A “riveting” memory of WW II


Submarine poised on the launch ramp

I’m more familiar with Rosie the Riveter who, along with other women, were instrumental in producing planes during World War II. But I’m not familiar with Rosie the Welder. Could she be a “kissing cousin?”

Rosie the Welder had essentially no experience in welding. This was a need because so many men were off to war. Rosie could be a wife or anyone willing to get the training and learn how to weld. The job description: welding plates of sheet steel together to form the hull of a submarine. The subs were built in my hometown Manitowoc, Wisconsin, which is conveniently located on Lake Michigan. What you say, building an ocean-going vessel in the Midwest of the United States? Hang on, the story continues.

Boatyard at the bend in the river

Manitowoc has a history of ship building. The need for wartime ships was desperate. The management of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in 1940 was asked by the U.S. Navy to build 10 submarines. After the Navy’s initial order was completed quickly and done so well, an additional 20 subs were ordered, of which 18 were made by the time World War II ended in 1945.

The submarines were fabricated in sections in a building, where Rosie the Welder worked. When a section was completed, a heavy-duty crane lifted it to the launching area. Additional sections were added to form the final product, a U.S. Submarine.

Launchings were done sideways because the Manitowoc River was on a horseshoe bend. There was not enough room for any ship to be launched stern first. That method is typical of East Coast shipyards, where there is sufficient water for that type of launching. The subs were christened with a bottle of champagne, smashed on the side of the hull.

Launching sideways

Upon completion, the submarine went from the river location to Lake Michigan for freshwater trials and training. Rosie was again working on the next submarine. After successfully passing the tests, the sub was placed in a dry dock, towed to Chicago, down the Illinois River, on to the Mississippi River to New Orleans where the periscope, radar, and other necessaries were made ready. From there, it was bon voyage and off to war.

I remember the launching of the first sub, Peto on April 30,1942. It was a sight that I could never forget. Red, white, and blue buntings were on the sub. As it launched sideways, there was a big splash of water. It was a civic occasion when a submarine was launched. A total of 28 subs were crafted and 25 saw action during WWII. Together, they sank 132 Japanese ships. Four Manitowoc-built submarines and their crews are on eternal patrol.

Burger Boats of Manitowoc currently builds a wide array of elegant custom motor yachts like the 50 ft cruiser.

The Wisconsin Maritime Museum, located in Manitowoc, has an extensive display of maritime items and an authentic WWII submarine, the USS Cobia. Tours of the lovingly restored USS Cobia are provided, and it is even possible to stay overnight and enjoy the work of what Rosie the Welder and her 7,000 fellow workers accomplished as part of America’s war effort.


Contributed by:  Fred Hecker

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1 thought on “Rosie the Welder

  1. Fred, I love knowing this about Rosie the Welder and Manitowoc! I drive through Manitowac every year on my annual visit to Door County. I didn’t know the history of the submarine building during WWII. I will definitely visit the Maritime Museum next time through. The drive along the coastal villages is always a delight.

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