The Travels of LST-481

Article excerpt

Life aboard a slow, ponderous Landing Ship Tank was anything but glamorous in the wartime Navy. Yet, this largest of all beaching vessels played a vital role in every Allied invasion. In much modified modern form they today remain the reserve backbone of our amphibious fleet.

With all too few of their wartime exploits or importance recalled today, the ubiquitous Landing Ship Tank (LST) remains one of the unheralded major players in the amphibious actions of World War II. Uniquely able to deliver tanks, artillery, trucks and supplies directly onto a beach, the LST should be remembered as one of that conflict's greatest innovations; a delivery vessel of unparalleled worth.

By the war's end more than 1150 LSTs had been delivered. Seeing action in every theater these large, flat-bottomed behemoths had become the virtual backbone of the Allies' amphibious navies. With average crews of 125 officers and men more than 200.000 naval personnel had served aboard these diesel-powered

warships. In actions that ranged from the frigid wastes of the arctic to the sweltering heat of the South Pacific, the LST was the one vessel that could disgorge a veritable parade of tanks, trucks, ammunition and supplies quickly where most needed - onto a secured beachhead.

Conceived out of the debacle of the British Army's perilous escape from the beaches of Dunkirk, the US Navy refined the early British concept of a large ocean-going vessel able to unload stores without docking facilities into a vessel that could be mass produced in minimal time. Affectionately dubbed `Large Slow Targets' by their hard-working crews, it was the LSTs job to quickly supply invasion assault forces with the vital commodities of war. Though largely a thankless task, it was the expedient flow of war materials ashore that allowed the battle to be won. In this the LST had no peer; the largest beachable vessel ever built.

The wartime career of LST-481 deserves mention not because of any one action or single exploit, although she felt the sting of enemy shells ripping into her innards. Rather, 481's distinction resides in its typicality; that, along with her thousand sisters, she steamed millions of miles in fair weather and foul. She brought untold tons of supplies to the battlefronts, became a safe haven for the wounded evacuated from the beaches of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Long forgotten, 481 nobly served through six invasions, fought, bled and survived to bring her war-weary crew home. This is her story.

LST-481's keel was laid on 4 September 1942, at the Kaiser, Incorporated Shipyard, Richmond, California. It was launched on 2 December 1942, and commissioned on 15 May 1943. LST-481 was 150th of the class (to enter USN service), the 214th built (56 LSTs transferred to the RN and eight converted to repair ships or patrol torpedo (PT) boat tenders, out of a war production total of 1051. LST-481 was one of the nameless ships (LSTs were given numbers, usually without a name) which traveled throughout the Pacific Ocean during WWII, earning six Battle Stars. Its participation in the invasion of Kiska Island, Aleutians, was not officially credited.

The LST was designed to transport tanks, troops, and heavy equipment. Each initially carried four Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) on the main deck, later increased to six, while others only carried three to make room for additional AA guns. It had two bow doors which opened to reveal a ramp that was lowered to let tanks, troops, and vehicles go ashore. To assist landing on the beach, its stern anchor was dropped when approaching the beach, 300 feet from shore. Once the cargo was unloaded, the anchor chain was winched in,

theoretically pulling the lightened ship off the beach.

Even with both engines full astern, the anchor often pulled loose. This required the crew to hook onto the anchor chain, using one of the large 36-foot landing boats, pulling the anchor to deep water, dropping it to the bottom. …