No, this is not a tree-hugging, compact fluorescent, green job kind of post. I’m an engineer, and I test materials for various environments.
Back when I was a little girl, one of my favorite classes was Catastrophic Failures. One of the materials engineering professors would pick a disaster a week and tell us how poor design, poor materials choice, poor maintenance, etc., led to failure.
One such case was the Liberty ship of WW2. We had to make ships NOW, dammit!, so these were large pre-fabricated pieces welded together in many places instead of riveted. One anecdote was that the welders were paid per foot of weld, and they would take shortcuts like using chicken bones to fill in some of the deep weld seams and weld over the top of them. No x-ray inspection back then to catch things like that. Stress concentration points weren’t understood, so cracks would start at a square hatch corner and grow unchecked. The worst, though, was the North Atlantic. Ships would be fine in the warm waters off Mobile and Savannah, but in much colder waters, the weld material became brittle. Add in some pounding waves and you get…
(XBrad tells me this is actually a T-2 tanker, which had the same construction problems.)
Redesign and refitting solved many of the problems, and these ships certainly did their part for the war effort, carrying either 9,000 tons of cargo or 600 men each. The Naval Surface Warfare Center now performs the kind of environmental testing that we didn’t know we needed in 1941.
The S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien is now the National Liberty Ship Memorial in San Francisco. The O’Brien supported the D-Day invasion by making 11 trips between England and Omaha and Utah Beaches. Liberty ships are represented on the East Coast by the S.S. John W. Brown in Baltimore.