When thinking of great military locations in the Tampa Bay area, one’s mind might slip first into thinking of the MacDill Airforce base. While that has been, and remains to this day a very important location for military history, there is another one sitting just across the bay: the dry docks that were built for the construction of ships during WWII. These docks can best be seen from a location built in the same time, the American Victory Ship In Channelside,
In 1938 Tampa, like all of America, was suffering through the national recession at the tail end of the Great Depression. The city recovered from this tragedy, in a grim irony, due to the dawn of another. At the very beginning of World War II, the Tampa Shipbuilding Company received a contract from the government for the construction of four 10,000 ton steel ships. The construction of each of these ships would cost around two million dollars! Due to the high levels of work that needed to be done, Ernest Kreher, the head of the Tampa Shipbuilding Company, borrowed $750,000 from the WPA so that he could expedite a speedy construction of a 10,000-ton dry dock near what is now Channelside.
By the end of 1939 the docks were filled with the sounds and sights of the freshly hired 2,000 men who were working on the first two ships in the brand new dry dock, the Seawitch and the Shooting Star. They would later on work on other ships, as well. The largest of these were the destroyer ships: the Piedmont, Sierra and Yosemite. Misfortune struck late in the summer of 1940, however. Due to financial difficulties within the company, Kreher stepped down to act as consulting engineer while George B. Howell was moved up to president of the company, with J.W. Gray as secretary and treasurer.
Later that year, ships began to transition from their South Florida homes to the fiery theater of the second great war in Europe. Due to an increase in conflict the demand for ships went up and so did the need for workers. During the height of the construction period there were around 16,000 workers on the dry dock working on ship construction. Nearly one hundred ships were constructed on site, most of which of course were sent for service in the navy. The company also worked on repairs for more than 500 other ships.
The naval construction work done on these dry docks by the Tampa Shipbuilding Company was one of the largest ship building operations in the history of South Florida. With more than $8 million dollars spent on tools and supplies to keep all the operations up and running. Within that $8 million included the money that was spent for workers' weekly payrolls, which during the time of peak ship production exceeded $750,000! The dry docks and ship construction brought much revenue to the Tampa Bay area in a time when it was needed most, and it allowed Tampa to perform the patriotic duty of helping with the war efforts.