This past weekend I went to Indiana for my 10 year college reunion at the University of Evansville (which has the swankiest new union I've ever seen in my life--I got shafted!). Besides catching up with several friends I'd not seen in at least eight years, I visited the LST-325 docked in Evansville on the Ohio River. And, like an idiot, I didn't bring my camera along, but go here for good ones.
LST stands for "landing ship tank." It's a 327 foot amphibious transport, having a draft of only 2' at the bow and 7' at the aft, with lots of 40mm and 20mm guns for defensive purposes (and bigger than you think--the 40mm took a two man crew just to aim and fire). At only 1,600 tons empty displacement, or 4,000 full, it ain't that large (I once visited the HMS Belfast in London, a light cruiser, and it was "small" at 10,000 tons). Still, the 325 was larger than I'd figured. There's irony.
Stuck on France at low tide. Notice the blimps in the background, designed to discourage German planes from strafing allied ships.
LST-325 was in the fray landing front line troops and tanks at Sicily and Salerno. It was part of the backup "B" landing at Omaha Beach in France, but even though it didn't see the intense fighting of the first landings, I was honored to stand on the deck of a ship that made the trip, and caried wounded and dead soldiers back to England. I've been to the beaches at Normandy twice before, and it was easy to let my imagination run wild.
I made my wife go along on the tour, which was a fast 2 hours. I thought she'd hate it, but she kept asking questions of our super-informative Korean and Vietnam War vet tour guide--who graduated from UE on the GI bill decades ago. The 325 still houses vets who are restoring the ship, and has a working galley (spaghetti the day we toured), and a washer and dryer. Two dozen old vets brought the ship over from mothballs in Greece a decade ago, and 325 looks decent given its age. Hard to imagine 21 sherman tanks in the belly, and as many jeeps and artillery pieces and supplies on the deck. I can't imagine riding the 40 trips back and forth across the English channel during the war on a boat with a flat and high bottom--vomitous.
Apparently, Evansville was the top builder of LSTs during WWII, making over 500. And of course, the labor force was largely women. 325 was built in Philadelphia in 1942. Our tour guide said that at first, it took the workers 1-2 months to build one ship, but by the end of the war they'd crank one out every week or two. Amazing. Today, the old vets take the boat on tours along the Ohio and Mississippi, and other rivers. What a life, a life I'm thankful we can freely live.
Today on the Ohio River.