Historic WWII-era landing ship tank docking at Heinz Field
One of the “Ships That Won World War II” will sail into Pittsburgh on Sept. 1, celebrating its historic connection to the region with public tours from Sept. 2 to 8 while docked outside Heinz Field on the North Shore.
The LST 325 is a memorial and a history lesson, says Dan Cinowalt, a resident of the Bon Air neighborhood of Pittsburgh and Vietnam Marine veteran. He is a member of the all-volunteer crew of the Landing Ship Tank, part of the fleet that was in the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“This particular ship made 42 trips in support of that invasion, and also was used in Sicily in July 1943, and later served in the Cold War on duty in the Arctic,” says the retired steamfitter who now uses his skills to keep the ship sailing.
The LST 325 is the only Landing Ship Tank in the country that is fully operational and being restored to its original condition. All of her original equipment is still onboard and working, including the anti-aircraft guns.
The visit honors the fact that of the 1,000-plus LSTs, many, including the first, were built in Pittsburgh by the Dravo Corp. on Neville Island and American Bridge Co. in Ambridge — Dravo built 146 ships; American Bridge built 123. It also reminds people “of the important role these ships played in the winning of the war,” Cinowalt says. He had some training with them off the coast of North Carolina.
Part of the Pittsburgh story, including that of the “Rosie the Riveters” who helped build the LSTs, is told in the current “We Can Do It!” World War II exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center, Strip District. That exhibit examines how our city affected the war, and how the war affected the region.
The LSTs were the largest vessels the Navy had capable of beaching to unload its cargo and then retract from the shore. They also were used in the Korean and Vietnam wars. They were built to land tanks directly onto an enemy-held beach to support the infantry and quickly became the workhorse of the fleet.
“They could hold 20 Sherman tanks,” says Cinowalt, who was raised on Mt. Washington. They also could carry 30 to 40 trucks, tons of fuel, ammunition, supplies and soldiers. LSTs also served as hospital ships in ferrying wounded soldiers back to England.
On one of her trips, the LST 325 rescued 600 soldiers out of the North Sea, after the Austrian troop ship, the Javelin, was torpedoed and sunk.
The LST 325 (each vessel was numbered) is a tribute and memorial to those who served aboard all LSTs, and the men and women who built them, says Ken Frank of New Jersey, a Navy veteran and president of the not-for-profit USS LST Ship Memorial.
His sailor father, Edward Frank, told him of taking a train to Pittsburgh with a skeleton crew “and picking up a brand-new LST in July 1943 and sailing it down the Mississippi and eventually to Europe.”
“They were turning ships out one a week or so by then at Neville Island,” he says. “Dravo launched seven LSTs from May 1 to June 30, 1943.”
His father made many trips resupplying Anzio Beach and was involved in the invasion of southern France. “He always talked about how rough they rode in the water because of the flat bottom, but, on the bright side, they felt that bottom made it safer from a submarine torpedo,” Ken Frank says.
The Allies never lost an invasion once the LSTs arrived, says John Hatton of Cincinnati, chief engineer on the 325 and a member of the board of directors of the USS LST Memorial. Hatton educates and trains crews on the operation and maintenance of the ship. The Allies, unlike the enemy, could move men and equipment where needed in the amounts that were required, he says.
“The Germans could see England but couldn't move their men or supplies in sufficient numbers to invade,” Hatton says.
The ability to conceive an LST and go from an idea on paper to a ship in the water in less than a year is a tribute to American ingenuity and industry, he says.
“Five years ago, when we were (first) in Pittsburgh, we were fortunate to meet with a couple of ladies who had actually been welders in the Pittsburgh-area shipyards and who had worked building LSTs as teenagers,” Hatton says. “We also met people whose parents had worked on them. And there were the people who, as kids, watched the completed ships sail down the river. There is just a lot of connection between the LST and the Pittsburgh area.”
Ken Frank is confident that all ages will enjoy visiting the ship.
“It looks like it did during WWII. You will understand better what the ‘greatest generation' accomplished and how they accomplished it in winning WWII.
“All veterans seem to have a special emotional reaction when they come aboard. You will be a part of living history. The LSTs made a unique contribution to American military history,” Frank says.
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beaver County celebration
The public and veterans are invited to join local residents between 8 and 11 a.m. Sept. 1 on the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge to salute the World War II D-Day vessel LST 325 as it passes by.
The Laughlin Memorial Library, 99 11th St., Ambridge, will hold a reception starting at 7:30 a.m. An assortment of LST photos from the American Bridge Co., where many of the ships were built, will be on display. Author and historian Gary Augustine will give a presentation at 11 a.m. at the library on, “The Indispensable Ship: The Story of the Landing Ship Tank (LST) during WWII.”
A buffet lunch will be served at the 11 a.m. program. Those interested are asked to make a reservation at 724-266-3857 or Beaverlibraries.org/ambridge