28° 23.391' N
80° 17.324' W
May 03, 1942
RECOMMENDED MINIMUM TRAINING
In late 1940, desperate for new tonnage to offset losses, British representatives took ship plans to America to try to persuade the American government to let Britain place orders for 60 new ships. The United States agreed, however, no space existed in shipyards to allow them to be built, so it was decided to build two new emergency shipyards in Richmond, California, and South Portland, Maine, to meet the British need. The basic hull model for the vessels was based on the Dorington Court, a British steamer built by Joseph L. Thompson and Sons of Sunderland, which had a raked stem, cruiser stern, single screw, and balanced rudder. The main propulsion unit was a triple expansion, reciprocating steam engine whose design dated back to 1896. Because Britain had no domestic oil at the time, the vessel was to be powered by coal‐fired scotch or fire‐tube boilers. The plans specified a length of 441 feet, a beam of 57 feet, and a deadweight tonnage of 10,428 tons.
As an aside, the US. Maritime Commission made a number of alterations to the British “Ocean” design for use in the United States Merchant Fleet. Alterations were made to conform to American manufacturing and shipbuilding standards; some to accommodate the scarcity of certain materials, and some to meet the need to build as rapidly and affordably as possible. The resulting design was designated EC2-S-C1, originally referred to as “emergency ships” (E for emergency; C for cargo; 2 indicating size or capacity by the index of appropriate waterline length, 400 to 450 feet; 5 for steam propulsion; and C1 for the particular design). When the Patrick Henry, the first of these ships, was launched on September 27, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech that boldly stated that these ships would bring liberty to Europe. It was fitting that the first vessel was named after the patriot Patrick Henry, whose speech on March 23, 1775 ended with ”I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” From that point forward, these cargo ships would be known as” Liberty ships.”
The keel for the first West Coast vessel, the Ocean Vanguard, was laid down on April 14, 1941. The keel for the first East Coast vessel, the Ocean Liberty, was laid just over a month later, on May 24, 1941. The Ocean Venus was the twelfth keel laid down at yard number one of Permanente Metals Corporation in Richmond, California. After launching, a three‐inch deck gun was mounted to the stern. The freighter loaded lumber, lead, and foodstuffs into her cargo hold prior to her delivery voyage to John Morrison and Sons in England. Her maiden trans‐Atlantic cruise would soon carry her along a U-boat infested Florida coast.
Captain John Parkes was wisely steaming the Ocean Venus blacked out as he passed along the Florida east coast late on the evening of May 2, 1942. The bright moonlit night betrayed the position of his vessel, however, and Kapita'nleutnant Reinhard Suhren quickly spotted the oncoming vessel after surfacing off Cape Canaveral. While the moonlight helped Suhrenfind a target, it also forced him to submerge to get into a firing position, lest the U‐564 be spotted by the lookouts on the Ocean Venus. After several hours of maneuvering, Suhren fired a single torpedo from a position just offshore of the freighter. The torpedo slammed into the starboard side of the ship and into the engine room, quickly disabling the Ocean Venus. Unable to steer his vessel, which was now quickly settling into the sea, Captain Parkes gave the command to abandon ship at approximately 2:30 a.m. on May 3.
As the crew took to the lifeboats, the U-564 surfaced near the crippled freighter. Unbeknownst to Kapitt'inleutnant Suhren, a Canadian Naval gunner named Sid Webber remained at his post. Webber proceeded to fire 15 rounds at U-564 before she was able to submerge once again. Webber then joined the rest of the surviving crew and moved away from the Ocean Venus in lifeboats. Approximately 20minutes later, Suhren fired the coup de grace, a second torpedo that struck the sinking vessel amidships. The 42 survivors rowed to Cape Canaveral, while five men in the engine room perished in the initial explosion.
The wreck of the Ocean Venus lies just east of Port Canaveral in approximately 80 feet of water. Following the war, she was wire-dragged and demolished with explosives as a hazard to navigation. Furthermore, Captain Stefanich salvaged approximately 4,000 tons of lead ingots from the wreck in the 1940s. This work helps to explain its local name, the ”Lead Wreck." Due to these January 3, 1904. efforts, the wreck today is extensively broken down and spread out. The wreck is oriented with the high stern section, resting on its starboard side, to the north, and the bow, which barely protrudes from the sand and is difficult to recognize, located to the south. Amidships, the freighter’s three boilers rest over on the starboard side of the wreck, with the toppled engine located just aft; divers can easily follow shaft alley from the engine to the stern. The remainder of the wreck predominantly consists of scattered bulkheads and hull plates, which provide a tremendous amount of habitat for marine species. On one memorable visit, my dive buddy and I were joined by a large manta ray as we explored the wreck. Divers
searching for artifacts have been fortunate on the Ocean Venus, though a great deal of effort and luck is generally needed. The majority of the hull plates are found flattened on the perimeter of the wreck, and several of these are still adorned with rows of port holes. Occasionally a random lead ingot can still be found amidst the wreckage.