The ghost fleet of Mallows Bay. In 1917, at the time when the US entered the First World War, the United States had some warships, but a serious shortage of transport ships… An ambitious ship building program was therefore launched to remedy the problem and enable the US to resupply its own troops and its allies in Europe.
1000 ships were to be built… The problem was that the steel ship building industry in America was at that time too small to fulfill the contract and there was no way to meaningfully boost its output. It was therefore decided to build old school wooden steam ships instead! The problem there, was that due to the slow rise of the steel ship building industry, the wooden ship building industry had been in decline for over a decade! There was a lack of expertise, a lack of qualified manpower and a lack of… seasoned timber!
Nevertheless, the project went ahead and the contract was shared between 87 shipyards. 8 ship models were proposed and each shipyard picked the one model that they felt was capable of building. The end result was escalating prices as badly built ships needed modifications and remedial actions.
Leaks and vibrations were often present as well as a lack of stability and ballast which was often cured with the addition of concrete blocks! Each ship ended up costing about $1 million, which at the time, was enormous… Delays also plagued the whole affair. The US government only pulled the plug on that project in 1919! A whole year after the end of WWI!
By then, only 254 ships had been built and none of them had ever crossed the Atlantic as first intended. The US Navy was now the proud-ish owner of an outdated but brand new fleet of 200 steam-powered wooden cargo ships! And they were costing an arm and a leg in maintenance while being of no use to anybody.
In the end, it was decided to get rid of the ships… They were sailed to Mallows bay, tied together (sometimes up to 30 ships at once) and set on fire! Once the ships were burnt to the waterline, the hulls were filled with concrete blocks to stop them from drifting away.
One century on, the ghost fleet of Mallows Bay is still visible, although nature has taken over it.