Reviews & Articles




‘In the tradition of Studs Terkel, Tony Cope has written of the men and women who came to Savannah to build Liberty Ships as part of the war effort.  Carrying their lunch pails, and, God forbid, women wearing overalls, they waited at bus stops and corners for rides to take them on the swing shift and into history.  A highly enjoyable read and valuable contribution to Savannah’s proud literary legacy.’

—Julius “Boo” Hornstein, author of Sites and Sounds of Savannah Jazz

‘Tony Cope has awakened a sleeping giant of Savannah history.  This book fills a literary gap and memorializes the City’s contribution to victory in World War II.  It is a fascinating collection of memories from men and women who at the start participated in a project they knew nothing about.  Tony Cope has indeed done his homework and I commend it highly.’

—Frank W. Seiler, Attorney and author of Damn Good Dogs!  The Real Story of UGA, the University of Georgia’s Bulldog Mascots

‘In less than four years our grandparents learned how to build ships to deliver the necessary supplies to our troops to defeat Nazi Germany. On the Swing Shift is a great tribute to the workers in Savannah, Georgia, and tells the story of the men and women who worked tirelessly when the nation was in need—bringing to light the vital importance of the Liberty Ships and the role they played in the United States winning the war.’

—Congressman Jack Kingston, 1st District of Georgia

Review (excerpt) from The Nautilus: A Maritime Journal of Literature, History and Culture, 2010:

On The Swing Shift is a worthy memorial to the significant role that Liberty shops and the people who built them played in the war effort. In a vibrant and colorful compilation of personal anecdotes and historical information from letters and legal documents, Tony Cope has manged to bring back to life Savannah’s contribution to World War II.

Cope digs deeply into the social fabric of the shipyard workforce. The hight demand for workers resulted in active recruitment of women, African American, people from rural communities, and the elderly. Interviews portray a variety of viewpoints about the new social scenario where woment took on tasks not only as secretaries and clerks, but also as welders, shipfitters, crane operators, burners and pipefitters.

Unlike women, the experience of African Amerians in the shipyard was a mirror image of the segregated South, and they were not allowed to rise above the role of custodians or menial laborers. Cope comments insightfully on the irony of a segregated workplace, yet it seemed as if workers of different creeds, colors and genders came together enthusiastically to cheer ship launchings and express strong sentiments about defeating the enemy.

The book provides an encyclopedic wealth of useful and etailed information for the maritime scholar. [It] is enjoyable and easy to read, filled with local information about Savannah and the city’s contributions to Europe’s wartime needs. It is is well organized and referenced, and the writing style is appealing and down to earth.

The author’s sincerity and insider knowledge of the topic, as a resident of the city and product of the World War II era, are clearly evident. This is a highly recommended book for history scholars and the general public, especially those interested in the social history of the southeast during the 1940s.

Lynn Harris, Assistant Professor in the Program in Maritime Studies of the History Department as East Carolina University, has a research interest in the southeastern shipyards from colonial times onwards.

Review from Military Officer Magazine, August 2010:

August 2010, Military Officer Review Magazine

Review from Times Record, July 2010

‘Tony Cope gives us a bird’s eye view of a sprawling WWII shipyard with all its complexities and color from the assembly to launching to war.  A great read for the layman or professional.’

—Joseph O. Saseen, former shipyard worker and past member of the Savannah Port Authority

‘With this meticulously researched account, Tony Cope has made a significant contribution to local and regional history.  This book gives an accurate, readable account of a major contribution to the winning of World War II by the people who built Liberty Ships in Savannah.’

