LIFE

The little-known story of the Liberty ships and the miracle of Greek shipping

MARGARITA POURNARA

The Akti, owned by Nicholas Livanos, was one of the 98 Liberty ships which sailed under the Greek flag. Another 72 carried the flags of Honduras, Panama and the United States.

TAGS: Shipping, Photography, Books

They called them the “blessed ships,” an apt description, because the 98 American Liberty ships the Greek shipping industry was able to buy after the war helped to breathe life back into the ravaged Greek economy and put it on a growth trajectory for the following decades.

Even seven decades after the 1946 purchase by Greek shipowners from the American government, with a guarantee letter from the Greek state, there are still many myths attached to the actual events. In part because of ignorance or lack of information, in part because of demagoguery, it is often said that the ships were given for free or within the confines of the Marshall Plan.

It is often also often forgotten that along with the 98 Liberty ships, another 72 were purchased, carrying the flags of Honduras, Panama and the United States, which Greek shipowners (such as Aristotle Onassis) had the right to buy, individually, beyond the agreement with Washington.

A photo album – in Greek and English – which will be published soon, aims to present the facts about the charming true story of the Liberty ships.

The album is the creation of historian and shipping researcher George M. Foustanos, founder of the first online maritime museum, greekshippingmiracle.org. Items from its rich archive have appeared in several publications and exhibitions. The album, published by Argo, is called “Liberty Ships, The Story Behind the Myth.” A methodical researcher, Foustanos brings to light documented evidence about the vessels, which navigated through the flames of the Second World War, about those that carried the Greek flag, and how their purchase created a special relationship between the United States and Greece.

Few know that fleets of Liberty ships were sent to support the Allies in Europe whose own vessels were battered by German U-boats. Even less known is that the production of these ships required thousands of men and women working together tirelessly. Some believed these ships did not have a long shelf-life, but many sailed the toughest seas for decades, rewarding the Greeks that believed in them.

Another particularly interesting aspect, according to Foustanos, was the geopolitical balance of 1946. It should not be forgotten that the Americans decided to sell these ships to Greece at a time when the country was gearing up for what would be a bloody civil war, of which the outcome was uncertain. Furthermore, according to evidence provided by the author, the Greek shipowners contributed to both the Greek and the American economies, as from 1948 up until 1960 US shipyards would order big tankers from Greece. One of them cost 20 million dollars, an amount equal to almost half the total credit provided by the Americans for the sale of the 98 Liberty ships.

However, the most important conclusion of the book is that while the same ships were bought by the French, the Italians, and the Norwegians, only Greece managed to use them to create a fleet that conquered the seas and became a force to be reckoned with in the international shipping industry.

Online