See my other blog entries on LSTs:
LST--I Owe My Existence To Winston Churchill
Chasing LST 325 Down The Ohio River
I can now add the LST to my life list. On Saturday, my wife and I toured LST 325. I tried to write about the experience yesterday, but found myself oddly reticent. The source of my reticence? A disquietude created in my mind after the visit by the dichotomy of the fun being had on the vessel today and the terrible gut wrenching fear and pain and death that occurred on the ship 66 years ago. There was not a sense of reverence among the visitors, myself included. Everyone was having one hell of a good time, myself included. It is human nature.
Note! Click on images to see full size.
You get on this thing and it is very cool. You enter the vessel through the huge bow doors which are deceiving. They are huge outside and while passing through them, but when you step down the ramp into the tank deck, the cavernous main bay of the ship, they are paltry. It is like being inside a tunnel with a bridge deck for a ceiling with all the beams. Along the sides there are small narrow cubby holes that were machine shops, maintenance areas, and various parts storage. You see winches, ropes, pumps, propellers, and a couple of amphibious vehicles. You hear comments, “wow it would be cool to ride in this!”
The tour is free wheeling, not at all ushered, there is no sense of being moved along except when you are on stairways or the narrow passage ways in the stern, the troop berths, and around the guns. Movement being necessary due to the constriction of the passage and of course this is the cool stuff that everyone wants to gawk at, and you can’t really stop and gawk without clogging up the works. On the tank deck or upper deck, you are free to mill about at will and no one is nipping at your heels to move along. There are plenty of volunteer crew members about who are thrilled to answer your questions or listen to your dumb comments, like my “Wow this is so cool. My mother welded these 6 miles down the river and my dad rode on one from Saipan to Okinawa.” I probably unleashed that on 5 or 6 volunteers until I came to the vague realization that these guys have heard that story or one like it a million times, why don’t you just shut your mouth and leave the poor bastards explain to someone else that “no the ship is not outfitted with 16 inch guns like the New Jersey, it is a landing ship, not a battle ship.”
Two sources of disappointment for me was that you couldn’t see the engine room or the modern bridge added by the Greek Navy. I love looking at the navigational equipment, harbor radar, radios and the likes. You could peer into the original wheelhouse, with it’s traditional ships wheel, engine telegraph, speaking tube, and compass binnacle with the large correction spheres. Very neat, but they understandably kept you the hell out of there, and again you could not stand and gawk without clogging the line. The engine room would offer numerous hazards and opportunities for mischief, but none the less I would have loved to see those huge locomotive diesels. I contemplated asking but decided the pain in the ass factor to the crew was more than the fascination / brazen factor for me. No I was not one of the people who had to sit on the gunners seat of the 40 MM AA gun with a big cheesy smile while my spouse tied up the line taking my picture.
The crew has placed poster sized photographs here and there of the ship in action. If you take the time, you can learn quite a bit about the LSTs role in the war, but while you are on the ship, the sense of fascination overcomes the sense of history. This is too cool to get bogged down in patriotic reverence or an appreciation for the bravery and sacrifice for the people who sailed in these ships. For me that came later at home and during my attempt yesterday to write this. There were some tugging hints of it on the ship for me. There was a photograph of the tank bay loaded with wounded soldiers returning to England. That huge long bay, packed tightly with wounded young men. For a moment the gravity of what occurred with these ships struck down the feeling of “This is so cool!” Another moment occurred for me when I saw the people joyfully cranking the gun rotation crank getting a small ride on the anti-aircraft gun. This thing is a machine cannon for shooting down aircraft and people are playing with it like it was an amusement park ride. The thought occurred to me of the overwhelming fear that the exposed gunners must have felt trying to shoot down a Messerschmitt, or a Zero, or far worse a Kamikaze whose pilot was equally devoted to trying to kill the gunner, or in the case of the Kamikaze totally devoted to the death of the gunner and everyone on the ship as well as himself. The damn thing was not a toy…nor was it cool to ride on the amphibious vehicles down on the tank deck, or Higgins boats hung on the davits. It was frightening, damned frightening in ways that those of us who have never experienced it could not even imagine.
Indulge me for a moment on the dark side. Think of another LST. LST 750 informally named the USS Allegheny County because it was paid for by the citizens of Allegheny County’s war bonds. It was launched on the day before Memorial Day 1944 at Dravo. My mother quite possibly worked on this ship, if not, my grandfather and a couple of my mother’s cousins most likely did.
Now put yourself in that gunner’s seat on December 28, 1944 in the Leyte Gulf, Philippines. You are on a LST, Large Slow Target, moving at 9 to 12 knots by two twin General Motors diesels providing 900 horsepower each. A Japanese D4Y3 dive bomber with 1400 horsepower comes diving down at you at 350 mph. You want to get home to your wife and kids…the pilot of D4Y3 wants to die for The Emperor and God. Divine Wind! You blaze away at him, but the crank adjustments are too slow. You try to lead your fire ahead of him but the closer he gets the faster he moves relative to your aim adjustments. For a brief moment before all turns black you realize that you failed to stop him, you failed yourself, you failed your wife and kids, you failed your country, and you failed your shipmates. You really didn’t have a chance, but you failed none the less.
