2021-05-08

Ships Made Out of Concrete

At different times, different materials were used for the construction of ships. For centuries, ships have been built from wood. Thor Heyerdahl proved that the ocean can be crossed by a ship made of reeds. In recent centuries, steel has traditionally been used, and more recently, plastic and composite materials have appeared. What about concrete? Can ships be made from concrete? It turns out that there are many such ships. Those ships are made out of concrete.

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Concrete Ships

Cement ships or, actually, we should say reinforced concrete. The invention of  reinforced concrete  is usually attributed to the builder  William Wilkinson , who applied in 1854 for a patent for a system that included iron reinforcement for "the improvement of the construction of houses, warehouses and other fire-resistant buildings." However, a few months later the first invention made exclusively of reinforced concrete was patented. And this invention may baffle you a bit.

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Concrete boat

It was the Frenchman Joseph-Louis Lambot who, after carrying out several tests with mortar and steel bars and chicken wire to build small water tanks and drinking fountains, built and patented the first invention made in reinforced concrete, which he presented at the World's Fair of Paris in 1855. It was a small reinforced concrete boat .

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On the left the patented reinforced concrete boat and on the right its inventor, Joseph-Louis Lambot.
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Cement Ships

Well, when reading this you may think that such an invention did not have much significance and its importance does not go beyond the curiosity of being the first invention in reinforced concrete. But if you are thinking about that ... you are wrong. After the introduction of Lambot, reinforced concrete barges regularly sailed through the canals of Europe, and as the end of the century approached, an Italian engineer managed to build the first ship with this material.

Oddly enough, although common sense makes us discard reinforced concrete for ships, in truth, the use of this material in ships was exploited with some importance at the beginning of the 20th century. And it was mainly due to the fact that during World War I and II there was a shortage of steel for the construction of ships as well as the use of a cheaper material, such as reinforced concrete, it became a useful practice for transport and war ships.

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Ships made from concrete
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Concrete Warship

In World War I, for example, the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, faced with the shortage of steel, approved the creation of the Emergency Fleet Corporation program that provided for the construction of 24 concrete ships for the war. However, when the war ended in November 1918, only 12 of these ships were under construction and none had been completed. They were finally finished but were soon sold to private companies.

Around here in Spain we also had our reinforced concrete ship, the Mirotres, built in 1918.

Later, in World War II, steel became scarce again and another 24 concrete ships, as well as barges for transporting supplies, were built. This time, all the ships were finished on time and played an important role during the war, most notably in the D-Day landings in Normandy, where they were used for the transport of fuel and ammunition, and as floating pontoons.


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World war 2 ships made of concrete
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To give you an idea, the largest concrete ship ever built was the SS Selma , an impressive 130-meter-long oil tanker inaugurated in 1919. Today its remains lie partially sunk in Galveston Bay, in the Texas Gulf Coast, Houston.

Over time the construction of concrete ships became industrialized to the point of using precast concrete elements that were finally coupled in the shipyards.

Even so, the use of this material for ships had its drawbacks that have finally meant that it is currently not used in shipbuilding: reinforced concrete ships required a much thicker hull than ships built in steel, which led to to a comparatively heavier structure. And the more weight, the more fuel to move and if, for whatever reason, the hull broke, the sinking was very fast.

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Ships made of concrete
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The last living specimens of these ships lasted until the middle of the 20th century and sometimes granting them a most curious retirement. For example, as a jetty: off the coast of Virginia (USA), 12 concrete ships were sunk to protect a small port:

Or much more curious the ending prepared for the ship called Quarz, famous for its participation in Operation Crossroads, the American atomic bomb tests carried out in 1946:

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Liberty ships made of concrete
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A group of several ships, including the Quarz, was placed in the center of the nuclear blast to gauge the degree of damage caused.

Today, these colossal reinforced concrete shells can be seen as improvised breakwaters or as a tourist attraction for divers.

Cement ships
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Construction with cement was quick, easy, and required poorly trained personnel on ships. Right: one of the boats manufactured by the Ministry of Public Works in 1919.
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Concrete hull
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Cargo ships were made out of concrete ww2
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Concrete boat hulls
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Cargo ships were made out of concrete
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