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|
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)|
|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