Sunday, February 7, 2010

War Shipping Administration

War Shipping Administration officer hat badge
Two piece construction; 60mm (l) x 55mm (h).
No hallmarks.
Eagle and shield gold-filled; anchors gold-filled.
Circa Second World War era; 1943-45.

Logistics and control of the supply chain is a perennial thorn in the side of military planners. In the interwar period, the U.S.'s sea-borne commerce was handled by a handful of independent shipping companies and corporations. With the clouds of war looming over Europe, and the with country gripped by the Depression, the federal government created the U.S. Maritime Commission so as to provide stimulus to and a regulatory framework for U.S. maritime commerce; this was welcomed by industrialists as a protectionist measure. Of its many roles, the USMC was responsible for the training of men for service in the U.S. Merchant Marine, overseeing ship construction and the militarization of the U.S.-flag fleet in the event of war.

After Pearl Harbor and in the early days of 1942, by executive order President Roosevelt created the War Shipping Administration. In one stroke, the WSA seized all U.S.-flag merchant ships for wartime duty. Among other responsibilities, the fleet chartering functions of the U.S. Maritime Commission were transferred to the new agency; by mid-war, the WSA owned and operated or chartered 80% of all sea-going merchant vessels in the U.S., with the rest being owned or chartered by the U.S. Army and Navy. An estimated 90% of all military and essential cargo were carried in WSA ships; and the Administration's responsibilities extended to all aspects and phases of shipping. This agency worked closely with Merchant Marine unions, operators, the U.S. Army and Navy as well as with the British Ministry of War Transport to ensure logistical control of the maritime supply lines. Despite service in-fighting and other institutional set-backs, the WSA did fulfill its role as to maintain ever important seaborne logistics control.

The National Archives provides the following time line and other pertinent information:
Administrative History

Established: In the Office for Emergency Management by EO 9054, February 7, 1942, under authority of the First War Powers Act (55 Stat. 838), December 18, 1941.

Predecessor Agencies:

* Division of Emergency Shipping, Office of the General Director of Shipping
* U.S. Maritime Administration (Feb. 1941-Feb. 1942)

Functions: Acquired and operated U.S. ocean vessels except those of the armed services and the Office of Defense Transportation; trained merchant crews; and coordinated utilization of U.S. shipping.

Abolished: September 1, 1946, by the Naval Appropriations Act (60 Stat. 501), July 8, 1946.

Successor Agencies: U.S. Maritime Administration.

And regarding seized functions, HyperWar provides the following text culled from a WSA memorandum penned by Adm E. S. Land:
Under the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, the United States Maritime Commission was established as an independent agency to direct and control all phases of overseas shipping and shipbuilding. It became apparent immediately when this Nation entered the war that a special agency to deal with the operational problems peculiar to war was necessary to supplement the Maritime Commission. That need brought about the creation of the War Shipping Administration on February 7, 1942, which took over from the Maritime Commission virtually all of the Commission's major statutory functions with the exception of shipbuilding. Thus WSA became the Government's ship operating agency and the Maritime Commission its shipbuilding agency.
It is important to remember that the WSA owned, operated and chartered sea-going vessels. The personnel manning these ships could be of several classes:
  • Mariners, licensed or unlicensed, union or non-union.
  • U.S. Maritime Service trained.
  • "Old salts", or mariners not federally but state trained.
  • Civil-service, civilian mariners.
  • Maritime shipping company employees.
The hat badge illustrated belonged to an employee of the WSA that worked aboard a WSA-owned and operated vessel. A bit of high-level and maritime culture is required to understand how this hat badge fits into the small constellation of sea-service and federal maritime insignia...

Since the WSA was not a uniformed service (but did have a uniformed component: the Maritime Service - which will be covered in the future), some individuals employed by the WSA proper could and did procure uniforms and insignia at their discretion. Those mariners who went to the various state maritime schools or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, during the war, would be inducted into the U.S. Merchant Marine as an active or reserve officer - those individuals had the privilege of wearing U.S. Maritime Service insignia - as they still do today. However, in the early days of the war, not all officers aboard ship were graduates of said schools, and would wear uniforms in the fashion of the day depending upon their status: mate, engineering officer, master, &c. (along the lines of U.S. Coast Guard licensed positions). If in the employ of a company, they would wear the company's insignia. But, if purely in the employ of the WSA, they could wear whatever struck their fancy and within reason.

WSA officer hat badges (cap devices), usually fell along the the following lines; with the important indicator of looking very similar to the U.S. Navy hat badges, albeit with "a twist":
  • A stamped or silver federal eagle with enamels or painted shield in red, white and blue. Embroidered examples of the latter also exist (these share a symbology harkening to U.S.S.B. badges - which will be illustrated in a forthcoming post).
  • A stamped federal eagle and anchors all in gold.
These hat badges are few and far between given the relatively small number of WSA officers and the eventual manning of ships by freshly-minted officers from U.S.M.S. schools or existing shipping company crew members. The latter usually kept their existing insignia or defaced U.S.M.S insignia with a company flag - as illustrated in previous entries.


War Shipping Administration officer
Hat badge, obverse.
This is ostensibly composed of components from the officer hat badges of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Public Health Service (anchors and eagle-shield, respectively). One might proffer a claim of incongruity by calling attention to the fact that the eagle is without the tell-tale "cow lick" on its crown which many use to "date" some U.S.N. commissioned officer hat badges. However, through careful examination of the toning patterns of the badge itself, the overall patina is consistent with sterling and gold-plated badges from the 1940s; and this die variation was very much in use at mid-war by Vanguard. On a stylistic note, the other encountered variation of enamels and painted shields fell into disuse or non-manufacture over the span of two years after the entry of the United States into the Second World War. The reason for this change may be that uniform shops in the major WSA embarkation ports ran out of stock and offered the illustrated alternative to move existing stock. And, since the WSA was without uniform regulations, these badges were more than likely purchased by an officer eager to adorn his cap with something distinctive.

War Shipping Administration


War Shipping Administration officer
Hat badge, reverse.
Note the absence of any hallmarks of any sort; the eagle of of the usual Vanguard variety and anchors of Viking in design.
War Shipping Administration


War Shipping Administration officer
Hat badge, reverse bolt detail.
The slight lozenge shaped brass keeper bolt is of contemporary issue.
War Shipping Administration