Dawson man shares stories from an LST
By Karl Polacek
Published: Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, 6:24 p.m.
Duane Christner, now 87, began working on the B&O Railroad when he was 17 on a track gang out of a building not far from his home, which was “right up the hill,” in Dawson, and just a few hundred feet from his present home on Howell Street.
On Jan. 20, 1944, at age 18, he enlisted in the Navy. He spent World War II serving on LSTs (Tank Landing Ship) on two oceans. The second ship he served on, LST 674, was built in Ambridge, less than 50 miles from Dawson.
Stories from an LST
LSTs were a class of ships built to haul equipment right up to the beaches. They had large bow doors that opened to discharge everything from troops to trucks to tanks. They also carried landing craft.
“A lot of people didn't like them,” he said.
The vessels were shallow draft and had flat bottoms. They tended to be less than smooth platforms in bad weather. Their top speed was about 12 knots, which made them easy targets for enemy ships and aircraft. They gained the nickname of Large Slow Targets.
“It didn't bother me a doggone bit. Didn't matter how it rolled,” Christner said.
After he enlisted, Christner was sent to Company 210 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois for recruit training.
The next stop, Naval Pier Chicago and then onto Evansville, Ind., where the sailors picked up the LST 566.
Christner said an LST had no speeder to begin with, 11 knots wide open, which would have been about 13 miles an hour. But it was capable of doing that speed 24/7. He said when the weather was nasty, the ship would roll.
According to Christner, the ship was only armed with 20 mm and 40 mm antiaircraft guns, plus small arms, such as .303 rifles, shotguns and 45 caliber model 1911 pistols for the officers.
An LST did carry an exceptional load of fuel, Christner said.
Crossing the Atlantic
Christner and his fellow crew members were sent across the Atlantic, getting into a convoy of 193 and headed to England. Due to a destination change, however, he and his crew ended up in Londonderry, Ireland, and moved onto Scotland.
One good thing Christner remembers was on board the ship — good food.
Made in Ambridge
Christner was transferred from the 566 to the LST 674.
Christner recalls one incident when he and the crew rode out a hurricane.
“In that hurricane, we were riding in the troths. We were listing at about 60 degrees in the waves. The LST could go to 80 degrees. I was on what they called the wing watch. Up from the deckhouse there was two wings, on each corner there was a 20 mm (antiaircraft gun). Well, they had me pulling duty on that one and that wasn't enough, they pulled me off of there and put me on the helm, the steering wheel.”
He found handling the helm in the storm was not all that difficult. However, he did get 80 degrees off course and was heading for the net line of ships. He said all the officer of the day said was for him to put the ship back on course.
Christner said his crew returned to the states around Nov. 1, 1944, without any other incidents.
“We were 15 days going over and 19 coming back,” said Christner.
Christner signed for another 90 days in the scullery.
“I didn't mind it at all,” he said. “The only time I had to do something else was when we had to go to general quarters (battle stations.) Then I had to go to gun 47 (a 40 mm.) We had 21 guns, seven 40s and the rest were 20s. And I was on the one on the stern (rear) end.”
He said he was on the bow gun on the 566 and he was on the pointer, which had the trigger. On the 674, he was the second loader.
Christner and the rest of his crew was sent to Okinawa.
“We got into Okinawa on March 26, 1945. That was six days before the landing on Okinawa itself,” Christner said.
And before they did the landings on Okinawa, American troops took three islands over in the Karama group to act as a protected anchorage, for support bases and to eliminate small suicide boats. Those boats did not have a reverse, just forward speeds. He said they had depth charges lashed to the stern. They would get in close to a ship and drop the depth charges into the water, the concussion from those explosions would open the seams in the sides of the ships, causing more damage than if the boats rammed the ships.
He said he and his shipmates did not get into the heavy part of the fighting. But they did have to deal with kamikaze planes.
He remembered one episode when the ships were off Okinawa and several kamikaze planes attacked. One went in and struck another LST, pealing the deck back as if it were a sardine can. Another came in and was coming directly for the back of his ship. Two of the gun mounts were hung up, but just about the time Christner expected the plane to hit, it turned around and headed back.
The number 47 gun he was on was cleared, and the plane that had been coming for them started heading for a tanker.
“I don't know if we ever touched (hit him with a shell) or not,” he said. “But there was one devil of an explosion. We got credit for knocking him down.”
Another one followed that one. That went into a troop carrier, killing a number of Army officers.
His ship was used to pick up Okinawa natives.
The LST had been using amphibious vehicles called amtraks to deliver supplies. One day, two of the men on one amtrak were wounded, one seriously with a shrapnel wound through a lung, by a possible mortar round that landed nearby.
The amtrak came back to the LST and the crew brought it back aboard.
Christner helped lift the badly wounded man's litter into the sick bay. He was asked to check for the man's heartbeat, but he could not tell if the man was still alive. That man was the only one to die on the ship.
The ship made two trips to Japan after the hostilities had ceased. The first trip was to Kobe. Minesweepers went into the bay before the LST, but the captain still did not know whether the area was clear where he intended to beach the ship. On the first attempt, his ship was still too far away from the beach. So he backed off to make another run. In the meantime, another LST beached where they had just backed away from.
He said his ship was taking in a repair crew for the airport so U.S. planes could land.
After that, the ship went to Nagasaki. It had been only about two weeks since the atomic bomb had been dropped at that location. The damage amazed him. There was what had been a water tower that had been turned into a twisted heap.
There, the ship picked up a group of former allied POWs. He said most were East Indian and Dutch. Some were British.
The LST ended up taking 153 aboard. They got food supplies from a hospital ship anchored nearby. The prisoners looked like skeletons with their skin dragged over them.
Christner was discharged on May 5, 1946. When he returned home, he got a job on the railroad.
Karl Polacek can be reached at email@example.com or 724-626-2528.
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