Section: Features

Dive into the mysterious history of the S.S. Kenyon Victory

On June 5, 1945, the S.S. Kenyon Victory launched into the Pacific Ocean in Wilmington, Calif. The story of the ship and its name involves wartime shipbuilding, an operation named for magic carpets and a murky disappearance. 

In the early years of World War II, the United States was producing Liberty-class merchant ships which cargoed supplies to the areas of conflict. Nicknamed “ugly ducklings” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, these not-so-glamorous ships were critical to supplying the war effort. Because of the effectiveness of German U-Boats against these slow and relatively small merchant ships, an updated design began production in 1943: the Victory class. At 455 feet long and 62 feet wide, these ships were bigger and quicker than the Liberty class, thanks to a new hull design. Multiple shipbuilders in the U.S. mass produced them and, by April of 1945, the 459th ship — the S.S. Kenyon Victory — was being assembled. 

Victory-class ships were first named for countries in the United Nations, then for states and counties in the U.S., and lastly for colleges and universities. The S.S. Kenyon Victory sailed alongside the S.S. Yale Victory, S.S. Oberlin Victory and S.S. Denison Victory, among others. Kenyon College’s involvement in the naming decision or process is scant, though a 1966 Collegian article claimed that “the college presented the ship with a 500-volume library.” 

Built as the war came to a close, the ship only supplied the Pacific front for a short time. Immediately after the war, under Operation Magic Carpet, many Victory-class ships were transformed into troop transports to repatriate the millions of U.S. soldiers wishing to return home. This explains why a 1946 Collegian article locates the ship in Belfast, Northern Ireland (supposedly “carrying 100,00 tons of general cargo, including over a thousand cases of Scotch whiskey and seven Irish show horses and hunters”). Information about the S.S. Kenyon Victory after World War II is meager, but it at least served in two later wars.

“[The ship] later saw duty in the Korean conflict. Now, as part of a number of reactivated ships of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, the Kenyon Victory will serve in the Pacific, this time in [Vietnam] operations,” a 1966 Collegian article reads. Its whereabouts after Vietnam, however, are unknown. 

What became of the S.S. Kenyon Victory? Probably what happened to most of the Victory ships. “They were sold for scrap. The reserve fleet was also being sold for scrap. What was once a proud fleet was now down to a precious few vessels. Some historic preservation and veterans organizations became interested in these ships and a handful were saved from the ship breakers,” reads a 2020 National Parks Service article. The S.S. Kenyon Victory now floats neglected or sits rusting, gutted for parts. 

 

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