Published 12:00 am Monday, June 9, 2003
[6/8/03]A ship that landed U.S. troops on Normandy beaches during World War II was docked at City Front, with public tours scheduled to begin this morning.
The landing ship tank, named LST 325, is one the Navy used during the D-Day invasion of France 59 years ago this week. It was docked here about 8 a.m. Saturday, said Bill Kaupas, a key organizer in the ship’s current voyage that will include tours here today, Monday and Tuesday.
“One time, we hit the beach with nobody steering the ship,” said crew member Dewey L. Taylor, 78, a Navy coxswain who served on another LST from 1942 until 1946. He said his ship, making one of the many South Pacific landings in which he participated, had lost its helmsman and other personnel under heavy enemy fire.
LSTs are flat-bottomed ships, 326 feet long and 50 feet wide, that hit beaches going as fast as they could, landing the front parts of their hulls in sand, Taylor said. They can carry up to 20 armored tanks and 600 troops, which they discharge through their front, bottom-hinged door-ramps, he added.
Their crews empty and fill ballast tanks, forward and aft, to change their weight distribution as they land, set their position on the beach for discharging cargo, retract and travel through deep water.
Crews would drop their stern anchor “about three (ship) lengths before we got to the beach, to keep from getting sideways on the beach,” essentially stranding them there, Taylor said.
Taylor drove the smaller “landing crafts, vehicle and personnel” that were launched from LSTs and other transport ships and landed ahead, delivering smaller groups of infantrymen and equipment.
“We let the stern anchor out too soon,” Taylor said, adding that he launched and drove one of the ship’s LCVPs, while being shot at, to drop a secondary anchor. That allowed the LST to disconnect from the 1,000-foot cable to the anchor that its crew had dropped too soon.
LSTs also had 40-mm anti-aircraft guns that were often used on their approaches, Taylor added.
“Sometimes they could walk off without getting their feet wet,” Taylor said of the soldiers leaving the LSTs on enemy beaches. “But sometimes they sank and drowned, with the heavy packs they were wearing.”
LSTs and other Allied amphibious landing craft are credited with allowing for an invaluable element of surprise at Normandy and elsewhere during World War II.
Without them, “we wouldn’t have taken the islands (in the Pacific), and we certainly would’ve had a harder time hitting the (Normandy) beaches,” said Robert Jornlin of Earlville, Ill., who served during the Vietnam era and is the captain of LST 325. He said 175 LSTs were employed in the invasion of four beaches there that began on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“We call this the ship that won the war,” Jornlin said of LSTs.
The mission of The USS LST Ship Memorial Inc., is to raise funds to further restore its ship and to educate people about LSTs’ role in history, Kaupas said.
Homeported since 2001 near Mobile, LST 325 is one of only two of its kind in operation, and is in by far the better condition, Kaupas said.
It has been decommissioned three times and was in the Greek navy from 1964 until 1999. The memorial group, through a 2000 act of Congress, acquired the ship and sailed it from Greece to Mobile in 42 days.
A crew of 29 veterans with an average age of 72 made the voyage with Jornlin as captain and Taylor as a member of the crew.
A prospective crew of 75 traveled to Greece planning to sail the ship home, Taylor said. But after a U.S. Coast Guard admiral declared the ship unseaworthy, all but 29 left, he said.
The 29 who stayed “politely ignored him,” overcoming obstacles while at sea to bring the ship home, Taylor said.
Still, the ship’s engine is not yet in shape to make much headway going upstream against the Mississippi’s strong current, and it is being pushed up the river by tugboat, said Kaupas, who said he served on an LST the Navy used on rivers in Vietnam.
Vicksburg is the first of 10 stops it is scheduled to make on a 78-day trip between Mobile and Jeffersonville, Ind., across from Louisville, Ky., on the Ohio River.
Beginning with its Tuesday departure from Vicksburg, LST 325 is scheduled to spend 51 days in port and 27 underway, and back home Aug. 19.
Developed at the request of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, specially designed landing ships were first employed by the British during their 1942 invasion of North Africa. LST 325 was also launched that year.
It went ashore at Omaha Beach, Normandy, on June 7, 1944, and made more than 40 trips from England to Normandy, the memorial group has said. On Dec. 28, 1944, it helped rescue more than 700 men from a troop transport that had been torpedoed off the coast of France, it added.
Admission tickets, at $4 per child, $8 per adult and $20 per family, were to be available at a tent near the City Front floodwall, Kaupas said. Crew members will be directing the tours onboard, he added.
“We encourage and highly recommend that people park across (Levee) street” from City Front, said Rosalie Theobald, executive director of Vicksburg Main Street, which has helped organize the ship’s visit. She added that the Levee Street Depot lot will be available for visitors to the LST.
Visitors are advised that no traffic except dropoffs and pickups will be allowed on the river side of the floodwall, Kaupas said.