This [modified] U.S.
Navy aerial photograph from Oct. 3, 1949,
shows the mothball fleet on the Brunswick River adjacent to the Cape Fear River.
Courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library’s Digital Archives
The Mothball Fleet, the nickname for the U.S. Maritime Commission's reserve fleet, was located on the Brunswick River across from the city of Wilmington. Following World War II, Congress made the Maritime Commission responsible for determining the number and type of vessels to be placed in reserve in case of future expansion. The lay-up basin for the reserve fleet was operational when the first ship arrived in August 1946. The ships placed in "mothballs" had their hulls scaled, coated with oil, scaled again, and finally coated with red oxide paint, which stopped the rusting of metal surfaces. The internal system of "mothballing" consisted of draining all of the various systems and pumping in oil under pressure. All turbines, engines, and gears were also coated with an oily film.
A total of 648
ships were, at varying times, moored in the reserve fleet. The majority
vessels stored in the facility were of the Liberty
class, some of them built in Wilmington. Over the years many were
scrapped, sold to private concerns, sunk for artificial
reefs, or recommissioned. The last ship to be removed from the
mothball fleet was the Liberty Ship "USS Dwight
W. Morrow", which was
scrapped in February 1970. Beverly Tetterton, NCpedia
What was the
‘Mothball Fleet’? by Ben Steelman Starnews
After World War II, the U.S. Maritime Commission established a “Reserve Fleet Basin” on the Brunswick River to house Liberty ships and other vessels that were no longer needed after demobilization. The first of these vessels, the "SS John B. Bryce", arrived at the site on Aug. 12, 1946. Others quickly followed. Between January and April 1946, a total of 426 ships were moored there, the most at any one time.
During the next few years, ships were moved in and out of
the basin; in all, 628 vessels were tied up there at one time or
vast majority of these – 542 – were Liberty ships, the mass-produced
freighters like those turned out by the N.C. Shipbuilding Co. in
The basin also housed a total of 68 “Victory Ships" and 41 vessels of
types, including tankers. Generally, five of these ships were kept on a
level of readiness, to sail “at a moment’s notice” in the event of a
At its heydey, the U.S. Maritime Administration (which took
over the fleet in 1950, after the Maritime Commission was abolished),
296 workers on the Brunswick River basin, with a $600,000 payroll. Many
these were armed guards to prevent theft of the ships’ copper and brass
fittings; others were involved in routine maintenance. The ships were
and anchored together in groups of five, with each fifth ship moored to
driven deep into the river bottom. Despite these precautions, two of
mothballed freighters broke loose during Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and
down the channel, threatening to collide with the U.S. 74 bridge until
tugboat pushed them out of the way. This web page author remember the
hurricane as it passed over head in Little Creek, VA.
Beginning in 1958, the government began
to sell off older and less fit vessels for scrap, while others were
the James River. By 1964, only 152 vessels were left on the Brunswick
but they remained a formidable sight. “Many motorists stop along the
look up the river at them,” said E.W. Thompson, an administrator with
reserve fleet. By 1968, the total was down to 15 ships. Many were
by Horton Industries in Wilmington; Gilliam Horton, of Horton Iron
told the Wilmington Morning Star in 1968 that his company could finish
ships in 90 days.
do they have a battleship parked across from downtown? by Ben Steelman Starnews
The Current year - 2013