that, is there any statistical average compiled somewhere? – DrZ214 Jul 17 '18 at 7:01
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    Statistical average of what? Are you looking for the mean, the mode, or the median? Of what parameter? Meaningful statistics don't just emerge from thin air - they emerge from the determination, and consequent measurement, of parameters of significance. It would help greatly if you would resolve the x-y problem and tell us your intent and reason for asking the question. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 17 '18 at 11:12
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    @PieterGeerkens (re the point of Liberty ships) Not to mention replacing all of the allied ships that were sitting on the bottom of the Atlantic. – Wayne Conrad Jul 19 '18 at 21:14

Under Franklin Roosevelt's initiatives the United States modified it's post WWI neutrality laws to allow it to sell and transport goods to Britain prior to US involvement. Eventually US neutrality laws became so broad that even war materials were permitted to be sold, prior to the US entering the war.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1936 put U.S. federal dollars behind the annual construction of 50 U.S. merchant ships. That number was doubled in 1939 and doubled again to 200 ships by 1940. A lot of those ships were used to supply Britain prior to the US entering the War

In 1940 the British ordered 60 Ocean-class freighters from American Shipyards. These were used to replace lost merchantmen and boost their domestic merchant fleet.

March 1941, the British ordered and additional 200 merchant ships as part of Lend Lease authorized by the Defense Aid Supplemental Appropriations Act.

April of 1941 the British increased this order by an additional 106 ships totaling 366 ships 100 of these ships were the first Liberty ships delivered to the British.


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    You have completely ignored the already existing (very substantial) merchant marines of Norway, Britain, and Canada, amongst others. Note that Canada ended World War Two with the third largest navy in the world, from a population of barely 10 million. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 25 '18 at 1:14
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    @PieterGeerkens, Good Point, When the war began, Canada had 38 ocean-going merchant vessels. By war's end 410 merchant ships had been built in Canada. By comparison the United States built 2,710 Liberty ships, 531 Larger Victory Ships, and 60 Ocean Class Merchant Ships. – JMS Jul 25 '18 at 1:32
  • That's why I put Canada third, after Britain and Norway (who I believe to have had the two largest merchant marines in September 1939). Not bad for a country 1/15 or so the size of the U.S. in 1939. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 25 '18 at 1:34

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