One more indulging moment of darkness please. The tank deck could hold 20 Sherman tanks. That sounds impressive. It is impressive. The Sherman tank had a 450 horsepower gasoline engine, moderate armor, and a 75 mm canon. Sounds impressive, but compared to the German Panzer Tigers (heavy armor, diesel engine, and an 88 mm cannon with extreme accuracy) it was something of a tin can with a peashooter sitting on a bomb in the form of fuel tank. You have to have fuel to run a tank, but gasoline is not the fuel of choice…it tends to do more damage than enemy fire when hit. The only thing impressive about a Sherman tank compared to a Panzer was the overwhelming numbers that were produced, and that you could get them on shore quickly with an LST. So imagine the 2 or 3 hour journey across the Channel on June 6, 1944. You are in your tank. You get the order to load your weapons and start your engines. You feel the ship lurch against the beach, the big doors open, the ramp goes down, and out you go into pure hell. Three months ago you put a few practice rounds through a sheet of plywood back in the States.
Again these thoughts did not plague me (much) on board the 325. I like everyone else had a hell of good time. The ship was cool. It is the most enjoyable thing I have done in quite a while. Yet, yesterday when I tried to write about the tour, I could not find words. All I could think about was the gut wrenching fear the men must have felt going in, and the pain, suffering, and death that occurred among the wounded coming back. How many guys died of their wounds on that tank deck that I walked about without a care in the world? I looked back on the tour of the ship and perhaps suffered a bit of survivors guilt. Oh I had my shot at going off to war. I flew to Thailand in 1972 and again in 1973. On the flight over the first time, I even entertained some vague concerns that I might not come back. But flying off to an air base in a neighboring country away from the hostilities is one thing. Landing on a beach with live lead flying about is another. I can only imagine the fear those guys felt, and our worst imaginings undoubtedly fall short of the real thing.
So what is my recommendation? Not enjoy yourself on these things? No, by all means have a good time. Sit on the 40 MM and crank the crank and smile a cheesy smile. There is a romance with war machines. Let’s face it, they are cool. But realize while you walk the decks, that this ship delivered more GIs than it brought home. Many of the young men did not come back. As much as I owe my existence to the LST, there are many unborn…their would be fathers charging through the open bow doors of an LST onto a hostile beachhead.
I would like to offer a heartfelt thanks to the volunteer crew of LST 325 and to the USS LST Ship Memorial Organization.
I would also like to offer a heartfelt thanks to all the men and women of World War II for their efforts, bravery, and sacrifice to our country.
See my earlier blog entry on LSTs here:
I Owe My Existence to Winston Churchill
EDIT 9-10-2010: In a bit of a post partum depression for LST 325, I started to search the news at Marietta to see what was going and found this article from a couple weeks ago when the LST was heading up the river:
The State Journal, "D-Day Ship Attracts Viewers on Ohio River", Jim Ross
Here is a guy that was there, and can offer a glimpse of what I was alluding to above.
When the ship passed Kenova, Huntington resident Robert McClellan was watching from the other side of the river in South Point, Ohio.
McClellan said he made one trip on the LST-325 — from England to Utah Beach on D-Day.
“I remember sleeping on my duffel bag with my helmet over my face while the sky was lit up with anti-aircraft tracer bullets. The whole sky was red. I was just an 18-year-old kid. Talk about someone who was scared. I looked to God for guidance and to take care of us,” he said.
EDIT 9-19-10 Here is a newspaper article stating the the total visitor draw for the cruise exceeded 41,500. Pittsburgh had 13,000 visitors, some waiting in line for 3 hours.
“We could have been in Pittsburgh another two weeks, there were so many people,” said Adams. “Probably 50 percent of the crowd there either worked in Pittsburgh's shipyards (making LSTs during World War II) or had parents who worked there. We’ll make that trip again someday.”
Evansville Courier & Press
Thanks to Chris Briem's blog Nullspace for making me aware of video done by The Pittsburgh Post Gazette on LST 750:
Nullspace, Can We Bring LST 325 To Pittsburgh (again)?, Chris Briem
The video tells the story of Jim Ottery who was indeed a gunner on LST-750. The video has some remarkable battle footage and explains that LST 750 was sunk by a Japanese torpedo not Kamikaze attack, although Kamikaze attacks were going on a the same time.
Video Credit: YouTube, Pittsburgh History, The Untold Story of LST 750, Pittsburgh Post Gazette
For a better rendition of the video see:
Image Captions & Credits
1. LST 325 docked at the north shore of the Allegheny River. The Fort Duquesne Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh are in the back ground.
2. The tour enters the bow doors. Note the twin 40 MM anti-aircraft cannon. The name inside the doors is the Greek Navy’s name for the ship.
3. Inside the tank deck, looking out the bow doors.
4. The aft end of the tank deck looking forward.
5. Single 40 MM anti-aircraft cannon.
6. The original bridge.
7. Looking aft from the front of the ship on the upper deck. The modern bridge was added by the Greek Navy.
8. LST 325 beached at Normandy, June 1944. Image Credit:
8-A Cover of Dravo Slant, plant newspaper 30 May, 1944. LST 750. Added 2/23/15. Image Credit:
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. World War 2 Collection
9. A Kamikaze Japanese DY43 dive bomber attacking the USS Essex in November, 1944. Image Credit:
10. LST 738 burns after a Kamikaze attack. Image Credit:
11. Sherman tank leaving an LST. Image Credit:
12. Wounded soldiers on the tank deck of an Australian LST. Image Credit:
For more photos of LST-325 at Pittsburgh go here:
Moonlight Scribbler: The USS LST-325 in Pittsburgh