Saturday, 9 June 2012

No.1 SAUMAREZ REEFS - Francis Preston Blair LIBERTY SHIP

Francis Preston Blair 7,196 ton WWII Liberty ship.



Captain Wally Muller had no worries navigating his 79 foot boat into the shallows to drop anchor.


Coralita at anchor in the background the Liberty ship stranded in 1945

 Riversong made two voyages to Saumarez Reef, the last being in 1964

Built in 1947 in Mackay by former Tasmanian  M.Beatie.  Timber was Spotted gum with possibly a pole of Oregon.

Length was 42 feet, beam 12 foot 6 inches.  The 48 HP Gardner motor gave a speed of eight knots.

6" in width by 1.5" in thickness,  heavy planks were single planks the length of the boat.

The freezer held 4,500 pounds of fish fillets.   There was a gypsy anchor winch that used a former aircraft starter motor.





 
 ship could not move, (it was grouTHE LIBERTY SHIPS


During WW2,  USA was supplying UK and Australia via merchant ships. The American shipbuilding effort was incredible, and worth a good documentary being made.

Liberty ships were being constructed at 16 shipyards. A new ship launched every day. At the peak, one ship was built and fitted out in just seven days. The secret was welding the ships together instead of using rivets.

2300 ships were built in 1942-43. The German U-boats could not sink them fast enough. Plenty survived.

Once the keel was laid, sections of the ship fabricated elsewhere would be brought to the site and assembled. The expected life of a liberty ship was five years if not sunk beforehand. Many survived 25 years of service.

These merchant ships were fitted with a 4″ rear deck gun. The anti-aircraft guns were one 12 pounder, 20mm and 40mm Bofors, and PAC rockets.


Francis Preston Blair wreck was purchased by the Australian government in 1952 for target practice, especially in later years by the RAAF flying F-111′s from Amberley air base near Brisbane.


Coralita was at Saumarez during one of these missions. Very exciting to have the swing-winged aircraft flying low above Coralita at high speed with wings folded back.  

Also interesting to see three aircraft simultaneously attack the ship - each aircraft coming from a different direction and all crossing the wreck at the same moment.


HISTORY The Francis Preston Blair (7 196 tons) was built by Sudden & Christensen, San Francisco. Launched 8 January 1943, hull number 1230,  grounded on Saumarez Reef at 9:30 am 15 July 1945 while traveling between New Guinea and Sydney.


Our captain, Wally Muller, first visited the wreck shortly after the stranding and found a number of empty 4″ shell cases near the rear deck gun, summarizing the ship had been firing when it went aground – perhaps being followed by a Japanese submarine. 

This might have explained an explosion hole in the bow, below the water line.


The military has no knowledge of any enemy action having occurred causing the the stranding.


Liberty ships were being launched at the rate of one every day to ferry supplies for the war effort. Many were sunk by submarines.


Cameraman Walt Deas reported in August 2005 “Francis Preson Blair" has totally collapsed”.  Captain Peter Sayre visited the remains of the wreck in 2016 with his drone photography posted on Facebook 13 June 2016.  



Liberty Ships built by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II


Liberty ship was the name given to the EC2 type ship designed for “Emergency” construction by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II. Liberty ships, nicknamed “ugly ducklings” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The first of the 2,751 Liberty ships was the SS Patrick Henry, launched on Sept. 27, 1941, and built to a standardized, mass produced design. The 250,000 parts were pre-fabricated throughout the country in 250-ton sections and welded together in about 70 days.

One Liberty ship, the SS Robert E. Peary was built in four and a half days. A Liberty cost under $2,000,000.

The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.


 Sand cay at Saumarez reef.  One of many and typical of The Coral Sea.  This picture shows a submerged coral reef surrounded by live coral (underwater).

On top of the reef this sand cay is slowly developing, wind and waves are constantly altering the shape.

Eventually the sand cay may become an island and later some vegetation and nesting sea birds.  That may take a few thousand years to eventuate - if at all.

The sand cay is made from dead coral pieces and sea shell fragments.  Eventually this become white sand.


CAPTAIN WALLY MULLER fillets a coral trout - something he has done a thousand times or more.
About 55% of a coral trout is recovered as fillets, for frying.  In Asia this specie is used for steaming and in soup to minimize waste, chefs will not fry this fish by choice.







Recent communications (daughter of a crew member) reveal the Francis Preston Blair stranded during a cyclone.  Military sources deny the stranding was due to enemy action.  An explosion hole in the ships' starboard bow below the waterline was thought initially to have been caused by a mine or torpedo.  Practice bombs caused holes in the deck and starboard side of the ship. 
The following tells how the Liberty ship became stranded on Saumarez Reef during a cyclone.  The author is the daughter of a crewman who was aboard.
The family consensus is that: Dad said that “It was the typhoon that put the Blair on the reef.”  They had been trying to avoid the typhoon for some time, and it got them off course.  There were high winds on this trip.   He would say that the ship would toss as the water heaved over the bow.  There was always the fear of Japanese subs. For some reason, they were not in a convoy on July 15.
How she looked in October 1964 - propeller attached - later salvaged by unknown persons.

 1964

STARBOARD SIDE VIEW OF THE AMERICAN LIBERTY SHIP FRANCIS PRESTON BLAIR. A 5 INCH GUN IS MOUNTED AFT AND A 3 INCH AA GUN IN THE BOWS. 20 MM OERLIKON AA GUNS ARE MOUNTED AFT, AT EITHER END OF THE SUPERSTRUCTURE AND NEAR THE FOREMAST. THIS SHIP WAS WRECKED ON SAUMAREZ REEF, OFF QUEENSLAND, ON 1945-07-15 AND SUBSEQUENTLY USED AS A TARGET BY THE RAAF. (NAVAL HISTORICAL COLLECTION)



The liberty ship is a speck in the distance (1983)

 Video (1964)  "Slaughter at Saumarez" <click  features the shipwreck