Monday, August 09, 2010

LST Ship Memorial at Evansville, IN

The ship that won WWII for the Allies

Isaac and I visited the LST Ship Memorial at Evansville (IN) about two years ago. We've been planning to take Dennis to it ever since, and this past Sunday, we finally made that trip. I enjoyed going through the ship again and hearing the spiel of a different tour guide. Dennis enjoyed the tour from his own unique perspective. He is a Navy veteran as well as a history-lover, and also, his father was a machinist in the Navy during World War II.

The LST (Landing Ship, Tank) was a World War II invention.  It was a flat-bottomed, high-riding ship that could be driven right onto most beaches. The big doors at the end of the LST opened and a gangplank flopped out, so tanks and other vehicles could drive off, ready to do battle. If  the ship couldn't plow up onto the beach, the tanks and other vehicles drove off via pontoon bridges. According to our tour guide, the LST was first imagined by Winston Churchhill, who knew that tanks would greatly the chance of every invasion's success.

Evansville, Indiana, was one of several places where the LST was manufactured in the U.S. Although Evansville had not previously had a shipyards, 167 LSTs and 35 other vessels were built there by the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company. At the peak of production, Evansville was building 2 LSTs per week, and over 19,000 people were employed at the shipyards. After manufacture and christening, the LSTs were outfitted, sailed to New Orleans, and from there, put into military service. 

The LST Ship Memorial (LST 325) is one of only a few surviving WWII LSTs. It is the only one that still sails. It is kept seaworthy by a crew of dedicated volunteers, and it makes two trips a year. In late August, it will be sailing to Pittsburg, about 800 miles up the Ohio River.

A group of WWII LST veterans found the LST 325 in a Greek ship salvage "yard", bought it, and sailed it back to the US in 2000. If they had been a few days later, the ship would have been scrap iron. The story of those determined old veterans bringing the aged LST 325 back home with a skeleton crew is inspiring. (Here is another log of their 6500 mile voyage from Crete -- start reading at the bottom of the page.)

 Note: Links below lead to some of the photos I took on Sunday.

Sunday was a hot day, with lots of hazy humidity. I took a photo of the Evansville skyline above the Ohio River as we waited for the office to open. Once inside, we bought our tickets and watched a short video about the LST veterans, bringing the ship home.

Enlisted men's quarters
Our tour began on the top deck, and our tour guide was excellent. This LST was part of the Greek Navy for a number of years after it left the U.S. Navy. The guide is standing on the Greek helicopter landing pad. The Memorial has not tried to erase the years of service this ship gave to the Greeks. One exception is the yellow things on the floor. They are tie downs for helicopters that the Greeks installed, and because they hold water and create rust, they are being removed little by little, by volunteer shipfitters.

The elevator, used for loading the top deck, is covered with plastic in the foreground of this photo. Vehicles (usually jeeps) were driven onto the ship through the big doors that opened at the lower level, then brought to the top deck by elevator. After the top deck was full, the elevator was battened down and the bottom of the ship was loaded. 

The big gun in this photo is actually one of the smaller guns on the top deck. LSTs were a prime target for bombers and submarines, because of their slow rate of travel and their valuable cargo. The LSTs were well-armed, and they were escorted by other ships and by fighter planes. When invading a shore, the LSTs were kept out of range of enemy fire until the beach was cleared by the landing troops.

I am not sure what the bottom level of an LST is properly called. A deck?  A hold? Anyway, this level contains the various shops that kept the ship running, all the quarters for the crew, the galley where all food was prepared, and the large open area that you see above.

The engine room is located at the very bottom of the ship, under the floor of the hold. A plexiglass window has been installed in the floor so tourists can peer down at the engines and the "snipes" who operate them.

In an invasion, the hold of the ship was loaded with tanks, the first vehicles that needed to hit the shore. After the tanks were driven off and the vehicles on the top deck were brought down, the empty hold could be used as a field hospital or a place to hold prisoners of war.  As an occupation continued, the hold of an LST could  be used to transport fuel, food, ammunition, and other supplies for ongoing operations.

The cargo door of the ship has a ridged ramp to provide traction for vehicles. It was a hot day, so big fans in the doorway were blowing outside air into the ship's very stuffy hold.

Back up on the main deck, we looked at some more of the big guns that the LST 325 carried. Isaac posed in one of the gunners' seats of this 2-man gun. Keeping it supplied, loaded, and firing required the efforts of up to 10 men. The handles were used to aim the gun. One set of handles moved the gun horizontally, and the other set (manned from the opposite side of the gun) moved it vertically.

The radio room is located at the front of the ship on the top deck. It's full of radio equipment from the WWII and Korean War era. All the equipment works, thanks to the skills of the volunteers. This particular radio is about five feet tall. A telegraph machine was transmitting stacatto dots and dashes that a communications expert in WWII would have been able to transcribe and translate. The air conditioning that has been added to the radio room felt wonderful after the hot, stuffy hold and the blazing-hot deck!

The Lionel compass (at center)
This compass, used by the helmsman as he steered the ship, was made by Lionel -- the same company that made Lionel trains. It's a great example of the way that industry and private companies contributed their expertise to help win the war. The compass measures about a foot in diameter. Here's another compass the helmsman used.

The captain commanded from this tower.
Note the Greek crest below the tower.

The ship's captain surveyed the situation from his tower (seen in this photo from the middle of the deck). When a change in direction was needed, he called down steering orders to the helmsman, through a long horn with a flare at the end of it that looked like a super-elongated band instrument. The helmsman then consulted the compasses and turned the ship, using the wheel.

Many of the men who served on the LSTs spent three years or even longer on the ship during World War II. There were no leaves of absence in which they could visit their families.

The LST Ship Memorial is easy to find -- just follow the signs along Highway 41, west of Evansville, Indiana. It's an educational and interesting historic site. I highly recommend a visit.

More on the web:
Photo exhibit of the Evansville Ship Yards


John Ruberry said...

I didn't know that.

And NOLA got the D-Day museum.

Genevieve said...

Well, as the tour guide explained, Churchhill would have said the LST won the war for the Allies. Other war decision-makers might have said it was our air power that tipped the scale, or our guns, or even the industrial powerhouse that we had backing us. But Churchhill would have said it was the LST, and the tour guide quite agreed with him.

RunAwayImagination said...

in 1968-69 I was assigned to the Little Creek Amphibious Base in Norfolk, where many of the old LSTs that were still in service were moored. They were strange looking ships indeed.

Genevieve said...

Runaway, the tour guide commented that when they take the LST 325 out on the river, people on barges, tugboats, and other craft stare and ask, "What IS that?!?" This is particularly true when the LST 325 moves to the front of the line at locks on the river, where it is still given the status of a military ship.

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