July 21, 2007: Another relic of World War II is
fading away. The reserve fleet of support and war ships maintained for the U.S.
Navy since World War II, are down to about 200 ships, and those may all be gone
within a decade.
In 1946, the U.S. established the National Defense
Reserve Fleet. This was a number of locations around the country, usually in
sheltered waters, up a river, where relatively new ships (mostly cargo and
tankers, but including warships as well) could be tied up, and kept in
readiness for a national emergency. By 1950, there were 2,227 ships in storage.
Each location had a crew of trained men to keep the ships in working order. The
engines were turned on periodically, and the electrical systems checked as well.
During the Korean war, 540 ships were activated. During Vietnam, 172 were
activated. During the 1991 Gulf war, 79 ships were activated. Hundreds were
activated for other emergencies, like in 1956, when the Suez canal was closed
by war, and more shipping was needed. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, nine
ships were activated.
But now age is catching up with most of the ships,
which are not worth the expense of keeping them ready for activation. It's
cheaper and more effective to just charter commercial ships. Only 44 ships of
recent vintage, especially 26 "roll on/roll off" ones, are kept in readiness
for immediate use. The great "Ghost Fleet" was an artifact of World War II,
when thousands of new ships were built in a few years. When the war ended, naval
and merchant fleets could not absorb them all. Rather than dismantle so many
nearly new ships, the "Mothball Fleet" was created. Eventually these
unused ships grew old, and no longer useful. The warships were gone within a
few decades after the war. But many of the cargo ships, including some added
after the war, lingered on until the end
of the century. But now, the Ghost Fleet is rapidly fading into memory.