—Walter C. Hartridge, Lawyer and Preservationist

Building the ‘Victory Fleet’.. Weapons win battles and, ultimately, wars. Or so we are led to believe. The Welsh longbow at Agincourt destroyed the flower of French Chivalry. British broadsides brought naval supremacy while the machine gun made up for inferior numbers in Europe’s colonial wars. As Hilaire Belloc observed: “Whatever happens we have got the Maxim gun and they have not.” The Spitfire helped win the Battle of Britain and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender in World War II. But there’s more to winning wars than weapon systems. As Field Marshall Rommel may or may not have observed: “good generals study tactics; great ones study logistics.” Men must be maneuvered and materiel moved–often over vast distances. Armies that outrun their baggage trains risk being overrun themselves. Tony Cope’s splendid account of Savannah’s contribution to the construction of Liberty Ships is a reminder that a nation’s war-winning capability is not just about weaponry. Depth charges and bombs may have played their part in destroying Hitler’s U-boat packs and winning the Battle of the Atlantic, but it was the Liberty Ships–built in prodigious numbers in record time–that allowed the Allies to assemble and equip the armies that would land successfully in Normandy on D-Day and go on to win the war in Europe. “On the Swing Shift” is not the definitive history of the Liberty Ship, but it is a meticulously researched account of how one corner of Georgia contributed to the maritime war effort, bringing to life the people who helped build the “victory fleet” that made victory possible. As Cope points out, today there is no monument in Savannah to the shipyard and people who built the ships or the men who sailed in them, even though the city saw proportionately more of its sons killed in the merchant marine than any other seaport. Perhaps this book can go some way to filling that gap. It’s also a great read.

– Christopher Redman (London, UK), September 24, 2009

Your wonderful book arrived today and the information in it is both exciting and welcome to this old historian. I am delighted that you chose to write about the human side of a wartime shipyard. I love the book and it will occupy a place of pride in my library. I wish you great success as anyone interested in ships should have a copy in their library.- Bill Hultgren,  Maritime Historian

What a book!  A sleepy coastal city in Georgia, a shipyard yet to be built, workers with little experience in building anything –  let alone large steel-hulled ships – all caught up in a high-stakes struggle against time and Nazi U-boats.  It’s a story about the early days of World War II and the cargo fleet the nation needs but doesn’t have; a history of the men and women who undertake a miracle and make it happen – told in their own words.  Set against the social background of a nation still staggering from the Depression, still uncertain about women in the workplace – still segregated, black from white, it’s a terrific tale and it’s all there – all true – in “On the Swing Shift”.  In Cope’s skillful reconstruction, it’s a compelling, heartening read.  Highly recommended. –Wilton Buckley

I enjoyed your book on the shipyard in Savannah and was truly impressed with all the research you did. When I first saw an advance copy, I wondered to myself, “How could he write that much about that specific a subject?”, but you managed to fill your pages with fascinating stuff. I have read extensively about World War II (I’m a big fan of the aircraft of that period), but your book is the first I’ve read about wartime industry in the United States. It’s an interesting part of the total picture — based on your work. I hope you sell a lot of copies of this book; it certainly deserves a great deal of attention. – Rich Wittish

Review from The Nautical Magazine (Glasgow), March 2010

[extract] “…I really did enjoy this book, as it combines more than your normal book on this subject. It not only includes all the ships, but involves the people who built them, and also the crew who sailed them and, most importantly, names all of the vessels built. An excellent publication and second to none! I have come across books on Liberty ships before, but never one that contains all the vessels from one specific yard. Thoroughly recommended and a great read.”


* Savannah Now

* Connect Savannah – “Life, Liberty ships and the pursuit of history”

* Coastal Senior (Cover Story)

* MyFoxAtlanta article

* Augusta Chronicle – “Swing Shift Celebrates Savannah’s Ships”


Review from ‘Sea Classics’ magazine, May 2010
by Rod Redman:

3 responses

16 10 2009
John G. Cope

I grew up in Savannah during the fifties and sixties, yet I never knew about the City’s vital role in the war effort or that Liberty ships were ever constructed a few miles from my home. It has been said that amateurs at war worry about tactical concerns and professionals worry about logistics. If that is true, Tony Cope’s book provides a marvelous look back at how important the City was to the war effort and the supply life-line to Europe. Hence, I started my read as a history lesson and sort of an obligation to an older brother. However, that obligatory state soon changed to interest and then fascination as I realized what was actually in the book. I study and teach about work for a living, and here was a detailed description of what labor in the 40’s was like for trade-level folks working in a Ford inspired production line using Henry Kaiser’s methods of ship construction. And it was based on actual first-hand accounts. On an academic level, this was good stuff. I caught myself taking notes in the margins, “checking” references, and sticking little pieces of paper between the pages as markers; it didn’t take long to read the book. Then I began to think about how well things had been organized and how much fun it was to read about life at work and how these boats later fared at sea. Again, it didn’t take long to read the book.

