Newspaper article

One Minnesota Contribution to the War Effort in World War II: 22 Navy Ships Built in Savage

Newspaper article

One Minnesota Contribution to the War Effort in World War II: 22 Navy Ships Built in Savage

Article excerpt

In 1942, the US military re-purposed the Cargill shipyard at Savage to produce ships to serve in World War II. By the end of the war, the Savage shipyard had produced twenty-two ships. In 1975, many of these were scrapped, but some eventually saw service overseas.

The Navy’s decision to build ships at Savage was a consequence of the skill of local shipbuilders. Shipbuilding in northern Minnesota was a tradition that dated back to the early 1870s. Prior to World War II, Cargill, Inc. had become known for building large barges to haul grain. This reputation, combined with the large local labor pool, prompted the Navy to select Savage as the site for a new military shipyard in 1942. The shipyard was also chosen for its strategic location, which protected it from foreign attack. Even so, there was a constant military presence at Savage, including FBI agents to monitor security.

In order to handle the new, larger ships that would be constructed at the shipyard, the Minnesota River had to be dredged. The river was normally only 3.5 feet deep, but it was dredged for fourteen miles to a minimum depth of nine feet. This work cost $250,000.

The shipyard’s original contract stipulated that just six ships would be built at the site. However, by 1945, Savage employed 3,500 people during peak times, and workers had built eighteen ships and four tugboats. Most of the ships built at the yard were Patapsco-class auxiliary oil and gas carriers (AOGs). These large ships had crews of 131. They were 310 feet long and forty-eight feet wide, with a draft of fifteen feet. They could carry a large amount of fuel and ammunition—up to 1,880 tons—and cruise at 15.5 knots.

The yard’s first ship, named the USS Agawam, was laid down in 1942 and launched the next year. Once the ships left Savage, they sailed down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where they were fitted with their final equipment. Then they sailed out to the South Pacific. The type of aluminium (6061-T6) used for welding rivets on the tankers was later used to repair corrosion on F-16 airplanes and build receivers for contemporary rifles like the AR-15.

The wartime labor shortage led to women being allowed to work in shipyards for the first time, and they made up a quarter of the workforce at Savage. …

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