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SS Red Oak Victory in Richmond.

SS Red Oak Victory Ship

Field review by the editors.

Richmond, California

The Victory Ship is a wonder from an age of Total War.

Museum display.

Though it appears to be a gray, unremarkable cargo vessel, the SS Red Oak and her sister Victory ships were an essential part of the strategy to defeat the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II. In the early 1940s, German U-boats were sinking Allied ships at a horrifying rate. Millions of tons of essential military and civilian supplies went to the bottom, and the fate of the free world seemed up for grabs.

The Liberty Ships and the Victory Ships were part of the solution. Based on a 19th century British "tramp steamer" design, they were sturdy and uncomplicated. But they required a new approach to shipbuilding. Component manufacturing and other innovations ultimately helped cut traditional construction time from six months per ship down to less than three weeks. One ship, more of a publicity stunt, took only 4 1/2 days.

Ship's prow prop and champagne bottle for mock christenings.
Ship's prow prop and champagne bottle for mock christenings.

The SS Red Oak Victory (named after an Iowa town that endured a disproportionate amount of early WWII casualties), was built in 1944, in a leisurely 87 days in Richmond, California -- America's most manic, war-optimized shipyard. The Kaiser shipyards built 142 of this model, 455 ft. long, with hull frames set 36 inches apart -- an important flexibility improvement over the earlier Liberty ships' more rigid 30-inch hull frames (that were more prone to fracture at sea).

Seeing military service in 1944 and 1945, the SS Red Oak Victory supplied combat vessels in the Philippines. The Victory ships continued to serve in military and merchant marine roles in later conflicts, including Korea and Vietnam. The SS Red Oak Victory was parked in the Reserve Fleet from 1968 until 1998, when the Richmond Museum Association took ownership. They continue to operate the floating museum and restore parts of the ship through donations.

A recent exterior paint job makes the Red Oak appear much like it did when launched on November 9, 1944. There's a nice scenic observation spot on the drive towards the ship.

Visitors today can walk up the gangplank and take a self-guided or docent-led tour. The public areas are well-marked; other areas are off-limits as restoration continues.

The ship museum and gift shop are in hold #4, where visitors will see displays about the Kaiser shipyards, welding suits, models, and various artifacts. We especially liked the fake ship's prow in one corner, with a prop champagne bottle on a tether for christening photo ops.

SS Red Oak Victory.

You can wander through corridors and peek into crew quarters, the mess and pantry, the captain's cabin, the radio room, the wheel house. Many of the decks are open. If you encounter anyone doing restoration work, they might answer your polite questions. If accompanied by a docent, you can ask to enter the Fiddley, a shaft with a platform to view down into the engine room.

Two other Victory ships survive, as floating museums, in Tampa, FL and Los Angeles, CA. The others were dismantled and sold for scrap.

Also see: Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center

SS Red Oak Victory Ship

1337 Canal Blvd, Richmond, CA
South of I-580, Canal Blvd exit, follow south to end, looping around storage yards, to the parking lot next to the ship.
Su 10-3; Summer Su 10-4, Rainy day closings. Contact: Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Suggested donation: $5
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Rosie the Riveter Visitor CenterRosie the Riveter Visitor Center, Richmond, CA - < 1 mi.
Rosie the Riveter MemorialRosie the Riveter Memorial, Richmond, CA - 1 mi.
Beloved WigwagsBeloved Wigwags, Point Richmond, CA - 2 mi.
In the region:
Hill Of Crosses - Iraq War Dead Soldiers, Lafayette, CA - 13 mi.

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