In short, this is a well referenced book that provides a clear window back in time when simple people were called together to save a nation. The book is easy to read, very nicely written, and is arranged in a sensible fashion. I absolutely loved it and I highly recommend “On the Swing Shift” on both an academic level and as a good practical history lesson for those native to the area.

John G. Cope, PhD
I/O Program Director
Department of Psychology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC

29 11 2009
J. Robinson

Having begun my seagoing career in the sixties, I was privileged to have seen Liberty and Victory ships still plying their trade twenty plus years into careers which were not expected to exceed five. Indeed it was said that if a Liberty ship completed one successful crossing of the Atlantic she would have made a significant contribution to the war effort. The longevity of the Liberty Ships was remarkable considering how and by whom they were built.

Tony Cope’s book “On the Swing Shift” is more than just a book about building ships in wartime. Yes, he describes the acquisition of a site on the banks of the Savannah River, which became the yard of the Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation. Yes he describes how farmers and other men and women with no experience of shipbuilding came to work in the yard in May 1942 and how by the end of the war they had built 88 Liberty Ships and 18 Coastal Cargo Vessels. This alone would have been of great interest to many readers. However Cope goes further by delving deep into the psyche of a nation at war using many anecdotes of individuals associated with the yard or sailing on the ships built there. He describes building methods, welded rather than riveted, prefabricated rather than keel up. He introduces us to trials procedures and the difficulties associated with the carriage of munitions and heavy lifts such as tanks. He details the methodology and principles of forming a convoy. There is evidence of considerable research using both published and unpublished sources.

As a mariner I found the description of the only voyage of the yard’s first ship the SS James Oglethorpe particularly captivating. On her maiden voyage she joined the ill-fated Convoy HX 229 out of New York to become caught up in the Battle of St Patrick’s Day in mid-Atlantic. The efforts of her Captain and a reduced crew to save the ship after an initial torpedo strike only to fall victim to a second attack was particularly poignant. Again much use is made of official records, including details of German code breaking practices, U-Boat tactics and individual U-Boat actions. Cope also describes the actions of ships in the convoy, both escorts and merchant ships.

When I opened Tony Cope’s book I am not sure what I expected. I hoped it was not going to be an over-technical description of shipbuilding techniques and although the difficulties of building ships with an untrained workforce are examined, I was not disappointed. Indeed the book exceeded my expectations in the wealth of topics covered. To my mind it is a well researched social history which examines a community confronting the needs of a nation entering a global war.

Captain James Robinson DSM FNI NS (Retd)

7 12 2009
Betty Darby, Ed. Coastal Senior

Tony Cope …has written a book on Savannah’s World War II shipyards and the Liberty ships they cranked out. I confess I had no prior interest in the subject and sat down to read the book out of a sense of duty. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be interesting, even occasionally riveting with even a touch of wry humor.
The story of the Southeasterning Shipbuilding Corporation is actually a riveting piece of industrial history. With a lifespan that coinsides almost exactly with World war II, it instantly became the biggest single production plant in Savannah’s history. Nothing in the city today rivals it. This massive workforce was historic for more than its size (46,000 employees over the course of 49 months), however. With so much of the traditional male workforce off at war, employment opportunities in fields never before open to women sprang up. Many women from Savannah and surrounding counties got their first-ever at working outside of the home ( and at getting paid) at the shipyard.
“On the Swing Shift” also looks at the grim situation faced by black workers at the shipyard. Even those who had the needed skills weren’t allowed to to work in skilled positions, but were shunted off to janitorial duties and other such tasks.
Today, Savannah’s shipyard that contributed 88 Liberty ships that helped the U. S. win World War II has crumbled away, just a few remnants of ship’s ways on abandoned riverfront acreage on the Savannah River.
The Copes (now living in Ireland) come back to Savannah about every year to visit family members…But even when he is back “across the pond”, there’s a little Cope in Savannah-in the living legacy of the Oatland Island Education Center and now in the captured memories of a strange, desperate and oddly prosperous slice of Savannah’s history.

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