Developed during WW2, the LST Mark II saw service in all theaters of the war, and some have even remained at sea in the 21st century.
LST-325 was one of more than 1,000 Landing Ship, Tank vessels built by the US during WWII, which were designed to carry men, machines and cargo onto the beach. While the first 30 were built at Norfolk and Philadelphia naval yards, the bulk of the LSTs were built at several “cornfield shipyards” along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, which were considered safe from Axis attack as well as having the needed capacity to build the LSTs while the more traditional yards built carriers, battleships and other fighting ships. There were two yards in Pittsburgh, PA, Dravo Corporation on Neville Island was the lead yard, and produced 145 ships, The American Bridge Company, several miles up the Ohio River in Ambridge, PA, completed 119. The Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Co. in Evansville, ID built the most of the ‘cornfield’ yards, 171 ships. Finally, Chicago Bridge and Iron fabricated 156 LSTs in Seneca, IL. After completion, the ships sailed down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, where final fitting out was done before they were sent off into the Atlantic and Pacific. The ships were not named, and were instead referred to by their hull number. LSTs were not designed for speed, with their twin GM 900hp diesel engines propelling the ship to a maximum of 12 knots (during launch, the ships reached a maximum of 18 knots travelling down the ramps). Crews referred to the ships as “Large, Slow Targets”, but the vessels served with distinction in all theaters of the war, including the mass landing in Normandy on D-Day.
Exploded view of an LST-class ship. Illustration: US Navy
LST 325 was launched from the Philadelphia Naval Yards on 27 October 1942, and was commissioned on 1 February of the following year. The ship’s first actions were in the North African theatre, participating in landings at Gela, Sicily and Salerno, before joining the armada for the Normandy landing, specifically Omaha Beach. Over the following nine months, LST-325 made more than 40 trips across the English channel, bringing in men and supplies and evacuating wounded. The vessel returned to the US in May 1945, before being decommissioned on 2 July 1946, after which it was placed in the Atlantic Reserve fleet. In 1951 it was transferred to the Military Sea Transportation Service (predecessor of today’s Military Sealift Command) and took part in Operation SUNAC (Support of North Atlantic Construction) as USNS T-LST-325 operating in the Labrador Sea, Davis Strait, and Baffin Bay to assist in the building of radar outposts along the eastern shore of Canada and western Greenland. Decommissioned again in 1961, T-LST-325 was sent to Greece in 1964 as part of a grant-in-aid program, serving in the Hellenic Navy as the RHS Syros, L-144, from 1964 until 1999. In 2000, the ship was acquired by The USS LST Memorial, Inc, and sailed back to the US for restoration to serve as a memorial to the men that built and sailed the LSTs. In 2003, after completing refit in Mobile Bay, the ship sailed up the Mississippi River to Evansville for a ten-day stop, during which more than 35,000 people toured LST-325. In 2005 she sailed up the US East Coast for 60 days, visiting several ports including Alexandria, VA and Buzzard’s Bay, MA, before returning to Evansville, her new home port. In addition to serving as a memorial in Evansville, LST-325 travels up and down the rivers each year, visiting other cities to remind people of the contributions of the inland shipyards, as well as to memorialize those that built the LSTs. In 2010, LST-325 made it all the way up to Pittsburgh, giving me a chance to see her.