This portion of the Shipscribe site contains tables listing all contracts awarded by the U.S. Navy for construction of naval vessels and certain types of service craft under World War II building programs. Its coverage starts with the 20% Expansion Act of 1938, which initiated construction in excess of Washington Treaty limits, and ends at the end of the war. The contracts are grouped into building programs according to the directives from the national or naval leadership that led to the ships being ordered and the programs or special requirement that led to the directives.

All dates are in day-month-year form. A separate "Hull Number Locator" page identifies all of the ships in the contract tables by ship type and hull number and is intended to assist in finding individual ships. The bottom of this page contains information on the sources used for this study.

Wartime contract cancellations that were associated with changes in the building program are listed in the separate "Cancellations, 1940-1945" page.

Maritime Commission Ships. Ships built for the navy by the Maritime Commission (MC) under its Military Program are included in the contract tables. Some were ordered under the Military Program, while others were ordered under regular MC programs and later shifted to the Military Program. This explains the presence of some ships, like the AO-51 class and some units of the APA-117 class, usually regarded as acquisitions, as well as the absence of sisters not built under the Military Program but instead constructed under regular MC programs and converted. The authorizations, appropriations, and program numbers for these ships are from Navy records, while the contracts, which were let by the MC, are from MC records.


Type. The type of ship covered by the contract, using the standard ship type designators adopted by the U. S. Navy in 1920. The nomenclature for these ship type designators is provided in the separate "Hull Number Locator" page. The type is shown only once in each program table, preceded by the number of ships in that type included in the contracts listed in the table.

Hulls. The hull number(s) of the ship(s) in the contract. A ship type designator and a hull number constitute the unique identification of an individual ship, i.e. DD-445 = USS Fletcher.

Class. The hull number, or other standard designation, of the lead ship of the class to which the ships in the contract were to be built. For example, (445) for a contract for DD type ships indicates they were to be of the Fletcher class.

Directive. The date of the letter, or other written instrument, from the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV, here SN), the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), or their designated subordinates (see below) directing the Bureau of Ships to let the contract. In a few cases, directives came from higher national authorities, including President Roosevelt himself. These directives are a direct indicator of the relationship between policy and hardware, since SECNAV and CNO were the policymakers in the navy and BUSHIPS was the shipbuilder. The association of a directive with a new named program or other special requirement is usually either explicit in the letter or obvious from the circumstances.

The originators of the directives are identified in the Notes column using the following abbreviations: SN = SECNAV, USN = Under SECNAV, CNO = Chief of Naval Operations, VCNO = Vice CNO, AVB# = Auxiliary Vessel Board Report #, DCDB# = District Craft Development Board Report #, UK# and BAD# = British Lend-Lease Requisition #, "OK HRS" = letter approved by H. R. Stark (CNO), RUN# = Russian Lend-Lease Requisition #.

Prog. The program numbers developed by accountants of the Bureau of Ships (BUSHIPS) to identify the combination of authorization (tonnage) and appropriation (money) acts used as the legal authority to contract for each ship. These BUSHIPS program numbers are listed with their corresponding authorizations and appropriations in the separate "Naval Vessel Programs and Legislation" page.

Award and Builder. The date on which each contract for construction of Navy ships was awarded (signing usually came later), and the name of the contractor. Together, these items identify individual contracts. A contract may appear on more than one line in a table, often because part of it was covered by one BUSHIPS program number and part by another.

There is a mass of published information on the Navy's World War II shipbuilding contracts, but this information is incomplete. Not all cancelled ships are listed, not all previous orders are listed, and sometimes the record date of the contract was not the date of the actual award. (This often occurred when two or more similar contracts were consolidated into one at the time the second was let.) In addition, the class to which a group of ships was to be built was sometimes changed when ships were re-ordered under new contracts. This missing information was collected for this study by locating the relevant contracts themselves in the correspondence of the Bureau of Ships.

The contract tables include both original orders and re-orders from new builders. Re-orders are indicated by hull numbers and contract dates in parentheses. In cases where the contract date of record (the one usually listed) is not the actual award date, the award date is shown in the Award column and the record date is shown, along with other miscellaneous information, in the Notes column.


Authorizations are recorded in a number of sources including the Ships Data Books and Naval Vessel Registers.

Appropriations appear in the wartime Naval Vessel Registers published by the Bureau of Ordnance and in the first two editions issued after BUSHIPS took over this publication after the war.

Program numbers appear in a BUSHIPS report dated 1 October 1945, "Ships Laid Down since the Washington Treaty by Authorizing Acts."

Directives are not consistently recorded in any single source. A draft "Administrative History of the Bureau of Ships during World War II," prepared by the historical section of BUSHIPS and on file in the Library of Congress and Navy Department Library, summarizes the directives in Table 56 on page 185 and in an unpublished Supplement #6 on film in the Navy Department Library. (This same publication and its unpublished Supplement #12 also give the program numbers.) Internal BUSHIPS reports, notably a Combined Authorization Report dated 1 January 1951, identify a number of the directives. However in many cases it was necessary to locate the directives themselves in the archives, primarily in the CNO/COMINCH Secret and Confidential (SC) correspondence files in Record Group 38 at the National Archives, supplemented for the period before July 1942 by Record Group 80. The reports of the Auxiliary Vessel Board, which were the directives for most auxiliaries, are in the (SC) file under the symbols AA/QB (for 1940-41) and AA (later). Combatant programs (including their directives) are described in an OPNAV report, "Combatant Shipbuilding, 1.1.42 to 7.1.46, P.41-1000," held in the Naval Historical Center's Operational Archives.

Contracts, in their final form, are recorded most comprehensively in postwar Ships Data Books and in a BUSHIPS report, "Ship Contracts Awarded 1 January 1934 - 1 July 1955, Private and U.S. Naval Shipyards, NAVSHIPS 250-641." (The latter is an updated version of NAVSHIPS 1851 Report 92 and of the unpublished Supplements 10 and 11 to the "Administrative History of the Bureau of Ships."). The contracts themselves are located in the correspondence of the Bureau of Ships in Record Group 19, Entry 1266, at the National Archives.

Maritime Commission programs are summarized in Table A-8 in Gerald J. Fischer, A Statistical Summary of Shipbuilding under the U.S. Maritime Commission during World War II (Washington, 1949), page 31. More specific information is in RG 178, National Archives, notably the "Vickery file" (Entry 28) and the "Historian's collection" formed by Fischer and Frederic C. Lane (entry 35). (The notes from which Fischer produced his program table are now in Entry 35, box 26—when consulted they were in box 20f. Boxes 21-37, formerly 20a-20q, contain the extensive records, of the Office of the Historian, under file symbol 117, on vessel construction.) Maritime Commission contracts are listed in U.S. Maritime Commission, Construction Division, "Permanent Report of Completed Ship Construction Contracts, Report B1," copies of which are in RG 178 and at the Naval Historical Center.

Copyright © Stephen S. Roberts 2005-2015.