LST 325's visit to Pittsburgh takes guests back in time
LST 325's visit to Pittsburgh this month provided me with a long-desired opportunity to tour a marvelous floating museum of World War II history.
My fascination with LSTs dates back to World War II when my cousin, Harry Oyler, visited us in Bridgeville en route to Evansville, Ind., as part of the Navy crew taking over a newly launched LST.
A few months later, as a reward for buying a $25 War Bond, I was able to board LST 750 moored at The Point in downtown Pittsburgh. She had been constructed on Neville Island and was on her maiden voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, before going to sea and joining the war effort.
Nine years later, I went to work for Dravo Corp.'s Engineering Works Division at Neville Island and became aware of the key role Dravo played in the LST program, serving as lead yard for the production of this valuable naval vessel. Eventually, more than 1,000 LSTs were constructed in a dozen shipyards scattered across North America.
The fact that one of these vessels still is in existence and available for history buffs to tour is thanks to a nonprofit organization in Evansville, Ind., named The USS LST Ship Memorial Inc. The story of this particular ship and its preservation warrants telling.
LST 325 was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on Feb. 1, 1943. By mid-April she was in Oran, Algeria, preparing for the invasion of Sicily. Her participation in the invasion was the delivery of men and tanks of the First Armored Division.
In September, she participated in the invasion of Salerno, Italy, where she delivered elements of the British 40th Royal Tank Regiment. Her next assignment was to England to prepare for D-Day. She delivered troops of the 5th Special Engineer Brigade to Omaha Beach. She was decommissioned on July 2, 1946.
In 1964, she was transferred to the Greek Navy. She served there until 1999, when The USS LST Ship Memorial Inc. acquired her and sailed her home, through the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Evansville. The average age of the crew for this journey was 72!
These days, the 325 stays home most of the time and serves as an invaluable museum for visitors. Once a year, she visits cities on the inland waterways.
The LSTs were shallow draft vessels, 328 feet long, with a beam of 50 feet, designed to drive up onto a beach and discharge their cargo through large doors in the bow of the vessel. Their crew included 10 officers and 100 seamen. They also had berths for eight Army or Marine Corps officers and 200 enlisted men.
The primary cargo for the LSTs was a complement of 20 Sherman tanks, 10 on the exposed main deck and 10 in the interior tank deck. An elevator was provided to move tanks between decks. Armaments consisted of one 75 millimeter cannon, 12 smaller anti-aircraft guns and six machine guns.
We began the 325 tour by entering the tank deck through the bow doors. This is the main museum part of the vessel, filled with relevant World War II memorabilia. From there we went up ship's ladders to the Mess Deck and Galley, where crew and troops were fed. Then we went up another level to the Upper Deck to inspect the 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns, the two small assault boats and the wheelhouse.
After passing through the officers' quarters, we reached the main deck. It contains a helicopter landing pad, which was added during the Korean War. We passed through the berths for the military personnel — quite cramped, reminiscent of the ones on the troop ships on which I went to Japan and back in the mid-1950s — then returned to the tank deck.
All told, it was a very enjoyable tour of a remarkably well restored vessel. Perhaps my biggest surprise was realizing that the LST was far more than just a cargo hauler; she was in all respects a full-fledged naval vessel. Her design was complex, and the manufacturing process certainly much more complicated than I had realized.
I distinctly remember our worries about the future during the early war years, now more than seven decades ago, and our undying gratitude to the millions of men and women of “The Greatest Generation” for their service on our behalf. I suspect the contribution of the civilian workers who produced aircraft, tanks, naval vessels and munitions in support of their efforts, was equally valuable. I doubt that we could provide that support today.
John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.