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Mothball Fleet and Wheat Surplus

The Hudson River Reserve Fleet in the 1950s Photo: Manuel Aldea

As a child in Ossining, New York, on the banks of the Hudson River, I could see the Mothball Fleet full of wheat surplus. How sad that this surplus did not find its way the hungry people in the world.

“Mothball Fleet” – the Hudson River Reserve Fleet 

The Hudson River Reserve Fleet, formally the Hudson River National Defense Reserve Fleet and popularly the “Mothball Fleet”, was established by Congress in the wake of World War II, in 1946, as a component of the National Defense Reserve Fleet. The fleet was first located off Tarrytown, New York, on the Hudson River and later moved further north to Jones Point.

The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. New York State Archives.
The Hudson River National Defense Fleet, December 14, 1947. New York State Archives. Croton History and Mysteries. “The Ghost Fleet”, 1946-1947 (May 21, 2016)

 

National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF)

The National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) was consisted of “mothballed” ships – a “ghost fleet“, combat vessels and transports, that could be activated within 20 to 120 days to provide shipping for the United States of America during national emergencies, either military or non-military, such as commercial shipping crises. The NDRF was established in1946. At its peak in 1950, the NDRF had 2,277 ships in lay-up.

History of the Hudson River Reserve Fleet

The Hudson River Reserve Fleet provided an anchorage and place of maintenance for a part of the enormous numbers of combat vessels and transports surplussed by the return of peace.

 

From Jones Point dock several miles to the south to Tomkins Cove
From Jones Point dock several miles to the south to Tomkins Cove

The fleet was anchored in ten rows, extending from the fleet office at the Jones Point dock (once known as Caldwell’s Landing at the foot of Dunderberg Mountain) several miles to the south to the Boulderberg House at Tomkins Cove. Several viewing points were established along U.S. Route 9W for the hundreds of motorists who stopped daily to look at the ships.

The fleet was at its peak with 189 ships in July of 1965. In the mid-1960’s, the U.S. government was spending $735,280 each year for the preservation and maintenance of the Hudson River fleet. The last ship was unloaded in 1963. Ships that had stored wheat rose about twelve feet higher above the water surface and exposed a bright orange band of rust. The last two ships from the Hudson River fleet were towed away on July 8, 1971, to be sold for scrap to Spain. Ships not sold for scrap from it were transferred to the James River Reserve Fleet.

Ships Take Back to Service

  • Korean War: a total of 130 ships were taken from the Hudson River fleet leaving only 39 ships.
  • Suez Crisis: in 1956, 35 ships were put back into service when British and French ships were diverted from trade routes to supply their nations’ armed forces.
  • Vietnam War: required more than 40 ships.

Surplus Wheat Production in USA

The annual wheat production of the United States more than tripled in the fifty years between 1871 and 1921. As World War II started, there was a record wheat production of more than its domestic consumption (production was as much as 2.5 times the consumption). After the war years, there were four “best” years (1945–1948) when the average annual production peaked to 1,228 million bushels, double the production of war years.

Storage of Surplus Wheat in Mothball Fleet

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1953 needed storage space for large volumes of government-owned wheat. This wheat was purchased by the federal government in order to keep up the price of wheat for the producers. During the following ten years more than 53,563,948 bushels of wheat were loaded into 231 ships. The number of ships carrying wheat at any given time ranging from 70 to 90.

A ventilation system had been installed in the ships, making it possible to maintain the quality of the wheat for long periods of storage. This saved the U.S. government some five million dollars on commercial storage estimates.

The ships were kept in condition on a year-’round basis by a crew of 86 men. The reserve fleet ships, valued at over $255 million, had their machinery turned over periodically and their internal surfaces sprayed with a coat of preservative oil on a regular basis.

The Mothball Fleet as a Tourist Attraction

The Mothball Fleet as a tourist attraction. Photo:MotorBoating Jul 1969
The Mothball Fleet as a tourist attraction.
Photo:MotorBoating Jul 1969

 

Mothball Fleet Photo: MotorBoating Sep 1967
Mothball Fleet
Photo: MotorBoating Sep 1967

 

Bibliography

The Ghost Fleet, 1946-1947 – CROTON

 

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