Friday, August 29, 2008

HMS Berry and USS Doherty

Sixty-six years ago today, on August 29, 1942, the U.S. Naval Shipyard at Mare Island launched a ship for the British Navy. The HMS Berry was the second of 24 destroyer escort vessels that Mare Island planned to build for the Royal Navy under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program. Berry’s sister ship, HMS Bentinck, had been launched only a week previously.

The construction of British ships at an American shipyard was only one of the unusual aspects of this destroyer escort program. In addition to their British pedigree, Bentinck, Berry, and other ships of the class were unusual because they were primarily built high in the Rocky Mountains near Denver, Colorado. The “Shipyard in the Rockies” program consisted of prefabricated parts built in Colorado and brought by rail to Mare Island for assembly and eventual launching. Denver was selected because of its largely untapped labor force and the prevalent affordable housing available for its defense workers.

HMS Berry’s sponsor was Mrs. Robert E. Moreland, wife of the Master of the Joiner and Shipwright’s Shop at Mare Island. At the launching, Mare Island’s commandant, Rear Admiral Wilhelm H. Friedell, emphasized that America’s homefront shipyards bore a major responsibility in supporting the war effort. “We, who are on the production end of this titanic struggle, must ourselves maintain an ever-present offensive,” Friedell proclaimed. “We must win. We must survive.”

However, HMS Berry would never serve in His Majesty’s Navy. As the U.S. Navy struggled to rebuild after Pearl Harbor it became apparent that more American ships were needed to fight the Axis Powers in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. HMS Berry was retained by the U.S. Navy and rechristened as USS Doherty. She served as an escort vessel in Arctic and Pacific waters throughout the war and was eventually decommissioned and then scrapped at the war’s conclusion.

As one of the many hundreds of ships built at Mare Island, the HMS Berry -USS Doherty might best be remembered as a symbol of the cooperation maintained by the United States and her allies during WWII.

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