LST-325

September 1, 2019


Two weeks ago, the LST-325 visited Chattanooga and docked at the John Ross Landing on the Tennessee River. The LST-325 is the last fully operational World War II Landing Ship Tank (LST).  It sails each summer with a crew of approximately forty-five volunteers who sleep and eat on board while sailing twenty-four (24) hours per day at the rate of eight to ten miles per hour. Not fast but it does get there.

HISTORY:

The idea for an LST, short for “Landing Ship, Tank”, came about after the Dunkirk evacuation demonstrated a dire need for large seafaring transports for large vehicles. The first attempt at building such ships was accomplished by converting three tankers from Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela.  These vessels were outfitted with bay doors and were used during the Operation Torch landings in Algeria in 1942. Meanwhile, experts from both Britain and the United States’ navies started putting together requirements for new LST designs.  In 1941, the name LST was born with preliminary specifications detailing each requirement for the entire structure. Within a few days, John Niedermair of the US Navy Bureau of Ships completed the first sketch of the design. It called for a large ballast system that could be filled with sea water to give the ship a deep draft for seafaring, or emptied so that the ship could sail very close to beaches where they would unload their cargo. The design was accepted by the US Navy, then sent for approval with the Royal Navy on 5 November 1941. Almost immediately, the Royal Navy accepted the design and asked for two hundred (200) to be built for Britain under the Lend-Lease program. The first LST keel was laid down at Newport News, Virginia and first production of an LST set sail four months later in Oct 1942. From the very first moment, the construction program for LSTs took a very high priority. In some instances, even heavy industry plants inland such as steel yards were converted for LST construction.

The first action that saw LSTs in service was the Solomon Islands Campaign in June of 1943.   Almost immediately, they were used in the Sicily landings in the Mediterranean. Although slow and unwieldy, they were tough enough to absorb a tremendous damage. In fact, despite being a valuable target for carrying large amounts of cargo, only twenty-six (26) were lost in action; of the twenty-six (26), only thirteen (13) were actually sunk by enemy fire. While almost every landing operation employed LSTs, they were versatile enough to serve in other roles. Some were converted to become repair ships, others into floating barracks for two hundred (200) officers and men, while thirty-eight (38) LSTs were converted into hospital ships. In Jun 1944, converted LST hospital ships brought 41,035 wounded men from the Normandy beaches in the first couple days of the invasion.

LSTs were very involved with the invasion of Western Europe during WWII.  You can see the various routes taken by LSTs in Operation Overlord.

After the war, hundreds of LSTs were scrapped or sunk, with a few sold to civilian organizations.  Most of the remainder were mothballed. 1,051 LSTs were constructed during WW2, six hundred and seventy (670) of which were built by five (5) major inland locations, with the largest being Evansville, Indiana, United States. Of the LSTs exported from the US, Britain was the largest customer with one hundred and thirteen (113) LSTs in service during WW2.

LST-325:

Let’s take a tour of the 325 and see just what this vessel is about.

I was very surprised at the size of this ship.  I suppose I thought it would be similar to the Higgins Boats used as landing craft during the Normandy invasion.  LSTs can carry up to three hundred (300) people.

My wife and I decided to go early to avoid the lines and the heat.  We arrived about 9:30 in the morning.  Happy we did.  Take a look.

In 2014 the LST 325 visited Chattanooga and over twenty thousand (20,000) people toured the vessel.

It’s difficult to get an idea as to the length and overall size by looking at the pictures above.  A model inside will give you a much better idea as to physical dimensions.

Another indicator, JPEGs of the internal compartments.

As you can see, it is HUGE.

The control room is typical mid-1940s with all systems being analog.

Today this seems antiquated but back then it was state-of-the art.  Now take a look at the radio room.

Once again, all analog—no digital whatsoever.

The enlisted men’s quarters are very interesting. On my tallest day, I’m about 5’-8” but the length of the bunks must have been shorter than that.  I have no idea as to how anyone could get a good night’s sleep and fully “stretch out”.

There was a helipad for helicopter landings.  This surprised me greatly.

Another big surprise, and I don’t know why, was the size of the wench and the anchors.

You cannot have a battle ship without defensive equipment.  The machine gun below is just one of several on the vessel.

CONCLUSIONS:  As always, things change with improving technology.  Virtually nothing is analog any more but digital.  GPS has removed much of the effort relative to navigation and the accuracy is remarkable, down to the inch in some cases.  War, unfortunately, has not changed.  It’s always we kill you, before you kill us.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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