Warship here for historic visit

Published 9:52 am Friday, October 7, 2016

Sitting in the Yazoo Diversion Canal at City Front with its bow doors opened to their widest extent, LST 325 looks more like a giant sea creature than a warship that carried troops and mechanized equipment into battle at the invasions of Salerno, Italy, and Omaha Beach on Normandy.

But it doesn’t take long for the vision to change from creature from the deep to warship. All it takes is an upward glance at the twin 40mm guns mounted on the port and starboard sides of the ship over the bow doors.

LST stands for landing ship tank; a class of 328-foot long, 50-foot wide flat-bottomed ships powered by two diesel train-type engines, capable of running aground and discharging 600 troops or military vehicles like trucks, jeeps and tanks to roll directly out on a beach through front bottom-hinged door-ramps. The ships would run up on a beach as fast as they could, landing their bows in sand before releasing their cargo.

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The ship served in two navies during its military career. Commissioned in Feb. 1, 1943, LST 325 served in the U.S. Navy until 1964, when it was sold to the Greek Navy. The ship’s Greek experience is still evident in the ship as visitors walk through the bow doors and into the tank deck. Its Greek name, Syros, is painted over the opening.

“It served in the Greek Navy from 1964 to 1999,” said Jim Teufel, of Cincinnati, Ohio, a member of The USS Ship Memorial Inc., which acquired LST 325 from Greece in 2000. “It spent more time as a Greek Navy ship than a U.S. Navy ship. There are still some signs from its Greek past.”

The USS Ship Memorial Inc. sailed the ship from Greece to Mobile, Ala., and over the years has been restoring it. “It’s a work in progress,” Teufel said. “We’re constantly working on it.”

The floating museum is based in Evansville, Ind., but travels on to cruises other river cities.

When it goes on tour, it’s manned by volunteers like Teufel and Irwin Kuhns of Westerville, Ohio, and the crew lives on the ship during the voyage.

A World War II veteran of the Pacific, Kuhns is home on LST 325. He was a Higgins boat coxswain on another LST, 76, and ferried members of the 5th Marine Division to Iwo Jima.

“It was intense,” he said of the experience. “Very intense. For a while it was quiet, and when the second wave landed it got busy. I landed the third wave.”

And the biggest difference between being on LST 325 and 76? “No incoming (artillery).” Visitors enter the ship through the bow doors and onto the tank deck.

“The ship was designed to carry 20 tanks,” Teufel said. “Any other equipment was stored below. Any vehicles with rubber tires were stored on top and brought down by elevator. There are smaller compartments along the side of the tank deck for other services.”

The tank deck also provides space for displays, such as cargo nets used to climb from the ship into waiting Higgins boats, or LCVPs, a 20mm cannon, and a display of sailors working radar. Parts used on the ship’s engines are also on display.

Further up, visitors tour the quarters for troops on board the ship, and “officers’ country,” where the officers ate and slept.

“If you were an enlisted man, the only way you went into officers’ country was if you were invited or you were in trouble,” Teufel said.

The upper deck includes the wheelhouse, where the ship was steered and commands given to the engineers, and the radio room, where the bulk of the equipment comes from the period 1942 to 1952.

Also on the top deck is a feature not visible on the ship — the rear anchor.

“When we went aground to let off the equipment, we needed help getting back off the beach, so LSTs had a rear anchor that was dropped going in,” Teufel said. “When it was time to back off the beach, we would pull the anchor in with the engines in full reverse to get off.”

The ship will be here in Vicksburg through Oct. 11. An 8 a.m. reception Friday with city officials officially opened the ship for tours, which will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 17 with children under 5 free.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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