Kaiser's Novel Launching Programmes Entirely New Glamour Given To Normally Simple Ceremony
By HAROLD COX Special to Auckland Star SAN FRANCISCO. ■fl/HEN America's shipbuilding * * genius, Mr. Henry J. Kaiser, was ready to turn out Liberty and Victory ships at at least twice the rate that the Axis navies could sink them, he discovered that, if tnere was not to be a deplorable departure from maritime tradition, he would have to do something about the (normally) simple procedure of getting his ships launched. As it happened, large scale ship launching proved to be as amenable to mass-production technique as large scale ship building. By a skilful combination of assembly chain principles with Hollywood showmanship, the Kaiser launching programme, which is now standardised, and has been applied to more than 700 stout vessels, has given the simple ceremony of breaking a bottle of champagne over steel bows an entirely new glamour. Three Shifts a Day The Kaiser yards are so conducted that the launching technique must be an all-weather one, applicable to a three-shift day seven days a week. Each ship must glide down the slipways on the first tide after the welding torch has sealed the last seam in the hull so that the next keel, waiting ready for the slips, can be slid into place within a few hours. If the tide happens to be a night tide on a cold, wet night, the ceremony goes on just the same., Mr. Kaiser has equipped his yards with transportable pavilions externally resembling circus marquees, but internally equipped after the manner of the better hotels. These can be slid up to each vessel as ii. is finished, and fitted snugly round the bows about the Plimsoll line. Around the rostrum beneath the bows, the christening and launching team assembles. In comfortable seats before them sit the invited guests. ' Canvas sides are opened on a warm night, so that guests may admire the showers of red sparks cascading from welders on adjacenf slipways, but if it is cold or foggy, the canvas is drawn, and the pavilion artifically heated. Slick Radio Announcer The launching theatre is small, but so that nobody in it—or, for that matter, nobody within a couple of miles—misses a word of a launching ceremony, there is a microphone at the rostrum which operates powerful speakers above the heads of the audience. The launching team is large. There is a slick radio announcer who appears to have learned his microphone technique in one of the better night clubs; then a master of ceremonies, sometimes Mr. Kaiser himself, or one of his lieutenants. Next comes the sponsor, always a woman, well known, who must name the vessel, and break the traditional bottle, already lying on its side in a silver-wire basket on the rostrum. t The sponsor is supported by a matron of honour, one of the team's key performers. Should the sponsor forget the name she is to give the
Lship—and experience shows that', sponsors can forget—the matron, hisses the name at her and saves the situation. Next on the list is a flower 'girl. Her job is to pin a superb orchid on the corsages of the sponsor and the matron in circumstances which will be explained. A chaplain, generally from the Navy, is present to deliver an invocation just before the launching, which is performed by a triggerman, always a public personality. He, at the appropriate time, swings the handle of a ship's bridge telegraph, permanently installed on the rostrum, to release the slip chocks and set the vessel on its way to the sea. The official team is completed by a soloist, and by the Kaiser Harmonettes—l2 beautiful girls selected from the female staff of the yards for the combined perfection of their voices, faces and legs. It is the job of the Harmonettes to sing the Kaiser launching song as the vessel glides smoothly to the sea. Watch for more about the Harmonettes. As record-breakers, the history of this century is likely to bracket them with the Dionne quin--
tuplets. Together, they are within 300 ships of breaking the 3000-year record set by Helen of Troy. Not officially on the programme are many others in the official team They include a pianist, two spot light operators, various electricians, two cameramen from the Kaiser publicity section—one of whom can smoke a 7-inch cigar while focussing a direct vision camera right against his face—and a stolid, uniformed watchman, who stands below. thp floor at the ship's keel, chewing gum while the big shots above are talking. The watchman's job is important, too. From beneath his jacket hangs the end of a red, white and blue ribbon. It is attached to an auxiliary bottle of champagne concealed beneath his jacket. It is his to pursue the departing vessel down the sli. ways and break his bottle on tl.-- keel if,
.as occasionally happens, the sponsor above misses her strike. There is thus no danger that any Kaiser ship will slide into the ocean completely dry. The actual launching ceremony is simple and rationalised. It seldom takes more than an hour. The announcer calls the meeting to order, the members of the team occupy positions strategic to their duty posts, and the master of ceremonies is introduced. Out go the lights, on flashes a spotlight, and the master of ceremonies seizes the microphone firmly by the stem and welcomes everybody. Long experience has taught him to "take no liberties with the microphone, so he cautiously whispers into it, and loud speakers do not blow the assembly from its seats. Orchids Produced The announcer introduces the sponsor and her matron, and gives the flower girl her cue. The orchids are produced. The photographers spring into action, one automatically and unconsciously rolling his cigar sideways out of the way of the camera, but puffing smoke all the time. Sometimes the flowers have to be pinned and repinned many times before the photographers are really happy. When a ship, as happens frequently, is named after a public institution, a representative of that institution is given the rostrum and the spotlight and acknowledges the compliment. He is. freely photographed. Next comes a solo, then a chorus by the Harmonettes. More flash bulbs. . . . The chaplain follows, spotlighted in the dark marquee. He is let off with only two flashes each from the photographers and the one with the cigar retires to sit cross-legged on a railing behind him and smoke in peace. He cannot photograph an invocation.
Being new to the yards, the triggerman, when he takes the floor, is generally in trouble. He is a public man and a public speaker and pitches his voice- accordingly. The loudspeakers respond with a shattering gusto. Puzzled, the triggerman tries to shout himself down. Everybody is relieved when he retires. The rest is mere mechanics. The Harmonettes take up a position down the hull to sing the launching song. The sponsor poises the bottle, her matron ready to hiss the ship's name if her memory falters. The wine splashes down the knife-edged bow, the triggerman throws the concerted telegraph lever and the hull slides rapidly down to the sea. The Kaiser management, shrewd in its knowledge of American psychology and capitalising every ounce of publicity from another good job well done, gains through these launching ce: cnionies a profound influence over its h'.;ge constructional stall. The yard workers know all about what goes on. The show is a link in the organisational chain which guarantees the smooth running of a staggeringly large enterprise, which is doing a big war-winning job.